Monday, July 29, 2013

NEVIS Review No 22 , Section II, Ref # 22.2

NEVIS Review No 22

Section II ( Danny Arku’s Section)

Ref # 22.2

July 29, 2013
 [Original post by Danny Arku, on May 2013]

Yesterday afternoon, I had to go to a public enterprise to get some service. While I was infuriated at the long line (a sign of inefficiency!), standing in a scorching sun as they don't even have bench for customers to sit in), another thing, which I think is even more shameful, happened to me.

Two foreigners, a white-man /a Westerner and an Indian, then went straight to the guard and asked him to let them pass without the need to wait in the line like the rest of us. I overheard their conversation with the guard, and realized that they are there to get the same service like mine. When the guard seemed to let them pass, I run and jumped into their midst, and exclaimed, " Lemin tasalifachawaleh .lemin...min silehonu  [ loose translation: why do you let them cut the line and let them pass..why and who are they after all?]

The guard replied, " Engida nachew..minale'' [ They are guests. It is ok.. why not let them pass?!..]. Then we had a quarrel with the guard, and to my utter surprise and fury, the people who were in the same line with me also tried to sooth me by saying ,  " yilefu..engida nachew aydel...minale bitasalifachew.."[ It is ok..why don’t you let them pass..they are guests, aren’t they? ).
I was alone in this apparently little but important quarrel. Every one was against me and I had to fight alone. Notwithstanding this, I insisted and the supervisor of the company intervened. I told him that by doing such favors in the name of the abused term of 'engida' [guest], you are disgracing the dignity of your own citizens, manifesting self-disrespectfulness, and encouraging foreigners to break your own company law of equality and fairness-'first come, first served'. The supervisor also parroted the misinterpreted say talk about " Abesha engida tekebay aydel ..ende minew?!"[ Isn’t abesha hospitable..Why do you resist].
.After some verbal disputes with the supervisor that went on for some minutes, I seem to have won, and the two foreigners were then taken back to the last line. But the problem is not this single isolated incident, but actually deeper..What is going on, my friends?
 Betty Negash Woldeyohannes :I hear you Danny Arku surprised by the so called 'Supervisor' s' reaction though! esu endeza kasebe zebegnochu min yiferedibachewal!? sewochachin, including the boss guy there are way too far from recognizing the value of Time!
Hallelujah Lulie: A number of friends on Facebook have encountered such situations and written about it expressing their anger and frustration. I think Tsedi Lemma and Daniel Kibret could add on this. We pride as a proud nation never colonized, and with a rich cultural and historical identity. However we find ourselves honoring the white skinned and in your situation the yellow and brown foreigners at the expense of our dignity, time and privilege. Bewketu Seyoum once wrote on the Reporter an interesting analysis examining the possible sources for such a mentality referring to an incident in one of the traditional restaurants in Addis. I loved that piece so much, will post it if I get it. The other way to look at the problem is from the perspective of the 'White Privilege' theory. The while people who ask for such privileges believe that they deserve better service and treatment just because of the color is lighter than other customers.

Mesfin Tekle :Danny, I did the same thing at the airport while paying for an extra luggage. A foreigner tried to cut a line and I gently told him would you do the same thing if it was your own country? You're abusing our respect & silence for foreigners. I suggest you go back & line up like everyone else. He went back to the end of the line with his head down. The great thing was unlike the people in your case those who were lining up with me agreed & scolded him. That may be because they have lived outside Ethiopia & know that no one should break a cue regardless of who he/she is. We've to break that culture but we also have to admit we've our own queue breakers who seem to get a service without even showing up. As Rodriguez would say that's a cold fact.

