Monday, August 24, 2009

How uncivilized is Ethiopia?

Ethiopia has been in existence for more than 3 millennium. The country is rich with history and culture. It’s had its glory days; but the 1970 to mid 80’s have been the lowest the country has ever gone. Up until that time the terms Aid Organization and NGO were rarely heard of. Some worked on food aid, some on health and welfare and others on ‘civilizing Ethiopia’: bringing it out of the dark-age. 

So how ‘uncivilized’ is Ethiopia? And how effective was the ‘civilization’ work done by the various organizations? What type of education worked? And what type was absurd? And in some cases, who was the ‘civilized’ and whom the ‘civilizer’? Let’s have a look:

Most of the agencies that worked on training and education worked out of the capital, Addis Ababa. The most they had heard or seen of the indigenous people they are supposed to help is on poster or brochures in travel agency offices. All the fieldwork is monitored and ordered from the cozy office in the capital. The agents in the field are like puppets whose strings are pulled according to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that had been written in the head office, in Europe or America, and hasn’t changed since 1980.

One thing some westerners always state as a symbol of backwardness is nakedness: The amount of skin that is bared is proportional with the backwardness of the people. They seem to forget that the whole concept of clothing came not from modesty, but from the need of defense from the elements especially cold, when started to migrate from Africa. Modesty didn’t come until very, very recently.

A typical example would be of the aid worker that goes to the southwest of Ethiopia. When leaving from Addis Ababa, he’s starting from 2,355 meters above sea level. He’s dressed for the cold at that altitude. When he ends his trip he’s somewhere around a couple of hundred meters. Now, the main reason he was sent there was to teach the natives about wearing clothes; after all its taboo in the ‘civilized’ world to bare one’s body. As he’s being led into the village he asks the local why they do not dress or cover up. The local turns around, laughs at him and says “You’re the one that looks the fool. You are so uncomfortable in your clothes that you’re dying to take it all off.” The aid worker got rid of his clothes.

Another thing is thinking that the locals are just uneducated and hence stupid. If a person hasn’t completed the mandatory 12 years of schooling and or some college courses doesn’t mean he’s not life-savvy. Au contraire, he’s living in conditions that would actually kill most people. He’s adapted to whatever lifestyle and is actually happy with it. His senses of contentment and tranquility have been fulfilled 100%. So what gives an outsider, let alone a foreigner, the right to think he’s miserable and hence needs saving. It’s so fascinating to look at tourists arriving at the remotest part of Ethiopia and seeing the villagers for the first time. A local tour guide says it all;”They are so shocked by what they see. Their expressions are first of amazement, amazement at how little these people have. Then it slowly changes to shock as they realize that all their problems, all their headaches at home, REALLY don’t matter. That all the stress they go through daily is REALLY not necessary. In this material world they realize that it’s actually the one with least who is happiest.”

Take the aid agency that wanted to bring modern day education into a village. They chose children from the village and took them to be ‘educated.’ That being formal education. They spent their childhood and youth in schools. After completing high school they found that there were no options of employment open for them. When they tried to go back to their villages they found that they had lost precious time where they should have been learning skills like hunting, cattle rearing, martial arts and getting married to start a family. These children were lost to two worlds, for the sake of ‘civilization.’

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ethiopian Customer Service is LOUSY…Why?

Ethiopians are known for their hospitality. Ethiopians are a kind, giving and sharing people. No matter how destitute an Ethiopian may be, no one turns away from a person that is worse off. That helping hand is given with great joy and a sense of obligation to God and man. That’s one reason. The other is that since nothing is guaranteed in a third world country, one does it to cover the base in case fortune looks away and the one on top suddenly finds the base very close.

Now what is really amazing is, when Ethiopians are asked to give that same helping hand behind a desk or wearing a uniform and getting paid for it, it just all becomes a different story. Once the novelty of a new job wears off the service goes downhill. It is a well known fact that to get the best food and service in Addis Ababa, the best bet would be to go to a restaurant or café that has just recently opened its doors. They will be good for at least a couple of months. The service is quick, the quality is at its best and all amenities are at tip-top levels. If there are any deficiencies in customer care and handling they are honest errors or things that were never intended to be there in the first place.

But then again, there are some customers that just ruin it for us. These people are the ones that the service-providers most often see and are hard to forget. They come out of nowhere, turn everything upside down, inside out and topsy-turvy and like a hurricane leave the mess and debris for the rest of us regulars to deal with.

These service-nightmares dampen the atmosphere for the rest of us. You might be one of them if you can identify with any of the following people or their thinking:

-The flashier you are, the better service you get: mesmerize them with car keys, jewelry, perfume and a top of the line cell phone. Doors will open where you never expected them. If you are better dressed than the person next to you, you’ll get preferential treatments.

-The louder you are, the better: speak loudly, whether to the person sitting next to you or an imaginary person on your flashy phone. It helps to mention a business deal that involves at least a million birr’s worth. Make sure the waiter is around. He’ll spread the news. Be as obnoxious as possible, you’ll get served quicker either because they are impressed or because they want to get rid of you.

-If there’s a queue, try to jump to the head of it: if you’re brazen enough to jump ahead of a few people, then it means you are an important person and your business is more important than the others’ waiting patiently.

-Treat them like they are little people: if you can look down at them, boss them around like they are not important. After all you are. Belittle them in small ways; take shots at them with petty jokes. Keep grinding away at their security and dignity, and when they are in their place, ask exactly what you want.

-Leave more than 60% as tip: this is a two bladed dagger. First you make sure that the waiter never forgets you, and like Pavlov with his dog he’ll be waiting with a watering mouth for the next visit. Second you ruin it for the rest of us, since we know that we would never give that much when he certainly didn’t deserve it.

-Ask for service that is not available or prohibited: ask to smoke in a non-smoking café. Send the waiter out to get the cigarettes, the other customers can wait. In a no-dance night spot, dance any ways. Park right in front of the entrance, when there is no parking space; People can squeeze by, and the probability of an emergency requiring a fast exit is very low. After all you’re the most important person in there. Go to remote villages and ask the whole village to perform rituals that are respected and are done on sacred occasions so you can get a YouTube video with snide remarks about ‘these savages.’ In fact throw the little money that you have knowing that it’s more than they will see in a long while. Corrupt the people into your ways, after all money is your god; preach it.

Globalization has their benefit, which is undeniable. But when it is misused it can be an uncontrollable monster than can never be stopped. Already old traditions and values are being lost. Ethiopians who have left and returned cannot believe how much we have changed. I pray that we learn to hold on despite everything.
And to my people:

“…don’t gain the world and lose your soul,
Wisdom is better than silver and gold…”

Bob Marley, “Zion Train