Allow me to introduce myself. Iím your fellow Ethiopian and though we share the same heritage, our destinies differ greatly. Mine happens to be to remain in our homeland while yours is to fly to other ports of opportunity. But youíll allow me, Iím sure, to tell you my tale. Will you? Never mind. I will go ahead anyway. I donít have the luxury of time to wait for your approval. As a matter of fact, I have been waiting so long for so many things that sineísiríat is really low on my list of priorities. But I suppose youíll want some form of a qualifier, seeing as how living abroad makes seeking rationales so vitally important before taking action - even in the face of adversity.
What I wasnít decades ago, what Iím certainly NOT today and probably will never become is well to do, i.e., comfortable and therefore able to engage in that luxury reserved for others - the pursuit of happiness. I hear thatís an actual life goal in other parts of the world? Hmm. I donít think Iíll ever even understand the concept? Iíll never know the comfort of my ďownĒ home or be able to go to exotic places simply because I could afford to. I will never enjoy myself at breezy cafes, at a multitude of restaurants, or at chic bars and sunny resorts. If those were things I could have in my life, there would be no need for the telling of this story and, better yet, I could maybe even understand the concept of a future. Hell, except for the occasional request for you to send an invitation letter for a tourist visa, even in 2015, I wouldnít even need you. Forgive my bluntness, but Iíd even go so far as to say that, if I were well to do, I bet I would even have the spare emotions to lament the quality of your life abroad while I was back home, luxuriating in the land of Dinknesh. They work so hard, Iíd probably say now and again. And whatís the purpose of all this rushing in life? I would mTs your chronic lack of rest, your having to do without a housekeeper, or even the luxury of time to sit in a sunny cafť to enjoy your demitasse of espresso. minew, min bwoTaN! Iíd say!
Now let me tell you my story -- who I was in the uncertain 70s, in the booming (no, donít laugh) 90s, who I am now, in 2003 and who Iíll probably will become in 2015.
By virtue of living in my country, I am an Ethiopian eternally engaged in the pursuit of survival against poverty. Thatís my purpose and destiny in life every single day of the year. Not that I ever really believe Iíll survive all 365 days. In fact, you know what? If and when I do, itís a surprise. But Iím not thankless. No. I thank God everyday for letting me survive yet another day, for allowing me to receive alms in the streets or the meager help of family.
I thank God, yes, even though my life is filled with hopelessness and helplessness, sometimes in tandem, sometimes in turn, and even though my otherwise stagnant life moves only in the direction of abject deterioration. Yes. I thank God.
Access to water, let alone clean, is not an option for me. Yes, yes. I am aware that you can take a hot shower as many times as you want throughout the day without ever worrying that the water will run out. What can I say except that the Blue Nile represents a colossal irony in the face of what has become a yearly national ritual of death due to drought and famine. Iím sure you are thinking that it would be such a simple matter to build a dam over the Blue Nile that strips the riches out of our soils and feeds desert nations who havenít complained of famine since biblical times. Alas, no, my lucky counterpart. The ďsimple solutionĒ is such a sensitive issue that we are consistently told by the worldís advisory and lending institutions that war may be the inevitable result if Ethiopia were to stretch her hands toward technology and self help rather than ďunto God.Ē
And while even seeking basic shelter is a daily struggle for me, I am aware that you live in a land where government subsidized housing for the poor and incentives for owning houses for those who can afford it are standard practice! Itís almost amusing. Really. I mean, the last time I checked, , getting back what used to be yours, let alone becoming new landowners here, is out of the question. But Iím getting ambitious here.
Letís talk about healthcare for a quick minute. Hah! Thereís a national joke. I hear that, where you live, there are social services to protect those who are indigent, and even HIV/AIDS patients can get medication and meals for free, and financial support from Federal agencies. Wey gud! I canít help but be amazed; my life would have so much more value and meaning outside of my own country. But forget all about ďfreeĒ here. Iíd have to worry about whoíd cover the fee for the hospital card, and the syringes and IV lines that I would be asked to buy from outside the hospital in order to save my life? All this and for what? But these worries about cost are just secondary problems. Thereís the availability of a hospital bed, for example. The chance of getting one is equivalent to winning the lottery. Oh, and letís not mention patient care. Women are still getting slapped for screaming during labor. Whereas you complain about the ability to make ďan informedĒ decision, where I am and because of who I am, my ďchoiceĒ when illness occurs, is to remain at home or in a corner street, resolved to greet death.
Education. Yet another thing that is not an option for me. You have a legally protected right to get a free education through at least high school! But hereÖhere, in the land of our birth, the national pursuit has been to minimize the pool of educated citizens. The apparent ďlogicĒ is that a poor country needs a citizenry with vocational skills more than academic credentials. Who needs knowledge! Besides, even if you manage to go to the university, I hear that they use textbooks written in English, but the graduates canít even speak the language. So much for standard and international capacity to compete! As for me, first grade was never even in my reach. Who could possibly pay the innumerable fees for enrollment, the monthly fees, fees for books and suppliesÖand uniforms? You see, here, academic knowledge is a privilege not a right. Education is something reserved for the well-to-do Ethiopian who can afford private school tuition or the surviving poor who have to choose between a sub-standard education and their next meal.
