"Rest of the World 2013-14" story # 54

Mizan Teferi, Ethiopia           September 9, 2014

Trauma. Abuse. Trauma. Abuse.
     Beggars. Greed. Beggars. Kids snapping their fingers at me and ordering me around. Guys high on "qat" yelling at me aggressively, incomprehensibly.
     "Oh, this is hell!"
     Drunks. Crazy people. Lazy people - but, with the world's biggest egos? Selfish people. Conversation upon conversation that included the words: "money" ... "we're poor" ... "will you take me to America?" Another joke about money.
     "Does Ethiopia have any redeeming qualities? Oh ... I shouldn't have left the Surma tribe!"
     Unrealized freedom.
     Beggars. More beggars. Problem after problem being laid upon my shoulders.
     Unhappy, sneering people - unhappy because they were obsessed with money and with themselves. Women who smiled and seemed sweet when they thought I had money, but who became ugly and rude when they realized I didn't.
     "Auggh! I hate Ethiopia!"
     Discotechs that kept me awake with their music until midnight.
     Ethiopian Orthodox churches that woke me with their "mazmur" chanting music, at three a.m. Loud chanting music that lasted until mid-morning; if old men howled before they died like dogs, this chanting music was what they'd sound like. Mosques that played shorter chants than the churches', but still longer and more annoying calls to prayer (at five a.m.) than those in other Muslim countries.
     "Oh, I'm so tired. Why won't the churches let me sleep at night? I feel stressed. My chest feels hard and tight. I think I'm going to have a nervous breakdown. I think I'm developing a nervous tic in my left eye."
     My final "thrump". My final three-month stay in a country.
     Before coming to Ethiopia, I'd honestly thought it might become the best country I'd ever thrumped in.
     To that point, I would've said that Australia had been the best country - with the best atmosphere for happiness - I'd thrumped in. Australia, my first thrump. Thrump thrump thrump. Its people were so brotherly, its nature so gorgeous, that it wasn't surprising I developed an addiction for traveling. And my second thrump was in Iceland. Another fantastic place.
     But ...
     What if a thrump were so painful, my interactions with the people so unrewarding, that it made me happy to stop traveling? What if, every time I'd consider visiting a new place in the future, I had to ask myself in fear: "Is it going to be another Ethiopia?" Well ... then, it would work out perfectly if that thrump were my last!
     Before proceeding with the Ethiopian version of MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!!, I needed to clarify what my definition of "Ethiopia" was.
     The Surma tribe of the lowlands, to me, represented a wholly distinct culture from the Ethiopian highlands. The Suri would get their own MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!!
     To me, the highlander Ethiopians I'd observed - those of the Benche, Disi, Kafa, Oromo, and Amhara tribes - seemed similar. They wore Western clothes and believed in Christianity or Islam. And they shared another similarity.
     Psychologically, they believed the universe was a hierarchy. They believed their egos were located somewhere above or below those of other people - based on how much money, technology, fancy clothes, etc. they owned. If they were preachers, they may've thought they climbed the universal ladder by converting people to their religion. Ethiopians were either insecure and unhappy, or confident and smily, due to their success on this ladder.
     Poor Ethiopians were insecure and abusive. The uneducated middle class - truck drivers, construction workers, policemen - spent more money monthly than I did; and yet, my wallet fascinated them and they looked at me with envious sneers.
     The educated middle class compared their salaries to those in America and complained. (If they wanted to be happy, they should've compared themselves to people in the Congo!) The rich - businessmen, investors, and people with good jobs - were comfortable with themselves and happy.
     Few people developed rich personalities or were interested in mine. This was my definition of "Ethiopia".
     So ... was it better than Australia?
     (Oops. Sorry, Ethiopia. I didn't mean to laugh.)
     I had to remember that the world wasn't a hierarchy of countries. Keeping that in mind, I presented to you:
     The Top 5 Worst Things about Ethiopia!

     I learned quickly to walk through the streets with my head down, to discourage the human pests from bothering me. I lay awake at night, grumpy and exhausted, because of the ...

     The mosques, Protestant churches, and especially the Ethiopian Orthodox churches used loud, low-quality microphones to force entire towns to pay attention to them. This was a larger version of the methods used by attention-seeking locals, who shouted at people aggressively.


     Ethiopia's three main religions all prohibited dancing.
     Africans who didn't dance were like ... well ... a lot of Ethiopians would've said: "like a white person with no money."
     The three religions also prohibited pre-marital sex. Maybe that was why the discotechs were full of prostitutes?
     "When a society is conservative (regarding love), the people are unhappy. Freedom in love (the idea of it, at least) is necessary for promoting creativity, playfulness, and enjoyment of life." - J.Breen philosophy

     Was there anything left for The Top 5 Best Things about Ethiopia!

