Monday, July 10, 2006

getting stoned

well, i've done it. i've become a proper evil tourist.

i'm hanging my head in shame.

the other weekend, we were returning to addis from Nazareth, where we went to escape from the cold and rain, and check out the nearby hotsprings. on our way back, i was taking photos like a deranged woman, just trying to capture images of the ethiopian countryside, of the people, of the rural lifestyle. i tried not to be too intrusive and noticeable, so i was doing all of this from a distance, or from safety of the car. so when we came across a herd of majestic looking cattle, i naturally got all tourist-y and excited (hell, we ain't got no camels in rwanda--it was legitimate excitement!!) and started taking photos. as soon as i took the first one, out of nowhere emerged a crew of nomads. not just a crew, a massive. a posse, if you will. and they all slowly approached the car, shouting, and picking up stones from the road side, while surrounding the vehicle. i had no idea what was up and sat there grinning quizzically like a moron. then they began shouting and approaching the windows, and i started to get slightly worried. no one in the car could understand what they were saying, because they were speaking Oromia and our driver only spoke Amharic. we were so not in control of the situation. we rolled up our windows and they became more hysterical, obviously trying to tell us something and failing to communicate. the more we misunderstood and subsequently didn't react, the more fired up they got. all i could think of was that we should give them money. but i had no idea whether that would be appreciated (i.e, in exchange for the photographs) or whether they would be offended and proceed to kick my foreign ass. or stone it. because at this point, one kid was standing outside my window with a massive stone aimed right at my head, looking at me like with pure contempt. he must've been only 12 years old, but he was all kinds of pissed off and there was nothing but glass between us. after a few minutes, a traffic jam had occurred, due to this suddenj roadblock, and a truck driver came over and offered to translate.

he explained to us, then, that the nomads were angry because they thought i was using the camera to curse the camels, or to poison their milk. they were incensed because the camels are their lives and livelihood, and they were unsure as to the effects of this tool i was pointing at them. the translator (bless him!) explained that i was just a simple foreigner who knows not of their ways and that the camera was harmless and that i was only taking pictures to show people in my home. they were still angry, at this point, and still threatening to stone us, so we asked him to ask them if we can exchange money for the photos. i was expecting further struggle and negotiation, but they accepted the 10 birr instantly, and allowed us to go.
which makes me think that maybe they knew what they were doing all along! hustlas!

seriously, though, after the fear and shock had worn off, i felt awful because i had become one of those insensitive tourists who marches all up into people's space and causes chaos with my inane need to "capture the authenticity" of my surroundings, or some such thing.
since then, i've been careful to ask permission whenever i want to capture an image. it was a rude awakening, i must say. but i have learned my lesson! getting stoned has taken on a whole new meaning, yo.

Currently listening :
Dusty Foot Philosopher

By K'naan

Wednesday, July 5, 2006


Exams! Finished! Finally!

This was over two weeks ago, but I haven't had internet access for ages (*waves sarcastically to Ethionet*), so this is the first chance I've gotten to write, or check my mail, or anything else. I have to admit, I have been suffering from serious internet withdrawal. I even got the damn shakes!

Anyway, I arrived in Addis Ababa a little over two weeks ago (one of the many places my nomadic family calls home), and for the first week, I did absolutely nothing. Except watch a whole hell of a lot of television and sleep which I think everyone is entitled to do on the first week of vacation. During this week, I discovered, rather alarmingly, how easy it is to get addicted to nonsensical reality shows on MTV (8th and Ocean--follows the misadventures of 8 hot models trying to make it in Miami!! My Sweet Sixteen--follows the misadventures of disgustingly wealthy children who throw crude, lavish birthday parties that cost enough to feed, clothe, and provide medication for a small country!! Laguna Beach--follows the misadventures of 8 hot, non-model, disgustingly wealthy children whose combined allowances are equivalent to the cost of feeding a small country and near a beach!!!). I also discovered that Tyra Banks really likes to take off her make up and show us "the real [her]", and that Oprah is getting on my last frayed nerve. But that's another entry for another time.

