23 December 2007

I met with my supervisor for the first time since coming back to Debremarkos. Ironically, while I have been free all week, Sunday has proven to be a workday for me (in a highly religious country, nonetheless).

On my way to the office this morning, Ato Amoro intercepted me in the street, loaded me into a vehicle with two other men I had never met before, and off we went – toward what, I had no idea, not only due to language barriers but also because Ato Amoro tends to be the gentle, quiet type. His constant smile and kind manner, though, never fail in assuring me to follow trustingly. As it turns out, this morning's program involved visiting kebele (the smallest administrative level of local government) meetings to introduce me and my mission. This, in turn, involved walking with Amoro into the middle of large assemblies, interrupting meetings already in progress, being stared at curiously by innumerable pairs of curious and amused eyes, and hoping to summon at least the coherency of an Ethiopian five-year-old in introducing myself to my new community. We visited three different kebeles. At the last one, Amoro stepped away for a bit and, in doing so, unknowingly left me to run through the entire production by myself. I was ushered inside a packed wooden house, seated at the front of a gathered crowd that spilled outside the structure and stared in through the windows and doorway, and asked in halting English, "Do you now have any idea?" What I wanted to say was, Not usually, no, not at all, and especially not now. What I did instead was greet the crowd, give my name and background, pull out my notebook, and run through the Peace Corps' purpose and goals in Amharic (the one language lesson I actually wrote into my notebook – Igziabher yimesgen! [Praise God!])

After surviving my first job-related Amharic trial and while waiting for Ato Amoro to return, I found myself discussing globalization with the head of the woreda (the next administrative level of government above the kebeles) education office. The conversation began in the same way as all my dialogues with English-speaking Ethiopians, with him asking me, "How do you get Ethiopia?" I gave my usual answer about Ethiopia being a beautiful country with very hospitable people, and then I added a bit about its having a rich culture and history, having never been colonized (and only briefly occupied by the Italians during World War II). He agreed with me but pointed out that Ethiopian culture has been profoundly impacted recently by trends of globalization.

It is not difficult to see the marks of globalization upon Ethiopian culture. Just this morning, as I sat in the courtyard of Debremarkos Hospital, waiting for Amoro to take care of some HAPCO business there, I saw two Arsenal jerseys (knock-offs, of course), one New York Yankees ball cap, and a Disneyworld sweatshirt. A rerun of Kids Incorporated – an American TV show from he 1980s in which small children in all their frizzy-haired, side-ponytailed, sequin-belted, spandex-leotarded glory stand on a fog-covered stage under glittering pink and blue lights and sing popular songs of the day – aired on Ethiopian TV on the set in the waiting area. From the back page of the Amharic newspaper being read by the man sitting next to me, Wayne Rooney's sharply dressed figure smiled out from an advertisement for "International Fashion" in Addis Ababa.

I asked the education official if he thought globalization had been good or bad for Ethiopia. He smiled and said, "I think no one escapes globalization. We all have to live together."

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