Unchangeable Ethiopia, Part II

Those of you who keep up with my posts probably understand the love-hate relationship I have with Ethiopia.  Some days I think I’m living it up in a beautiful, sincere, vivacious country; Other days I can’t leave my house for fear of being swallowed up by the God forsaken hellhole that exists outside my door.  Thursday was one of the hellhole days.

There’s no easier way to hate Ethiopia than by traveling by public transport.  Except to travel by public transport the day before a major holiday.  I should have known better.  I should have known that getting back to Atsbi wouldn’t be worth the tears I’d shed.  But I did it anyway.  I made my way to the bus station, where, as fate would have it, I missed getting a spot on a bus by just seconds.  As the minutes passed, the station filled with irritable travelers carrying livestock of all kinds, but no more busses arrived.  I sat in the shade, looking up the mountain for the telltale cloud of dust that would mean the impending arrival of a bus.

So an hour later, when one did finally pull into the station, people were expecting it.  As per the usual approach, dozens of people bum rushed the bus while it was still moving, grabbing onto the door and windows to be drug along until is stopped.  Then before anyone exited the bus, people began pushing, shoving, clawing and fighting their way up the steps in an attempt to gain a coveted seat.  The only way for me to get a seat was to do the same, but I dropped my bag in the mob and was left pinned to the ground as people clambered over me to get on the bus.  It wasn’t until I began screaming and kicking that people gave me room to get off the ground.

By the time I got on the bus, my rage was near blinding.  But then I looked around and I was the only woman on board, despite the fact that at least half of those who were waiting were women.  None of the others had been able to fight their way on. I had already been voicing my harsh opinion of the behavior of Ethiopians, but I decided it was my duty to stand up and address what had just happened.  I asked who spoke English, and several responded, so I asked them to translate.  Voice shaking, I asked, “where are all the women?” Blank stares.  Then snickers.  I explained that I had lived in Ethiopia for two years and that the most common question people ask me is “how do you find the condition of Ethiopia.”

“I find the condition to be crap,” I said, “complete crap.” More snickers.  Finally someone shouted “it’s our culture, our custom.” There it was: The answer to every problem in Ethiopia.  Culture.  Screw culture.  This was just another group of moronic Ethiopians who were too stubborn and lazy to change their awful behavior.  And let me be clear, it’s almost always men who have this attitude. I sat back down in my seat, tears streaming down my face as I listened to the disgusting men talk about what I had just said, laughing with one another and mocking me.

Before I moved to Ethiopia I had never felt disrespected by a man just because I’m a woman.  Here, it happens every single day.  I cried the whole way to Atsbi for the women that are forced to live in a society where they are disrespected and demeaned daily.  Where they are forced to do far more than their share of the work while their husbands drink away the family’s meager income.  Where women actually believe they are inferior to men because that is what they’ve been told their whole lives.

In my last Unchangeable Ethiopia post several Ethiopian women commented, mostly sticking up for a country they love.  So let’s hear it, women of Ethiopia: are you going to stick up for the men of your country?  The hateful, chauvinistic pigs that are running your country into the ground?  The fathers of your daughters? Because I certainly never will.

8 comments on “Unchangeable Ethiopia, Part II

  1. Jean Rostron says:

    You are a brave woman for speaking out. I’m sorry you had to endure a bus ride with these beasts. We are all looking forward to your return!

  2. Myrna Mund says:

    So sorry for your trials and tribulations with the bus incident. Pretty darn brave to speak up!!!!! Hope tomorrow will be back to a wonderful day. Thinking of you. :)

  3. Sherrie Virdell says:

    We are all thinking of you, and look forward to your return. I know your family is anxiously awaiting….and the time can’t come soon enough. Thanks for sharing, we love you.

