Tuesday, December 22, 2009
አፍሪካም ያግዘው ይዙዋል ለጥፋቱ እውነት ሲዶለት
ዘመነኛው ምእራባዊ ካባቶቹ ባየለ ርግጫ
እኛን ከኛ ጋር ሲያንጫጫ
ባሸበረን ወፍራም ልሳን
እናውጃለን 'ሃፒ ኒው ይር'
አዲስ ጥፋት አዲስ አመት
በአውሮጳዊው የእብደት እለት
ሲጀመር አዲስ እቅድ
ሹል ትንፋሹ ሲያርበደብድ
ባውዛ አይደፍረው ጨለማችን ባለንበት ሲያስረግጠን
ያለነፍጥ እጅ ሲያሰጠን
አየሩ በደባ ሲጠን
ጸሃይ በምስራቅ እንዳትወጣ ተፈጥሮዋን እንድትገታ
በምእራብም እንዳትገባ ይልቁንም ልምዷን ትታ
እንድትዘልቅ ደምቃ በርታ
ጨረቃም ድርሽ እንዳትል በምስኪኖች የጠኔ አምባ
በአፍሪካዊ 'የጨዋ' ብሂል በምዕራባዊ ጭብጨባ
'አዲስ አመት እንኳን መጣሽ
ደግሞ እንዲሁ ባመት ያምጣሽ'
በእርጅናችን ምርቃት መዓት
ስልጣኔን ዕደጊ አልናት
በርቀት ሆና እያየችን
በርቀት ሆነን እያየናት፡፡
Monday, December 14, 2009
N.B. This is my first article published in the Ethiopian English private weekly, The Reporter, back in 2001.
Ethiopia, as a country of ancient history, has a long tradition of literature. Much of its pre-twentieth century literature is dominantly characterized by translation with a taste of originality. Moreover, Ethiopian literature took much time before dealing with the socio-politico-economic conditions that had been prevalent in the country. The country embraced Christianity during the fourth century A.D. since when Christian morality has been dominating the literary scene.
For ages, therefore, our literature had to embark on a smooth, unbroken move. In fact, the static nature of Ethiopian literature still seems to stand out against this world of dynamism. However, the twentieth century may justifiably be said to have made a move up-ward with the coming into view of some creative writers, among them Dagnachew Worku. The change he has brought forth to the realm of the country's literature is believed to be more significant than that of many writers of his time, and perhaps his contribution still remains unprecedented.
Dagnachew Worku was born in 1944 near Debre Sina in North Shoa. Molvaer (1997) attributes Dagnachew's drive to writing his earliest poems to his mother's folk tales that he enjoyed listening to. Besides, the artist was lucky enough to have a father exposed to western influences. As a result, he was sent to school early in his life. In school, Dagnachew read the works of the then prominent writers like Kebede Mikael and Makonnen Endalkachew. With the pressure put by his mother, he also went to church school and learned Geez. He attended high school at Kotebe in Addis. Then he obtained his diploma in teaching from a teacher-training school. Dagnachew was not only a "…born a writer…" as he describes himself to Molvaer (1997'292) but he was also born so lucky that, after acquiring his B.A. from University College of Addis Ababa, he received a three-year scholarship and studied creative writing at Iowa University in the U.S.Dagnachew picked up literary courage as early as when he was thirteen by staging his own play at Debre Sina. His early publication is a play entitled "Sew alle biyye" (1966). When he was a teacher in Harar, he staged another un-published play: "Seqeqenish isat". Later, when he was a lecturer at the Addis Ababa University, he came up with a play of better techniques entitled "Tibelch" staged at the Creative Arts Centre and Haile-Selassie I Theatre in 1964. The author got more sophisticated and technically elevated with his novels "Adefres" (Amharic) and The Thirteenth Sun (English) published in 1978 and 1981 respectively.
Although Dagnachew wrote a lot more than the aforementioned ones, including, according to Teklu (1983), more than a hundred unpublished short stories, we find his name well established through his pioneer work, "Adefres" to which this piece of writing gives more emphasis.
Molvaer (1997) reports that Dagnachew called himself "a one-work author" attaching great importance to his Amharic novel - Adefres. When he was reading for his Master of Creative Arts, he minored creative photography. This seems to be the main reason why Dagnachew succeeded in giving splendid backgrounds to his descriptions and dialogues in the novel. The novel begins with a unique description of the setting in which the whole story takes place. The scenery of the setting with full of ups and downs, the complex feature of the intermingled society there, and the cultural values, etc. are well depicted through listing down of details. Immediately after such a picture a long dialogue between a symbolic landlady of intricate character and a tenant who comes to her to borrow some grain is presented. This technique of magnifying a character in the background of relevant (but unique) description is argued to be original to Dagnachew.
