Monday, March 14, 2011

Back in the USA!

Dear Friends,
I had not realized how darn long it has been since I have communicated with you! Anyhow, I am back.

I have also opened a blog on WordPress because BlogSpot was blocked in Ethiopia. I am not sure how I am going to keep two blogs going, if you have suggestions please let me know.

I want to finish blogging about Ethiopia in this blog entry. I made notes to myself as some point in Addis Ababa specifically for this purpose.

I have realized over the course of the last few years that it is impossible to accurately describe what another country is like. This is especially true when the other country is in a less developed part of the world. In Europe I could wax eloquent about Gothic architecture and the feelings that were evoked in me as I experienced in being places of such historical significance whose histories stretched so far back in time. While geographically the continent of Africa is as old as the rest of the globe, many of the countries were themselves created by European colonists who had never set eyes on the people groups and cultures of the continent. This is to say that while there are cultures that are as ancient as any anywhere else in the world, the historical past is not always present in the same way in less developed countries as it may be in other parts of the world.

For instance, when I was in Egypt I asked why the city of Alexandria has buildings dating essentially from the 1600's or so, it is a pretty modern city for being so very ancient. Granted there were two devastating earthquakes which took the first two cities under the waters of the sea. I was also told that the building codes were not up to par in the ancient days. and that people did not recognize the value of conserving history and the past until relatively modern times.

So when I speak of Addis Ababa I am speaking of a culture perhaps more than an urban metropolis that is teeming with historical architecture. In Addis one day I saw two sights that I knew had I not been aware that I was not in the United States would have given me a great jolt and given me a huge clue that I probably indeed was not "in Kansas anymore". First there was a whole line of donkeys with bundles of wheat strapped to their backs crossing a street. Immediately after that as the vehicle I was in crossed a street of its own and turned a corner there was a whole row of shoe shiners. These are typical sights in Addis Ababa. They are a signal to me that I am in a less developed part of the world than most of Europe or the United States.

Passing by parks one can see some of the many homeless people of Addis Ababa. There are usually many people sleeping, and sometimes groups of people talking. Some of them look downright miserable which is quite understandable as I have recently been to Addis when it is not a warm or hot African climate. I know that the unemployment rate in Egypt before the recent uprising was approximately 35%. I do not know the unemployment rate in Addis Ababa, however I can assume that it is high. There are no government programs to help with those who are down on their luck. There is no free medical care. We don't know how good we have it in the United States, even at the worst, compared to other countries that have next to no infrastructure. Having an honest government whose desire is to actually serve the people and not itself also helps. And I do recognize the fact that the United States does have poverty. I also know that Africa is the only continent in the world left which has extreme poverty.

I was told while I was in Addis that there are many women leaving for Sudan. I don't know if the majority of them are Muslims. I say this because I think for people in North Sudan it will make life at least somewhat easier to be Muslim. Once the separation of the North and South of Sudan has become legal and binding it will be more difficult to be a Christian or any other kind of believer in Khartoum or other parts of the North. However, the Ethiopian birr (the name of their currency) continues to be devalued which makes for great prices for Americans and others, and makes for misery for the Ethiopian people. Their money is worth less. Store owners often compensate for this by raising their prices. Salaries do not increase and so people have less money with which to buy higher priced staples like cooking oil. The Sudan pound is also losing value and when I was back in Sudan at the end of February and the beginning of March prices had indeed responded to this devaluation by climbing higher. However, it could be that women, one of the most vulnerable segments of any population, feel that Sudan is still a better bet for earning a living than is Ethiopia.

Being back in the United States I can....drink the tap water. Turn on a thermostat and have heat in the whole apartment to keep me warm even while it is quite cold outside. Have reliable electricity. There are many modern cars on the roads. I can once again flush toilet paper down the toilet. Restaurants have flush toilets and toilet paper is provided, along with soap I might add. The stores are....well, how do I find words for what the stores are like? Large, well lit. Overwhelming amounts of selection. Some prices are very cheap, some prices are very expensive compared to overseas. In Khartoum I had a satellite dish that got plenty of channels including CNN, Al Jazeera News and BBC News. I had no monthly bill for this service, just had to buy the dish. Here I have to have Cable TV. I get CNN but I don't have Al Jazeera or BBC. I miss them.