As I am currently sitting at this fancy FroYo place in Bole, trying to keep this insane amount of dust from my laptop and slowly getting used to my new hairstyle (hello braids; is this still cultural admiration or already appropriation – this thought keeps nagging me), I guess there is no excuse to postpone this blog article any longer.
The first week here in Addis has been nothing but amazing so far. It definitely does not compare to anything I have ever experienced and I would not necessarily compare Ethiopia or Addis to any place in Latin America that I have been to.
Aside from my really lovely birthday (thanks to Mark and Yosef for the cake) I had the best time visiting the women self-help group. I honestly had a hard time not starting to cry (as I always do when I see solidarity in action) when these women shared their stories with us. Nothing compares to actually seeing (contentious) practices such as micro-finance projects being implemented and having people talk about their experiences. It was such a powerful experience to see the strength of their community and how they provide an inclusive environment for HIV positive women.
In addition to that, I was also very impressed with the students at the Human Rights Center and how all the women stressed that they were especially interested in women’s rights. I guess my feminist heart felt very delighted to see how people here actually care about women’s empowerment, not only because it is so conducive to development but also because it is a welcoming change from the mainstream Western perspective where women’s rights are treated as a given fact and people are fed up with feminism.
I cannot wait to start my internship on Monday and find a topic I want to do research on for the next couple months.
On the other hand I have definitely felt uncomfortable in a lot of situations where it was so obvious that we as the rich “forenchi”(like right now, sitting in a nice café in Bole with MacBooks all over the table looking like the most obnoxious Westerners) come here to help and assist in “development”. I have been asking myself whether I will eventually overcome this feeling or whether this is just something that comes with fieldwork in general. I assume that this is the overarching question in development work anyways, namely how to pass on your knowledge without forcing Western practices upon locally owned organizations.
I also cannot stop wondering where all these international people that are supposed to be around the city are hiding. Do they just go back in forth between their work and apartment? Is there some kind of secret segregation going on that I am not yet aware of?
So did I experience “culture shock” so far? Probably not. I am also not quite sure what that means. I suppose if I weren’t comfortable with living in places where power cuts, water shortages and the like are common, I would not study what I am studying. Of course, it has mainly been due to the kindness and warm-heartedness of the Ethiopians we have met so far seem that the process of adjusting felt (and feels) so easy. In my eyes the most important thing is to simply keep up your spirits, laugh at the little things and, most of all, do not take yourself too seriously (but I guess this is not particular to our current IFP experience).
However, I would definitely want to force every single white Western person to live abroad in the Majority World for a while to, you know, check his or her privileges. I would also want every single white person to know that reverse racism does not exist because reverse power structures do not exist (speaking on a macro level; all organizations we have got to visit apparently depend on external donor funding) and that visiting or working in an African country comes with the responsibility of doing everything to avoid perpetuating the imagery of the “white savior”.
I expect the whole stay to be a very humbling experience. By the end of these two months I really hope to have a clearer picture about my career aspirations, whether I want to pursue a career in research or work on the ground.