Another Day in My Life

23 Sep

So I’m slightly over half done my stay here, and I think it’s about time for another update on my day-to-day life.

I am now pretty comfortable in the city and for the most part, I can find m way around. I use the mini-busses when I know exactly where I’m going, but otherwise I use a contract taxi. The mini-busses are super cheap (usually just a few birr, a matter of cents), but you have to listen as the attendant hangs out the window and yells out where it is going. Then you need to know where you want to get off since there are no appointed stops – luckily I learned how to say “stop here” in Amharic pretty early on in my stay! The contract taxis are nice since they will drop you off exactly where you want, but they can also be a hassle. I have a few drivers in my neighbourhood that I like and trust, but otherwise it is a huge pain in the butt to negotiate the price. Some drivers are honest about the pricing, but a lot of them initially try to way overcharge (especially foreigners). Knowing a little Amharic helps a bit, and using some Amharic and making a joke about “forengi prices” usually helps me to drive the price down.

However, my Amharic is still very limited. I know the basics and can even have a short conversation, but usually I run out of Amharic and end up staring blankly as the person I’m speaking with overestimates my abilities. The kids in my neighbourhood are actually my best teachers though! They are also very sweet. One of them even invited me to her home for New Years dinner! Since it was so special, I have written a separate post about it.

I am still very much in love with the food and coffee here. In fact, here are some things I have learned about food in Ethiopia:

  1. Get over trying to ever look cute or nice while eating with your hands.
  2. Food WILL get caked into your nail beds.
  3. If you are a sectional eater like me, get over it. You can’t do that here.
  4. Food is for sharing. The portion sizes are for sharing, everyone eats family style and even if you think you ordered your own dish – you didn’t.
  5. You should eat A LOT. And if the people you’re with don’t think you are eating enough… well, it’s not unusual for them to just feed you. And when someone does this, it is very rude to reject it.

Overall, my experience here has been quite wonderful. I think it might be time for me to spend some time in Canada when I get back, but I wouldn’t hesitate to come back here if the opportunity presented itself.

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Ethiopian New Years

23 Sep

First things first: for those of you that don’t know, Ethiopia has its own calendar. The Ethiopian calendar has 13 months (12 of 30 days each, and 1 with either 5 or 6 days, depending on if it is a leap year or not). The calender is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar, because of different calculations of the date of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus. So, this year on September 11 we celebrated the coming of year 2006.

Since New Years Day fell on a Wednesday, and Wednesday is a fasting day for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians (they eat entirely vegan on fasting days), the real celebration for many was on Thursday. My neighbours invited me to their home to eat with them on this day. For any of you that have ever been in a foreign country or alone for a holiday, you understand how special it is when a family opens their home to you on special holidays.

As a thanks (and with the knowledge to never show up empty-handed) for hosting, I brought a card, a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses for the family. They were very excited to have me, and as soon as I came in they sat me down and served me popcorn and tella (sort of like a home-made sweet beer). Then they brought me a Fanta.  Then a glass of wine. Then came the food – so much food!!

The typical New Years dish is called doro wot (doro meaning chicken and wot meaning sauce) and it is so delicious – especially when it is homemade by an amazing Ethiopian woman. Then there was the lamb. Then two different goat dishes. All served with a huge amount of injera. The doro wot was fantastic, but by the end I had had wayyyy too much meat. Ethiopians are very hospitable and want you to be full and satisfied, so my hosts kept piling the food on me. By the end, I thought that if I had even one more bite of goat then I would be sick – thankfully that didn’t happen.

And just when I thought I had consumed all I could possibly consume, they brought out cake and started a coffee ceremony! So, after three cups of coffee (the proper amount for a coffee ceremony), I got to really talking to my hosts. Honey, a nine-year old girl, was the one who first took a liking to me and invited me over. Honey has two older sisters (17 and 20) and an older brother, although I did not get his age. Her father works as a taxi driver and her mother works at home. Her 17 year-old sister, Madina, spoke the best English and her and I get along very well. After a while we got onto the topic of football (it is very exciting that Ethiopia has made it to the next round of the world cup qualifiers). We were talking about the players, and I asked Honey who her favourite was, and this is where the conversation got interesting.

Honey said, or rather yelled, “All the Ethiopian players! Just not the Africans, I hate Africans!” (Side note: many Ethiopians do not identify as African, and are proud to be Habesha as a separate identity.) Madina looked shocked and embarrassed, and I don’t think her parents understood. So I asked Honey why she said that, and she said because she only liked Ethiopians. So obviously my next question was “But I’m not Ethiopian and we’re friends.”

And she said, “Yes, because you are nice.”

I said, “So what if you meet an African and she is nice?”

