Tuesday, April 28, 2009

So what does it feel like being an Ethiopian?

Ask any non-Ethiopian what they think about Ethiopia and the answer will be a really grim one. The images of the 80’s are still burnt into many people’s minds. Images of war, famine and drought are really very hard to forget. You can add a guilt trip to it if you are the sensitive sort. These images are in fact so deeply ingrained that even the current generation thinks of Ethiopia as a desert land where nothing grows. The media doesn’t exactly help either.

So what’s the truth? What does it feel like being a national of a country that is so misrepresented globally? Yes, we are misrepresented, bear with me:

Let us have a look at the economy. While it is true that Ethiopia is still a developing nation, it has been registering an average of 10% growth rate for the past six years. With the current economic crisis rocking the globe, Ethiopia is still expected to grow with a two-digit figure. This has created a people in Ethiopia, for the first time in at least two generations that have faith in the economy in Ethiopia. (Emperor Hailesellasie’s rule was mostly centered on feudalism and couldn’t bring a large impact on the overall growth of the people as land was owned by the very few elite. Mengistu Hailemariam’s Dergue reign was one of constant war, and this drained the economy more than ever. ) And this renewed faith in turn is fueling the economy as the young realize that they can get whatever they want by simply going out and working.

Entrepreneurship has taken over the minds of the young like new fad, and the streets of Addis are filled with those just setting out in their first ventures while the radio and TV programmes tell of those who own hundreds of thousands yet started out with a capital of a few borrowed hundred birrs.

Ethiopians are known for their fierce patriotism. But the need for better economic security has been taking away the crème de la crème of the badly needed intelligentsia. It was a very unnerving trivia to know that there are “more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago than there are in Ethiopia”. Many Ethiopians have had to swallow their pride and give their passports up for the sake of the same security. Some have even not been able to be buried in their own soil. Until now, that is.

It might be the economic hardships that have hit the whole world, it might be mystic attraction that Ethiopia holds over all Ethiopians or it might be a chance vacation that showed the stark reality that shocked the minds that were brainwashed into horrible images of dark despair or it might all and more, but one fact remains true: Ethiopians are returning home. And they are reaping the rewards of their choices. One can actually see day by day changes in the way a returnee carries his body. Slowly as the laid back life takes over the harum-scarum of the west, as they relax among familiar surroundings, as the security of being a citizen in one’s own country starts to seep through his body stand more and more erect each day.

An amazing fact is that Ethiopians will sell all they own to get a visa to the developed world … only to become a best customers at an Ethiopian restaurant. If they could they would only drink St. George beer and have at least two meals with injera in it per day. They try to fill the emptiness that Ethiopia becomes to them with Ethiopian beer and food.

The world sees Ethiopia as hell on earth. The world also thinks that their country is the best in the whole world. Well, so do Ethiopians. The worst thing that can happen, and does, to an Ethiopian is to be alone for any amount of time. In Ethiopia the social structure stands as a safety net to catch and bounce back any member that has fallen on bad times. The main cause of Ethiopian suicides is not being able to get used to the unattached, sterile and uncaring lives that most Europeans and Americans live in. Although better off than other immigrants, since every family has at least one relative abroad, the few exceptions, that are out there alone, have a higher chance of becoming depressed and committing suicide. Beggars in Ethiopia are sometimes richer than the person offering the alms because it is an ingrained Ethiopian custom to help any one less fortunate than oneself. On holidays and feasts, the beggars make a killing by just sitting outside a church and laying out a handkerchief on the ground. They don’t even have to ask for it! People are actually happier in when they are in this poor country than when they are in the richest nations, a concept people in the developed world find hard to believe.

The beauty of the people especially the petite women needs a whole new blog to itself. But it is enough to mention that this beauty itself creates an immense pride in Ethiopians. A pride so immense, in fact, that it appears as contempt and racism to non-Ethiopians. It is a kind of beauty that people of all races seem to agree on. Although there are more than 80 nation and nationalities within the border, all appear to have formed into this beauty that comes from within. The women in the South West although darker have the most beautiful women one will ever see; nothing need be said about the Oromo women because they have been known to win most beauty pageants. The women in the east have this Arabic/Asiatic look that steals the soul. The women in the north, both east and west are gracefully carved. And the most beautiful thing is no matter where these women come from anyone, including foreigners, can tell they are Ethiopians. And we get to be called racists?

Any running event is watched with 70+ million breaths held and hearts beating fast. When a singing icon died recently, the whole nation grieved. Much more can be said about the warmth that exists between Ethiopians. They may scream, fight and snap at each other on the most trivial thing, but when it comes to ‘Ethiopianness’ or Ethiopia any outsider faces one united front with a heavy fist, as history has shown again and again.

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