     There were some guys who just wanted to converse. They shook my hand and we bumped our right shoulders together - an awkward greeting that meant the warmest feelings. We shared a meal with injera bread, or drank coffee out of small porcelain cups. And I learned that some Ethiopians were generous and hospitable.


HM included the COFFEE; GOOD TAP-WATER; INHALING FOR "YES"; AMHARA DANCING, which I only got to do once; A WEALTH OF MUSIC (including singers Alamayo Eshete, Aster Aweke, Teddy Afro, Tsegaye Eshetu, and Abbush Zallaqaa); the respectful and dignified MUSLIMS; and OROMO PEOPLE. The Oromo people seemed the most naturally inclined to offer hospitality.

There. It wasn't easy to sum up a country of eighty million people with over eighty tribes and languages, but ... with that list, I'd say I did so perfectly.
     Just kidding. I didn't know anything about Ethiopia. I'd only visited one corner of the country. And learned only one-fortieth of its languages.
     But, I did notice it was a bad place to be.
     Educated Ethiopians said, that was because it was so poor. But, this answer just showed that they too over-emphasized money!
     I'd been to poor countries before. In Senegal, people shared their food and homes with me without even thinking about it. In Guinea-Bissau, the women said to me: "I've just cooked some rice and fish. Come eat with me." Others said: "Come visit me at night. My house doesn't have electricity. But, we can dance outside to the radio." In Brazil, poor girls said they liked the color of my eyes and my accent when I spoke their language. In Lesotho, orphans took care of me. In Zambia ... in Tunisia ... etc.
     But in Ethiopia, most people greeted me with this attitude:
     "So, what are you going to give me?"
     No, I didn't blame the poverty. I would've loved to live in one of the poor farmers' huts, eating from an endless supply of crops fed by heavy rain. If they weren't happy with that, they were sick in the head!
     I blamed the greed. I blamed a love for money that turned the people into robots chirping, "Birr, birr, money!" I blamed - probably incorrectly, but none-the-less ...
     the Ethiopian Orthodox Church!
     As the country's most dominant religious institution, it was to be held accountable for the people's shameful behavior and spiritual emptiness. I observed a school director in Maji, wearing a white Orthodox shawl over his head, telling me I wasn't his "kwadeunya" (friend) and couldn't camp in his schoolyard: "No. No kwadeunya. Money is kwadeunya!"
     And the owner of Mizan's Sheuwa Hotel, a mean-looking woman in a white shawl, who boasted, "This is a Christian home!" because she so generously let me use some of her rainwater. Her hotel, which earned $1000 a month, paid its night guard $15 a month and made him live in a coffin made from trash. The other employees, two prostitutes, spent a hundred hours a week cleaning and managing the hotel; they were given a room to share; I wondered if they earned any part of their salaries from the hotel itself?
     Okay. So, Ethiopia sucked and it was the Orthodox Church's fault. But, what could the country do about it?
     Firstly, I would recommend it stop the religious noise pollution.
     Secondly, it should stop importing things which it couldn't produce itself and which not all Ethiopians could afford. The people were too immature spiritually to see technology, cars, etc. without becoming greedy and insecure.
     Thirdly, it should teach its people the truth: "Maybe there's a God. And maybe there isn't. Maybe the Bible is the word of God. And maybe it was written by people with no divine inspiration. Maybe the Koran ..."
     Fourthly, it could restrict all foreigners from entering the country if they had more than $10/day. Peace Corps volunteers? They could stay. Tourists in 4WD vehicles? NGO workers who hung out in shopping malls with ex-pats and never learned the language. If they weren't willing to live like the locals, then how did they expect to help them?
     And fifthly (if that was even a word), it could learn - fifth of all? - from the example of Awra Amba.
     Awra Amba was a utopian community in the north that, like all good utopian communities, was shunned by the rest of its country.
     It had no religion. It believed in hard work. It considered beggars to be repulsive. Its men and women were given equal workloads and lived as equals. Foreigners and Ethiopian visitors to the community paid the same amount: 6 birr a day. ($0.30)
     Sadly, I never got to visit it.
     It sounded like heaven inside hell.

Modern Oddyseus

(Multiple-choice question. Difficult!)
     You find yourself standing at a cross-roads in Ethiopia. Are you having a nightmare? Probably. But at any rate, you have to decide which way to go. In which direction would you be annoyed the least?

A. To the left. Three small boys and a twelve-year-old girl have just spotted you.
B. Straight. Two young women, with sweet faces highlighted by tight braids, are calling you to them.
C. To the right. A lazy guy with red drunken eyes yells at you as he picks leaves off his bundle of qat.
D. Behind you. The microphone of an Ethiopian Orthodox church stares you down.

The correct answer is "E. Don't move anywhere! Lay down and curl up in the fetal position."
     But, I would also accept "C".

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