“Then I would love her, but if she is bad then I will hate her.”

“So Honey, why don’t you do the same with everyone you meet? When you know them then you can know if they are nice or not.”

We ended up talking in circles for a while, with Madina trying to explain in Amharic what I was saying. In the end, we got her to agree that the heart is more important than skin, so hopefully we got through to her. I don’t think I entirely convinced her though. Madina seems like a really great role model for her, so hopefully she continues to learn from her big sister. I hope that I can find another way to talk to her about this, although it is already a difficult topic for a 9-year old, even without language barriers.

After all this it was getting quite late, so I said my thanks and goodbyes.

It was a memorable evening and I am so thankful to have amazing neighbours that welcome me into their homes.

Happy 2006 everyone!

Feminism Isn’t Working and I Give Up

12 Sep

More Than Just a White Girl

28 Aug

I had a really hurtful incident happen to me Saturday. I process things and organize my thoughts best when I write them down, so I decided to write about it. I was unsure about whether or not I wanted to publish this, but a friend of mine told me that I write about hard things well and it is an important topic, so I have decided to share it.

One of my closest Ethiopian friends sent me this text message Saturday evening:

“Sorry Kyla, I can’t see you anymore because I don’t want to hang out with white girls for next eight months.”

My heart jumped to my throat and I immediately started to cry. For those of you that know me personally, you know that I do not cry often or easily, but I just couldn’t even process those words when I read them.

When living abroad it can be hard to find new friends, especially friends with whom you can be completely comfortable. This is especially true since sometimes there is the opposite of this text message – there are some who befriend foreigners because of perceived status. But I truly thought that I had found a good, genuine friend who liked me for me. We would spend lots of time together, he understood my sense of humour and he would even call me for support when he was having troubles in his personal life.

I am flawed, but I do think that I am a good person and a good friend – and I am DEFINITELY more than my skin colour or my gender. I am more than just a “white girl” and like everyone else, I have a dynamic and unique personality. There are definitely reasons why some people won’t like me. Don’t like me because I’m super sarcastic, or because you hate my politics, or because I tend to talk a lot and sometimes overshare; I’m a big girl  woman and I can handle (and even expect) that.

But I try very hard to educate myself about issues of gender, race, and other types of discrimination, and try even harder to only judge people on their ideas, their actions and the way they treat others. To have someone I care about tell me they don’t want to hang out with me anymore because I am a “white girl” was one of the most hurtful things anyone has ever said.

I am hesitant to call it racism, but I don’t know what else to call it. I am a firm believer in not blaming the oppressed for their oppression (e.g. not blaming women for a system of patriarchy), but the truth is that I personally experience prejudice every day here for being a “white girl.” Sometimes it works in my favour (such as security not being suspicious of me in the supermarket) and sometimes it makes my life more difficult (such as being yelled at on the streets and being given unfair prices). But these are all things I take in stride from strangers that only know me as a “white girl.” My friend knew my personality, my goals, my humour and my secrets, yet still chose to exclude me from his life because I am a “white girl.” It hurts my heart.

There is a chance that the man that said this to me will read this and I hope he does. After I received that message I asked him to explain but he did not reply. He wouldn’t take any of my calls. But he should know how he made me feel.

I am confident in myself and I know that I am more than what he sees. If he can’t see that then I feel sorry for him because he is missing out on some really great people by excluding all “white girls” from his life.

Forgiveness has been the hardest lesson that my faith has taught me, and I am struggling with it now. The wounds are little too raw for me to forgive right now, but I will forgive him. I will forgive him and I hope he finds the strength to apologize to me and to overcome his prejudice.

South Omo Valley

15 Aug

Last week my friend Keith came to visit me in Ethiopia. I have made many friends here, and luckily enough a few of them have tourism companies. So, my friend George arranged an amazing 5-day tour of Omo Valley for us through his company, Exciting Ethiopia Tours.

Keith arrived mid-day Tuesday, and we had a relaxing afternoon. We went to a favourite local restaurant of mine where Keith had his first taste of Ethiopian food, and we also went to a Kaldi’s (the Ethiopian equivalent of Starbucks… except it’s way better because the coffee here just can’t be beat).

Wednesday morning we went to the National Museum where we saw Lucy, the skeleton of an early human ancestor. Lucy was part of the paleontology exhibit. The other displays were an ethnography exhibit, an exhibit of historical and archaeological findings from Ethiopian history and a modern art exhibit.  Wednesday evening we traveled to Hawassa and spent the night there.

We were up bright and early Thursday morning to drive all the way to Keifer to visit the market there. Along the way, we stopped to get our first view of Omo Valley.

