Saturday, January 28, 2006

swagger, ethiopia, DDT and durkheim

I realized today that I've lost my Toronto rush and acquired an Ethiopian swagger when I walk. There's hardly reason for rushing and there's a lot of tolerance for lateness here when you consider the difficulties with respect to transportation. Most people don't drive and either opt for walking and/or taxi service. The taxi system is far superior to anything in Canada. The majority of taxis are shared so the price depends on the distance to your destination. For a trip in a van which carries up to 12 people at once, the minimum is 60 cents per person. For a car, which carries up to 4 people at once, the minimum is 75 cents. (I don't know maximum prices because I generally don't stray to far from home by taxi.) It's convenient because you just need to say "this is my stop" (aka woradj alleu) and they let you off anywhere. To get picked up, it's just a slight wave of the hand. I've only taken the giant red and orange bus once (from Shiro Meda to Bole) with the help of friends. The bus is better for longer cross-city trips. The bad thing about the bus is that it's packed and more people always squeeze on. People literally tumble out at their stop. I hardly doubt there are safety regulations and the doors are capable of removing limbs as they close.

I think the other swagger factor is the sun. It's too hot at certain times of the day to move quickly. And while this is highland country, it's still very hot, dry, dusty and dirty. Which brings me to another point - you have to walk carefully to watch for rusty nails, gobs of spit/snot, zig zag bull pee and goat poop pellets.

Things are slower here but considering the country is still developing, I think there's such a great opportunity to learn from the mistakes the rest of the world made in their own stages of development. The best example I can think of to relate this is the use of DDT as a pesticide in North America. While somewhat controversial, DDT was banned over 20 years ago for possibly causing harmful side effects and yet it's being widely used here. Why, why, why? The poor economy means Ethiopia can mostly afford the West's cast-offs but in all good conscience, how can anyone act out the role akin to a tobacco company - we know you don't really need it, and we know it's harmful (maaaaaybe deadly) to you and your children and your children's children but...that's business. Essentially of course, it comes down to money. You don't have to read that much into it to realize that when it comes to money, the lives of Africans aren't considered valuable.

All of the world, including the West, spawned from Ethiopia. If anything, the development of Africa should be an ideas exchange rather than a dictatorship or fiduciary approach. Who's to say the West knows best? Because we have stuff and technology and technology that gives up more stuff? It hasn't brought us happiness yet. We seem to think if we hold out a little longer, this same technology will click, spark or shine and happiness will appear. It won't. Are the people of Ethiopia happy? No. But I think it's the disappointment of seeing the gap between their lifestyle (something akin to Durkheim's theory perhaps) and that of the West. When perhaps they were perfectly fine in the first place.

As an update, the book to change our generation is "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn. It's a mind bender in the best sense. It says everything I can't possibly say here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

my untimely (follow up) letter to pettigrew who is no longer foreign affairs minister

Of course I blame hideous Stephen Harper. I think I speak for the un-minority of Canadians when I say "nooooooooo, no no no, noooooooooo".

Sunday, January 22, 2006

an attempt at an update

As follow up to my previous email requesting Canadian assistance for the people of Ethiopia, I am writing to express my disappointment at receiving no further response from Foreign Affairs. As you indicated (Canada's Ambassador to Ethiopia met with the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs on November 2nd) there was a meeting between these two groups. I am now wondering what steps the Canadian government has taken, if any, in this regard. I have not heard of any sanctions (or other measures) but if I am mistaken, I would appreciate being informed. Additionally, the Canadian embassy is having a barbeque this coming Saturday. Beyond warnings during particular violent times in the city, we have not been well informed about Canada's stand on the issue.

The situation continues in Ethiopia. Soon the opposition leaders and members will be subject to trial for treason. Please ensure this issue does not slip in priority. To quote Stockwell Day (something few Canadians would indeed do), "The Liberal Government should have already been working to broker peace between the Ethiopian Government and Opposition Parties and supporters."

Thank you and I look forward to your response.

several mishaps leading to a nearly disastrous day at school that turns into a rant

  1. ugly kid in class gets bad headache, starts crying, sees the nurse, calls her mom and goes home (she was actually sort of endearing at this point until the next day when i heard her whiney voice say "miiiiisssssss"),
  2. cute girl falls down while running, takes chunk out of knee, refuses to see nurse, I bring nurse to her and she squirms while she gets bandaged up,
  3. cute girl #2 eats lots of ferfer at lunch, proceeds to throw her lunch up while one of the assistants berates her for doing said deed.
I'm not one who is big on confrontation. There are several things I need to speak with the above mentioned assistant about including insulting a child's parent in front of the child, making her cry. I always wait on these sorts of things and then when I do work up the courage (or the situation becomes intolerable) it seems untimely.

Time for the librarian story: the jist is she speaks to me like I'm one of the students, which in turn makes me want to act like a kid - forgetting 'important' library rules like leaving my bag at the door and not eating in the sacred room of books.

"Sara! there's no eating in the library."

"Oh, there isn't? I didn't know." Ha.

