A lesson in the art of craftsmanship

By Tim Landers, RN, PhD
Ohio State College of Nursingflower_napkin

I’ve noticed some really excellent craftsmanship in Gondar.

Craftsmanship is evident in the way a napkin is carefully folded that turns an evening meal in to a “dinner.”  And craftsmanship is the patience of our waitress giving me a lesson in napkin folding.

Craftsmanship is the way that the pharmacist carefully wrapped up a packet of medication she prescribed for me because of the cold I’ve acquired in my last days in Gondar. It says, “I hope you feel better” before you open it.


Craftsmanship is the certain way a bundle of straw is tied to the back of a donkey on the way to market or the way a cup of coffee is poured when the person actually cares. It’s the expert skill and flair a microbiologist uses to streak an agar plate or a nurse uses to comfort an ailing patient.

One of the great craftsmen I have met is Mr. Abebe Demise. Abebe has a small shoe-shine bench outside our hotel. What makes him a craftsman is not that he does a good job cleaning and shining shoes; he does a great job on shoes from the dusty streets of Gondar. abebe_working

What makes him a craftsman is that when Mr. Abebe is at work shining shoes, he is in the zone. His full attention is on the task at hand. He uses the tools of his trade – he uses all of his attention – to shine shoes. To watch him in action is to see a master craftsman at work.

Craftsmanship is a difficult concept to teach to students in our “Research Methods Course.” There is just a way that a carefully constructed title of a scientific paper can grab your attention. A well-written set of specific aims can explain the purpose of a research project in a way that extends beyond the words printed on the page.  A well-organized literature review can make reviewers beg you to do your experiments.

This skill of craftsmanship in writing grants takes years to develop — and I am no pro.  But I know good grants craftsmanship when I read it—and when I see it.

On my last day in Gondar, Abebe Demise called to me from his shoe-shine bench across the street.  He had a small envelope for me with “For: Tim Landers, From: Abebe” written on the outside.  Inside were two picture postcards of Gondar.

I’d like to think that maybe – just maybe – this was one craftsman’s way of acknowledging a fellow craftsman.


Professor Tim Landers and Mr. Abebe Demise, one of the great craftsman of Ethiopia.

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