Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson, Ethiopia and Ethiopians...

Michael Jackson has passed away. If there is any person that isn't feeling pain, then they must have not heard about it.
This generation of Ethiopians will feel the loss of what was the image of grandness. Ethiopians will never forget "We are the world." No Ethiopian grew without trying to moonwalk. The zippered jacket were once a fad that wny child would kill to get. His music was on every teenager's lips.
We will miss you. May you rest in peace, Michael. Deepest and heartfelt condolences to your family.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

You MUST be an Ethiopian if…

1. You drive straddling two lanes. To most Ethiopians, the lines that are drawn on roads are either for decoration or just by employees of the Ministry of Transport having fun.

2. You think you’re worth more if you buy an expensive cell phone. This is even amazing since the most you can do with your cell phone is talk and send text messages. Only a few months back was 3G even started. The cell phone costing 350 ETB sometimes out-performs one that costs 3000 ETB.

3. You live in a hovel that charges 100 birr rent and park this year’s BMW outside. Many Ethiopians seem to have their priority wires in a tangle.

4. You are embarrassed to put on your seat belt while driving, but flaunt your thing as you pee in the streets. Many drivers in Ethiopia prefer not to wear seatbelts stating that people would call them show offs. But those same people would forget about people’s opinions when they had to go number one in public.

5. Pronounce ‘the’ as ‘ZE’, spell ‘welcome’ as ‘WELL COME’, forget how to spell words with the ‘e’ at the end and add it when not required. Examples would be “Well Come to Peac Hotele.”

6. You can spell your name, and have documents to prove it, in at least 5 different ways. Example: Biruk, Bruck, Birook, Brook, Beruk, Berook …

7. You open a new business and name it after the city you used to live in while you were in the United States. Addis Ababa is full of cafes, hair salons, hotels and other businesses with names of US states or cities. It wouldn’t be safe to mention them here.

8. You, while in Ethiopia will spend tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of birr to get out and once out whine about how you’d rather be back home…

9. …and when you DO eventually come back home you brag about how good you had it in the west.

10. You kiss up to anyone that is better dressed than you, drives this year’s BMW and owns the cell phone in number two. It’s a sad fact that customer service givers, from guard to the highest manager will judge you by what you’re wearing. I’d really recommend that if you were having a bad hair day, were tinkering with your car’s oily and greasy parts and were wearing cutoffs, scraped boots and a filthy cap… you’d better change all of it before you answered that door bell. Whomever you might meet my ask you to go get the master of the house.

11. You can’t tell the difference between New Zealand and Netherlands. It was really embarrassing when a newscaster reading the news couldn’t make out which country was being mentioned, she decided to play it safe…so she said that the news was from, this is not a joke, “Newzerland.” EDIT: On the news on 19/06/2009 the commentator read news from "Swizland." It's not clear if Switzerland or Swaziland was the intended country.

12. You would rather dehydrate, sweat and stink up a storm, on a hot day, in a crowded car or bus, than to open a window, because you think the draft would kill you…

13. …and if at home, you still believe the old wives’ tale that the draft from two opened doors will make you sick. From the way some Ethiopians react when a window whether at home or in a car is cracked, you’d think it were bullets coming in rather than plain air. It would have been tolerable if the person asking that the offending window be shut were reasonably clean and had remembered to wash his feet this month or change socks since last week.

14. You cannot see the irony in drinking, eating and fornicating sinfully for the few days before Lent and thinking that you will make up for it all during the following 40 days. Two or three days before the fasting begins people go crazy bar-hopping till all crazy hours. They stuff themselves with all the food they can get their hands on.’ Sex and the City’ is really on! When asked, Ethiopians tend to say that it is to keep them stronger during the fasting, to help them make it through and to lessen the temptation. Isn’t this all against the Passion of Christ? Isn’t the whole idea of fasting to weaken one’s self and to fight the temptation…? Why bother if one is packing and storing for the ‘long haul’?

15. You think some job is below you while in Ethiopia, but would beg and grovel to do it in the US or Europe, but still not tell your family or anyone who knows you back home what it is exactly you do. You create fancy job titles like ‘Sanitation Engineer’ when you’re a plain old janitor. You say you work for ‘a large American company that has over 31,000 branches.’ You don’t exactly hint it but encourage people to think that you’re a shareholder in that company. It is a sad day when people find out you only work at McDonalds and the only share you hold is your share of the scoop… the fries scoop that is.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Damn… These Ethiopians fly high!