First view of Omo Valley

First view of Omo Valley

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Looking over the beautiful Omo Valley

There were people from the Bana, Ari and Hamer tribes all selling goods in the markets, and it was our first look at some of the traditional clothing of the Omo Valley tribes.

Market in Keifer

Market in Keifer

Keifer is also George’s hometown, and he arranged for me to meet his family. So after visiting the market, Keith and I took a short walk to his family’s house. They were extremely welcoming, served us coffee, and offered us khat! Khat (pronounced chat) is a bitter leaf that is very popular in East Africa for the mild stimulating effect it gives when you chew it. It was certainly very bitter, and I did feel a little more energized from it, but that could also have been the coffee. I don’t think I had enough of it to really feel the effects.

We left Keifer in the early evening and continued to Jinka where we spent the night. Friday morning we went to visit a Mursi tribe. The Mursi are a famous tribe in Ethiopia, known for the practice of women stretching the lips and ears. They are truly beautiful, although the experience of visiting them seems very inauthentic. Because the Mursi tribes have become very popular for tourists, they have learned how to capitalize on this. They ask for 5 birr for every picture taken, and are very, very pushy. It was impossible to take two steps without somebody grabbing your arm, pointing at your camera and saying “photo, photo, photo!” It is rather unsettling, and brings up many questions, especially from a development point of view. Of course the people should benefit from the tourism, but I felt like I did not really learn much about their culture. It also brings up the question of whether they are only keeping their traditions for the sole sake of tourism. My favourite part of visiting this village was when we sat down with the Chief and a few of the others in the shade and taught them how to say my name. The chief offered us water and only asked if we wanted to take a picture when we left.

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Girl from the Mursi tribe

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Mursi woman grinding sorghum. You can see that her lips are stretched, but she is not currently wearing her lip plate.

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Man from the Mursi tribe

Friday afternoon was a definite change of pace. We went to an Ari community that had a community-based tourism program where you hired a local guide for a tour. We had the chance to walk around, and see community members going about their routines. We saw a woman making clay dishes (some are used in the household and most are sold at the market), a family making injera (I got to pour some and made a horribly unround injera), a blacksmith (making a knife to sell at the market) and traditional alchohol brewing.

Ari woman making a clay dish.

Ari woman making a clay dish.

After leaving the Ari village, we walked around Jinka, guided by one of my friends. Jinka is his hometown and luckily for us, he was actually there! We had a quick tour and saw the local market before having dinner.

Saturday we started to make our way north again, stopping at another market before arriving at Arba Minch for the night. Sunday we arrived in Addis, and unfortunately it was time for me to say goodbye to Keith.

All in all, it was an AMAZING trip, and it was so wonderful to see more of Ethiopia. I truly loved Botswana, but its beauty took time to learn and to appreciate; Ethiopia’s beauty just stares you right in the face. The landscapes with all of the mountains are so amazing, but they are nothing compared to the diversity and rich cultures you find here. I can safely say that I am in love with this country, and I am really looking forward to the coming months!

Passion Killings: A Festering Sore on the Conscience of the Nation by Dr. M. Dikobe

6 Aug

I had this article passed to me. It is an article by a gender activist in Botswana on “passion killings”. It also references the practice of lobola (bride price). To read more on this issue in Botswana, read my blog about it

A number of reasons have been put forward in explaining high incidences of passion killings in Botswana, the most obvious one being the unequal power dynamics in relationships between men and women; woman are often perceived as minors who need to be disciplined from time to time. Another is entrenched cultural practices and patterns of socialisation. Further, to a certain extent, some Tswana folksongs can help us understand the way in which passion killings are regarded – as well as the responses to these murders. Many people use their culture, traditions or religion as a way to control women. In Setswana culture, as is similar in many countries in southern Africa, when one gets married the man pays lobola (bride price), mainly in the form of cattle and money, to the woman’s family.

The concept of having ‘purchased a wife’ has been cited as a reason for the belief by some men that they have the licence to beat their wives. These beliefs are further reinforced by the lyrics of some wedding songs, such as the one which includes the words, “mosadi wame ke mo rekile ka dikgomo”, loosely translated as, “my wife I have bought her with cattle”. The causes of passion killings are manifold and a lot of research on this issue is needed to better understand both the cultural and socio-political implications of its causes. Among them, increasing poverty levels and youth unemployment have been cited as contributing factors to the proliferation of inter generational dating as young girls trade sexual favours for a luxurious life. Socialisation too, plays a major factor. Men are socialised to be providers and women, the ones provided for. This creates dependency where women expect financial support and gifts from men, and the provider in turn expects loyalty and love once he has ‘bought’ the girl. Once the relationship goes sour, and the girl tries to leave, the man who feels that he has been taken advantage of does not take no for an answer, sometimes leading to violence, and at times, murder.

