Wednesday, February 01, 2006
I am back from Ethiopia where I was leading some folks in that house buildin' volunteer stuff I like to do. It was, not surprisingly, amazing, enriching, and life affirming. My Amharic has improved (tenayostalin, btw, simply means "hello") and I was able to give a speech in the language to the lovely people in Debre Birhan--a town about 130km due north of Addis Ababa. This was apparently quite impressive (or, probably, hilarious) because they taped the speech and sent it around the country for people to hear.
Anyhow, the above picture was taken at the Rasta school located in Shashamene, Ethiopia (notice the red, green and gold epaulletes on the khaki uniforms--looks like Luciano might have designed it). The Jamaican Rastafarian Development Committee (JRDC) is doing an amazing job. Ethiopians in general are a bit wary of the whole Haile-Selassie-being-God thang, but the school doesn't overtly preach the faith and offers fully-sponsored, high quality education to children from not just the Rasta community, but the community of Shashamene as a whole. Presently they have 451 students enrolled in grades K-10. I can't over blow how terrific their fascilities are. Not only is the school new, clean, and bright, but the classes are not of the gigantic size you normally see in Ethiopia's government-run public schools (which require user fees, incidentally). They have a nice library and computers available for the students--not to mention the brand-new teaching aids available for teachers to use. Young Ethiopian teachers are given a chance at the school, so it makes for a dynamic environment. As a teacher myself, I was so pleased to see this school (which I had initially visited during its construction last year) up and running, full of smiling, engaged (and engaging) students.
Of course, as anyone who knows me realizes, I'm more than a little interested in the clash/connection between Rasta and Ethiopian cultures that happens in Shashamene, and in the rest of Ethiopia (among other intersections between Rastafari and other cultural groups such as, say, my own). I hope to return this summer and attend the birthday celebration of His Imperial Majesty--a festival that is open to the public...I hear there just may be a soundsystem and some ackee and saltfish served. Fun.
On my way to Ethiopia I read the following article in the NYT. I'd read Maya Angelou's All God's Children Need Travelling Shoes recently and it was interesting to read a present day take on the return of the African diaspora to Ghana. It's quite different than the return of the Rastas to the promised land, but I wonder about some of the comparisons that could be made...(sorry that it requires that whole registration fiasco)
Ghana's Uneasy Embrace of Slavery's Diaspora