The description is made in a manner so that we harmoniously see the area and the people living in it. It may not be surprising here if a society with a "once-upon-a- time" sort of narrative culture finds Dagnachew's depiction difficult. Many agree, however, that the author has shown magnificent technical and stylistic excellence. By listing down the names of many kings who reigned from Ezana to Menelik II, he shows the historical significance of the setting. By listing down names of churches, he indirectly reveals that the area (Yifat) is highly Christian dominated. Through the splendid dialogues between characters behind deliberate backgrounds of class, cultural richness conflicting with corrupt change devoid of understanding established old Ethiopia; he mirrors the agony of necessary reform in the face of the revolutionary tendencies of the time. All in all, in “Adefres", Dagnachew sometimes communicates more things through new techniques than he does through words. Fekade (1990) stresses that the ideas Dagnachew communicated by way of techniques are numerous and the technique as a whole should be recorded as a new appearance to the culture of writing Amharic novel.
A closer look into the novel seems to be an essential requirement to see the background he gives to depict characters and the situation they are in. Weizero Assegash, for instance, is sort of filmed behind a background of complex scenery. By the same taken, the lovely, simply flowing conversation between Gorfu and Roman is made colorful with the beautiful sounds that cock-roaches, houseflies, frogs and bees make.
Socio-political forces also influenced Dagnachew as a writer. Most post-war (post-Italian aggression) writers of Ethiopia are said to be widely exposed to world literature Dagnachew was not an exception in this respect. As a result, he makes significantly spirited effort, a long leap from' Araya, by Girmachew T. Hawariat to Dagnachew's Adefres attributing a new literary trend to the latter. "Twenty-one years after the publication of Girmachew's "Araya", there appeared a writer of another generation with a novel entitled "Adefres" (1970) on the scene of Amharic literature" wrote Fikre Tolossa in his PhD dissertation.
Adefres, according to Fikre, "comes to the fore in an atmosphere of Ethiopian students, unrest." However, he argues that the heroic character, Adefres, and the progressive students, adhering to Marxism, are characterized by fighting against feudalism. Adefres, on the other hand, "...is not against a monarch." In addition, unlike the progressive student, "...Adefres thinks that the fact that the people of Ethiopia "love" their Emperor is a positive quality in them."
Dagnachew's description of Adefres slightly differs from Fikre’s assertion that he made in an interview with is slightly different. "Adefres is progressive - but he should be progressive with other people. He rationalizes too much. He is not a practical person. Rationalization is good but with limitations. He is like people we have today. The revolution [he means the 1974 revolution tries to awaken people overnight, but that cannot be done although I wish it could be done. There was no other way (out) for Adefres than death. He was too superficial. He could not see reality around him. He speaks one language and people around him another. That is why we fail this revolution. We are like Adefres (Molvaer,1997: 298).
It should be noted here that Dagnachew was highly taken up by the politics of the time. Nevertheless, he said he was not a Marxist. He tried, in his way, to suggest a reform rather than a revolution. Who knows if it would have been better that way?
Dagnachew opens his eyes wide to see social values. One of his marvelous contributions comes from his conscious and deliberate employment of proverbs, tales, legends ("gadles") and lyrical poems for their technical significance. Studies cite that proverbs are effectively used in depicting characters, tensioning conflicts and developing techniques and contents. The tales are said to be symbolic manifestations of what comes against the love affair between unequal caricatures, namely Gorfu and Siwone, The legends (gadles) tighten the conflict between forces of tradition and modernity. The lyrical poems (in the love letter of Belay to Firewa) give relief to the reader as they are read amidst a goring address by a certain monk (Abba Yohannes). Symbolically. Firewa throws the letter into the water to foreshadow that their love won't be sustainable. In short, Dagnachew is believed to have developed his techniques through a conscious use of folklore. He may be regarded as the Ethiopian Chinua Achebe.
Dagnachew is also admired for his originality of language. Assefa (1981), for instance, agrees that the onomatopoetic words used in Adefres are quite original and indicate the author's creative effort in his diction. Instead of telling us in his own words about the sounds created by the cock-roaches, houseflies, frogs and bees, he makes us listen to them.
To do all this, to describe nature, feelings, to reproduce the conversation, the author has attempted to overcome the limitations of present-day Amharic lexical resources by creating a vocabulary “original to himself in which meanings of words have been stretched, adaptations freely made of roots often into … forms unattested elsewhere” (ibid).
