25 September 2008

i'm not like all of the other girls.

Last week, I was eating leftover new year's cake with Negash and
Warake (my landlord and his wife). We had a brief discussion of
how Ethiopian cakes are generally pretty bad, and I was glad they
can at least recognize the weakness, even if they're not clear how
to fix it (hint - add sugar). I'll make them a chocolate fudge
cake sometime soon and see how it goes.

Cake aside, the conversation turned down a very interesting road
after talking about the little spawns of satan - oops, I mean
children - returning to school and thus having less time to follow
me down the road. Warake, who speaks virtually no English, was in
and out cleaning up the kitchen, then sat down and said, in
Amharic, that she was tired after the new year. She said had to
make the tella (moonshine), dorro wat (holiday chicken dish), and
all the other food, then clean up the house, all while the men
(pointed look at Negash, sitting in the comfortable chair in the
living room) sat around. Negash said that the men work outside
the home while the women work in it, so I countered that he's a
teacher, and hence hasn't been working for months (summer
vacation), plus he gets evenings and weekends off. Warake, on the
other hand, works all day, every day. I said he should help and
she agreed, but he said that other people (read: men) would make
fun of him if he did housework. I said that the only opinion that
matters is his and Warake's - she agreed - but he wasn't buying.
I told them I wouldn't marry a man who refused to contribute and
the daughter agreed, so at least the younger generation is on
board. Funny how the women tend to want change before the men
do.

This week in English class we started talking about the role of
the West in development. My views can be summed up as: "Give a
man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed
him for a lifetime." Hence why I came here and why I don't give
money to children or beggars (besides not having enough for the
sheer number who ask). I saw a few students writing it down, so I
think a lot agreed. One brought up the Marshall Plan and I think
that's the model we ought to use - the recipient nations need to
play much larger roles, from project development to implementation
to monitoring and evaluation to accountability. No handouts and
no forced ideals - change has to come from the ground up, with
community support, to be sustainable. It might take longer, but
it'll last, and I think that's the goal we ought to keep in mind.

Someone brought up the question of whether the West really has an
interest in helping poor countries. I think there was a time
where a source of cheap resources outweighed any real humanitarian
interest, but I think we've reached a point as a globalized
society where security is a bigger priority. Rogue states are all
underdeveloped. No one's threatened by Sweden. I believe with
development comes stability, and with stability, security. We
can't expect people fighting for their next meal to think of the
future, let alone tomorrow or any notion of "greater good." But I
digress.

A couple of students suggested that it's the responsibility of the
West to fix the problems of the developing world. Bantie, the
teacher, in particular is a big proponent of the notion that the
developed world is somehow superior - he uses the term "backward"
to describe Ethiopia and Africa often. I cringe every time. I
disagree - I believe developing nations need to have a stake in
all stages, and the developed world should only come in to fill
resource gaps and provide guidance as requested. Imposed
solutions rarely (never?) work, especially in the long term. I
asked these students if they would be willing to accept my
solutions just because I'm an American. A handful said yes, then
I said that one of my solutions would probably include turning all
religious buildings into schools or hospitals and removing all
semblance of religion from laws and government. They disagreed.
I rest my case.

It turned into a rousing discussing of American foreign and
development policy - shouting, interrupting, the works. I was
proud - Ethiopians aren't generally accustomed to passionate
discourse because so much is taboo here. I explained that moments
like that illustrate why I defend my country and why I get riled
up when it's blindly criticized. I'm allowed to disagree with my
government - in print, in a public forum like this or in a
classroom, even - without fear of retribution. They don't have
that privilege but I think they're starting to grasp why I value
it so dearly.

Next week we've decided to tackle religion. I'm so excited! I'm
currently reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, so I'll be
bursting by the time class rolls around. Dawkins is basically the
CS Lewis of the atheist/agnostic community, so if you've ever
suggested I read Mere Christianity, I have - now I urge you to
read Dawkins. It's the sort of book that would change my life if
I weren't already on board. It's joining Middlesex on the list of
best books I've read thus far. I also finished the Harry Potter
series and I'm sorry I ever made fun of anyone who waited in line
at midnight to buy the next book. Unless you did it in costume.
Then I still reserve the right to judge you, but just a little.

Wishlist:
-freeze dried mangoes
-original cheddar goldfish crackers
-instant broccoli cheddar soup mix
-non-refrigerated cheese products
-dried seasonings
-sourdough pretzel nuggets
-sour jelly bellys
-Right Guard extreme invisible solid deodorant
-baking products (chocolate chips, frosting, mixes, etc)
-yarn
-books

1 comment:

Tiera said...

I actually came across your blog via couchsurfing. I was really interested in your volunteering. You write very charismatically and I love your accounts of lovig a place while hiking through mud. Anyways, good luck with your work!
-Tiera
(couchsurfing: TNTdynamite)