Monday, February 13, 2012

The Stick/dula/ or the Stone/dΪngay/?

I think philosophical questions are sometimes great to start with. As much as they bug us, they always help us rack our brains as we try to understand them. Some of the responses we give to these questions could also become humorous.
For instance, a biological science class usually raises a question as to which came first - the egg or chicken ? Here are a few hilarious answers: one student said chicken came prior to egg because ‘C’ came before ‘E’ in the dictionary. Still others argued that why bother - both are delicious. Perhaps the funniest response of all these was “I had an egg for breakfast and chicken for dinner….so I guess egg came first.” Of course, you can’t agree to the logic behind all of the above responses, although you might with their answers. Today’s article craves to answer the question, at least try, - which was introduced first in Ethiopia as a tool- the stick, dula (generic name) or the stone, dΪngay? Just as you couldn’t totally agree with one or the other responses above, none may feel at ease candidly responding to this dilemma. Some historians go for the stick and claim that it came first to Ethiopia as a tool. But then, logical thought tells us that sticks could change into dust somewhere in the mist of time as compared to stone tools. In other words, this side of the argument supports that the stone-age may have preceded the “stick-age” ( if at all there’s one by this name). On the other hand, an insightful examination to the various Ethiopian ethinic groups would help one to appositely witness vestiges of the culture of using dula in the day to day lives of people. Hence, the dula may have come first many millennia ago in Ethiopia, much earlier than our monolithic monuments, who knows? I mean, why on earth are most of our societies still using dula in one form or another? Ethiopans use dulas to defend against untamed animals and make certain that humans can travel from point A to point B without being assaulted by the clawed and fanged beasts of the fields and natural forests. The dula is still used as a device for prevention against aliens, highway robbers and enemies. Furthermore, dula is also linked to some other events. For instance, the Mursic and Surmic people have a culture of ritual stick fighting play-offs, a dueling called Donga stick fight, which is an art that allows young boys to win the honor among the community and hearts of young girls for marriage. The Hamər people use a meter-long dula with the hooked end for gathering fruits in the midst of formidable thornbush, pushing the thorns into place with the forked end and building a cattle kraal. The Hamər use the dula in religious rituals, too, such as, in ceremonies of blessing and cursing.
The Oromo, Amhara, Tigre and other ethinic groups also use one or the other type of dulas for various purposes. By the way, the lonely dula, hasn’t lingered for long as a simple ordinary stick. Like the staff of Moses, it has expanded and blossomed into various types of tools and weapons. The devices that were created from this regular dula were given different names for different uses: a guard's dula, or the ones held by an official police , is called K’omet’, usually made from hardwood and is round and knobbed and is specifically designed to knock off an adversary or incapacitate wild animals; Kezera, BətΪr, or MΪrkuz are names used interchangeably to refer to a walking stick with the number 7-shaped head; Zeng is a type of BətΪr used by those who walk long distances in the wilderness and forests of Ethiopia. It is a formidable weapon and as such held very dearly and intimately by the owner; mədənk’əriya is a strong pole about 4 feet long used to jam a door from the inside to prevent access into a house.
This is a typical gadget used in huts in the countryside or small villages where padlock keys may not be available or suitable to use; Zenezena is a very large dula, the girth of which is about 4 inches in diameter used to pound grain in a mortar called mukəch’a; Mek’wamia is a prayer stick used by the elderly and the church clergy. The Mek’wamia is used in the standing position during the long church ceremonies. The head of the staff is a T-shaped brass or iron handle that can be used as a chin rest. In church festivities, such as in “dances” at Epiphany /TΪmk’ət/ , the Mek’wamia is held and waved in rhythms of the church chants of praise. Thus, the Mek’wamia is somewhat resembling a conductor’s baton in an orchestra.