Once I finally got out of the house and choked on the fresh air, I began taking walks with my mother every morning around our area of town. The city is growing at such an incredible rate because so many people from abroad have come home to invest. In five years, Addis will look completely different. It's always exciting being somewhere where things are happening, where people are building, where you can see real growth. But what strikes me most about this country, is the people. The people are incredibly beautiful, inside and out (however cheesy that may sound). It's well known that Ethiopia is the only African country that was never colonized. What I had never noticed before, however, is how the nature of the people here reflects this fact. The legacy of colonialism is not restricted to our socio-economic-political systems, but it remains within us. Although each country's story is different, colonialism has had a significant impact on the spirit of the people that were colonized, and on their descendants. Some 40 years later, my generation is still battling the legacy of colonialism, sometimes overwhelmed by how to deal with the remnants of years of foreign rule that successfully divided and conquered our people. Coming from Rwanda, where this legacy eventually resulted in the horrific events of 1994, the effects of colonialism are very real, and have essentially succeeded in destroying a people that were once united by a common history and vision. Colonialists not only ensured that we knew and accepted that we were lesser beings than they, but they also ensured our society was divided such that--within our own people--we developed superiority and inferiority complexes that have lasted for generations. As with many other African states, the people have not lost their pride and sense of self, despite all of this. Our spirits, however, have been shattered to a certain extent. The people of Ethiopia, on the other hand, have never considered themselves inferior to anyone. When the Italians invaded in the 1920s, they fought back with everything they had and ran them out. When the Italians successfully took power in the 1936, sending Emperor Selassie into exile, resistance was immediate and continuous for five years. Those who led the resistance movement are referred to as Patriots, and they continuously battled Italian rule losing thousands of people in the process until they had returned the Emporer to power in 1941. Today, those patriots are buried in the graveyard of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, which was built by Emporer Selassie, and in which he himself is buried. The spirit of these people, the spirit of resistance has contributed to an Ethiopian self-image that is incredibly proud and unwavering, and--quite frankly--awe-inspiring.

This past weekend, my family went on a museum tour that was essentially a crash course in Ethiopian history, which is so rich and so well documented. This tour wound up at the University Museum, which is located at the Institute for Ethiopian Studies at the University of Addis Ababa. The building itself is the former palace of Haile Selassie who donated the building to the University in the 1950s, and as we were taking the tour, we turned the corner and were suddenly in his bedroom. I don't know how to accurately describe what it felt to be standing there. The room itself is very simple, with a bed, chair, desk, wardrobe, and a small statute of the Lion of Judah in the corner. There was nothing incredible or out of the ordinary about the room. But it was nevertheless, an incredible experience.

I know that Selassie made many mistakes during his reign, particularly in the latter years. He was, like any other, flawed and his leadership had its shortcomings. During his reign, parts of this country were engulfed in famine for many years, for example. But the man was, for the most part, a great leader. An inspiration not only to Ethiopians, but to all Africans. I stood for a long time at his desk, staring at his writing pad, and noting the remnants of ink from the inkwell, and imagining him sitting there, writing the speech he gave to the League of Nations in Geneva in 1936, following Italys invasion. And even though it was historically inaccurate, I also allowed myself to imagine him sitting at that desk, composing the legendary war speech, which he made to the United Nations in 1963. The sources of my admiration for Selassie as a man and as a leader are not only the words of those speeches, but the spirit contained therein. And this spirit of courage and resistance and pride is not contained to this one man. Rather, he was a reflection and a product of the rich heritage and defiant spirit of the Ethiopian people. This is their legacy. And I stood there in awe, speechless for the first time in ages, as one would be in the presence of greatness.

I know that right now, African people continue to battle the legacy of colonialism, and we are forever trying to forge an identity that is not tainted by this history. I'm sure we'll get there someday. And when we do, we'll be able to produce great, fearless leaders (not rulers), who will be a reflection of their people.

Excerpt from Haile Selassie I's address to the United Nations in 1963 on Peace:

That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another
inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman
bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.

Currently listening : Exodus
By Bob Marley and the Wailers