The old man continued his story:
“… It is the more I grew older that I began to understand the matter…” He said. “…between the childhood and teenage years, you know, it was so natural if the name of our parents had a constant presence in our conversations. That we were entitled to frequently mention their name at that time was quite natural because they were our direct link to love and survival….”
“….In my childhood years, I still remember, my mother was telling me endless stories about her own mother. She lost her mother as she was still a child, so she used talking about her mother as a way of alleviating her grief. I recall that I was amazed to witness that my mother was still reciting that same story about her mother till I was a teenager. Though she grew older, her stories about her mother has never lost their importance for her. I often asked myself: “Why is she doing that? Why is she repeating the same story over and over again?…”
“…I hope it does not make you feel strange if I tell you that it is not my wife or my children that occupy my mind in these lonely days of my life…” He continued with a visible melancholy written upon his face. “…My thoughts are filled with memories and stories of my mother just like the way her’s were filled with the memories of her own mother. A lesson is learned. And now, in my old days, I am beginning to understand her. A bit too late but, at least, a lesson is learned.”
The old man’s story is obviously taking us on a completely different route than I assumed. But I am not interrupting him. Maybe it is because I am also beginning to think about my own mother and about the stories she used to tell me. Maybe it is because that was my first time to reconsider: No matter how old we are, we all will be haunted by this deeply planted wish to run back to the protecting warmth of our mothers in order to escape from misfortunes of our everyday life.
So, seeing how deeply he was involved with this thoughts of his mother’s memory, I decided not to interrupt him and change the subject towards our main issue which was about his conflict with his wife. Instead, just to let his mood flow, I asked him to tell me more about his mother and his childhood years.
As I have predicted, he was glad about my interest. As a result, the attitude of his narration was free of mistrust towards my reaction. I could tell that because he was now openly referring his mother as “Emaye…“(Equivalent to mommy in English). That was quite strange to hear a seventy years old man addressing his mother using that terminology.
“Emaye was only sixteen as she got married for the first time….” He continued. “…Her first husband was much older than her. As I have already mentioned, her mother was dead and her father was married again. She mentioned that her step mother was behind this arrangement of her early marriage to a much older guy. I don’t know why her father did nothing to prevent this marriage because I have never heard her mentioning his name. It was as if he has never existed. The only thing she was sure of was that if her mother were still alive, she wouldn’t have gone through that miserable situation….”
“…..Any ways, the marriage to this old man did not last long. Her husband sent her back home to her relatives as she gave birth to a daughter. The reason for this rejection was that the man wanted a son. Though she was still very young, it was six years later after the divorce that she met my father. Despite the fact that she was already married and divorced and despite the fact that she has a daughter from another man, my father was really interested in her. I still don’t know why he has decided to marry her while he could have chosen among other unmarried young girls. My father adopted my by then six years old sister and treated her as his own child. Overwhelmed by his kindness towards my older sister, Emaye wanted to make him happy by giving him a child. Though my father has never put her under pressure, she determined to get pregnant….”
“…. But, unfortunately, the wish to get pregnant was not a success. As time went by, my mother started to fill nervous. My father was not disappointed and he even tried to calm her down saying that they will have a child when God permits. Well, that obviously didn’t help because, as years went by, she was sure that people have started to backbite and to talk about her condition. She didn’t like the way they were staring at her belly whenever she went to market or whenever they visited her at home. Soon, she decided to do something about it. There was no use to remain in the village waiting God to bless her with a miracle. Instead, she wanted to make pilgrimages to sacred churches and meet God right there at his domicile….”
“…. She went through all the procedures that women in her condition usually do in our country when they want God to give them a child. She made presents for all major orthodox churches, she fed beggars by cooking huge amount of meals and by having it brought to those churches. Once she crawled to Kulubi Gabriel till her knees were severely damaged…”
“…. Maybe God must have been too busy with other things, what ever hardship she went through, she didn’t get pregnant…”
“…. She was in the mid of this unbearable state but she didn’t want to accept her fate. Once, coming from a market place, she reached a small hill where hundreds of monkeys used to live. Though she has often used that route to the market, Emaye has never paid attention to those monkeys before. On that day she did something that she has never thought of doing before. To the noticeable astonishment of the passing by people, she started to walk to where the monkeys were gathered. Mistrusting her sudden approach, the monkeys started to jump around nervously and to make scary sounds. My mother kept on walking towards them without paying attention to their agitated reaction….”
“….As she reached the position where she thought was near enough, she started to speak to the bewildered monkeys loudly and clearly. By now, many people were gathered on the road inspecting her. They were sure that she was crazy. The monkeys must have thought the same about her for they stopped jumping around….”
“…. Emaye started to speak to them loudly saying: ‘Dear monkeys. I know you don’t speak my language. But I am sure you understand me. I am here to beg for a miracle from you. To beg you to lend me your secrets that blessed you with so many offspring. If you are kind enough to help me to get pregnant and have a child in a year, I will promise from the bottom of my heart to make you a gift of 25 kilogram of wheat from the finest quality…”
“…. After saying that, she went back to the road and headed home ignoring all those inspecting eyes….”
“….Well, guess what happened after that. Astonishingly, my mother got pregnant at last and I was born within less than a year after she made the unexpected visit to those monkeys. Whatever was the reason for my birth, my mother was 100% sure that it was the monkeys that helped her. Carrying me on her back and loading a donkey with 25 kilogram of the finest wheat she could find, Emaye went back to that hill of the monkeys: as promised, precisely in a year after her last visit….”