And what about good governance, you might ask. Or social and public services. Development. Well at last check, nearly half of generated income is taken by the taxman. Canít figure that one out. Tax more, provide less. Thatís some system! Oh! And the newly introduced VAT. WHAT is that all about? All I can say is that payout and return is definitely imbalanced. Take, for example, - the fact that if you get sick, you need to haul yourself, bed sheets, medication, gloves and other materials with you in order to get care. Of course the state does not actually guarantee care. If your water pipes bursts, Department of Water requires you to purchase all materials needed for repair. And even then, they may not actually come out to fix the plumbing. If Telecommunication or the Electric Power Authority overcharges you, the pleasure of paying them to fix their own computer mistakes is all yours, as is the teeth-gnashing patience when you are rudely made to understand that reimbursement is not gonna happen. Forget about appeasing road congestion, reducing pollution, building public restrooms, pedestrian walkways and things like settling court cases. Oh, the judicial system. What a tickle. Plaintiff, defendant and judge have been known to age or die before a case has been settled. Donít even bother to ask about zoning and affordable housing. Well, for the first, plug up your ears and learn how best to fall asleep while the nightclub blares next door to your bedroom. And for the second, Iíll always share my bit of the street corner if you need it.
If, during any of this , you are tempted to question any person or processes, youíd do better to quickly quash the urge. . Power and ignorance are a deadly combination here. Youíd do best to learn to bow down low and long before those who add to your misery lest you find that not only have your pipes burst, but that your 30-year-old file at mezegajabet is suddenly ďlostĒ and someone is questioning ownership of your house altogether.
I hear tales, too, of the depression that settles in on the recently repatriated ex-pat. The depression, they say, is due to the unpleasant odors, the frequent power outages, , the faded colors of buildings, the low water pressure during showers and the constant, invasive presence of beggars. I have longed to ask, How long does it take to become that disassociated from oneís place of origin after crossing into international borders? How long after the Imperial tourist visa ran out? Or how long after the post Communist flight to freedom? Or a Democratic diversity lottery Greencard?
Anyway, forgive me, I have digressed a bit. Letís get back to me. Supposing, by the grace of heavenly miracles, I remain alive through another year of my destined life. Earning an income is also not an option. Ethiopia continues to be the poorest nation in the world as if vying for a Guinness World record. As of late, even our coffee has fallen from grace on the world market. Exclusive trading opportunities have also almost come and gone while we struggle to maintain the few sub-standard factories. Sometimes I wonder if weíre even a member of the global community -- that is unless weíre serving a temporary strategic objective for the West?
But once again, Iíve digressed. Still, Iím sure you can see that thereís an undeniable link between global affairs and me. In the meantime, since my voice has never been on this stage nor will be in 2015, let me continue with my story. I am struggling to survive on a daily basis and despite all of these unavailable/unattainable basic human rights, at least I used to have the luxury of picking through leftovers from the garbage dumpsters but, well, since the African Union meeting in Addis Abeba, the sudden commitment to keeping streets clean and dumpsters empty has taken away my only guaranteed meals. I am not worried though; history past and present tells and shows us that no practice, which is good for Ethiopia and its citizens, has persisted for too long. In the very near future, I look forward to resuming my daily foraging, sharing the dumpster with the growing population of dogs and wild animals.
So, getting back to my dialogue with you, my fellow Ethiopian abroad, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for leaving the remaining balance of your foreign exchange currency during vacations and I want to thank you for the investments you made because what we really needed more of was bars, pastry shops and nightclubs. Also, I would like to extend the collective gratitude of my ilk to those who continuously affirm that our culture is slowly dying if not already dead. Rap, music videos and soap operas remain our daily source of inspiration. And we are so enthralled by the stories of your life that we now truly expect that gold is there for the picking in the streets Western city streets you walk. I tell you, if there were such a thing as a no questions asked visa day just for one day, God forbid, Ethiopia would only house the maimed and the grateful dead.
Again, I have digressed, but you see, I remember the stories of my forefathers and the concept of pride in oneís culture and country. These days itís empty pride. What I hear is that you all canít even get along amongst yourselves. I guess disassociation also brings about loss of perspective. Have you not realized that there is power in numbers? Please understand that Mts, Mts and emotionally driven fundraisers limited to famine and war are not conducive to my betterment. What I want is hope, opportunity and good health. I want to raise my children in the land of their birth, teach them how to care for their continent and fuel their dreams beyond 2015. Right now, to you, I may seem frustrated, increasingly devoid of my culture, unwilling to work well, disrespectful, bureaucratic, angry and well-versed in saying that even the simplest of tasks canít be done. I admit, I have become all of the above, but what can I say, society is a reflection of its leadership, and community role models have been missing for the last 29 years. Please remember the powerful who are feared but not respected, the selfish, the nouveau riche and TirazneTeqs in this context. These have been my only options. And for quite some time now, democracy has been confused with ill planned policies and atrocious manners.
In the end, my fellow Ethiopian, should you ever choose to return to your beginnings, either today or in 2015, you must remember one thing. I am ready for your potential positive contribution towards my betterment and that of our country and continent. Donít ignore, but donít worry to much either, about the thorny bushes that may greet your feet as you land. In the meantime, remember me, remember my story - and try not to give up nor remain so distant too long.