Let us finally wind up this piece by noticing how Dagnachew Worku emphasises society and its values in the interview mentioned earlier. We have created certain values and certain society where are contributed. This (culture) is what makes me tick. Without this, life does not make sense to me… We are still backward and developing and we must change but what we have achieved in 3000 years cannot be replaced easily. Spiritually we have developed but not otherwise. Artistically and aesthetically we have not yet opened our eyes. (Molvaer, 1997:298).
More on Dagnachew Worku at http://www.adefris.info/index.html
Friday, December 11, 2009
Circumstances indeed govern our sense of time that I felt I waited longer when I stood to see president Obama appear in the balcony than I sat in the library all day to finalize my assignment. The excitement finally had to come to a funny end when Obama and Michelle showed up behind a transparent door leaving most of us almost with no chance of proper view from that distance as it were. The chanting crowd still cheered with a slight sight of Obama’s waving hand or a small glimpse of Michelle’s. It was a three-minute show attended by young enthusiasts who put trust in Obama’s eloquence, senior citizens who seemed to make an historical presence in such a momentous occasion, and in fact children rising higher than us on the shoulders of their parents. Dwarfed by a mass of taller figures in front of me, I wished I had been a child on my dad’s shoulder for that moment.
It may be silly to be desperate about seeing one of the most televised faces of our time, but as an awesomely inspiring as he has been, I would say it was worth an attempt to have a gawk of Obama’s look with no colorful TV backgrounds and camera edits.
Slight collection of part of his motioning body notwithstanding, he was generally an unseen figure for me and for a lot others. Neither have his initiatives for peace and harmonious global environment been concrete as he collects the world’s greatest prize for his ideal embracement of these immense causes. His ideals were appealing enough to ignite global motivation to commit for change and they convinced the Nobel Peace Committee to sign in to the approval of his ways of meeting challenges to create a better world in the possible participation of what were vocally dubbed ‘evil’ by his predecessor.
In practice, however, president Obama’s commitments to peace and prosperity are hardly seen in the realm of practical politics with two wars one of which he is clearly intensifying and his national policies not necessarily impressing for many at least at the moment. While too early to expect him to fix the huge messes he inherited from the past, his pronounced confidence to address the problems and certainty to bring about change that he has shown during his presidential campaign should transcend the field of rhetoric sooner than later. He needs to maximize the mobilization of unparalleled public support he enjoyed at least in recent history for the change he aspires. His seeming indifference to tyranny in the poor nations, his language of ‘just’ wars with inclinations towards going down a similar path to resolve conflicts, and the sluggish process of dialogue he appears to have failed to redesign in the Middle East for a better way forward, and the resistance he is meeting along political lines for his national policies all deter the fulfillment of his promises people have trusted him for.
To be fair to him though, I do not think the world should also expect way too much from him given his humanly limitations and the bulk of problems he is not responsible for causing them but determined to work towards their resolution in the context of global cooperation and understanding. I see no more angelic pop up in politics than candid human devotion about him for us to claim a swift rescue to our terribly troubled world.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Whatever the case, the newspaper for me was one of a knd that has run respectable views with unprecedented depth and cool-headed analyses. Emerging after the 2005 elections characterized, among other things, by polarized politics with government and private media serving more as a means to run political causes devoid of professional responsibility than as information providers and responsible opinion leaders, Addis Neger can arguably be taken as the most vibrant Amharic weekly at least for me and probably for a lot many others. My view is that given the expert insights and critical writing, even the government, as far as it accepts itself as a human institution with limitations and traits of erring, would have benfited from the continuation of the paper.
More importantly though, I'm overly sympathetic to those enthusiastic readers who little hesitated to buy every copy of the paper. I live with a happy memory of the discussions triggered among my friends nearly on every article in that paper owing to their noble perspectives and dimensional viewpoints.
I hope time will come for the dynamic editors, journalists and columinists of the paper to rerun their paper sooner or later. My applauds for the jolly good work.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
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.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
By Zewge A. Assefa
When I arrived in Norway August last year, I thought I surrendered to a deadly quietness that I was never used to in Ethiopia. I was not sure how long I could live on my happy memories of lively interactions not just with my friends back home but also nearly with everyone nearby, someone who sat by me in a café or another one in a taxi. My Norwegian professor’s descriptions of his country echoed into my ears transcending the limits of time. He would turn a frown face to display this strange look an average Norwegian would automatically throw in reaction to one’s daring to work out a conversation just by the virtue of sitting on a nearby chair. In what appeared to be a nostalgic confession of his years of life in Ethiopia, this visiting lecturer in Addis Ababa University often tilted his lectures toward appreciations of Ethiopians’ warmth and hospitality despite their poor livelihood. “On my bus trip to Awasa (some 260 km south of the capital, Addis Ababa), I can be sure that, by the time we are in Meki (100 or so km), the person sitting next to me would pay my lunch in Ziway,” he would say, and that I can assure you is often the case.