“…Some, who knew her story accompanied her. The monkeys were more irritated than the last time. As she reached the same spot, she opened the sack spreading the wheat allover the place. The monkeys started cautiously to gather around her eating their promised present. And Emaye? She was standing in the middle surrounded by wheat eating monkeys speaking to them. By stretching her hands towards the sky in humble and grateful manner, she was chanting continuously ‘Thank you!!!’ and replying with ‘Amen!!’ when ever a certain monkey made a sound….”
“…. To the very end of her life, Emaye was always sure that those monkeys were the one who helped her to have me…..”
The old man was quite for a while. Taken away by his story, I sat still and said nothing. In this uneasy silence, I felt a cloud of sadness lingering above us. I could see, he was fighting back his emotion. I kept silent knowing that whatever I would say, would make him more sad.
“…. A lesson is learned,..” He repeated his first statement. “… Though too late, a lesson is learned….. The reason why my mother is continuously on mind is the trouble she went through to have me. There was a time in my life, where I was sure that she would be proud of me for that what I have accomplished. But soon after that, I became a fool and forgot her suffering. If I had her story always focused on my mind, I haven’t gone that far to betray the mother of my own kids…. Now my dear friend, see how I am living… alone in a cage like this, depending on a welfare of Germany’s state for my daily bread….”
“….Seeing me like this from where ever she is now, what would Emaye think of me?….”
I had no answer for his question for it was more a statement than a question.
Sorry for the delayed continuation. We hope you enjoyed the story.
Misplaced Priorities of the Ethiopian Diaspora
By: Samuel M. Gebru
November 28, 2010
Author’s Note: This article was inspired by the conversations I had with members of my family over the past two days. During the Thanksgiving weekend, we discussed much about keeping the culture of our native homeland Ethiopia and ethnic group while living in the United States. I have added much to this article, particularly in my conclusion on using the Ethiopian Global Initiative’s mission statement as a possible action plan, but the basis was from our conversations.
According to the United Nations Development Program, Ethiopia lost over 75% of its skilled workforce between 1980 and 1991. These were the years of the civil war, when Ethiopia was governed by Marxist ideologies. Before the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, most Ethiopians in the United States were either students or businessmen. There was hardly an immigrant community of any strong number.
Since our Marxist days, Ethiopians have left to many other countries in search of improving their lives and leaving the political, economic and social issues that continue to constrain Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians have been victim to countless traumatic events. What used to be a community of temporary students and businessmen became a community of immigrants and refugees.
As the Ethiopian diaspora increased from war-to-war, revolution-to-revolution, so did social and economic concerns. Ethiopian adults, both educated and uneducated, found it very difficult to find meaningful employment in their adopted homelands. Many Ethiopian Medical Doctors, for instance, had to retake courses to satisfy American requirements. Ethiopians who were teachers in their homelands became parking lot attendants for American sporting events. It was back to zero for many in the Ethiopian diaspora.
The unanswered problem was the social aspect. Without a doubt, Ethiopians face a cultural shock when coming to the United States. Because the community lacks the resources to address those cultural shocks, the economic problems become widespread. While Ethiopian adults were too busy focusing on making ends meet for their immediate families, new expectations of supporting their extended families in Ethiopia grew. The end result is a lack of cultural connection between Ethiopian parents and children.
PROMOTING AND PRESERVING OUR IDENTITY
Faced with two jobs, trying to go to school and learn English and perhaps a vocation while also trying to navigate an entirely new country and culture, Ethiopian parents did not pass on the Ethiopian identity to their children. In a similar article I wrote on July 22, 2010 on my personal blog, We Do Not Know, I asked:
“Who do we blame for our lack of knowledge? Can it be the parents? Fine, some blame can go to our parents who seldom teach us anything on Ethiopia—but how much can one expect from people that are struggling to raise us? When you live in a country whose culture and language you have not mastered, it is hard to focus on anything else but getting by. Perhaps it is our community that we should blame. I would reply: what community? Ethiopians seem more divided than united in the diaspora. So there is no community from the onset to blame!”
The first responsibility of raising and educating a child goes to a parent. If parents do not actively promote Ethiopian culture to their children, then there will be a knowledge gap. The identity is lost when young Ethiopians are not taught about the big multicultural mosaic known as Ethiopia. Not knowing about their culture is a very troubling reality for many young Ethiopians in the diaspora. Ethiopians should be most proud of their identity; Ethiopia is the only African country to never be colonized, the first country to accept Christianity, a country proclaimed the land of justice by the Islamic Prophet Mohammed, one of the oldest continuously surviving countries and the touted cradle of mankind.
The unique identity of the Ethiopians is not being taught or told in adopted homelands such as the United States. Young Ethiopians should be the first in line to be taught about their identity; before promoting it to non-Ethiopians, Ethiopians should be made aware. So, if the parents are too busy and are struggling night and day to make ends meet for their children, who can teach the young Ethiopians of their history, culture and language?
CREATING A MEANINGFUL COMMUNITY
Ethiopians in the diaspora need to draw lessons from other immigrant communities in the United States. The Chinese, Israeli, Mexican and Greek communities have been able to establish themselves in meaningful communities that are free from politics, religion and ethnicity. These communities are united and all share the mutual concern of preserving their native identities in the United States.
Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles, California is often cited
as an example of meaningful community
The result is phenomenal. Chinatown has become a thing of urban living for many cities throughout the world. The Israeli/Jewish community has become one of the biggest and most politically important communities in the United States through their strong unity and advocacy for their rights. Mexicans and Greeks import their own products to the U.S. to boost commerce, open cultural centers and use their Churches as points of community.
