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

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

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

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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