Monday, January 29, 2007

Buna and Big Business

$1.10: Amount per pound of coffee that growers receive after deducting costs

$160: Amount that retailers can make on a pound of coffee

Those who know me know that I'm a big fan of Stephanie Black's Life and Debt. It's a stunning film that addresses trade issues and their impact on Jamaica. The brilliance of the film is that it provides a direct connection between the real people who have been impacted so proundly negatively by world trade policy and those who come to vacation and experience overwhelming beauty of Jamaica. Utilizing a narrative adapted by Jamaica Kincaid, from her pointed and poignant essay on tourism in Antigua, A Small Place, the film attempts to break down the barrier between the resort compound and the reality many lives lived beyond those walls.

If globalization is supposedly about linking countries together in some economic matrix of sorts, Life and Debt presents an analysis of just how and for whom these linked relationships work. It's a moving piece of film making that forces the view to recognize his or her place in the matrix and encouraging awareness as a means to work towards change. Also, it's got a wicked soundtrack.

Much to my absolute and total delight, a new movie looks to provide an analysis of these very same relationships. In the director's statement for Black Gold, a film about coffee growers in Ethiopia, Starbucks, and supposed fair trade policies, the filmmakers write the following: "Our hope was to make a film that forced us, as western consumers, to question some of our basic assumptions about our consumer lifestyle and its interaction with the rest of the world." Now that's what I'm talking about.

It's all about making connections, and Black Gold looks like it'll do this. Now bring the film to Montreal already. Until that happens, watch the trailer.


Not surprisingly, Starbucks has issued statements addressing some of the points raised in the film, and they've done this using the warm-and-fuzzy tool that is youtube.

Guardian Article on Black Gold and the response

Sunday, January 28, 2007

I'm a dirty foreigner

When I was in Ethiopia over the past month, I kept a little journal, lovingly titled "complaining and field notes." There was so much to say that the journal rapidly stopped being so little. Anyhow, to keep from complaining about how sick I am right at this very moment, and how I wish I felt like I know I did in the attached photo (taken at Entoto in Addis, fyi), I'll provide a wee excerpt from my journal. It's not the most exciting...All the names have been changed, just because I'm that ethical. :)

By this point, it was 1pm and Tegistu thankfully gave me a ring. I met up with him on “the new road” and we went to Tele Club for lunch. I’ve been there with him for lunch before. As usual, the food is really good but the washing/washroom facilities are disgusting. I had a discussion with him about this and he said that it’s not in the culture to really care about that type of thing—though he did insist that in his new house, he is going to keep the shinte-bete clean!

Tegistu and I did a bit of a language exchange and then went to see Hailemariam to repay him for monies provided to the municipal government as reagrds the establishment of the school we're planning to build. This was cool because I also got to take a short trip to see the land for the school. It looks pretty good and is really close to a residential area so that kids won’t have to walk that far to get to the school. After joking around with some locals using my extremely limited Amharic, Tegistu and I went to the town bazaar. It was really weird when I got there because all sorts of people--and by this I mean hundreds--were waiting to get in and me, the white girl, drove straight in on the back of Tegistu's motorcycle. He told the guards that I was an honoured guest--"a friend to the community," if you trust my translation. I thought he was joking around, as he normally does.

The bazaar was made up of a bunch of business tents—like a chamber of commerce fair. You could buy pretty much everything: tvs, soap, shoes, raw beef, sheep, refridgerators, and beer. My favourite was the advertisement for Dashen beer: "Hangover Free!" As we walked around, the deputy mayor, Ato Wubatu, whom I'd met in previous municipal government meetings, walked up to me and said hello. I introduced Tegistu, but Ato Wubato dragged me over to see this large group of men in suits and asked me to sit down one of what appeared to be gilded thrones. All I could think of was how dirty--koshasha--my feet were and how my hair looked ridiculous. At this point, who sits down next to me but the Mayor, the Zonal Chair, and the public relations head for the region. I sat in the fancy chair for a while, was introduced to a whole lot more people as "the foreigner who is building a school in our town," which I tried to consistently correct. It's not just me, I said! It's Schools for Humanity!

I turned around to look for Tegistu—he'd been relegated to the back. “Na!” I called, ushering him over. He was laughing at how uncomfortable I looked. "See," he chuckled, "told you you were an honoured guest." I asked if we could go and get my filthy feet washed before I had to teach that evening. We then got up, walked around a little more, and then left, but not before the Zonal chair could say “see you at the office.” I suppose this means I must visit him tomorrow.

I washed my feet at Tegistu's house. He laughed at my inability to wash using a pitcher and basin without making a giant mess. I should probably practice this skill--it might make me a little better at it. As it stands, if I don’t have a shower or a bathtub, I’m a little lost. I asked if I'd looked stupid in front of the government officials. Tegistu's response: "You've looked better, especially your hair. But you're a forenge (foreigner). You all dress weird and don't seem to care."

The classes went well, considering there are about 100 students in each one (some sitting on other student's laps, the ground, anywhere really) more coordinating conjunctions and independent clauses. I’d really like to start at the beginning with the students and see if I could make any difference with them. It’s hard to tell after two classes, but the fact that they all remembered my name demonstrates that they’d probably remember a whole lot more if I was there for longer.

Tegistu and I were planning on going back to the bazaar, but it was closed. We tried the Fasil hotel for dinner, but it was also closed. I asked Tegistu if he wanted to come back to my hotel for food. "It's okay," he replied, yet I knew he meant "Yes." I tried to explain the difference between "it's okay" and "okay," one means no, the other means yes. In the middle of my explanation, we both agreed that English is really annoying. Regardless, we ended up back at my hotel for tibs. Pretty good food and good conversation, nonetheless. I ended up explaining chicken with stuffing, pork roast, Yorkshire puddings, bacon, and hotdogs to Tegistu. He’d never heard of them before. His final comment was hilarious: "I think that's the kind of food habesha (Ethiopian) ladies eat when they go to America. They all come back wofram." You can probably guess what he means.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I'm back

Well, sorta. I'm in Hackney at the moment, but will be back in Montreal tomorrow. Can't wait. I'll write a longer post then. Until such time, however, here's some photos of where I was yesterday.