Currently, there are many Ethiopian community organizations established throughout the diaspora that all share the same mission statement. In practice, however, much is to be desired. Nonetheless, the organizations that do strive to bring their divided communities together are never supported enough to accomplish their goals on a big scale. In this case, the result is almost tragic. For instance, we Ethiopians do not have a central place in Washington, D.C. or Boston or Houston to call home; a place that is apolitical, indifferent to one’s ethnic and religious affiliations. The tragedy extends itself when we are faced with major problems, such as death.
The recent and unfortunate death of Ali Mohammed of Washington, D.C., and the outcry of the Ethiopian community that followed, showed me that there is a long way before we are able to deal with problems facing our community. Whether it is defending for our rights or promoting our identity, we face a serious problem with responding to these issues unless we create meaningful community organizations. These organizations should be able to bring all of us in, ethnically and religiously—Tigrayans, Amharas, Oromos, Gambella, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Muslim, Jewish, etc. And if they don’t, then they are not truly commUNITY organizations.
ADVOCATING FOR OURSELVES
Young Ethiopians should advocate for themselves. They should advocate at community meetings and within their churches, demanding to be taught their languages. Amharic is Ethiopia’s official language—we should all learn it. We should also branch out and learn our ethnic group’s language too; and if our ethnic group speaks Amharic as its primary language then we should learn another ethnic Ethiopian language. Language is one of the most important ways to become more culturally competent; language makes it possible to learn more about another culture. Realistically, many Ethiopian youth who don’t know their language travel back to Ethiopia and are as good as deaf.
Advocating for ourselves moves beyond learning their language. The Ethiopian identity extends to our religion, music, traditions and values. This identity is endangered in many of our diaspora communities simply because we as a whole let it happen. Like the Greek and Chinese, we should invest in community centers and “Little Ethiopias” throughout the world that would serve as places where we can keep our culture alive. Parents who do not have the time, resources or knowledge to help their children fully understand the Ethiopian identity could then send their children to these community centers.
We must further this advocacy to include the entire community. Ethiopians must also advocate, as a community, for their rights. We cannot and should not be a reactionary society; it is not Ethiopian culture to be reactive. The Ethiopian identity teaches us that the bravest and most heroic Ethiopians were proactive. When the U.S. Congress meets to debate healthcare reform or immigration reform, Ethiopians should stand as a community and not as individuals to inform the Congress of their opinions. Sadly, the Congressional Caucus on Ethiopia and Ethiopian Americans is not used for these purposes. While they are there to serve as our microphone on Capitol Hill, we either ignore it or misuse it.
Its time for a major change in our thinking. Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that caused the problem.” Our current thinking is of separation and self-interest. In order to continue the Ethiopian identity, we must proactively promote it by teaching each other and, in turn, teaching the rest of the world. Our priorities are misplaced. We have focused too much about what happens in Ethiopia while we forgot about how our communities are living abroad. Surely this is not a call to abandon everything in the native homeland—to do this would be unthinkable!
The next steps are to build bridges with one another and share ideas and solutions. Since the blame game is neither effective nor efficient, we cannot point fingers at this group or that group. The most important thing now is to be proactive and think about tomorrow and the challenges the Ethiopian diaspora will face then.
In the June 2010 conference of the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative, now Ethiopian Global Initiative (EGI), much was discussed about the disillusion of Ethiopian youth in the diaspora, particularly the United States. Encounters with the Justice System and teen pregnancy were discussed as two very noticeable ways that the Ethiopian youth are being negatively impacted. Having strong communities that are able to keep the youth out of trouble and in positive atmospheres is what we need. Two prominent examples of this are seen with Young Diplomats in Toronto and the Debre Selam Kidest Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Mentorship Program in Washington, D.C.
My next step is to challenge you, as the reader, to act. The 2011 EGI Global Summit host university will be announced shortly and that will be a prime venue to discuss solutions to problems that the Ethiopian diaspora faces. Throughout the summit, participants will discuss how best to combine their social and intellectual capital to launch community-based projects that promote the Ethiopian identity, economic prosperity and civic engagement. Participants will also have the opportunity to learn more and get involved in sustainable projects that aim to transform Ethiopia.
Coming together in a central hub, as our new logo depicts, is the goal of EGI. To have multiple projects going on throughout the world all with various ideas and characteristics is EGI’s purpose. EGI’s mission to bridge previously divided communities together through projects that will undoubtedly change our thinking will unite all these projects.
The next step is to act.
Samuel M. Gebru is the President of the Ethiopian Global Initiative. To get involved with the work of EGI email firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.facebook.com/ethgi.
General Information | Ethiopian Global Initiative www.ethgi.org| email@example.com | +1-617-528-9434
We were sitting near the entrance of the small apartment of the old man. There, just right behind the door, his old computer was placed on an unstable small table. Under the table was a broken printer amid a lot of indefinable cables and adapters of all kinds.
He asked me once to help him to get him a free Amharic software so that he could be able to digitalize his handwritten memos and diaries. As I went to his place to do him this favor, I found out that his computer was quite out of date with hardware that would not cop up with the current software and internet podiums. YouTube or chat rooms like Paltalk platforms that he obviously addicted to, wouldn’t run smoothly or wouldn’t run at all. Evaluating his wish with the computer he has, I told him that spending some money on a better hardware would be unavoidable. I also told him that I would try to look for a secondhand computer for an affordable price.