It was all slightly annoying until I picked up that her tone implied I was also a kid. Then I thought about what would happen if I spoke to her like she was a five year old. I don't think she would be impressed, especially considering I've never seen her even crack a smile (except when she was laughing at one of the Korean students speaking...Korean). On top of her nazi tendencies, she's incompetent. And this really boils down to my issue(s?) with confrontation, because the woman has no reason - none, zip, menem - to be a jerk. I could list a whole list of things she does that point to total incompetency:

1. To take out or return a single book means waiting for a good five mintues while she searches through her drawer of a thousand cards to find my name. One word, lady: alphabetize.

2. She likes her mobile. For a woman who is constantly saying "the library means quiet", she does a lot of yappin'.

3. The kicker: I've seen her eating the exact same thing as me while in the library. (Side note: Rocklets are a close approximation to Smarties and come in better, more 70's basement kinda colours. When the orange, brown and green end up in my hand together, it makes me smile.)

Having to go to the library has turned anxiety ridden. And mostly, I have no one to blame but me - the most bitter part of this lesson. But really, I swear that wherever I go in the world, I'm destined to encounter some effen freaky people. They all have names. I've told their stories, which are sadly my stories, to you before. This one will do down as the "nazi librarian". I will, as they say, keep you posted.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

two day weekend - cruel and unusual

My days at school have been filled with insane amounts of repetition on my part (abc’s, 1-2-3’s) and their part (Miss! She hit me. Miss! Rubber!) With all of the holidays lately, it means I’ve only been doing 3- or 4-day work weeks. So when the 5-day weeks start, it’s going to feel abnormally long…and painful. I thought I was doing so well – being patient, caring, creative. And then the cramps and headaches started and it felt like the best solution might be to knock some small heads together. I didn’t. But I wanted to. So on Monday when I get to see them all again, I’m hoping that feeling disappears.

Adding to the mayhem is that the school has asked me to teach two classes for grade one. My first attempt was this past Friday. It’s oddly serene watching a classroom of 32 kids just disintegrate. Suddenly everyone asks to ‘go to toilet’, the worksheets end up on the floor. When I was six years old and a teacher told me to do something, I listened out of fear. I almost admire these kids for being anti-authoritative in their own way. But then another way to describe them is ‘brats’. I need some sort of shock n’ awe method.

The boyfriend and I are contemplating getting a dog. And for anyone who knows me, you’re jaw just dropped so feel free to close it. I don’t like pets but I like the boyfriend; he’s generally good at following through with what he says and so I trust him when he says he’ll be the one to wash the dog, train the dog, love the dog. I still want to help out with the training because I think a better behaved dog will be one that I can tolerate (and maybe enjoy?) so I’ve been reading up on training tips. And (not so) oddly enough, it sounds very similar to dealing with children. Perhaps these two aspects of my life will pleasantly intertwine. The children will stop digging holes in the yard and the dog will count to 20. Or something like that.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

fa la la la wha?

Christmas came and went with much ado about nothing. Christmas eve: nice dinner, went out to clubs. (Oh, before dinner I managed to whip up some cinnamon buns while the boyfriend tidied and put up the Christmas lights and transformed a sad looking cactus into a sad looking Christmas tree.) Christmas morning the boyfriend was hungover but still excited about opening plenty of presents courtesy of Dubai. They all looked odd wrapped in Amharic laden newspaper. Mao-ish perhaps. There’s a joke in there somewhere about the boyfriend hoping for mao presents. wawawa.

Then we did the typical Christmas day activities: napping and movie watching. The napping didn’t work out so well because we ate too much chocolate to come down from and unfortunately we didn’t have any Christmas-themed movies but squeezed in Finding Nemo “the seamonkey stole my money” and Gladiator “bang bang death” for good measure.

For the new year, we were in the Guragee area. The boyfriend and father-in-law were checking out a water drilling site and I was along to see new sites. There were huts lining the ‘street’ and kids would coming running out excited to see a car and then quickly run away – afraid of the car. We turned old people and went to bed at 11. I’m never excited for any kind of new year celebrations. It’s always a disappointment no matter what plans you make. Sleep – I know what to expect there.

Right now it’s the second round of Christmas celebrations – habesha style. Although really it’s just eating. Same as in Canada – you get together with lots of people; there’s too much eating; there are too many kids running around making too much noise. It’s all about excess. And, believe it or not, even a poor country is still about excess. I’ve never seen so many sheep for the purpose of eating rather than for mutton bustin’. And if you don’t know what mutton bustin’ is, well… “it’s kinda wei-rud”.

The best part so far about this time of year is all the time off from work. Teaching has been a lot more demanding than I thought. More and more I feel like I am the establishment. “Hey kids, x is good and y is bad.” How do you explain to 5 year olds who are just learning more English about the grey zone? I’ve been trying out yoga breathing and shakin’ out the sillies and other nonsense and it seems to be going well. I actually admire the kids who don’t listen very well. I definitely wasn’t like that when I was small. And really for me, the most they are is slightly trying. Every day is a new one and I treat each kid that way…there’s nothing they could have done the day before that will effect how I treat them today. Kids are insanely forgiving anyways. Even if I’ve told them they couldn’t play on the swings earlier and they fall down crying, they still give me a kiss goodbye at the end of the day.

We’re having a holiday barbeque tomorrow. The barbeque will actually be an old tire well. The beef will be beef. But it’ll be a full on barbeque in the middle of winter. Good ol’ Africa.