I personally don’t buy the idea that Ethiopians use dula more often than dΪngay just by a quirk of fate. Considering all the various day-to-day purposes this wooden item has to the people, including the so-many-others not mentioned here due to space and time, I believe the stick, dula, may have been used as a tool prior to the stone, dΪngay here in Ethiopia. Məlkam samΪnt! (Have a good week!)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Meaningful Story Behind the Photo

What would you make of this picture at first glance? Be frank – a bird’s nest, a tool to shoo pigeons away in a farm field, or rather a locally made toy for a tot? If you guessed any of the above, you’re dead wrong. Perhaps, those of us who have seen the indigenous t’əla betoch /local drink houses/ in some parts of Addis Ababa and the regions, might assume it’s rather an outdoor placard that notifies the presence of the t’əla drink somewhere indoors. Again your surmise is wrong, unfortunately. Well, I totally agree with a known journalistic adage that says “every picture tells a story,” although I have seen many which have very little, if at all, that communicate meaning. Similarly, however, we do find quite many snapshots that have the most enduring effect on people that can be included among the pictorial record for they show the impact of a certain period of time and place, like those which reveal the hard times of a nation. The beauty of a good snapshot is that unlike similar symbols rendered in paint or prose, it seems to convey reality without the mediation of an artist or interpreter. There’s an Amharic verse that says something relevant to photographs: yaləfutΪn gizeyat fit ləfit amt’Ϊto ləmΪn aynagər yΪnagəral foto Simply translated as: 'Bringing the past times vividly to the fore Yes indeed, the photo tells a tale' While this is a testimony that the photo brings the past into the present, it really illustrates the truth that a photo really tells a story. Today’s piece is the success story behind this compelling image by Jane Strachan, the USAID-OFDA Program Officer while she was in a monitoring visit to a program site. But first, let me give you a background: The USAID/OFDA-funded Hygiene Promotion Awareness Training encompasses a wide range of activities aimed at altering attitudes and behaviors so that they would break the succession of disease transmission associated with inadequate water supply and sanitation. In disaster-affected areas, USAID funds water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions such as the construction of wells and latrines and the promotion of hand washing, safe water usage, and healthy sanitation. Through WASH programming, USAID helps reduce morbidity and mortality associated with water and sanitation-related diseases and poor environmental conditions. Indeed, changes seem to be on the move in these communities. This can be proved by their responsiveness to keep well – hygienically. This is really one of the success stories of USAID/Ethiopia. It is so because breaking the chains of the long-held practices and changing people’s attitudes and behaviors could not come swiftly and easily. It is possible only with an arduous endeavor on the part of those who exercise great work to bring about it. In the context of rural and even some urbanities of Ethiopia, where the provision of “safe” piped water to every household cannot be achieved (at least, in a foreseeable short period of time), the necessity of keeping healthy - hygienic - assumes great importance. Nonetheless, as is true of most developing communities elsewhere, most of these people rely on the government to make sure that their wellbeing is sustainably kept, for they’re without resources to do it all by themselves. However, it is necessary for the community to at least contribute by upholding benefits of trainings, such as this, through developing some form of appropriate individual hygiene care. Real decisions on hygiene awareness should be made at individual as well as at the community level in order to have the biggest impact. This is all what this captivating picture depicts– a tribute to the responsible individual’s responsiveness to this life-changing hygiene training and his creative effort to keep healthy with meager resources. The photo you’re seeing above, in its directness and simplicity records the conditions of poverty while also celebrating the persistent human spirit of staying hygienic in even the most difficult of circumstances. The location is in Bale region, Harawa 7 district, in close proximity to Ginnir, which is roughly 650 kilometers south-east from Addis. It is a hand-washing tool a community member created after receiving OFDA-funded hygiene promotion training. Jane admiringly explains that he, (unfortunately the person’s name is anonymous) has built a rudimentary latrine and installed this tool next to it so that his family won’t forget to wash their hands the minute after they use the restroom. Isn’t it something that deserves appreciation? Yes, it is. The individual utilized his creativity to put into practice what he learned theoretically. Creativity is not the ability to create out of nothing (only God can do that), but the ability to generate new ideas from what has been learned by combining, changing, or reapplying existing ideas. And most importantly, it also comprises of the ability to accept change and newness, a willingness to play with ideas and possibilities, and a flexibility of outlook. According to The International Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo State University, "Creativity is an effective resource that resides in all people and within all organizations." Therefore, often all that's needed to be creative is to make a commitment to the task we want to accomplish ahead of us and to take the time for it. What earns commendation here is the ability of the anonymous person to define the existing problem, believe in what he learned to address the difficulty, generate creative solution for it, and then transform this solution into action through the use of locally available materials at his disposal. We seem to see the reality itself, people, rocks, fences, clouds, etc. in good photos as this one. No teller is required to tell or to write this story; it happens by itself. Isn’t it fun and useful to be creative as the anonymous person described above? And isn’t it valuable to have a profound impact on viewers by taking a telling snapshot? Məlkam samΪnt! → Have a good week!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Visionary Reformer and His Hilarious Encounters with the Traditionalists!

