didn’t like the grass around the house I was renting then. It
was hard to cut grass on little hilly slopes, and, as a result,
the grass around that house didn’t look so neat and trim.
you are stressed by it, don’t look down,” she, an older woman
I flew into the Ethiopia,
I flew right through a most amazing spread of bright yellow light.
ride to Alemaya from Addis
Ababa takes two days and two nights. We crossed mountains with
little vegetation, only broken by long stretches of a road on
flat almost bare land, passing herders of sheep and goat and women
carrying water. When we reached the mountains, my Ethiopian supervisor
said that people are born, live, and die in those mountains without
ever standing on level ground.
need a computer. The U.S.
teachers had been told computers would be available along with
books. It didn’t take long to realize how important it was for
me to have brought books with me. But now in Alemaya,
the border of Somalia,
I have no way of working or communicating with others back home.
look at the sky, beautiful weather and smell the fresh air!
never had a way of communicating with friends back home from this
campus, but I did receive a new Toshiba laptop!
Ethiopian campus administrators assured me they were working on
a solution. I began my classes, met my students. A few were women.
began with one or two women students.
we have a meeting with you?
was about thirty-five women students. The students selected a
convenient evening, and we met in a classroom. Their dorms were
horrible, they told me. They didn’t have books and computers,
even though previous teachers and programs from the West shipped
both books and computers to the campus. The male teachers and
students ask them for sexual favors. Teachers from the West come
and go. So maybe it will be the same, they said out loud. It will
be the same. Maybe you will forget us, too.
order to see the dorms that housed the women students, I had to
take a campus vehicle with a campus hired hand to travel down
the road to the dorms. The campus operated a massive farm for
the study of agriculture. Well behind the campus buildings and
faculty housing was an area for the livestock. Students, faculty
and the community could purchase milk, butter, and bread from
the campus. Some distance away we came to the dorms for students.
stood outside the truck looking at the women dorms. I saw young
women sitting on the window sills and the curtains blew out around
them. Abandoned public housing buildings? What is this?
For male students, the buildings were in slightly better shape,
but only enough so male students would recognize their supremacy
over the women.
saw a high level Ethiopian administrator approaching me.
are you here?
next minute, I was in the passenger seat of his car, heading back
to the campus. He talked about the campus but didn’t mention the
few days later, I was invited to take a ride with this same administrator
to pick up my laptop. We took the drive down the same road, stopping
at a huge warehouse. We got out and entered. The administrator
spoke Amharic to the man behind the counter. The man disappeared
between the shelves. These shelves extended from one end to the
other; they were filled with supplies and electronic equipment!
The women students told me they had seen boxes of books come into
the campus. But the boxes disappeared. I was sure the boxes of
books were here too. The items in this warehouse could have made
life better for the students. But - and I looked at the well dressed,
suit and tie administrator, but he didn’t look at me. The other
man returned with the Toshiba.
have something the others don’t have, right?
looked out the window at the hired men and women in dingy and
tattered garbs looking at the administrator and at me as we passed.
I saw my grandfather, dead for many years. A janitor - always
in his gray-stripped overalls, hauling trash cans from the first
to the third floor of the buildings he tended in the neighborhood.
And then I saw the women students, waiting for someone not to
at the campus entrance, we passed the gathering of men and women
who always hung around the high-fenced gate with hopes of employment
or free food. Men in green army uniforms, release the latch on
the high gate. The place I returned to was no longer the same
place I left earlier that day.
English department (Ethiopian-Oromo and Indian) held faculty meetings,
but a Nigerian woman and I were never told about these meetings.
We are being excluded I told my supervisor in a phone call to
Addis Ababa. A few days later, he arrived in Alemaya where we met with
the department chair. The two men conversed mostly in English
but also in Amharic. Finally, I asked a question: “What do you
fear?” I’m sitting here. I exist! Both men looked at me. The supervisor,
who seemed to know he had the “wrong kind” of Black person on
his staff, hesitated but then he repeated the question to the
weeks later, I found a flyer on the English department door. It
was written in Amharic!
women have your notice!
you will forget us, too.
on the road again, and I am on the way to Addis
Ababa with my supervisor. As I was leaving the Alemaya region,
I was thinking about a small town I passed through almost every
Saturday on my way to the markets in Harar. Women produce chat,
in this small town. They sit on the side of the road, some packaging
the leaves in clear plastic bags and others press their faces
and the bags on the windows of cars stopping for pedestrians.
