Debbie goes to Ethiopia! A VSO volunteer in Assosa. Here is my blog.

Nations Nationalities Day December 9, 2014

Filed under: culture,People — debzif @ 18:39

Yesterday is probably going to be one of the most memorable days of my entire life.

What do you think of when you think of your nationality?  Being “Ethiopian” is somewhat vague.  Within the country, there are people from around 80 different “nationalities”, with different languages, beliefs, clothes and ways of living.  Every year, representatives from each ethnicity come together in one place for a celebration and demonstration of the varying cultures across Ethiopia.

I’m not gonna lie, a significant proportion of the event seemed fairly focussed on government propaganda.  Businesses were told to close, to be able to give full attention to the arriving dignitaries.  The main event was held in the new but not quite yet completed stadium in Assosa.  The most spectacular thing that happened seemed to be a helicopter arriving, delivering a trophy, and then flying out again.  That’s pretty impressive any where, let alone Assosa.  We were late arriving and were not able to gain access into the stadium itself, but that turned out to be a good thing.  Firstly because we didn’t have to sit through all of the speeches, but mainly because where we ended up wandering to, was where all the ethnic groups were waiting, lined up, to go in.

Lined up on the side of the road were hundreds of people packed in, watching, photographing and enjoying seeing the brightly clothed people.  I’ve never been overly comfortable with taking photos of people, and human tourism in general, so I originally stayed on the sidelines, crushed around the others, all cramming to get a good view.  However, as a group of four, one of my friends bravely stepped out of the crowd and into the road, and started snapping away.  Another friend, an expert linguist, saw some people who she had previously worked with on their language, so went and had a chat.  I plucked up the courage and relied of the power of my smile, (and of course my ferenji skin) and followed the others out of the crowd and into the queuing ethnic groups.  I feel a bit bad that I got away this this because I’m a ferenji, but I’m also incredibly grateful.

It was amazing.  The atmosphere was incredible, with everyone lively, positive and in a good mood.  They were dancing, playing their instruments, and this was before they were to “go on stage”.  The general vibe was that they were proud of their culture, and wanted to share it with whoever was interested.  They eagerly posed for photos, getting our attention where possible, and more often than not, grabbing the ferenji to pose with them, snapping away on phones and cameras of their own.

I could go on writing about it, but I’m pretty sure the pictures will do a Ethiopia Ethnic Groupway better job than my words.  I’m going to start with my favourite photo – sometimes I’m guilty of seeing people so different in appearance from what I’m used to, and a part of me forgets that they are just people too.  I’m not denying that their lives might be somewhat different to my own, but they’ll still work, have friends, family, and in many cases, need to arrange where to meet their friends using their mobile phones, no matter whether they have a ginormous spear or not!

It’s amazing just how varied being an “Ethiopian” is.  It was such a privilege to be part of the celebration.


Haftom February 28, 2014

Filed under: People — debzif @ 19:03

I’ve decided to start a new category of posts, about people who generally amaze me.  Today I’m going to tell you about my friend, Haftom.

He got a new job today, as the executive director of a project run by CSSP.  The project is working with the disabilities development association, and the goals are to set up cooperatives to create jobs and income generation activities for more than 50 disabled persons in two towns.  What’s great about this is that Haftom himself is blind, and he competed with, as he puts it “normal people” for the job, and still got it.

He became blind at about 10, from swimming in a dirty river.  He was living in a village with no suitable medical knowledge or treatment, so he was not cured.  What’s amazing to me about living here is that there are lots of people with what we would class as disabilities of some sort, but in a lot of cases (obviously not all), it doesn’t hinder them in their work, and they are not “segregated” away.  Haftom is primarily a business man, with fierce independence, and a very hardworking spirit.  He actually grew up in a town the other side of the country, and that’s where his family still live.  I’m generally so impressed by his attitude, what he does, and what he achieves.

Another reason he’s super happy is because the interview consisted of a computer test, and he got 24/30, yet 6 months ago he didn’t even know how to turn one on.   He learnt super quickly, learning the place of every key in a matter of hours.  A super quick learner and amazing at memorising things.  Technological support is weak compared with what you would expect back home, but with the help of a program called Jaws he has now mastered Word, browsing the internet, and, of course, facebook!