He agreed on that point of having another computer telling me about his daily routine on how he and his old gadget get along through the day. “When I wake up in the morning,..” He started, smiling more to himself. “…the very first thing I do is turning this crappy old thing on. Then I go dealing with other things leaving it alone because I know that it will be ready when I am finished with my shower, shaving and having a coffee.”
The way he was joking about his unfortunate situation made me laugh with him. Then, since it made no sense to install anything on his rattling old pc, we decided to talk about other things.
I did not ask him how old he was. But the old man, I guessed, would be in his late 70s. It struck me again and again the fact that he was living all by himself in this sticky and untidy small apartment. Seeing around his two rooms, it was obvious to observe that he needed help to keep it nit and clean. But one could easily see that he had no help at all. Though I did my best not to show him my feeling about his condition, I couldn’t stop myself from asking him why he was all by himself at this age.
I was very conscious of his reaction upon my question but, for my relief, he was kind of glad that I asked.
I have seen some elderly Ethiopian men and women in Frankfurt and Hamburg but none of them seemed to be alone like this. Though I saw them once in a while walking in the city alone, I could tell by looking at them that someone out there was taking a good care of them. So, how come a well-educated gentleman like my host, who should actually be enjoying the remaining years of his life surrounded by family, be so alone while living so far away from the country of his origin?
As the old man started to narrate his story, I was glad that I raised the question. It was as if he has been waiting for this opportunity of talking about his situation as to take some psychological burden off his shoulder.
He made himself as comfortable as possible before starting with his story. He stood up slowly straightening his old body carefully and went in to his small kitchen. He brought two cold bottles of beer from the fridge, opened both bottles and gave me one without asking me first if I wanted to have one or not. Instead, he said determinedly: “If you want to share my story, you better start sharing a beer with me as well.”
“I am honored.” I said raising my bottle to his health before taking the first sip. The old man did the same smiling and clearing his throat with the liquid before starting with his story.
“As you could see…” He began. “…I am an old man and definitely too old to be alone at this age. But life hasn’t always been like that around me. Actually, I wasn’t alone till last year. It might sound strange but I still have a wife and three grown up children living right here in Frankfurt. After 35 years of marriage, my wife had me kicked out of our five-room apartment by the police telling them that she was afraid of living with me because, allegedly, I have threatened to kill her. But I have never threatened her at all.”
“What about your children? Didn’t they try to straighten things up?” I asked.
“Well, they were all against me and took on their mother’s side.”
“I still don’t get it….” I said, apologizing for interrupting him. “…how can all three grown up children take on their mother’s side and see their old father thrown out of his own home? And how come a wife does that to her husband after such a long years of marriage? Is there a story behind that made your wife act like that?”
The old man sipped his beer and remained silent for few seconds. Then he smiled and nicked his head confirming my assumption. “Yes, there was indeed a story that could have led my wife to react like that. But this story happened over 30 years back. She knows it. We have discussed about it and she has forgiven me for the foolish mistake I did in those days. But I have no clue about what made her change her mind after such a long time.”
“What was the story behind? ….” I said, fearing that he might change his mind and stop telling me the story. “…. I mean, in case you want to tell me about it.”
The old man’s face was suddenly lit by a mysterious smile as his thoughts took him 30 years back: back to the time where the story that was responsible for his current situation took place. Seeing him smiling like that, I had this funny feeling that he was more enjoying the memory of those years instead of regretting about whatever was the reason for his condition now.
“We, I mean me and my wife, were leading a very luxurious life in Addis Ababa. We were professionally successful. I was an administrator of a state-owned company and my wife was working for a site construction firm as site manager: quite an unusual position for a woman in those days. Because of her position, my wife was frequently on the road inspecting different sites all over the country. Our three children were still small kids; the youngest was only three at that time, I guess. Since we were heavily occupied with our jobs, our children should have been looked after by a nanny. The woman we have found as a nanny was very good at her duty and competent that the kids were more close to her soon than to us. They were so accustomed to her that they would neither allow us to feed them nor bring them to bed if this nanny wasn’t nearby. I and my wife were very grateful about having this woman in the house because the kids loved her and we had nothing to worry about their wellbeing.
“Especially for me, the situation was very convenient. Whenever my wife was in one of her field trips, I went out with my friends to have a good time. Having good time in those days means like going to bars, restaurants and clubs where you have also access to other beautiful women who were working in such establishments. As you might well know, there were no other recreation points and places to go to in Addis Ababa….”
“My wife knew about my going-outs with my friends. Because she knew all of them well, she wasn’t worried about what might happen. Once in a while, she reminded me of my responsibilities and warned me not exceed my limits. But it was hard not to exceed your limits when you are filled with alcohol and surrounded by beautiful girls. Often, you are then unintentionally forced to forget about those warnings of your wife.”
“Was that the reason of your disagreement? I mean, if she knew that you were going out with your friends, how could that be a reason?” I asked.
“Of course not….” Continued the old man. “….like most of the women in those days, my wife was quite aware of the situation. In Ethiopia, it was normal; I also think that it is still normal to go to bars with friends where other women who simultaneously work as prostitutes serve the drinks. Our wives also knew that these women could also be tempting. But, as long as we came back home early enough, everything was alright. No, going out was not the reason of our disagreement…..”
He took a mouthful sip of his beer as if he was recharging himself for the decisive portion of his story.
“… The reason for our conflict was not where I was with my friends. The reason was what happened after I came home when she was away. In the beginning, when she was not there, I did spent few nights in hotels…”
“In hotels? Were other women involved?” I asked.