  4. NAT M says:

    If you live in the U.S., if you live in any patriarchal society in the world, you are disrespected for being a woman, whether you realize it or not. This idea that the Western world is so modern and everyone else is so backwards is an extremely racist idea. The West became successful by genocide, exploiting labor, and stealing resources. And because they invented the gun and were brutally violent. And before that Western Europe was one of the most primitive places in the world; none of the great civilizations were there, including Greek and Roman, both of which extended into North Africa and the Mediterranean.
    Most Ethiopians don’t want to be American, don’t be ridiculous. They are extremely proud of their culture. They want to be more progressive, like every country does, and if you are equating that with America then you are completely confirming their stereotypes about Americans being arrogant and ignorant. And I find it interesting that people who claim to be activists suddenly forget all of the problems in their own country just so they can preach to others they see as inferior. I’m a second generation Ethiopian living in the U.S., and it’s a mess here, seriously. You are not more superior for being American or Western.
    Sexism is always wrong. So is racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. But do you not understand that impoverished rural areas tend to be much more conservative? Why would you decide to spend 2 years in that part of the country when you weren’t prepared for that? Addis Ababa is much more progressive and completely different from the areas which you are. AIDS and FGM are not issues there, for example. It’s so different in fact that many people native to that city often know very little about what happens outside. You could have gone there, or to any similar progressive city around the world. But to choose to go there and start blaming the entire country and generalizing 90 million people for problems in rural areas? What is wrong with you? Do you think all Ethiopians are the same, and do you not know how offensive it is to think like that in a post-colonial world?
    If you were being culturally sensitive I would have no issue with you bashing those men for being sexist, hell I would join you. Their beliefs are wrong. But I haven’t met one man here in the U.S. who didn’t have any misogynistic beliefs. That’s how they work, they are ingrained in you from birth, and you have to actively resist and unlearn them. That’s not something men here like to do, either.
    My problem is that you seem more interested in bashing Ethiopia so you can go home and tell all of your friends how primitive it is and how glad you are to escape back the “greatest country on earth”. No one wants people like you visiting their countries “to help” all the while being completely disrespectful and a Western supremacist. I’m sorry about all of the challenges, but STOP stereotyping Ethiopians. And no, it’s not the same if they stereotyped Americans, because they’ve never oppressed the U.S. or the West and have no power to hurt Western countries. Just saying that ahead of time cause too many people don’t understand that no type of oppression goes both ways. Just like a man calling a woman a misogynistic slur is much worse than a woman swearing at him.
    Also, screaming to get a seat? I understand pushing, but screaming in anger is unheard of among many Ethiopians. Maybe the region you’re in is different, but try to be culturally respectful, if you care (and I’m not sure you care about that or Ethiopians in general).

    • Ok, I’ll try to address your arguments in order. To begin with, I have NEVER told an Ethiopian that their country should be more like America. It’s what they tell me. Like I’ve said before, a more realistic goal would be appropriate. Furthermore, I’ve never claimed that America is a place free of problems. If this were a blog about my time in the US, you could expect a similar breakdown of America loving and America bashing.

      Next you imply that being conservative is always a bad thing and that it’s always related to poverty. I don’t think that’s true. A dad doesn’t want his daughter to have premarital sex? Fine. So he forces her into marriage as sixteen? Not fine. The dad might be considered conservative in both of these instances, and who knows how much birr he’s got in the bank. My job doesn’t allow me to live in a city, and that’s good. I know I would encounter just as many problems in “progressive” Addis, where crime, prostitution and homelessness are rampant, as I do in Atsbi. While I may have to put up with the problems of the impoverished, I’m also safer and more connected to a community than I would be in a city.

      If I were making a generalization about Ethiopia, wouldn’t it make sense to base it on rural standards, given that 80% (or more!) of the population lives in rural areas? I definitely wouldn’t base it on those “progressive and completely different” Addis Ababa standards. And I just plain don’t understand your comment about Ethiopians being allowed to stereotype Westerners because we oppress them.

      Finally, you suggest…no, you explicitly state that males are born hating females and that any man who isn’t misogynistic has only been taught to resist this hatred. Sorry, but no matter what you say I’ll never believe that a child comes into this world hating another human. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. Hatred of any other human is taught. There are not Muslims who are born hating Christians. Children of KKK members don’t come out of the womb hating black people. And little Ethiopian boys aren’t born hating their female counterparts. They’re taught to hate, because it’s culture.

      And just as a side note, this post may be bashing Ethiopia, but this blog certainly isn’t. Just to be sure, I counted: 38% of my posts shed a positive light on Ethiopia and only 18% could be construed as negative. The rest are neutral. I’d say that’s pretty close to how often I feel good, bad and neutral about Ethiopia. And sorry about the yelling to get on the bus – expect a little cultural insensitivity when I’m being trampled.

      • Nat M says:

        I didn’t say that you told Ethiopians they wanted to be like America, I’m saying you shouldn’t think that the entire country believes that. I’m generally not a socially conservative person so I’m personally not a big fan of a lot of traditional values which tend to be sexist, but that’s just my opinion.
        There are problems everywhere, especially in cities, but if we’re talking about sexism, it would be much better there. Also, keep in mind Ethiopia has a low crime rate compared to industrialized countries, so if you’ve been to any city you would most likely be fine there.

