Finding Something To Laugh About In Ethiopia

Belachew Girma is the World Laughter Champion. The man, who can laugh for more than 3 hours non-stop, has just opened Ethiopia's first laughter school where they teach that cackling away is the best medicine for life's ills. Girma should

Laughter therapy for children (
Laughter therapy for children (
Philipp Hedemann

A man wearing white overalls is doubled up with laughter on the floor. His eyes are bulging, sweat and tears pour down his face. His legs are twitching and he is waving his arms. Is that man crazy? Is he a drug addict? Should we call a doctor?

Suddenly the man stands up, wipes the sweat and tears from his face, breathes deeply, and says in a deep, serious voice: "Now I want you to laugh like that." Belachew Girma is not crazy, he's the World Laughter Champion.

In Germany in 2008, he laughed for three hours and six minutes. Non-stop. And now in Ethiopia, a country where there is not often a lot to laugh about, he has just opened the first Laughter School.

The school's website says that people can even be trained to laugh in the face of hunger and destruction. Whether it was this claim or the site's quaint English, 22 Ethiopians have already signed up for a laughter course.

And now they're sitting in a neon-lit room on chairs placed in a circle around the man writhing on the floor. Some look confused. Others are trying hard to laugh even louder than the laughing master, although in some cases the laughter catches in their throat.

Alemayehu Anbessie is a loyal follower of the laughter guru. He's laughing so hard the veins on his forehead are popping out. It's hard not to look at his right cheek, which has a tumor the size of an orange. "I can't laugh the cancer away," says the engineer, "but the laughter helps me live with the cancer. Since I've learned how to laugh, I don't need painkillers anymore."

If some might scoff at such a claim, to champion Girma this is no laughing matter. "I used to be HIV-positive," he says. "Now I'm healthy. God healed me. Laughter is the best medicine." The way he says this brooks no discussion.

Ten years ago, the self-made psychologist was a suicidal drug addict. He had been a teacher and headmaster at a grade school, but earned so little he decided to get a dog, train it to do some tricks, and perform with it in public. Audiences loved the funny guy with the dog – and he loved audiences.

He went on to form a band, and played gigs around the country. As a musician, Girma made good enough money to buy a small store and a hotel. And he still had plenty left over to support his khat habit. For years, like many other Ethiopians, Girma chewed the euphoria-inducing leaves.

Pimps, fires and floods

He washed their bitter taste away with alcohol. He started hanging out with the wrong people, opened a night-club, pimped some women – and slept with them. He gradually lost all control over his life. His store and hotel burned down, were rebuilt and then destroyed by floods.

When his first wife fell ill, Girma underwent a medical check-up. His wife and his lover died shortly after he was diagnosed as HIV-positive. "They got it from me. I didn't want to live anymore, I wanted to die with them," he says showing a photo of himself during his darkest days.

He thought of shooting himself, but couldn't go through with it. It was then that he came across two things that would change his life: a Bible and a self-help book that recommended laughter as a way of healing.

"I devoured the contents of both books, and decided to change everything. I stopped chewing khat, stopped drinking, and started laughing – even though I didn't have anything to laugh about," he says. At first, the laughter was mostly forced but now, he says, whether he's laughing just for the sake of it, in a teaching context or in competition, it comes easy.

He reads the Bible daily. His favorite passage is Proverbs 17:22: "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine but a broken spirit drieth the bones."

Girma regularly gives orphans and street kids free laughter therapy, and once a week he volunteers in schools. The rest of the time, his infectious laughter earns him good money. He has laughed in Germany, Great Britain, Israel, the U.S., and South Africa.

In Ethiopia, four laughter sessions at Girma's Laughter School cost 450 birr (20 euros) - about the same as an unskilled laborer earns per month. Along with the laughter exercises, participants are given Power Point presentations that impart bits of popular wisdom ("When life gives you lemons, make lemonade") that go down well with his students.

Gashaw Teferra registered for the course with his wife. From the outset, the businessman who studied electro-technology in Leipzig, Germany, says he found it difficult to laugh on command. But now on his third session, it's going really well.

Another course participant who works in advertising, 20-year-old Weyni Telwedebrhan, hopes to learn to laugh so infectiously that she attracts new clients. Solomon Gessesse, a school principal, is convinced that kids learn better when they laugh and that laughter is something that can be taught.

The Guinness World Records does not recognize laughter as a record category, something that annoys Girma no end and also means that he holds an unofficial world record for laughter. It should be a Guinness category: non-stop laughter, he claims, is a high-performance sport.