He didn’t say yes or no to my question. Instead he laughed an “of-course-other-women-were-involved” laughter.
“….But because of the kids, I never felt free whenever I spent a night somewhere else. I knew the nanny wouldn’t tell my wife about my adventures in her absence. But it just didn’t fit my attitude. Besides, we had a very nice home and it was much comfortable for me to come home and see my kids before they went to sleep, have a nice dinner and sleep in my own bedroom. But….”
Then there was a long pause. The old man wasn’t smiling anymore. Lost in his thoughts, he seemed to stare at an imaginary screen which was filled with pictures that only he could see.
I did not disturb him and waited till he brought himself back to the reality and continue the storytelling.
“….The reason for our conflict was…” He stopped again for few seconds and continued. “… I began an affair with the nanny of my kids.”
After saying that, he inspected me sharply with his eyes in order to see my reaction. The only response from my side was “Ouch!”
He smiled understandingly to my reaction and then continued the story with a controlled emotion on his face.
“This affair that started coincidentally continued for few years. My wife was never suspicious because she loved and trusted this woman like her own sister. As long as she wasn’t suspicious, things went quite well for me; or at least I thought it would continue that way for ever. But you can’t remain undiscovered if you don’t stop stealing when it was safe…”
“…After enjoying this affair for years, things have changed dramatically. The nanny told me one day that she was pregnant. Although she said that she will never dare to destroy my marriage, I was too shocked to believe her. She rejected my proposal to have an abortion saying that she would keep the child by all means. She said that she would leave us before her belly gets bigger and before my wife was aware of the matter. She also added that she would raise the child all by her own and I wouldn’t need to bother…”
“…My wife was very sad as the nanny told her that she must visit her family and wouldn’t know when she was coming back. She even proposed to raise her salary thinking that it might be the case for this sudden decision…”
“…As I knew that the nanny was really keeping her words about not bringing my marriage in jeopardy and leaving us just the way she promised, I felt so ashamed of myself. Ashamed of myself for disturbing the life of this woman and for being so selfish all the time after she told me that she was pregnant.”
“How did your wife know about it if the nanny was gone and kept her words?” I asked the old man as he stopped his storytelling for a minute.
A feminist movement has accused the Israeli government of adopting a racist policy towards the country’s Ethiopian Jews. Activists believe black women are deliberately being given a controversial contraceptive, to bring about a drop in the population – a claim the government denies. Thousands of Ethiopians have immigrated to Israel since the 1980s, but their Jewish heritage has been questioned, while their social status continues to suffer.
Depo-Provera was given to Native American women in 1987 by planned parenthood before it was approved by the FDA. In 1999 Peru was found to be forcibly sterlizing women and forcibly injecting them with Depo-Provera all with USAID’s assistance. It is routine for these organizations to give minority women the injectable contaceptives because they can be decieved into believing they are getting an immunization.
During the initial animal tests with Depo-Provera:Depo-Provera caused breast cancer tumors in dogs. Depo-Provera caused endometrial cancer in monkeys—2 of 12 monkeys tested, the first ever recorded cases of endometrial cancer in rhesus monkeys. Speaking in comparative terms regarding animal studies of carcinogenicity for drugs, a member of the FDA’s Bureau of Drugs testified at an agency Depo hearing, “…Animal data for this drug is more worrisome than any other drug we know of that is to be given to well people.
Cervical cancer was found to be increased as high as 9-fold in the first human studies recorded by the manufacturer and the National Cancer Institute by Depo www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Testing/use of Depo was focused almost exclusively on women in developing countries and poor women in the US also they have been caught giving the Depo shot to the mentally challenged, who in some reported cases were given Depo long-term for reasons of “menstrual hygiene”, in spite of the fact that they were not sexually active. In an Atlanta/Grady Study they studied the effect of Depo for 11 years in Atlanta, mostly on black women who were receiving public assistance, but did not file any of the required follow-up reports with the FDA.
Investigators who eventually visited noted that the studies were disorganized. “They found that data collection was questionable, consent forms and protocol were absent; that those women whose consent had been obtained at all were not told of possible side effects. Women whose known medical conditions indicated that use of Depo would endanger their health were given the shot. Several of the women in the study died; some of cancer, but some for other reasons, such as suicide due to depression. Over half the 13,000 women in the study were lost to follow-up due to sloppy record keeping.” Consequently, no data from this study was usable. One in five black teenagers using birth control in the US uses Depo-Provera, a far higher rate of use than for white teenagers. One activist, Dorothy Roberts, claims this is because black teenagers are disproportionately targeted for the least safe contraceptives.
Once a magnet for immigrants, Spain’s jobs are vanishing
For years, Spain’s economy soared and immigrants poured into the country from Africa, Eastern Europe and even South America. It was a land of opportunity — but no longer. Many jobs have vanished, but the immigrants have stayed. Many of them, especially those selling goods on the street, are under growing attack.
Worldfocus special correspondent Martin Seemungal reports from Spain.
Gulf labour laws fail to halt abuse By Charles Stratford
Every year thousands of women arrive in the Gulf to take up jobs as domestic workers. The majority of them leave behind their families on a huge financial gamble to try to earn enough in remittances. But behind closed doors, in the homes of their employers, some find themselves trapped in a cycle of horrific abuse.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford spoke to one housemaid, Mary, who suffered two years of abuse in the United Arab Emirates. Two and a half years ago, Mary left her family in East Africa to work as a maid in a private house in the Middle East.
