Ethiopia has had the privilege to pursue projects continuously for centuries. Having resisted multiple attempts for colonization, institutions in place have never been fully dictated by external politics. The Mengagesha Suba National Forest is the oldest national park in Africa, potentially for this reason.
Capitalism is the modern colonization, the quiet but ravenous one, that slowly shifts priorities from sharing to ownership, from survival to accumulation, from domestic security to winning international competition. With it comes potential for security, improved income and therefore improved ‘utility’. This is the narrative. This is what students here learn, this is the message being sent around.. How can people make more money?
This was particularly clear at the US Embassy, which hosted a panel and networking event. Here it seemed that many people were confused between US businesses making more money in Ethiopia and Ethiopian people being better off. In presentations by a few US Embassy representatives, they made it clear that many programs were being put in place that would make business between the US and Ethiopia easier. They also made it clear at the beginning that they do not have funding (aka hey ethiopian entrepreneurs, we don’t have money for you). They knew their audience. See my last post about the potential effects of import liberalization, or policy and law that allows for unrestricted trade into the country. I’ve heard many people lament about the lack of foreign currency, due to more importing than exporting. I’m not sure whether business coming to Ethiopia will bring foreign currency here, and if it does, where it will end up. Further, some of the business that’s being brought is disconcerting, for example, agrochemicals. It’s difficult to tell a nation in a drought not to use technologies that may improve crop production. But, it’s also really sad to see a country that was recently producing mostly small-scale organic produce, to turn to the western methods of mass, mechanized, and unnatural production methods. But, that’s the green revolution, that’s global capitalism, and that’s developed countries becoming more strict about fertilizers being used in their countries, leaving companies to find business where regulations are less strict. This is just another way that “developed” countries are kicking away the ladder (Chang) to economic and individual prosperity in “developing” ones.
What I really wanted for this post was to not rant about economics. But here I am, an economics student, helplessly trying to make sense and draw connections between what I learn and what I see. But, let me shift to some lighter notes, and exercise this opportunities to write creatively…
Back to the forest..
30km outside of Addis’ sprawl, reminiscent of the endless outskirts of LA or Houston, the van turns down an unpaved road. I continued to think we were almost there, for about 45 minutes. Through a continuous stretch of villages that seemingly only existed along this road, but more likely spanning acres behind in both directions, where the primary and only apparent method of transportation was horse drawn rickshaw. We got a few looks and a few vibrant waves from youngsters, but mostly people went about their lives, uninterested in our giant vehicle bumbling through the muck and mud of this rainy-seasoned dirt road. Careful strategy was required to navigate puddles and potholes. The driver was nearly flawless in these split second decisions, but the wind must have caught our sail, and we drifted, shifted without traction, hydroplaning sideways, slowly but deterministically. We’d have to get out and watch with bated breath, as our ride nearly spun his wheels into the mud. The villagers seemed friendly, but we weren’t ready to settle down here until a tow truck came (do they even have those here?). It was a miracle that there was no collision with the very nearby house, which, made of clay, straw, and tin, I have no doubt would’ve sustained irreparable damage. Well, we made it. Here is a glimpse of the agricultural land in between sparse villages and the dense forest of our destination.
We also saw this 500kv substation. A bit out of place.. Is this where Addis’ power comes from? Certainly it wasn’t for those living nearby.
Nearing Suba, we caught sight of 2 baboons! This is probably a highlight of my life. In my romantic state, I couldn’t help but think that their ancestors are also mine. No one got pictures, but I’ll remember their stature and their calm aloofness as they caught sight of us and promptly hand-footed into the brush.
The hike was a hike. Beautiful, peaceful nature. Group bonding activity. I learned from our tour guide about how the first tree here was planted by the 15th century emperor, about the different types of trees, their names in english, in amharic, nicknames, and in science.
Whereas vacations, upon return home, often leave me longing for another place, trips to nature tend to illuminate home, to revive the life energy that makes any place of presence more alluring.
As I look back on the past two weeks, with the help of this new energy, I’m ready to say this place is feeling more like home. An evolution has occurred within this short time. Humans, existence, and natural capacities and adaptive abilities, continuously surprise me. The language which recently sounded otherworldly now sounds like a common hum in the backdrop of every day life. Just recently I felt like an insert, like I was somehow copy-pasted awkwardly into the crowds of people that surround me. Now I wonder whether I’ve become immune to the stares or if my new found confidence, or lack of fear, has somehow made me less interesting of a specimen.
A few other notable experiences from the past week or two..
My boss took me to the YMCA. Not like the YMCA you all know and love, but a non-profit started a decade ago. Not only was I the only ferenj out of a few hundred habesha (native ethiopians), but I was wearing my work clothes, when I joined the coordinated aerobic class, which had the attendance of mostly everyone at the gym. Hundreds of people in line doing lunge-step-lunge and jump-step-punch’s in zumba-esque fashion to traditional ethiopian tunes. Somehow, in the midst of all that was awkward, smirks were exchanged and I felt welcome. Afterward, they set up a volleyball net, and a game broke out. For that, I will be back.
It’s fasting season again! A large population here is orthodox christian, and this month is fasting which means.. vegan food in all the restaurants!! In america, menus are more or less fixed year-round, with the exception of some more “conscious” ones that source locally or seasonally. Here, there is an abundance of meat which can be found all year-round, but vegetarian options are bound by fasting seasons. Thankfully, it’s the time for bayenetu’s (fasting platter, aka vegetarian combo), which I have been eating every day. Scooping the various vegetarian and lentil dishes with my fingers, sharing a platter with a friend or two, saying I shouldn’t eat more and then eating more, these are my daily rituals here. Throughout the day I ride the wave from hunger to overly full-ness, thinking, ‘I really need to eat something other than this’, and then a few hours later, the tide comes again. I go through phases of missing my normal diet and cooking, to knowing that, upon return home, I’m going to miss my addis lunchtime, the post-meal traditional coffee, the prices, the conversations..
A few of the things I look forward to..
This weekend I’ll be traveling with Yom to Debre Marcos, approx 6 hours by car to the north, for their university’s graduation (partner uni with Yom). We will participate in some graduation activities, I’ll link up with a student that is working on a similar project to mine, and explore the new place with new and recent friends. My colleague who is from the rural outskirts of the city will invite me to his family’s house where he grew up. According to him, they are completely illiterate, but I will be blessed many times by the G-d whom they met through centuries of oral tradition. I will likely be the first white-hued human they’ve ever seen, and their blink-reaction will be that I am very rich, educated, and positive. There will be a coffee ceremony and a feast from just-harvested produce.
Oh, and our beloved amarinya astamari (amharic teacher), Mewal, will call his farmer friend that produces honey, and will try to help me get my paws on some 🙂 If so, yes, I will bring some home.