Thursday, December 3, 2009

Let others know us better

Contributed to a bulletin, Ethiopian Students Union, Oslo

Kitchen parties in Krinsja, have you gone to some of them? Of course, you can’t go to all of them. My guess, however, is that you might not have gone to any of them as we have never met at all. The only Ethiopian guy I met once was a refugee himself working for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). To be fair for you and me, it could be that I never went to the party you were in and neither am I a party animal as such that you spot me everywhere. Those I had been to were sometimes fun, but you miss little often times and sometimes you can get very annoyed with people approaching you with all sorts of perceptions.

Once, a French girl told me the only thing she knows about Ethiopia is that it is the poorest country in the world. Sure enough: who denies that? If I do, I can only try as far as telling her that my country is the second or third poorest- nonsense. But again, as an Ethiopian, you may want people to get a wider perspective hoping that the horizon brings forth multiple faces of reality. Ok, what more can I tell people to imagine Ethiopia better? That colonial forces met with fierce resistance from gallant Ethiopian patriots to eventually pass an ever independent country to us? Well, that is indeed worth boasting about although, in reality, we are sadly witnessing that some Ethiopians wished we had been colonized and enjoyed better development and infrastructure. I could have said Ethiopia is a country in which as slightly more Christians as Muslims live in harmony respecting each other’s religious values, and perhaps I said that, when a guy asked me if Ethiopia was an entirely Muslim nation. I still want to believe this mutual existence of unique nature that manifests itself through tolerance, understanding and love shall survive the currently not so sporadic incidents and tendencies of destruction challenging its age- long strength. However, in kitchen parties people would like you to take things less seriously than you want to and they do not have patience to listen to your sentimental History 101 lectures. Neither do many care more about whatever you have to tell them for better understanding of your country than they would make sure that they do not forget the dominant account they got from the media. I recently came into contact with a study revealing that in England, people born after 1984 still associate Ethiopia with the 1984 famine which they did not witness themselves, not even with the less deadly ones we have periodically faced after these kids were born.

Oh, God! I never meant to lament people’s perception of our country. I know it is rather important to act in one’s capacity to alter situations than worry over them too much as such. Besides, our true love to our country makes more difference than some foreign attitude even if it were to come in some form of genuine sympathy, which in reality has increasingly come to be a rare trait in humanity. So what is the issue here? Not a big one, but it is of my opinion that we are often victims of judgment by the rich world for what we have not brought to it and for what is essentially our own headache to deal with ourselves. Therefore, I believe Ethiopian students should work harder to be judged by what we have brought with us down here as Ethiopians and as humans instead.

As individuals, I think we can sometimes utilize some spare time to go out into the public arena and enjoy with other nationals than only Ethiopians. This tendency of moving in the confinement of our own national sense of belonging, while important to a greater degree, helps us little to be known by as well as understand the world outside us. So those like me who occasionally go clubbing, let us join others at times in other places of enjoyment than places like Red Sea, where we go in search of Ethiopians and Ethiopian music amidst Eritrean brothers and sisters. Do not misunderstand me as if I said Red Sea is not a good place to go to; it is in its own right. If one throws an Ethiopian kitchen party, we should bring non-Ethiopians we know and allow them to enjoy our communal identity as well as individual variety. After all, we threw one recently to end up having a small group gathering of Ethiopians, a sleepy atmosphere that could have been more stimulating in the presence of international students as we would definitely have been more alert to show ourselves off.

More importantly though, I strongly believe that ESUO needs to seriously consider this idea of giving out what we have as Ethiopians. It should at least organize some cultural events for international viewing instead of only getting Ethiopian fellows to enjoy home-like holiday parties and finding means to stand in support of troubled people back home. Once again, I do not mean to underestimate the grand causes the Union is working towards, not at all. But you see, what we can do to better the dimensional challenges in mother Ethiopia, while self-satisfying in the sense that we can only do what we can afford to do, is so little in the face of the country’s needs of mighty nature. It is, therefore, worth a try to direct part of our endeavors as a Union towards showing our other faces of ‘Ethiopianness’ that the mediated world has little portrayed. I often hear we are one of the largest African scholarship recipients in Oslo, and it is just unfair not to make some strength out of this to at least organize events in which people may dance to the tune of Ethiopian musical richness and appreciate distinct cultural manifestations of what it means to come from Ethiopia, a gorgeous mosaic in this regard.

Speaking of such events, I should mention a really impressive occasion this (already gone) summer. Four beautiful Ethiopian UiO summer students in their wonderful traditional outfits met with a challenge of doing a cultural show in a huge cinema hall here in Oslo where quite a number of other countries were represented by fellow students outnumbering ours.

The Ethiopian girls just ran a clip from one of the greatest millennial hits by Gosaye and Ephrem, Balageru III, and danced to the tune with their beautiful smiles and snow white dresses perfectly filling the huge stage. The ovation from the huge crowd went on all the way through their show and I thought that was too much for the girls’ level of performance. However, what happened at the end of the whole event was even more amazing that the girls had to remain the busiest group for the rest of the night. Back stage, they found themselves in the rain of warm appreciations from the spectators who begged them to take pictures together and show them the shoulder shake. It all turned a shoulder shaking, eskista, scene out in the open and later many whites joined our Ethiopian group to funnily dance with us in the background of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Some cynic friends may still ask if the people were interested in the girls or in eskistsa; well, I can’t say for sure that some were not interested in our girls- at least my Irish friend definitely was. Equally though, there was no doubt people, including a lot of girls, were highly taken up by the show. My cynic friends may want to put another difficult question, I know. “What if even the girls were interested in our girls?” Well, my answer goes, “Jeg vet ikke.”


Any ways I know for sure we have beautiful women in our student community who can perform even better to enlighten the ignorant world within our rich. Oh, my latest points seem to play to the advantage of those cynic friends again. Guys, I mean married ones, Ok! So there are no other intentions or ill-intentions here. The whole point I am trying to make in here is that, if we commit ourselves to be understood better, we have a lot to tell to the world within our reach. Then, happy new year is a good place to stop wishing further for us to embrace each other more and survive the winter more easily. For cynics, this is again going too far and asking too much. Genuine readers know I do not mean lying in the same bed though.

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