Menelik II was one of the beloved emperors Ethiopia has ever had. He unlocked the country’s door for technological advancement and brought about so many reforms of his time (but only at the sacrifice of harsh criticism and harm that was inflicted upon him). Among these fundamental improvements, the introduction of telephone was one that caused him much confrontation among his own conservative people, especially the clergymen. The humorous disputes that went on between this farsighted leader and those against his modern changes, and the incidents that took place as a result, are the center of today’s piece. According to the legendary Ethiopian journalist and prolific writer, P’awlos ňo ňo, who wrote As’e Menelik /Emperor Menelik/, and a popular historian and writer, Tekle Tsadik Mekuria’s, As’e Menelik Ϊna yə Ityop’ia andΪnet (Emperor Menelik and the Ethiopian Unity) the first ever land line telephone, also known as "plain old telephone” was installed in Menelik’s palace in 1889 (perhaps much ahead of even some European countries). (I wonder, though, who he was talking to in it, for it was only one piece). This news caused annoyance among many clergymen who resented the new technology. Eight representatives of the clergy, then approached Menelik and appealed to the Emperor that the telephone in the palace was, in fact, the work of səyt’an (the Devil, Satan) and that it should be removed from the palace and destroyed in public. Concealing his fury at the request, Menelik informed the delegates that their concern was 'legitimate' and he will get back to them the next day. Subsequently, he called up his nobility and the Patriarch and bitterly complained that the clergy is interfering in his vision of growth for his country by claiming that the telephone technology is the work of səyt’an, the Devil. He also firmly stated that the priests were bent on sabotaging his work and were, in the process, forcing him to even consider abandoning the Orthodox faith just to distance himself from the backward clergy. Upon hearing such a shocking declaration from the Emperor, the nobility and the Patriarch rushed to assure the Emperor that they will calm down the priests and begged him to stay with the Orthodox faith. Another funny incident that occurred, in line with this ever first installation of landline telephone, was at one of his top aide’s residence. Two years after Menelik set up telephone at his palace, a second one was fixed in the home of AfənΪgus /spokesperson of the king/ Nessibu, the then minister of justice. One Sunday afternoon, however, the telephone apparatus developed a short-circuit and brought a minor electrical shock to the AfənΪgus as he was chatting on the phone. When the clergymen heard of this incident, they seized the opportunity to publicly declare that this is a clear sign that the device was indeed the work of səyt’an and pronounced unfit for the country and its people. Later, they grabbed the telephone set and publicly burnt it.
In 1899, eight years after the burning of the AfənΪgus' telephone-set by the clergy, however, the Emperor stuck to his wish and vision and was able to inaugurate the Harar-Addis Ababa telephone line. We know that we are now found in an era where even the service of mobile phones has exceeded that of the traditional residential landline phone (at least in Addis and some big towns). Nontheless, Menelik’s hunger for tech, his will and determination to press forward with his development vision (almost 120 years ago) despite major stumbling blocks, eventually paid. It’s a testimony that good will always prevail over ignorance. Ethiopians owe him for such a valor. What a brilliance and resolve to advance his nation!

Language, Universality of Music and… Musicians?!