Chat is legal and cheap. It’s cheaper than a poverty program.
“Mellow” people are a less demanding people. If I heard someone
young had died and asked how - the people would shake their heads
and walk away. But soon, I understood that if the person was young,
in their twenties, and died suddenly, it was chat. Others
suffered lingering deaths from aids.
land in the south and in the east is inhabited, for the most part,
by the largest ethnic group, the Oromo. And I knew before I arrived
in Ethiopia that the Oromo wanted
the Amharic-controlled government to return the land to them.
Walking is the primary mode of transportation and the people walk
and walk. In the evenings, they sit and sleep on the earth. I
can still see the flames of camp fires spread across the landscape
where women and their children sleep under the darken sky.
Addis Ababa, several
times a day, the call for Muslims and Christians to pray lingered
above the corrugated roof top homes built close together and existing
alongside or behind Ethiopian businesses. I could occupy my time
while waiting for copies at a copy center on Haile
Selassie Boulevard (the mainly concrete sidewalk and street where
our NGO office was located) by watching women clean their clothes
in a pool of muddy water. Behind me, the Ethiopians in the building
were dressed well - designer jeans and colorful shirts and blouses.
Outside, below, young children, emaciated, clung to the worn clothes
of their mothers. More often, young children and teens were alone,
and they walked the streets either looking for food or offering
to work for money. Music shops featured an Ethiopian male or female
singer, but rap and hip hop DVDs also stocked the shelves. Other
shops with U.S.
football and basketball jackets were adjacent to Ethiopian restaurants.
Old blue and white taxis (a 6-seater but usually packed with 8
or 9 people) were everywhere and the big pick-pocket-heaven diesel
buses really had passengers packed against the windows and doors.
young and old, dressed in khakis and jackets or just rough-cut
dark shawls, leading cattle, goats, or chickens to market, have
the right to be everywhere and be seen everywhere. I walked among
the white shawl women (Christians) and the women in the black
chadors (Muslims). Women look older under the yellow light.
takes place outside, for the “kitchens” are a space near the home
where they work or outside a market where other women work as
sellers of produce and owners of food stalls. Work is hauling
concrete blocks on a construction site. Other women work lugging
wood or water, walking in sandals or bare feet. Some were store
clerks and secretaries. But at the time, only one official organization
represented women. I learned to cover my dreads because, in Ethiopia, men, mostly high
priests, wore dreads.
Federal Democratic Republic
Avenue is another world. Bole Avenue has sidewalks and western
style cafes and grocery stores and stores like Sony, selling big-screen
televisions and stereos. There are clothing stores with Western
wear and stores with all the appliances a middle class or wealthy
Ethiopian or expatriate desires to emulate the West household.
Nike, Mc Donalds, IBM and all the other corporations and their
products were well represented on Bole Avenue. Every nation had an embassy in Ethiopia.
Most all of them were located on Bole
Avenue! Why not? Nice structures with all the amenities, including
running water, toilets, and generators to maintain lights even
on the designated days when neighborhoods experienced “lights
out” to conserve energy! Not far away, a Sheraton Hotel and a
Hilton Hotel, each sat in lush green spaces of their own. A simple
dinner at the Hilton Hotel then was roughly 150 Birr! My teacher’s
stipend of 800 USD a month (600 with taxes withheld) was over
6,000 Birr a month in a country where possessing 1 Birr is (for
many Ethiopians) as impossible as possessing 1 million U.S.D for
the average American.
wouldn’t love the “democratic” government? It makes you forget!
taught a graduate level African Caribbean Women’s course with
a well informed Ethiopian male faculty member at Addis
Ababa University. My chair, educated
had no time to supervise or discuss with a woman, let alone an
American woman. I was able to work with a woman’s association.
paid to copy the books I had with me to add to a bookshelf of
books for women students. The chair didn’t attend the workshops
I conducted on women’s issues, but there was always at least one
male from the staff, just listening.
was a big screen television at one Ethiopian hotel (my favorite)
near the center of the city on Haile
Selassie Boulevard. More accessible and inexpensive, at this hotel,
European and African expatriates, middle class Ethiopians, embassy,
and NGO personnel could catch the graphic depictions of U.S. fighter
planes and smart weaponry “advertised” as news on CNN International.
model can pinpoint its target with amazing accuracy...
missiles are no match…
embassy personnel recognized I wasn’t Condi Rice or Oprah Winfrey.
