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Reisverslag Ch. 1 Contrasting realities
1 juli 2010
Ch. 1 Contrasting realities
Ethiopia at first sight
Ethiopia sets itself apart from other African countries in many ways. For one, its rich history uncovering the oldest remains of humankind and the interesting story of queen Shea.* Its rich history, together with being the only uncolonized nation on the continent, installs the Ethiopian with a strong sense of pride and dignity. What strikes me walking around the capital is the lack of foreign food chains and supermarkets. Being home to somewhat 85 million souls, Ethiopia has enough inhabitants to run an economy of its own without outside interference. Where in Zambia every successful big company was foreign owned, these companies are nor allowed in. While Nigerian and South African mobile network providers have conquered the whole continent, Ethiopian has its own. Somehow the pride of Ethiopians seem to be at odds with today’s gross underdevelopment and parts of the countries being dependent on foreign aid. A case in point the country’s ambition being showcased by African Union’s headquarters and hosting the third most embassies in the world (after New York and Brussel). At the same time I have never seen so many beggars crawling the streets of the very same capital. Last century’s story obviously has been a sad one, albeit showing some steady progress into the new millennium.
Now let me go back to my raison d’arrivé here in Ethiopia: grasp the local dynamics of international market involvement for small scale farming households in rural Ethiopia. The moment a far off small scale farmer decides to no longer produce food for its own consumption and the local market and starts cultivating sesame his market no longer encompasses some surrounding villages but countries as far as Israel, The Netherlands and Japan. World market involvement of Africa’s poor obviously offers an appealing story for NGOs and companies to tell, benefits to the farmer might not be that obvious however. I like to go back to the farmer household and see how an international crop as sesame has affected the food security and vulnerability of the farming family.
My research takes me to East Wellega, a lush and green though not often by foreigners visited rural area in Ethiopia. I am accompanied by Gabriel, my driver as Ethiopian law does not allow me to get behind the wheel; something which I am grateful for afterwards. Gabriel has a distinctly cautious rather unafrican driving style, and previously worked for the Red Cross in world’s most tragic war in Darfur, Sudan. My ears are wide open when he shares his experience with Janjaweed. Gabriel is full of stories from the field. One of which tells about a women giving birth on the back of his car resulting in the newborn receiving Gabriel’s name. Upon arrival in the regional capital translator Feyisa joins us bringing my ‘research team’ to its full number. The first interviews with the farmers go as hoped for. The whole village surrounding us while doing it, is not ideal though. Apart from asking questions, there is also time to play. To get an indication of risk behaviour of farmers I thought of two simple games. One is just handing over farmers notes of 1 (real money) which they can decide to keep or invest in a lottery either loosing or doubling the money invested. Since my arrival, the research is not met with any problems, until after a week sickness strikes me..
Sickness, a traveller’s loyal friend
I guess that apart from all the priceless moments and memorable experiences, disease is one of the experiences travellers have to equally accept. I do not have to wait long for my disease to show up from around the corner. It was on the morning we planned our first big fieldtrip getting up at six and spending a night in the car somewhere in the bush. Paradoxically, last night’s local dish which I so unreservedly enjoyed, left me with a parasite (amoeben) and a bunch of other bacteria. Instead of going further into the bush, we’re heading back to the capital. A day’s drive in the back of the car not being able to hold anything inside and with the occasional shivers, but being accompanied by a considerate driver and being at peace with whatever happens we inch our way back to the capital. Medicine from a top notch Swedish clinic gets me back in the running in a couple of days. As I write I have now just embarked upon my second field trip during which I will be visiting different villages and talk to farmers for the next 12 days. With morning mist still damping from the farm lands covering what is beneath, the second chapter of my Ethiopian adventure encloses.
* The bible tells a story of queen Shea (supposedly from Ethiopia) visiting King Solomon and being impressed with the King’s wealth and wisdom. What is left unsaid in the bible but a mere truism for any Ethiopian is that Solomon fell in love with Queen Shea and slept with her giving birth to a bloodline of Ethiopian kings for centuries to come.
* Ethiopia is rich in its greetings. When greeting a nod or bow with the head shows respect. A more friendly greeting you touch your both right shoulders. To express your gratitude and respect you support your right elbow with you left hand and bent your knees slighty when shaking the other’s hand. When receiving a gift your reach with two hands as one may be considered as reluctance or ingratitude.
* People in Ethiopia eat from one plate. It is even normal for someone to put food in your mouth as a gesture.
* China taking over world stage is most felt on the African continent were Chinese have been the biggest investor for years now. The Chinese have so much penetrated the continent’s interior that the children in rural Ethiopia know no different than a white being equated a china man. This 20th century twist results in that I am being shouted at ‘China! CHINA!’ wherever I go. As to not confuse their world image I decide to appropriately respond with some made up Chinese like ‘Ni hao, Hing chong chow‘
* Starting from six a boy can be given responsibility of a herd of cows. Secondary school only sees 31% of Ethiopia’s upcoming generation. (On the other hand it can be questioned if mandatory education like in the Netherlands is desirable as half of the country’s population would be in school, disproportionately burdening economy)
* Taxidrivers make a cross whenever they pass a church.
* Home to world’s fastest runners, At Addis’ central square a 42km run start daily. I am advised not to participate as the pace tends to be rather killing.
E* thiopia’s staple Teff (a very fine sort grain) is proudly only grown on Ethiopian soil (though the American farmers are also experimenting with it). This food not only fills the stomach of rural Ethiopia it is increasingly popular among sporters as it provides quite uniquely long-lasting energy. Not to anyone’s surprise, the Russians managed to make Teff into a vodka.
1 juli 2010 08:00 | Door: wim
Leuk verslag Janno, en wat schrijf je ook goed! Impressive, I like!
veel plezier nog
1 juli 2010 09:30 | Door: wim
hahaha, en ook nog even er een 'mere truism ' in gooien :-)
3 juli 2010 17:25 | Door: janno
en het is ook mere trueism dat de chinaman dus zeker wel de issue is..;)
3 juli 2010 18:27 | Door: Veron
Die bud... En weer met die geniale wist-je-datjes! S
3 juli 2010 18:29 | Door: Veron
Dat bericht was nog niet af... Ik wilde nog zeggen: succes daar! HET SPEL is er ook weer bij! XXX
3 juli 2010 20:38 | Door: Berkeley
Great to see you back on the african trail, teaching farmers across the continent how to gamble. Wfp would be so proud!!!
I thought your stomach had a special slow eating function to save you from bad food? I guess it was just tastier than roadside nshima and eggs??
Travel well my dear friend.
4 juli 2010 11:00 | Door: Angelo
Hey good to know you back in mother Africa China man,lol.
Enjoy every bit and stay well.
5 juli 2010 21:48 | Door: Gráinne
Well well tis great to see you and in that furry orange hat you almost look Dutch.
Glad you're out in the field once again, parasites and all!
Keep the bloggin' coming lovely, G x