 Solutions

The Government of Botswana and other stakeholders have embarked on initiatives aimed at curbing violence against girls and women. Botswana is signatory to agreements to protect women’s rights, among them the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the SADC Declaration on Gender, and the Sexual Offence Bill among others. Despite increases in equality at legislative level, gender-based violence remains problematic in Botswana. To date there is no formalized mechanism to monitor and evaluate gender based violence. Some community mobilising and awareness- raising remains crucial.

There is still only one shelter for victims of gender and domestic violence and rape which is in Gaborone, the capital, with another centre – Women Against Rape (WAR) – in Maun in the north-east. There is a call to increase the number of such centres across the country and to make them accessible to women and girls. There is also a need to mobilise public opinion against the broader injustices of femicide. Everyone should say “NO” to violence against women.

The state has to ratify and enforce existing laws and ensure that there is zero tolerance towards violence against girls and women. The Government of Botswana is also currently looking at setting up national consultative workshops where the whole country can be sensitised about the issues of women’s vulnerability to abuse. Dialogue among various stakeholders, including NGOs, Civil Society and traditional and religious leaders, to find solutions and interventions to mitigate the impact of violence against women in the country is also encouraged. In particular, there is need for stiffer sentences for perpetrators so that they do not walk the streets scot free and prey on other young women.

Passion killings: “a festering sore on the conscience of the nation”

Crimes of “passion” are common worldwide, but several incidents of passion killings – where a number of young girls were killed by their lovers around Botswana in a short space of time – have attracted international media attention. Although men and boys are sometimes victims of passion killings, women and girls in Botswana are the ones who mainly suffer the consequences of this type of gender-based violence. The former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae noted at the National Conference on Crimes of Passion Among the Youth in Botswana in 2008 that “these crimes are new to Botswana and are not part of our culture as a peaceful and compassionate nation”. He noted further that, “crimes of passion are a festering sore on the conscience of our nation… they are eating into the fabric of the society”. The former President’s comments are close to the concerns of youth and adults alike in Botswana, who express the urgency of curbing ‘femicide’ – or passion killings as they are commonly referred to – before they get further out of control.

Dr. Maude Dikobe is a gender activist and Lecture of Literature and the Expressive Arts of the African Diaspora at the University of Botswana. She is a Fulbright scholar and holds a Phd. in African Diaspora Studies from UC Berkeley, United States.

The Effects of Child Sponsorship and Microfinance

6 Aug

On a recent field visit I had the opportunity to travel to a Canadian sponsored ADP (Area Development Program). I was there to gather information about World Vision Ethiopia’s relationship with Wisdom Microfinance, World Vision’s affiliated microfinance institution, and about the Child Savings Program. In addition to talking with staff at each organization’s office, I had the chance to visit beneficiaries.

The first farm that I visited was a modest small family farm of approximately 1.5ha. Two of the household’s children are World Vision Canada sponsored children. The 16 year-old male has ambitions to be a pilot while his 13 year-old sister wants to be an engineer. While I enjoyed speaking with these two (through not one but two translators: from English-Amharic and again from Amharic-Oromifa), it was their mother who I was in awe of.

She had 6 children, ranging from ages 7 to 22, and her and her husband started with a small piece of land which they farmed, but they struggled to get by – ten years ago they would have qualified as food insecure and living in extreme poverty. When World Vision and Wisdom Microfinance came into the community, she saw an opportunity. She received a small loan from Wisdom and used it to by a donkey, 4 goats and seeds for potatoes. After she repaid her initial loan, she joined a local savings group and withdrew a second loan. With this loan she bought 2 cattle, more vegetable seeds and loaned more farmland. After repaying this loan, she withdrew her third loan and bought an ox. She worked to fatten the ox for about a year and sold it for a large profit – her profit was several times the amount of her initial loan! She is now applying to receive her fourth loan.

This lady is seriously smart and is a savvy businesswoman. She knew exactly when to buy and when to sell her assets, and now her family is considered to be food secure. Additionally, with her savings she was able to support her two oldest daughters (ages 19 and 22) through high school. The nearest high school is about 10 km away from their home, so they rented a room in the school’s village. Her daughters are now working abroad in Saudi Arabia as maids. She wants to be able to support her younger 4 children in the same way so that they can have a different life from subsistence farming.

And the coolest part about this woman? When I asked if she had any questions for me or if she thought there should be any changes in the services offered, her response was: “Train other people the way I was trained. Before I had nothing, but now my family has so many assets. Give others the opportunity that I had.”

She shows the strength of women. She shows the power of microfinance.

To sponsor a child through World Vision Canada, go here.