Gezahegn Anbelu: Let me share this story .A sophomore at Addis Ababa University was introduced to a gentleman from some Scandinavian countries. He proposed and unquestionably his proposal was accepted .The thing is the proposal was perceived as blessing in disguise .She quit her school and went on marrying the man with mini wedding held at one of these mushrooming Hotels in Addis .To make the long story short, after a couple of months of honeymooning, the man who promised to take her to his home country disappeared. Why? Lo and behold the man had already left for his country without leaving a trace. And some folks who did their best to know about this man finally came to know that the man was lawfully married in his home country and actually had two kids. You can imagine the emotional and moral damage such tragedy could bring to this young lady . The thing is the man was simply having his vacation. Actually, for him, she was one of the “packages “.DEGRADING. Sometimes I ask myself is it because we are poor that we “worship” the ferenji .But still some of the most brilliant individual who could leave a comfortable life in their home country leave for the “Dreamland”. I think there should be some reorientation in knowing our identity.
Yona Bir: It is very controversial issue. I totally understand your frustration and probably I would do the same, if I were in your place in that scorching sun.
But the case is not simple and a current phenomenon. We need to ask as to how and when did we start being Engida Teqebay? What is the significance of Engida Teqebayinet? I think this is one of the oldest brands that we built as an Ethiopian national Brand. This culture doesn't pop up today but it has a long cultural element. Ethiopians had a very old culture to host a complete stranger person, for a sleep over in their house, with full facility and dignity. Even today, you may find such experience in villages. They do it by leaving their bed and washing a stranger feet without getting a dime for the service. The stranger may ask respectfully, "Ye'Egzer Mengedegna asadrugn" In addition to this cultural background, we built the so called “Hospitality” brand as a national tourist attraction.
So when I come to your specific experience, I can see why you were singled out in that debate. It looks like our people accept our Engida Teqebayinet. The government and media are working hard to propagate this slogan in every single AU summit. Engida teqebay yehonew hizib yetelemede tibibrun yarig!!! ... However, if you see it from the view point of hard currency generating mechanism, considering the foreigners pay in hard currency, you may be delighted for letting them go on your turn. Finally, the reverse is true when we go to any European country. You may stand in a queue for hours in a custom check. That is because you are a foreigner (Ethiopian) but they pass by the other door only since they are an EU member citizen. So, Should we revise our Engida Teqebayinet again
Tsedi Lemma :Thanks Dannycho. Hallelujah - I have had a couple of similar outrageous encounters in the past…I believe our own people are acting the way they are because when they see a "ferenji" they see a walking wallet coming into them, or they get a spark of hope for a better life, or the sudden urge to show fellow countrymen around that they can speak to these dudes in English, or a better tip in the case of Bewketu's article (which I also liked very much). Matter of fact! Let me take the hit by cutting that "engida tekebay" crap […]The last time this happened to me, as Mesfin, was in the Airport here whereby I gently told the dude "we are all here looking for the same service that you think you should get first." It worked.
Hiwot Wendimagegn:  Danny, this is an issue close to my heart and as you said, its implications are immense....

One fact I have always found enticing is how the part of the brain that is responsible for SUBMISSIVENESS dominated the brains of most slaves during the Atlantic Slave Trade. Slavery didn't survive solely by the domination of the whites but also by the meekness of the blacks. While working on the fields, thousands of black slaves were managed by one white man with a whip, making you wonder why didn't they just rise up and kill him? Where was their pride, their dignity and their will to say no to injustice? The fact that they were recipients and not givers had broken their spirit and robbed them of their self respect.

Anyhow, the point is, the supposed superiority of the whites and the imagined inferiority of the blacks is engrained in the brains of most 3rd world people, manifesting itself in situations like the ones you faced yesterday.

Hailemichael Lemma: Danny: as I always say and as to my observation, this is a product of ‘’deprived-self-Esteem’’ side of our identity crises that we suffer, in addition to what Tsedi has already stated above.

Shockingly, this ‘’deprived-self-esteem’’ increase with the color of the whiter foreigners such as Chinese, Indians and the white west. As a result, we treat/value as if they are superior to us. On the side, it decreases with the Blacker/African foreigners, because they are relatively darker than us and treat/value them as if they are inferior to us.