Famous Ethiopians , to a non-Ethiopian, would highly be personalities like H.I.M. Hailesellasie I, Abebe Bikila, Emperors Tewodros and Menilik II, Haile Gebresellasie, Kenenisa Bekele, the Dibaba sisters and Meseret Defar. There are thousands and thousands more Ethiopians worth mentioning but below are the ones that held, to me, the torch a little higher but aren't as famous because they didn't get the right media coverage. Links are provided at the end for further reference.

1. Selam – Ethiopia’s earliest citizen. While many people may have heard of her famous distant cousin Lucy a.k.a Dinkinesh, Selam (Australopithecus afarensis) was discovered in Ethiopia in 2006 (which incidentally was Ethiopia’s New Millenium) by DR. Zeresenay Alemseged.

2. Kaldi – Ethiopia is the home of coffee. And a young goat herder called Kaldi is credited with the discovery, after he saw his goats dancing. He deduced that it must have had something to do with their eating from the coffee tree.

3. Etegue (Empress) Taytu Bitul – was the wife of Emperor Menilik II. While she was a strict ruler in her own sense, and had a big say in the day-to-day running of the Empire, she was also known for her love of nature. She discovered the site for the foundation of the capital city and named it "Addis Ababa" (New Flower). She was also the one that identified the mistranslation done on purpose by the Italians which would have made Ethiopia a colony of Italy. The most amazing fact is, she led an army and fought the Italians alongside her husband. That makes her the only black Empress to have defeated a modern army – at the battle of Adowa.

4. Wro. Asegedech Asefa - Is the first African woman to pilot an Airplane in or around 1962. When most of Africa was still getting used to the buzz of aircraft Wro. (Amharic for Mrs.) Asegedech had learnt to fly, and gotten her license after joining a civilians club that was run by Ethiopian Airlines.

5. Captain Alemayehu Abebe - the first African commercial jet pilot and the first African to command a commercial jetliner across the Atlantic. He was Ethiopian Airlines’ first Ehiopian pilot after getting his command in 1957.

6. Dr. Aklilu Lemma – winner of The Right Livelihood Award (1989) with Dr. Legesse W/Yohannes for the discovery of the preventive for schistosomiasis (bilharzia). Bilharzia is a disease that is uses the snail as a vector before passing on to human beings. It was Dr. Aklilu’s research that found a way to break the cycle, he used a plant that grew near the rivers – the Sarcoca plant (‘Endod’ in Amharic).

7. Engineer Kitaw Ejigu – was a prominent engineer and scientist that worked for NASA, Rockwell International and Boeing. He was Africa’s only and one of the world’s most renowned aerospace scientists.

8. Captain Aster Tolossa – Is an Ethiopian Air Force pilot. She is the only female pilot to have shot down an enemy aircraft in air to air combat in the jet age. She shot down a MIG-29 from her SU-27 during the Ethio-Eritrean war. The irony is that the pilot flying the Eritrean MIG was her former flight-school instructor, a Russian, flying for the Eritreans.

9. Dr. Belay Abegaz – a Pediatric Cardiologist, is the founder and current Board Chairman of the Children’s Heart Fund which opened a Cardiac Center in Ethiopia for treatment of children with heart diseases. He has made it possible for Ethiopians and the rest of Africa to be treated without having to travel half across the world at exorbitant prices.

10. Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged – discoverer of Selam (Australopithecus - look at number 1) he is the curator and chair of Anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences.

Many more unsung heroes will be added in later blogs. Comments and corrections are highly appreciated.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ethiopia … you can’t love it not.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. This makes most people think that it is the worst place one could choose to live in. The images that come to many people are not really of people in frivolous joy and jamboree. Au contraire, it wouldn’t be too bold a statement if one said that most people would think that all Ethiopians want to be anywhere but in Ethiopia.

Most Ethiopians in other countries are amazed when they are in conversations about their homelands. They are even expected to denounce the life and people they left behind. If there is one thing that all Ethiopians agree on it is that Ethiopia is a land to be cherished and loved. Even in its darkest hours Ethiopians have kept hope burning next to the longing and desire to be back. In every country that an Ethiopian has gone, there’s always an exclusive society where he or she meets to just listen to the language spoken. They somehow manage to find the one place in hundreds of kilometers where ‘injera’ (traditional Ethiopian bread) is sold. With the choice of hundreds of beers they still prefer a cold St. George.