Like language, music is a human unversal in which perceptually discrete elements are organized into hierarchially structured sequences according to synthatic principles. According to a new report published online on March 19th in Current Biology, (ScienceDaily, Mar. 20, 2009), “Native African people who have never even listened to the radio before can nonetheless pick up on happy, sad, and fearful emotions in Western music. The result shows that the expression of those three basic emotions in music can be universally recognized, the researchers said.” In other words, what’s being played in this part of the globe could have meaningful interpretations in another quarter. There is a close relationship between language and music. In fact, now, researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center have found evidence that the processing of music and language do indeed depend on some of the same brain systems. Their findings, which are currently available, published in the journal NeuroImage, are the first to suggest that two different aspects of both music and language depend on the same two memory systems in the brain. One brain system, based in the temporal lobes, helps humans memorize information in both language and music— for example, words and meanings in language and familiar melodies in music. The other system, based in the frontal lobes, helps us unconsciously learn and use the rules that underlie both language and music, such as the rules of syntax in sentences, and the rules of harmony in music. Language learning (and teaching, for that matter) short of savoir faire about the culture in which it operates, is like learning bare or meaningless symbols. One part of culture is, certainly, music. But music, so they say, is far deeper than a language: it is a universal language, and even some go as far as saying that “it is the purest form of self-expression.” Hence, it’s neither restricted by boundary and race, nor by character of the language in use, be it Latin, Semitic, Cushitic or the like. Then one might wonder, “Okay, let music be universal as language, as a form of self-expression. Does this mean that musicians could be, too?” The current piece attempts to reflect on this notion by taking an analogy of recent incidents that took place in different parts of the world. Well, the recent tragic deaths of both the Ethiopian music superstar Tilahun Gessese and the world king of pop, Michael Jackson, have triggered some discussions locally as to their actual similarities. Of course, the scope do vary greatly. However, the following parallels stick out : they both started music at their early ages; their music have been No. 1 hit for more than 3 to 5 decades in their respective countries; Ethiopians owe both celebrities for their moving melodious songs at a crucial time when Ethiopia was hit by a severe natural calamity in the 80’s. While Tilahun sang in tears his tour de force, “Way Way silu”(literally, ‘when they utter trickling lamenting sounds’ at a loss of loved ones), Michael, along with other several musicians around the globe, sang the powerful summon, ‘We’re the world’ at a fund-raising campaign for the victims of drought. What’s more, overlooking their life styles, they both were rehearsing hard for what were to be their greatest comeback bid, shortly before the end of their lives, perhaps once again, aspiring to finish it with stardom. What’s even more surprising is the fact that both singers had tragic unexpected deaths at the same year and of the same medical cause – probable cardiac failure; Could this have been just a quirk of fate? Or may be,… just may be, like music…, could musicians, too, be universal? Long ago, a lay admirer from a neighboring country, who knows the Amharic language a little, once coined a doggerel to this iconic Ethiopian singer. With his frail lyrical skill but with bold determination to pay a personal living tribute to Tilahun’s wonderful music, he jotted down: awroplan hedə Ϊyə gəsəgəsə kə zəfaňoch andəňa T’Ϊlahun Gəsəsə. literally translated ‘The aeroplane has swiftly gone, Among the musicians Tilahun Gessesse stands number one’.
While there’s no obvious link between the airplane that went swiftly and the fact that Tilahun ranks first among others in musical skills, the individual seems to have achieved his objective of being appreciative of the melodic talent in his own way, rising above his own language barrier and border (though, I have to say, the verse created a gag amid the literary critics at the time). That’s even more evident in Michael’s global musical legacy, as well. His music touched millions across the globe, in spite of language and cultural differences. Indeed, many would agree that music is a universal language. Would it be possible to consider musicians universal, too, owing to the many bona fide parallels that could be drawn from vocalists all over the world? Məlkam samΪnt ! → Have a good week!