He listened to my concerns and supplied me with the contact information
to gain access to the UN. I was thinking about the 35 women students
back in Alemaya, but no one at the UN was interested.
gained access to the African Union, the division focusing on women’s
issues. They were not interested in some young women clear across
the country, but while there, I saw a hallway display of posters
and pamphlets about the practice of genital mutilation. I picked
up a batch of pamphlets thinking I could distribute this information
to my students and generate discussion. I showed the pamphlets
to the assistant supervisor, and she (educated in the U.S.) told me that I was not
to hand out the pamphlets. But the students…
So many have died for this democracy?
were dark figures in the sky when I looked up again.
soon I realized those dark figures were hawks and vultures because
below, on the grass, between the traffic of taxis and buses on
one side and people walking on another, were the dying. Dark ashy
skin, barely clothed, covered the bones of someone (I couldn’t
tell) dying in the open, under the yellow sky.
it approached March, 2003, I learned to nod in the affirmative
when the men call out, “Jamaica.”
Among the women at the markets, among the sacks of fresh basil,
ginger, peppers, rice, green vegetables, mangoes, and bananas,
I nod and keep walking. Jamaica. The Ethiopian Muslim
population, numerically large, voiced its opposition to the pending
invasion of Iraq.
But the “democratic” government” doesn’t permit its fellow citizens
the right to voice their opposition in the open. Ethiopians know
the very real fear of imprisonment. Die in the open, but you will
not protest in the open! In the meantime, the U.S. Embassy sent
us a notice: Stay home for the first four days of the air strike
Watch the show!
sat in my home, in the dark, listening to BBC and the women outside
my door talking in whispers. Planes from the U.S. airbases were flying overhead. It was 9:00
p.m., and the planes were on their way to join others in Iraq.
strikes continued. I couldn’t watch the show except at that one
hotel and even then I couldn’t bear to watch the show.
the streets of Addis
Ababa, I knew I had encountered a Muslim man if I was pushed and
then I observed him uttering something with anger.
the hawks and vultures took their break, the planes flew overhead
to Iraq in the evenings.
Development - the American
a few to the top at the expense of the masses and you have a U.S.-brand
of political and economic oppression. Community members are no
longer fellow citizens. Development fosters corruption
since it begins with the premise that something will trickle down
from the sky and, if the masses are lucky, they will catch it.
They do, but it’s called shit by then! Development is all
about the advancement of capitalism, patriarchy, and racism, installing
the newest U.S.
military base to further aggressive “development.” Development
military aggression by proxy: Somalia
and then Gaza, with a
legacy of global economic disaster.
D.C. is performing a farce we’ve seen before: A front face makes
it appear that a team of busy bees are slaving away to remedy
the domestic crisis with a “stimulus package,” (that is, a package
that returns some workers to jobs and enough women to the malls),
when the real government, less visible, engages in business as
usual, funnels bank rolls of billions to its War on Terrorism
can afford to forget!
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has been a writer,
for over thirty years of commentary, resistance criticism and
cultural theory, and short stories with a Marxist sensibility
to the impact of cultural narrative violence and its antithesis,
resistance narratives. With entrenched dedication to justice and
equality, she has served as a coordinator of student and community
resistance projects that encourage the Black Feminist idea of
an equalitarian community and facilitator of student-teacher communities
behind the walls of academia for the last twenty years. Dr. Daniels
holds a PhD in Modern American Literatures, with a specialty in
Cultural Theory (race, gender, class narratives) from Loyola
University, Chicago. Click
to contact Dr. Daniels.