Hence, we may observe that the term foreigner in the mind of our people only refers to the west-whites/Ferenjis. For the supervisor and the rest people against you, ‘’engida’’ means Ferenjis with negligible doubt. I guess you wouldn’t have been alone had these guys been Nigerians or Kenyans.  Damn to realize that we, Ethiopians, are not realizing who we were/are!
Danny Arku :I agree with most of you guys above. But I don't agree with Yona Bir, Yonas, you seem to imply that it is ok- let's get this straight: are you saying that the attitude of the people is an acceptable and morally defensible, not to mention the fact that it is an attitude that is coming from people who pride themselves for not being colonized. Plus, what ever damn trifle foreign exchange they bring, are you saying that the citizen have to be treated as a second rate? Are we willing to sell our dignity to buy some hard currency? What does "engiga tekebay" mean, and what are its limits- does it mean volunteering and/or compelled to degrade oneself for the sake of the guest and an associated economic payoff? I didn't get you when you said , "However, if you see it from the view point of hard currency generating mechanism, considering the foreigners pay in hard currency, you may be delighted for letting them go on your turn"
Dawit Teferra : Privileges of a stranger are due to the host's provisions. It's not untrue that in Ethiopia we have this sentiment of respecting 'guests' - irrespective of skin color (or their whereabouts). This may be expressed in so many ways and one could be by letting 'guests' get services on priority. Accepting and exceptionally treating of strangers has been among the popular cultures of our ancestors for very long. Case of accepting strangers, treating them with the best the household could offer, washing their feet, leaving own bed for them, ... on departure, sparing own time and resources to accompany them to some distance ... these are amazing but were common in our land.

This, however, by no means should be confused with recklessly yielding in to some strangers' such disrespectful attempts. Tough alone at the scene, your fight was a brave one , Danny. The situation you confronted was an indication of a currently building up sad situation, self-disrespect. Really sad. But I still see this sad fact dissociated from color or something of the sort. Whoever tries to abuse our rights, most of us don't have the willpower to stand and stop it. This is clearly expressed in our inert responses to disrespectful treatments by many service providers, examples: taxis, hotels, financial service outlets, utility companies ... .
Danny Arku :Spot on, Dave, Thanks Dawit Teferra for your insight.

Tamrat Wuletaw : I highly laud Danny's vociferous complaints. We say we are the only nation that was not colonized by western powers but our deeds recently reflect the exact opposite. We have become a consummate Ferenji - Worshipers. Poverty plays a huge role in intensifying this societal disorder. Ultimately, it is the job of the enlightened citizens to set right what is bended in the society. As a result, I would like to thank Danny for his determined stance against his own citizens in pursuing justice at local level.