“The beatings started on the second day,” she said. “No day passed without beatings. If she didn’t beat me in the day she would beat me at night.”
One day she was ordered to have sex with another maid. When she refused, her employer threatened her with more beatings.
“She said the law was in her favour. Not in mine,” Mary said.
Simel Esim, a specialist in domestic worker abuse at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), said the workers are simply not protected by labour laws.
“Domestic workers … are excluded from unionising and organising around the globe,” she said.
“[This] kind of economic infrastructure [in the Gulf] has created a huge inflow of labour migration that requires immediate and urgent attention.
“The sponsorship system … The way it is set up, it is bound to fail.
“You are attaching a person’s legal status, visa status and employment to one person as the employer and also the provider of housing, food and health care.
“It creates total dependency and total dependency means total vulnerability and opens the door wide for abuse and exploitation.”
Mary left her country determined to earn money for her family. But two years later, she is horrified at the prospect of her family knowing about her suffering.
“How can I go back home with this body? My mother is sick,” she said. “If she sees me like this she will die of shock. I am so ashamed to see my friends. Even now I feel shame.”
Frankfurt is said to be a city with the largest Ethiopian community in Germany. Few years ago, I was living in Hamburg: the second biggest city of the country. Hamburg is huge but the Ethiopians living there are very few in number which made us quite exotic figures in a certain way.
Frankfurt is different. Ethiopians are so many here that they even don’t greet each other when their ways cross. That was too strange for me as I was new here because in Hamburg I was used to greeting all dark-skinned people from all over the world. Now, after almost five years in Frankfurt, I am unfortunately adapting myself to this attitude.
The state of communication here is usually indescribable. There are people you know somewhere in the town and you meet them occasionally to have a drink together or to go to a club. Then each disappears again in his or her daily life routine till the next boredom lingers from all over forcing him or her to look again for someone to spent time together in order to hide from the approaching loneliness.
But sometimes, it could be too late….
…. I phoned Selamawit(name changed) today to know how she was doing. We correspond usually in three to four days rhythm….
Selamawit is an ex-athlete who used to compete professionally in 3000, 5000 and 10000 meters for her country. She remained in Germany seeking asylum after taking part in a competition as one of Ethiopian athletes some where in Europe. Her asylum case was denied in the beginning and she lived with a tolerated status for over eight years. Eight years with the unstable atmosphere of life was unbearably too long and too frustrating which led her to neglect her life as an athlete. I was one of those individuals following up her asylum case last year as she was facing deportation after a court denied to grant her a permanent living status in Germany. For about six months, while she was waiting for the revision of her case, she was getting only two weeks residence permission at a time. She wasn’t allowed to work or to travel. Quite a demoralizing situation for someone who was once a known athlete and who spent eight years of her life for nothing.
Now, that time is over. Selamawit was lucky because her case has aroused many humanitarian questions in the court and her case was gradually accepted. She could now stay and work in Germany though she has lost the love and motivation for her athletic life.
…. but this story is not about her. I just couldn’t go forward without mentioning her condition… This story is about the life after having the long-sought acceptance to stay. With the license to stay begins actually the real challenge of survival and social life to deal with…
Back to our phone conversation: Selamawit asked me if I knew a young Ethiopian, his name, Getachew. No, I said asking her if I should know him. Yes, she said and told me that he also used to come to the Arat Kilo kiosk; a small shop in down-town where I go frequently. But I couldn’t recognize Getachew from her description and I asked her why she was mentioning him.
And she continued; “He is dead…. they found him dead in his apartment. You know, I met him at the church on Sunday during Meskel Damera celebration. On that Sunday, Getachew told me as usual how he missed his mother. He told me that he has at last bought his flight ticket to Ethiopia. He was about to meet his mother for the first time after ten asylum years. His mother knew already about his arriving day and was very happy and prepared. It must be this same Sunday that that happened. You know, they only found him on Tuesday because a friend of him, who had an appointment with him on Tuesday, went to his apartment after trying to reach him several time through his mobile. The door was closed so the friend dialled the number still standing at the door. And the ringing sound was coming from inside. Then the police was alarmed. They broke the door and they found him lying dead on his bed. If it wasn’t for this friend, who knows how long it might have taken to find him….”
As she was telling me the story, Selamawit was at her girlfriends place. She has already stayed there for the last few days afraid to go back to her own one room apartment.
Getachew’s body has been flown to Ethiopia last Sunday, two weeks prior to his scheduled flight to see his mother after ten years.
Decoding Racial Constructs through Stories of Ethiopian Jews by Hagar Salamon
IN1984 and 1991, in two dramatic operations, the Israeli government airlifted the community of the Beta Israel, the Jews of Ethiopia, to a new life in Israel. The passage of this community was also a dramatic passage of identity, as the Beta Israel, Jews in black Ethiopia, became blacks in Jewish Israel. The Ethiopia-to-Israel transition offers a unique opportunity to examine changing racial constructs as they are reproduced in a concrete cultural field. These racial constructs and identifications are inseparable from historic circumstance and ideology. Ever changing, they take shape and are articulated by stories told, exchanged, and developed in a dynamic and dialogic process. Racial consciousness in both groups is fashioned by way of interacting narratives: present realities are deciphered through stories from the past, while contemporary stories are continually evolving.