Bək’olo – the Rainy Season’s Treat

It’s been almost a couple of weeks now since many of us started to feel…only feel, the long-awaited rainy season, the kΪrəmt, although we’re in reality sensing the not-so-usual-kind of bΪrd /cold/ and zΪnab /rain/. In the past, kΪrəmt used to be not accommodating if one wants to have touristy time. However, it is now actually lighter and brighter, in all respects, compared to those of the yesteryears. That means, you don’t have to miss your customary walking or running on the streets around your place despite some drizzling… and can always remain fit doing your outdoor exercises. But one thing you notice as you return from this routine is a whiff of the freshly roasted odor of a certain cereal on almost every corner of the metroplis …surely, you never want to pass by it…. and together with your fatigue from the exercise, your stomach “reacts”positively to it…and on a whim, you feel like starving. This makes you guess whether this roasted aroma could be the best “fast” food of the rainy season. You guessed it right … this is Bək’olo TΪbs,the seasonal treat. Because of its slightly sweet flavor and crisp, juicy texture, Bək’olo is a favorite of adults and children alike. I know that some native localities go even further, opting for Kurt’ sΪga /raw meat/ , instead, to “regenerate” lost internal heat for such time of year. On the other hand, others perhaps would rather settle on hot macaroni soup as it helps to perspire on cold rainy days. Nonetheless, owing to its fair price and rich dietary value, Bək’olo TΪbs is the most favored choice for many as their kΪrəmt seasonal treat… it’s not a surprise if many are seen grabbing some on their way home. You already got it… Bək’olo TΪbs is corn /maize/ on the cob roasted on charcoal fire with a slightly smoky flavor. You can do it by putting some ears of Bək’olo (no husks) on a barbeque grill (or the local charcoal stove) and cooking them until they are almost charred on the outside and rotating continuously to cook them evenly. Bək’olo TΪbs is so addictive (at least to many of us) that once you tasted the organic ones, you wish the showery days lasted longer (unfortunately, there are only few retailers who can make it genuinely flavorsome). So, follow this wise counsel : when purchasing organic fresh Bək’olo, ask for ləga (fresh) ones and buy it with the green husks.
Keep the husk intact while storing the Bək’olo to maintain flavor and freshness, but you should really buy ləga ones on the day you plan to eat it. To test the Bək’olo before purchase, peel back a corner of the husk and make sure the kernels are plump and tightly packed together. Pierce one kernel with a fingernail to check for plumpness — the raw kernel should exude a milky substance, which indicates that your Bək’olo will be fleshy and juicy when you bite into it! I always hear from a couple of long-time diaspora friends that, among other things, what they actually miss and remember with love from Ethiopia is the Bək’olo TΪbs that’s usually served on those long rainy days when school was closed, and all their family gathering together around the charcoal heat. They considered the heat symbolic of the love of their mothers who used to make the magical Bək’olo TΪbs. Bək’olo could also be eaten boiled, in the form of Bək’olo k’ Ϊk’Ϊl and is likeable by many, too. Some even prefer Bək’olo k’ Ϊk’Ϊl to Bək’olo TΪbs which has a smoky flavor. Whether you take it in Bək’olo TΪbs or Bək’olo k’ Ϊk’Ϊl form, you can be sure of it’s myriad health value.The medicinal worth of Bək’olo is beyond one’s imagination: just read any health journal and you’ll discover that it contains important B vitamins, which aids in the prevention of heart attacks and colon cancer, and to help improve memory. Bək’olo also contains important nutrients that help promote the health of the heart and the eyes. The kΪrəmt satiates us, local folks, in bringing nourishment to people in all of the usual ways–saturating crops, filling rain water tanks, and dams, possibly relieving us from the usual outage of power (though the current severe dearth of electric power is also unusual, just like this year’s kΪrəmt ). What cereal is more synonymous with the coming of kΪrəmt than the freshly picked natural Bək’olo on the cob? So, enjoy making Bək’olo TΪbs or Bək’olo k’ Ϊk’Ϊl an essential part of any kΪrəmt time party, BBQ fun or a refreshment for a long walk over the weekends. Məlkam SamΪnt! →Have a great week!