At least at first sight, I had the impression that nobody seemed to have found it interesting to interact with strangers more than it is important for them to read books or newspapers while sitting together in the subway. Nearly regardless of age, men and women would easily get lost in the ipods whose earphones they would plug into their ears. Some other ladies concentrate on their needlework and never seem to have cared for their immediate human environment. Those needles, I thought, were more effective to maintain distance than to produce sweaters or headscarves, and I was wondering which one was the objective. Just a hobby, some would say. Adding to my frustration was my roommate, a Norwegian himself, who was never a convincing disproof to my quick claims of rejection at least of a man of my color. Just at first contact, he gave me “hey be careful with the bathroom” tips rather soldierly.
However denying the environment appeared to be, I had to willy-nilly find means to cope with the system as someone who comes from a largely traditional society, and this is unthinkable without braving the rain of silence. Of all the information booklets I received from the university I have come to, there is this little brochure which, among other things, provides advice for new comers in Norway to take the initiative to communicate with otherwise reserved Norwegians. To this day, I have always carried this key (the advice, not the physical paper) to open people up and it has worked ninety nine times out of hundred. In so doing, I have come to find Norwegians who, if I was lost in the city, not only gave me a workable direction but who also went out of their way to take me there. It was even easier with my other Norwegian flat mates that I didn’t have to take the start. They have embraced me with all my difference and encouraged me to have my voice heard in the kitchen, and I then thought I should also try it in sociopolitical forums. This piece of writing can be taken as the first attempt to respond to that call in me.
In all honesty, I have increasingly felt vindicated here by most people’s judgment more by what one has to deliver than what she looks like (in Ethiopia I would have used ‘he’ as a generic pronoun). Although it sometimes takes a great deal of effort rather undeservedly to make people understand that we are not all what the global media say we are, I witnessed people’s willingness to synchronize their mediated data with what we Africans have to say about ourselves. Classrooms as well as kitchen parties have often exhibited a huge appetite to understand others, at least those I go to where I found more comfort in talking to Norwegians than other nationals.
I do not however mean to underestimate the difficulty for me as an African and in particular as an Ethiopian to give a proper picture of the place I call home. Many people seem to have a thick background reinforced with terrible images of war, famine and overall poverty. For all that I know, this face of reality has been mediated almost in the absence of other faces that do not fit into news because they are not that horrific. So it is not fair to blame the audience for that; after all many Britons born after 1985 are said to associate Ethiopia with the 1985 famine, not even with the less adverse ones we have had after they came into this world. That is not my focus for the moment, but as the rich world needs to explore more about humans and their environs, so much is at stake for the poor to reveal more human features than statistical characterizations which have imprinted lasting stereotypes in the Western society.
Personally, I do not feel rejected. Neither do I feel fully embraced. I still live with the situation where more often than not, people prefer to sit by people of their color type even when I am sitting alone and the others have just a space to crowd another one in. Indeed, some appreciate something I do, not just because it is a smart thing to do but because I do it that way being a black- ‘rather uncharacteristically’. Nevertheless, I come into contact with a lot others who take me as a normal success in those instances.
Somewhere in Europe my friend was told by a passerby that he did not belong there. Of course he knew he did not belong there, and he told the guy that he belongs to God. “No,” said the European. “See how handsome I am and I am God for you. So you don’t belong to me.” At least I expect no Norwegian to be that irrational or I never met one till now, and that is why this friend of mine misses his first semester here before he went to the country where people are not necessarily understanding.
We can isolate people if we elect to a certain degree, thereby choosing who to invite over for coffee, chat with or who we would like to sit by in the subway. That still hurts the isolated, but one can do little to alter the situation. People can identify themselves in the way they feel is fit to them. Speaking of racial differences, however, no one contributed anything to retain their color even if it were made of some ‘quality’ attributes. I therefore believe it is not that smarter to take pride in some trait we have no say what so ever in making it ours.
Save some discrepancies, I am enjoying life with those who understand all that and more and fortunately they are not few. It also feels great to be in a nation that generally lives up to ethical standards emanating from social development, the rule of law and human right values. One thing has not changed in my communication continuum though- I still have to take the initiative and that is not a tough thing to do.