The present work confronts the complex and multi-vocal story of the Ethiopian Jews as they encounter the Israeli host society. The stories told by members of the Beta Israel,within the intimacy afforded by in-depth interviews, are a key pointof access to deeply personal experiences not readily accessible through other means. For while the diversity of the Israeli host society has been well acknowledged, the racial subjectivity of the Beta Israel, which strongly impacts the group’s perception of the encounter, remains hidden. Moreover, the encounter between the storytellers and the researcher, a representative of the “host” society, filters and shapes the stories told. The interview dialogue is thus an arena hospitable to exploring how racial perceptions are embodied and articulated in stories in the wake of the immigration encounter.
Central to the Beta Israel’s changing racial perceptions are the Ethiopian racial cosmology and hierarchies. As in many other systems of racial distinctions, skin color assumes the dimension of an entire spectrum, in which the Beta Israel did not perceive the color of their skin as black. Probing even further, beneath the skin, deeper layers become visible. The Ethiopian Jews, like their non-Jewish neighbors back in Ethiopia, were owners of “black” slaves—a fact that group members have not shared with outsiders in Israel.
The slaves, known as barya, to this day constitute a separate, well-defined group. The term barya simultaneously denoted employment, status, and origin and was juxtaposed against the term chewa, which designated a free human being assumed to be educated and civilized. Even after the official abolition of slavery in Ethiopia and the prohibition of the slave trade in 1924, and even after Emperor Haile Selassie’s anti-slavery proclamation in 1931, the slaves remained a de facto part of family property and continued to be bequeathed from one generation to the next.
Barya slaves were inaugurated into the Beta Israel by a conversion process rendering them barya falasha, distinct from the barya of other groups.Despite their conversion, however, their separate origin is fastidiously maintained in the collective memory. As a sub-group located both within and outside the boundaries of the Jewish group, the barya figure prominently in the Beta Israel consciousness, particularly in all that pertains to Jewish self-identity. I have documented this system of slavery as it existed among the Beta Israel in Ethiopia in previous publications.
Although the Beta Israel’s slaves were converted to Judaism and immigrated with their masters to Israel, the chewa/barya hierarchy was not erased with immigration, and it continues to cast its shadow on the dynamic inherent in the encounter with “white” Israeli society. The racial constructs underlying and permeating this encounter are in constant flux, as racial boundaries are perpetually being redefined not only over time, but also in varying contexts.In the present paper, focusing on stories and story fragments selected from my ethnographic research with the Beta Israel, I listen for the actual and potential heterogeneity and nuances of these dynamic racial coordinates.
Although the narrative building blocks are many and varied, stories related to racial self-definition tend to aggregate around a number of themes: origin stories, somatic characterizations, restrictions on marital pairing, passing the racial legacy onto the next generation (children), and America as the fantastic antidote. Since the significance and power of these stories can be best appreciated in the context of the complexities and dynamics of the racial discourse, the article opens with an introduction to the unique immigration of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The stories themselves are then presented, as the aforementioned themes take shape and reverberate in the different voices of the storytellers, including my own, as I listen and retell. The section on racial subjectivities presents a selection of story excerpts in which the racial concepts that differentiated between barya and chewa in Ethiopia are integral to the telling of personal stories. The narrative material presented in the following section examines the transformations of racial categories following immigration of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel. What emerges is an ongoing grappling, through stories, with the changing experience of the Beta Israel’s blackness. Although the voices of both chewa and barya interviewees are presented, the barya stories are prominent. The barya’s unique insider/outsider position within the Israeli Ethiopian community, with the pain and difficulty of their secret racial marginality, affords their stories unparalleled insight and sensitivity. The final section of the paper considers the multi-vocal story examined throughout the article in the wider context of post-colonial theory.
Blackness, Judaism, and the Arrival of the Ethiopian Jews
The Beta Israel, once a marginal group in Christian Ethiopia, have become a highly visible community whose presence is loaded with symbolic value in Israel. The tension between religion and race, with skin color as a key metaphor, underlies the controversy as to whether the Beta Israel are “real” Jews.
Prior to their immigration to Israel, the Jews of Ethiopia, also known as Falasha or Beta Israel, lived in northwestern Ethiopia in approximately 500 small villages scattered across a vast, predominantly Christian territory. Although similar in appearance to their non-Jewish Ethiopian neighbors, these Jews were an occupational as well as a religious minority. As presently expressed in the common origin myths revealed in the field research, the Beta Israel saw themselves as a distinct group, keepers of a faith that the majority of Ethiopians had forsaken for the younger and now dominant creed of Christianity. Their belief was rooted in the Old Testament, whose commandments they meticulously observed, all the while dreaming of the coming of the Messiah and a return to the legendary Jerusalem.
While the religious beliefs of the Beta Israel may have sufficed for their Jewish identity in Ethiopia, they were recognized as Jews by the hegemonic Jewish establishment only in 1973. Drawing on rabbinical opinion from more than 400 years earlier, the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel declared that the Ethiopian community was descended from the lost tribe of Dan. The ruling opened the doors of the Jewish State for the Ethiopians under the Law of Return, which defines the terms for automatic citizenship to Jewish applicants. In two major airlift operations, evocatively named Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon, and in continued sporadic immigration over the years, almost the entire group emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel.
The airlift of over 50,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel, first shrouded in secrecy due to diplomatic considerations, ultimately erupted in a flood of local media coverage that tended to portray the State of Israel as an omnipotent savior. This undertaking, however, involved elaborate preparations, endless waiting, dangerous journeys on foot through the desert, hunger, and loss of life, as well as the uncertainties and daily difficulties experienced in transit camps. The Beta Israel were thus the active protagonists of the story, despite the lingering image in the Israeli and international consciousness of the big airplane, descending into nowhere to sweep the helpless refugees to safety. The hardships of immigration were compounded when a raging debate broke out regarding a decision of the Israeli religious establishment to require each member of the group to undergo conversion, due to a Jewish legal technicality. This dovetailed with a mixed reception of the group by the immigration agencies, which, although well-intended, were more focused on subsuming rather than integrating the group into modern Israel. In light of these circumstances, the reception of the group had the trappings of colonialist paternalism—a point to which I will return below—both in its guiding policy and in its concrete and intrusive intimate expressions.