Why do we love our country so? No matter how long a paper is, or how long it might take to complete, it cannot even start to say what an Ethiopian feels when he or she thinks of his motherland. It’s the fierce pride one sees on the face of an Ethiopian. It’s the automatic skip of the heartbeat all Ethiopians experience whenever there’s a Green-Gold-Red banner flying. It’s that instinctive looking and knowing an Ethiopian from a distance of 50 meters in a crowded park. It’s those and a million other things that add up to define Ethiopians. Here’s a list of some of the tip of the tip of the iceberg:

- Women: beautiful. All that needs to be said. They are head turners from the jungles in the west to the boardwalks of the fashion centers in the world.

- Men: proud, down to earth and humble. But not when they go to war.

- Weather: Ethiopia is blessed with a year round weather that can meet anyone’s wish. From the cold in Addis Ababa to the dry heat of Afar to the sweltering humidity of Gambella.

- History: Three thousand years of documented history. Ethiopia has existed since 980 BC. And this blog can never even start to tell the glories of the country.

- Tolerance: There are more than 80 nations and nationalities living within the border. Compared to what has happened in some countries there hasn’t been any major problem. Minor skirmishes are fueled and aired as big wars by people trying to take advantage of it. Ethiopians might joke about one’s creed, (the Gurage being money minded, the Oromo a pastoralist in love with his stock, the Amhara too proud even when his luck has turned for the worse, the Tigrayan technical minded person obsessed with trucks and garages etc.) but bottom line is all laugh and move on.

- Culture and Heritage: the culture is as diverse as each nationality within the borders. Ethiopia holds the record for having the most UNESCO World Heritage sites. Not many people know or want to believe that.

- Religion: same applies to religion. Ethiopia is a country where Christians and Muslims live together peacefully. It’s no big deal if there is intermarriage. In fact it’s very common in some parts of the north. Another thing is that Ethiopians are a God-fearing people. Common greetings go like “Endmin aderachi’hu?” (Good morning [pl.]) the answer: “Egziabher yimesgen!” (Thanks to the God.)

- Hope: this can be mentioned with the point above; Ethiopians tend to think that whatever happens does so for a reason. Even a beggar lying in the street will answer “Egziabher yimesgen!” to morning salutations. If patience is a virtue – Ethiopians are saints with no wings.

- Compassion: Although this is slowly being eroded as modernization takes over, it’s still very much alive. People involve each other in their daily lives. The sick are taken care of communally when there is no hospital in the whole region, no man is turned away if he comes knocking at the door asking for help. A real life story is when this author’s neighbor’s house caught fire. It took the fire brigade twenty minutes to reach the place, but the whole neighborhood had put the fire out in under 20 minutes. The firemen just checked that there weren’t any forgotten spots.

- Family and community: The one thing and Ethiopian parents are guaranteed is respect from their offsprings. That is all changed when the families have to migrate. In countries where children’s right borders on spoiling them rotten Ethiopian parents nearly have nervous breakdowns. A mere spanking could result in a showdown with the law, especially if the four year old is 911-savvy. This leads to mistrust, confusion and a breakdown of the traditional Ethiopian family. A rift is created between the traditional elders and the modern youngsters. And that is sad especially when the people come from a country where a mother is almost revered. If an Ethiopian swears ‘Enate timut!’ (May my mother die!), then there is a 98% chance that he or she is telling the truth, the 2% are more likely to be orphans.

- Coffee: Ethiopians love coffee. It’s the ceremony, the women preparing it, the way they do it that adds to the aromatic organic flavor. And coffee came from Ethiopia.

- Food: Q - “Have you ever tasted Ethiopian food?” A – “Neither have they!” goes a joke which just shows how uninformed the world is about traditional Ethiopian food. The best dish is the ‘Doro Wot’ (Chicken Stew). It takes hours to prepare once done, it’s just plain heavenly. And anyone who makes fun of Ethiopian food truly ignorant. Whether kitfo, ye beg wot, tibs, zilzil tibs, shiro, kocho and ayb or any of the hundreds of dishes available from all parts of the country they just leave the taste buds tingling.

We may appear as a miserable, mangy and dusty lot. But it’s these and more that have made the world cast an evil eye towards Ethiopia for centuries. And it’s these and more secrets that Ethiopians have died for not to give up.