Pangs of uneasiness creep into my mind with this post. Mindful of the fact that what I post on this blog stays in the digital universe, I do not want to sound negative because my spirits are high. And the blog is meant to offer stories of hope and success. It has the potential to dispel some of the negative imagery of Ethiopia that is manipulated and used by organisations such as World Vision to pull at the heart strings of people in order to move them to donate money. I am also concerned about worrying my family. Such is the consequence of 21st century technology. It was a different time when Amundsen was trying to reach the South Pole. He had no blog, but notes about treks such as his have value. I do not mean to compare living in Asaita to trekking to the South Pole. But a story is a story, and there are things that need to be recorded whether they are glossy or not. The simple fact is that Asaita can be hostile, and World Vision seems like a good place to start recounting it.
In April 2011 there was an incident at the local high school. A teacher made a student stop reading the Koran so that she could concentrate on her studies. The student body rioted later that day as news of this blasphemy spread. They marched down the road to the World Vision office and sacked it. Taking control of the World Vision compound for a few days, the students took out their anger to the anti-Islamic slight on the Christian missionaries in town. The army moved in to restore order and evicted the teens. World Vision has now withdrawn from the area. Their smashed up compound lies abandoned at the edge of town. The soldiers that remained for a few months afterwards guarding the ransacked offices are no longer present, and no one is much interested in it anymore. Perhaps North Americans will notice a decline in television ad campaigns using children covered in flies to push emotional buttons. The undercurrent of hostility here is not an organised anti-Western hostility as much as a ‘wild west’, lawless hostility, and it has manifested itself on a personal level on a few occasions.
It is well-noted in written material about Ethiopia that foreigners can expect to hear shouts of ‘you, you, you’. And they do shout it here a lot. Sometimes I find myself arriving home without having heard it once, and I feel like it has been a peaceful day. ‘You, you, you’ does not have the same harsh ring to it in Amharic, I am told. It is simply a way to try to get someone’s attention. Sometimes people get excited about seeing a foreign visitor. It must be noted though, that ‘you, you, you’ makes up only about 70% of the calls. The other 30% (anecdotal stats only) is made up of ‘fuck you, fuck you, fuck you’. I will not try to put a stat on the percentage of people who say this that actually understand what they are saying, but some do, as evidenced by the events of the day below.
On February 29th I was walking along a pathway to my home from the College when some children around 11 years old started shouting from a distance the typical ‘you you you’ that one hears everyday in Ethiopia. I do not respond to every ‘you you you’ because I wouldn’t get home very quickly if I did. They were also shouting ‘football, football, money, money’. Groups demanding money or gear are not uncommon, so I just ignored them. The shouts then changed to ‘motherfucker, motherfucker’. Now, this is the second time that someone here called me that whilst walking down the street, and that is in addition to the periodic cries of ‘fuck you’. I found it comforting to think that the kids didn’t really know what they were saying and I just ignored them. But then these football demanding kids switched from ‘you you…football…money’ to ‘motherfucker, fuck you’ because they weren’t getting the attention that they craved. They seemed to be perfectly aware of what they were saying. Their comprehension of upping the rudeness of their language seemed evident in the stones that they started throwing at me whilst calling me ‘motherfucker’. I ducked for cover, and danger was quickly averted.
This incident was the second day in a row that a child had thrown a stone at me. The day before’s had been a feeble attempt of one stone made by a younger child that would not have produced much damage. But the stones thrown by the kids wanting a football weren’t that small and weren’t that far off target.
Then I made it an entire week without anyone throwing anything at me until March 8th. Walking across the football pitch on the road connecting my home to the main road I came across an old man. He reacted to me the same way I see locals react to the many wild dogs here. He glared at me, and keeping his eyes fixed on me bent down to gather a stone. I backed off. He did not pursue me. But he looked about as happy to see me as he would have a rabid dog. I do not know if I appeared threatening to him, or if he was just reacting instinctively to an outsider. He was not a friendly man. I guess my streak of not having anything thrown at me is technically continuing because this old fellow didn’t actually release his missile.
So, I have sent descriptions of these events to the VSO Ethiopia office so that they know if I return to the capital bloody and concussed that I will not have simply been unlucky. Well, I guess I will have been unlucky, but that it also fits into an emerging pattern here. It is a pattern that has been ongoing since before my time, but it is not one that has been documented. The good old internet does it again. It must be important to note patterns of hostility here. And putting in the public sphere will at least leave a trail.
That is my story. A lot of my wonderfully friendly Ethiopian colleagues feel badly about these challenges. There are a lot of good people here.
Saturday morning here. I was just walking back from the coffee shop. Some kids were yelling at me and throwing stones at me. I have stopped bothering to document the number of times that this has happened here because it is a regular occurrence.