Yona Bir: Danny Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we should subordinate our dignity for the sake of hard currency. But I am saying we give priority to foreigners (“foreigners” to mean all non-Ethiopians not only ferenjis) for the following three reasons.
1. Giving priority is a gentleman (woman) act in our culture (it is just like a “ladies first” slogan). Most guests consider this relationship as a gentleman act not as subordinate and superior relation. But I know there are some people who abuse this privilege. This service giving mentality is completely different from other African nations “Ferenj first”mentality. I visited few African countries and noticed the impact of colonization and I don’t think our act is the same. Btw, the foreigners tell you the difference between Ethiopia and other Africa nations.
Tsedi and Hallelujah Lulie may help us by asking the foreigners as to how they see our Engida Teqebayinet.  2. Almost everywhere, foreigners pay more for the same service. As to my knowledge, Ethiopia is a unique country to put price discrimination for citizens and foreigners. AAU charge 50 Birr for a student copy to all Ethiopian citizens but USD 50 for foreigners (20 times more). As an economist, you may help me about the relationship between premium price and service quality.  3. Our government is trying hard to pull hard currency and attract foreign investment. That is why I said it is controversial but I think it is an active citizen duty to facilitate the weak service quality for guests by giving them priority. Image building Endilu.
Menbere Getachew : Danny, change starts from oneself, I applaud your determination to voice your opinion even when all the people around you at the moment were against it. preferential treatment for 'ferengie' happens all the time in Ethiopia, especially in the so-called tourist cities, i remember this incident in Gondar a while back when I was waiting in a very long line to use the ATM, a local guide with two 'ferengies' came over and told us to let them cut in line so as to show our hospitality, the guy in front asked him 'would they do the same if we go to their country?'. Everyone laughed with the question and the two 'ferengies' stood in line just like everyone else. None of the tourist attraction places in the US I have had the opportunity to visit give priority to tourists in the name of encouraging cash inflow (maybe we need a research to check the causality between hospitality and money earned through tourism). I am sick and tired of people saying 'engida tekbaynet bahlachen' I don't believe culture is something that is engraved on stone that should be passed from one generation to another unchanged, it is a dynamic and evolving interaction with our environment. So, if this culture is making us be treated like second class citizen in our own country, IT IS TIME TO CHANGE IT.
Yared WoldeGiorgis : Dear Danny , I have a brief encounters at Bole International airport ,,I remember the time was just quarter to midnight , we are queuing to get entry visa at Addis abeba , The ferenjis are way back on the queue , a guy came and picked this ferenjis way back to issue them a visa . Most of US getting tired of long flight, then we started shouting at the guy why they are a priority to you? he said they are " engedoch , makber alebachu " his reply makes the situation more worse .The ferenjis having realized the inconvenience they said sorry , and went back to their place , "ferenjis" have a long culture or tradition of queuing to get any service , be it bank or supermarket , they usually ask permission from the front person if they are in some kind of hurry .This situation is prevalent in most African countries .But Ethiopians makes this more uncomfortable to their own people , there is a saying " Nigus be ageru ayekeberim " our traditional " terets" will tell us who we are . Thanks to our " Teret" we will remain forever like this way . Colony ..white ,black minamin is just A pretext , our life is highly influenced by THE LIFE ON "TERET TERET "
Henock Y. Tessemma :  Danny I think our conflicted attitude toward "ferenjoch" is pretty obvious. Not only do "ferenjoch" jump queues with impunity, they can also enter buildings without search in many places; they enjoy much more attention than locals in many offices;they are generally considered to be brilliant and efficient (the common Amharic saying "Egziabher ferenjin yesseraw ejun tatbo new" says it all"). And all this happens in Ethiopia, a nation that prides itself on unbroken independence that spans millennia. I used to think the "ferenj amlakinet" was a recent phenomenon until I read Teklehawariat Teklemariam complaining in his memoir that, ironically enough, a "ferenj" matter-of-factly walked through a congested crowed (the Adwa Generation, mind you) at Arada Giorgis gathered to see Emperor Menilik.Yet many Ethiopians still believe "Habehsa" is the most beautiful, the most courageous, race--yes, race--with the earliest civilization on earth.Our songs are replete with annoying self-righteous mantras extolling the perceived virtues of "Habesha". The civilizational/technological gap, economic problems and other factors might have collided head-on with the huge historical ego many Ethiopians have to cause the apparent ambivalence. As for "engida tekebayinet", that is, sorry to say, a complete […].I would have considered that argument if people from other African countries could get even a fraction of the royal treatment, so to speak, "ferenjoch" enjoy.
Danny Arku :Thank you all for your robust ust reflections, as usual.

(Ed’s note- As usual, the NEVIS ET’s disclaimer: we would like to remind NEVISers that all the opinions which Danny and his discussant express in the forthcoming series of articles are their personal opinion and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NEVIS, the society or the editorial team ET. NEVISers who didn’t participate in the discussion are welcome to add their reflection here in this issue in the comment section. Those who already did participate are free to add/modify their opinion. We have presented the conversations above exactly as they first appeared for the sake of originality and authenticity, except  for minor editing of spelling and grammatical errors. NEVIS ET*)