        I disagree that you should base generalizations solely on rural areas. In most countries, the majority of the people are poor or working class and yet people often focus on middle and upper classes because that’s where the innovation and cultural exhibition is said to be. For example, when people talk about the cultural aspects of the US, they talk about the famous cities or maybe suburbs but rarely the inner cities, the rural areas, and anyone in poverty. Addis Ababa is considered the heart of Ethiopia, culturally and otherwise, so it is just as important to include their culture and progress.
        But just don’t generalize Ethiopia. Generalizations of non-Western countries by the West almost always highlight the negative (and never discuss how colonialism helped to create many of these negative circumstances) to make themselves look superior. Then they portray themselves in an extremely positive light, often giving people around the world a very false idea of their countries. There are a lot of people today who literally think the US has no problems and that every person here is rich, because Western media doesn’t tell them about the homelessness, the extremely high crime rates (highest in the world), the severe institutionalized oppression that no one acknowledges. Conversely in the West, people actually believe that everyone in third world countries lives in huts and never eats. Neither portrayal is balanced or accurate.
        It’s not that Ethiopians are “allowed” to stereotype the West, but their stereotypes of the West don’t hurt Western countries in any way because they have more power. The reverse does hurt them in a multitude of ways, which is how oppression works.
        By “ingrained from birth” I mean “these ideas have been ingrained in them from birth by society”, I do not mean that they were born with them. From the time that they are given a pink and blue blanket and are given dolls or trucks to play with, they are already learning gender roles from their environment. Once they reach adulthood those ideas are so deeply embedded they need to actively unlearn them. This applies to most men around the world since patriarchal societies are almost everywhere. I agree with what you said about that.

        It’s not about the percentages. It’s that, living in a Western country, almost everyone denies the existence of any type of oppression (racism, sexism, classism, ableism, transphobia) by saying banal things like “it’s the 21st century, that’s all over”, but they are more than happy to start bashing everyone else for being “so oppressive”. Feminists in the US love to do this toward Muslim women in Islamic countries, without realizing that most of the countries are not like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan and without listening to what Muslim feminists have to say.

        But the oppressions in Western countries are blatant if you experience them or are aware of them. Every country has positives and negatives, they all need improvements. But these biased portrayals make one part of the world seem intelligent and innovative while everyone else is simpleminded and primitive, and this contributes to white supremacist ideals, which have already ravaged people around the world.

  5. Diane C says:

    to Nat M: when was the last time you lived in Ethiopia, and for how long? I find what Katheryn has written in her blogs to be spot on. Having lived as the minority in her town, she has experienced the culture first hand. Did you read the entry where she discusses when she was spit on? She has earned the right to say what is on her mind, on her own personal blog.

  6. Nat M says:

    Diane C: It’s not about her challenges. She’s living in a tough area and it’s perfectly normal to be angry about bad things that happen and I’ve acknowledged that.
    But there are hundreds of ethnic groups, variations in culture, and millions of individuals in Ethiopia, and you can never claim to know what everyone is like. It’s fine to say you don’t like a town, the people you’ve met, etc. But to bash the entire country? Especially in a post-colonial world where countries like Ethiopia are constantly stereotyped and degraded? That’s wrong, and I have the right to speak up if something is offensive.

    Growing up in the US, I’ve seen how quick people are to gobble up the stereotypes about anyone or anyplace that is not Western or white, but will throw a fit if someone makes a generalizing statement about them. You probably don’t know what it’s like to be surrounded by people who have such deep-seated negative stereotypes about your culture/country/people that they either don’t know or don’t care about. To be in a place where textbooks outright lie about your country’s history in a negative way (I’ve read at least two that said Ethiopia was colonized by Italy, even though it wasn’t colonized by anyone) while filtering events out to make themselves look better.

    And I’ve seen it happen to other countries/cultures that aren’t my own. People either exotify places (or worse, people), or they tear them apart. Both behaviors are harmful and dehumanizing. A country is simply a country, not an exotic place for you to play in or an oppressive hell you can use to justify feeling superior. Every country is complex, every person is an individual, not just people or places that are similar to you.
    There is a long history of non-Western countries being reduced to nothing and people of color being seen as nothing more than animals. In that context, it is extremely problematic to perpetuate stereotypes about these countries and dehumanize them with generalizations.

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