"When you laugh non-stop for over three hours, it's a workout for your whole body. You have aches in muscles you didn't even know you had. You feel as carefree as a newborn baby, and all you want to do is go to sleep," he says. A three-hour session is far too tiring to do on a daily basis, but Girma does do daily laughter workouts.

Students at Girma's Laughter School learn that a day without laughter is a lost day. Belachew Girma says it's been over 3,500 days since he had a lost day.

Read the original article in full in German

Photo -

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Olympic torch is lit at the Archaeological site of Olympia in Greece.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Asham!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Pyongyang test fires a suspected submarine-launched missile, Colin Powell is remembered, Poland-EU tensions rise, and yay (or yeesh): it's officially Ye. Meanwhile, our latest edition of Work → In Progress takes the pulse of the new professional demands in a recovering economy.

[*Oromo - Ethiopia and Kenya]


• North Korea fires missile off Japan coast: South Korea military reports that North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the coast of Japan. The rocket, thought to have been launched from a submarine, is the latest test in a series of provocations in recent weeks.

• Poland/EU tensions: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused the EU of "blackmail" and said the European Union is overstepping its powers, in a heated debate with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the rule of law. The escalation comes in the wake of a controversial ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that puts national laws over EU principles.

• Colin Powell remembered: Tributes are pouring for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, after his death yesterday at age 84. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications from COVID-19 as he was battling blood cancer. A trailblazing soldier, he then helped shape U.S. foreign policy, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and served as the nation's top diplomat for George W. Bush. Powell's legacy is, by his own admission, "blotted" by his faulty claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the U.S. war in Iraq.

• Russia to suspend NATO diplomatic mission amid tension: Russia is suspending its diplomatic mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow as relations with the Western military block have plunged to a new low. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the move after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia's mission for alleged spying. Relations between NATO and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

• Ecuador state of emergency to battle drug crime: President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency amid Ecuador's surge in drug-related violence. He announced the mobilization of police and the military to patrol the streets, provide security, and confront drug trafficking and other crimes.

• Taliban agrees to house-to-house polio vaccine drive: The WHO and Unicef campaign will resume nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline health workers. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and infectious disease

• Kanye West officially changes name: Some say yay, some say yeesh, but it's official: The-artist-formerly-known-as-Kanye-West has legally changed his name to Ye, citing "personal reasons."


The Washington Post pays tribute to Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. Secretary of State, who died at 84 years old from complications from COVID-19.


Jashn-e Riwaaz

Indian retailer Fabindia's naming its new collection Jashn-e Riwaaz, an Urdu term meaning "celebration of tradition," has been met with severe backlash and calls for boycott from right-wing Hindu groups. They are accusing the brand of false appropriation by promoting a collection of clothes designed for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but giving it a name in Urdu, a language spoken by many Muslims.


Work → In Progress: Where have all the workers gone?

After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback. This edition of Work → In Progress looks not only at the coming changes in our post-COVID economy, but also the ways our world is re-evaluating professional obligations.

🗓️ Hail the 4-day week Across the planet, the shorter work week trend is spreading like wildfire. Four is the new five. Spain began experimenting with the concept earlier this year. New Zealand launched a similar trial run in 2020. And in Iceland, efforts to curb working hours date all the way back to 2015, with significant results: 86% of the country's workforce gained the right to reduce work hours with no change in pay.

🚚 Empty seats In the United States, meanwhile, a severe lack of truck drivers has the country's transportation industry looking to hire from abroad. The only problem is … the shortage is happening worldwide, in part because of the e-commerce boom in the wake of worldwide quarantines. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reports that companies will be scrambling to fill the jobs of 17,000 truck drivers in the next two years. The article blames low wages and the dangerous nature of the job, stating that Italian companies are making moves to employ foreign workers.

💼 Key help wanted It's all well and good to question current working conditions. But what about 20 years from now? Will we be working at all? A recent article in the French daily Les Echos posed just that question, and posits that by 2041 — and with the exception of a few select jobs — automation and digitalization will decimate employment. The piece refers to the lucky few as "essential workers," a concept that originated with COVID lockdowns when almost all labor halted and only a minority of workers capable of performing society's most crucial in-person tasks were allowed to carry on.

➡️


I'm worried for my Afghan sisters.

— Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai Nobel Prize tells the BBC that despite the Taliban's announcement that they would soon lift the ban on girls' education in Afghanistan, she worries it "might last for years."

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more yay or yeesh about the artist currently known as Ye? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!