Monday, April 20, 2009

Ethiopia the friendly

If there is anything anyone can actually learn from my natterings, let it be this: Please, when you are in a third world country, don't just go around handing out money. Really, that one birr you just gave the cute kid is doing more harm than good.

Feel guilty for having been born in the first world where we have the luxury of travel and everything else? Give your money to a local school or NGO or something where it will go to "teach a man to fish" - style projects, but don't just give a kid a buck and think you're doing some good. Do you know what happens after you've gone? If you've given it to a particularly small child, that child will get beaten up by the local bully and the money will go to them. The locals think we're idiots and think that it's their right to steal from us. If further travelers come through and don’t give them money, they resent us and throw rocks. Do you know what happens when we give them the left over sandwiches from lunch? They throw them on the ground and ask for money. We are going through an agriculturally rich area where the kids aren't starving and yet these idiot tourists (a busload of Polish tourists pulled over and started handing out one birr notes to the kids, much to our dismay) know only about what they see on the World Christian Fund ads, assume the whole bloody country is still in famine, and that their 10 cents is going to change that child's life. My impression of Ethiopia is that it has received too much aid - so much so that it no longer has the ability to be self-sufficient. The famine ended in the 80's, agriculture here is thriving, and yet the people themselves are not being industrious because, well, why should they? Foreign nations are giving them tons of cash constantly. I'm not saying that NGO's are wrong - I'm just saying that if you want to help, be progressive and put your money into something that requires the people to meet you half way. There are many projects out there that help people with low-interest loans, or give money conditional on having some form of business strategy, or some form of effort that will use the initiative of the people, rather than just handing over the cash and thinking that the problem is on its way to being solved. This may sound harsh, but I'm only describing what I'm witnessing here.

Ethiopia, even with its children who throw stones, hit you with sticks, and even the occasional bullwhip, has become my favourite country so far. It seems crazy, but it's true. It is so unbelievably beautiful here. The rolling hillsides, the shepherd children at the roadside (the unarmed ones), and how everyone dresses in traditional dress. For the most part, in the places we went through people were dressed in rich green garments - in the morning the shepherds covered themselves in thick cotton blankets, all green, with their sticks in hand to guide their sheep, goats, donkeys, or whatever their family herds.

The mornings are the most beautiful, with mists covering the fields, livestock wandering about, and the heat of the day not yet upon us. The children are also busy at this time. They seem to be either in school (which closes at 1 - that dreaded hour when they come out in droves and attack you), or too busy working under their parent's supervision. The birds here are magnificent too, and people come from everywhere to see species which don't exist anywhere else in the world.

We got to Gondor, and this is where I got my stomach ailment. As far as rest days go, it wasn't the best. I was feverish and running to the washroom the whole time. When a bug hits our lot, it takes us all out one by one. Some are made of a stronger mettle and ride regardless (the racers), some are foolhardy and ride when they shouldn't - Nick, who fainted in the morning and rode anyhow - I think the goal of EFI can be a troublesome one that gets people pushing themselves harder than they should. EFI goes to all of the folk who cover Every F#$@#ing Inch. I blew that when I sprained my ankle. That's fine. I won't get stubborn about being sick. Which I didn't. When we got back on the road I went in the truck. There were a bunch of us - in fact, all of the female racers. I, by the way, have dropped from the race. After the sprain I was riding before the racers started, getting out much earlier in order to not get stuck in the heat or stuck riding alone, so I kept getting 12 hour penalties, which got to be a little ridiculous. And then because the racers start so late and the Ethiopian road was so rough to begin with, and the children so horrible, I decided that it wasn't important to risk myself just to stay in the race. I might pick up a later section.

So we were on the truck all the way to our camp. We were in a beautiful field with tons of shepherd onlookers, as per usual. Some of the folks left us to go on a tour of Lallibella, and the rest of us sat around chatting for the evening under our first full moon since the start of the trip. Yup, it had been a month.

In the morning we had a quick 68km jaunt into Bahir Dar. It was an awesome ride. The uphills went into downhills and there was very little effort needed to get into town. I did need a bit of time to warm up at first, but that was more because of having been sick. Because of that, I lost my group of co-riders, but did get to see a whole troupe of monkeys scamper by in a field. Then I got a flat. Nick stopped to help, and I hung back with him for a while because I was a little worried about him riding while he was sick. After an hour though, he started drafting a truck, and I wasn't about to start pedaling 60km/h behind something that could stop at any minute. We made our way into Bahir Dar just in time to see their monthly bike race. The streets were closed off and the crowds were roaring. On some downtime we made it across the street to our hotel, where we set up in a lovely little garden area and hit the showers.

I went off with Malcolm and Claire to get some injera for lunch and to look for costumes. Yup, we were having a costume party that evening. We were each given a name and had to dress up our victims. I got Swen, a tall, lanky Canadian old boy, who I dressed up as an Ethiopian Shoulder Dancer - white peasant dress with embroidery, sash, and a 10 birr note on his forehead (you put those notes on their heads to pay them for their dance). I was dressed as a shepherd.

We got drunk. At least, some of us did. We drank beer, then horrific Ethiopian wine, then tej - a sort of Ethiopian mead, and then I think whiskey. Most went to bed, but
a few of us decided that it was time to go dancing. But first, the shoulder-dancers.
The shoulder dancers are awesome. Like bards, they sing to you in rhyme, usually making fun of you, politics, or whatever they can think of. Then you slap a buck on their forehead and they move on, time to tease someone else. And what they do with their shoulders! It is the standard case of something being made to look easy when clearly it is not.

We then went to some of the local little nook night clubs and danced our hearts out. At this point it was only Paul and Wondy (our local guy). The chicks kept grabbing me to dance with them, and finally at about 2 am it was time for me to go home. I crashed in my tent, forgot my malaria meds that night, and giggled for about half an hour before passing out.


1 comment:

: a said...

What do you really know about aid? And how it works and is put to work? What you see is shaped and translated by your education so what do you really know about western aid?

Did you know that Ethiopia has a out 5-6 milion cronical starving populations. That the harvests might look green but is not sufficient? That the aid the white man gives also includes taking?

Really, how can you at all assume that the white man would just GIVE AWAY money when the history until today are full of accounts when of european colonialisation, explotaition and theaft?

Your whole group seems to be educated middle class white europeans with the projection of doing an adventure in "Africa". You are only white individual subjects moving freely around the world in order to fill your life with meaning. From the position on a bike nor a truck the context is analysis by the visual representation that your education can translante. Some of the wordings you use are exact as those white explorers before you 200 years ago. That says a lot of the racist sterotyp project on the Other and Africa in contemporary Europe today.

Some things never change. Atleast not when you are white and the universal subject of progress and enlightment.