On a level no less fundamental to their identity, upon immigration to Israel the Ethiopian Jews found themselves turned into “blacks” in a new context, while at the same time, the Jewish hosts, themselves divided by submerged racial tensions, were recast as first-time “whites”. Significantly, the rabbinical decision, by invoking the Tribe of Dan, linked the Beta Israel to the Jewish people in a way that did not challenge the otherwise underlying presumption of common Jewish descent.
The uniqueness of this group within Judaism also drew attention from the outside world. One of the first public reactions to Operation Moses referring to racial issues came from Africa: a newspaper editor in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi suggested that the airlift might put to rest the old “Zionism is racism” canard. On the other hand, Mengistu Haile Maryam, the Ethiopian ruler at the time, railed that the Zionists had “kidnapped” thousands of black Africans in order “to complete their ethnic collection.” William Safire of the New York Times countered, “For the first time in history, thousands of black people are being brought into a country not in chains but as citizens”. As these voices raged on, Ethiopian immigrants found themselves singled out in their new home as “blacks” for the first time in their history.
While the experience of stigmatization as blacks was new for the Beta Israel, the phenomenon of differentiation according to shades of skin was familiar. The racist perceptions of the Beta Israel are materialized through the body and include hair, teeth, facial structure, and, most prominently, skin color. Ethiopians portray individuals according to shades that are barely perceptible, in some cases even uncategorizable, in the Israeli frame of reference. The essential colors in their system include the white foreigners (ferenji) and the range of native Ethiopian shades, which run the gamut from red (qey) to black (t’equr). Between red and black is an additional distinction for those with light brown and brown skin color (t’eyem). The Beta Israel had perceived themselves as qey ort’eyem —never as the racially inferior t’equr. “Red” and “brown” Ethiopians, including the Jews, were masters of “black” slaves. The enduring system of enslavement, in which Ethiopian Jews and their Christian and Moslem neighbors employed household slaves who lived with them in intimate subjugation, was intertwined with the Ethiopian racial hierarchy. The color hierarchies were conveyed to me in Amharic and Tigriniya within a dialogue occurring in Israel, for the most part in Hebrew, a second language for the interviewees. The difficulty in transcending not only the unavoidable terminological barriers between Hebrew and Amharic, but also the ubiquitous conceptual gaps that cannot be resolved through attempts at literal translation, gives rise to a certain number of ambiguities. Even the term “race” (Heb. gez’a) is not a shared concept that can be taken for granted, as I learned from interviewees’ frequent use of the Hebrew word for “bones” in their attempts to link the Ethiopian and Israeli understandings. This interweaving of languages, no mere technical matter, encapsulates the group’s present predicament, in which the past participates in present stories, implying that memory is in fact dialogic. Although grounded in actual historical experience, the memory of Ethiopian racial cosmology is continuously recreated through current stories and is thus ahistoric, comprising the present no less than the past.
Gradient-based racial categorization, not unique to the Ethio-pian cosmology, is evident in many ethnographic examples. When channeled through color terminology, it creates the illusion that straightforward translation is possible. In the encounter between two different color systems following the immigration of the Beta Israel, the attempt to translate created a dissonance that disrupted the group’s internal color scheme. Such an ellipsis of meaning befell the term “black” in the Beta Israel’s passage to Israel, as they became “black brothers” within the Jewish composite. The preoccupation with this dissonance does not presume to identify two actual and separate systems, but aims to listen for the voice of the past within the present quest for Ethiopian Jewish identity. As the Beta Israel encountered the rhetoric, no less imagined, of the imported United States black-white binary, becoming Israel’s blacks, their own system of hierarchical race perceptions and human exploitation, so intimately bound with life in Ethiopia, was forced underground and maintained as a well-kept secret, apparently due to their sense that it would also not be well-received by the new society. As can be seen in the narrative excerpts that follow, race hierarchies persist to this day within the Ethiopian community in Israel and continue to have deleterious and far-reaching effects on Ethiopian racial identity.
Racial Subjectivities in the Stories of the Beta Israel
Between 1988-93 I conducted interviews with Ethiopian immigrants living in Israel as part of an ethno-historical study using in-depth, open, and flexible interviews. In the course of these interviews, my presence as a witnessing “other” both encouraged and inhibited the interviewees. As the past was brought to life, Ethiopian sensations—smells, sounds, images—would flood the room. Transported with them was a host of accompanying ideologies so taken for granted in the Ethiopian past, yet shockingly unfamiliar to me. With the flood of memories from Ethiopia, I felt the interviewees’ awareness of my presence alternating in and out of focus. In the moments when I felt my presence to be somewhat less obtrusive, the entire system of race perceptions that dominated the world of the Beta Israel came into relief in the stories told, as the secret of slavery was gradually revealed. For me, hearing these stories set off a process that was at once academic and personal. It was only a few years later, as I will explore below in the epilogue, that I allowed myself directly to confront the issue of racism within the Ethiopian community.
Set apart within Ethiopian society, severed from humanity in general —these are the prominent themes in Beta Israel depictions of the “otherness” of the barya slaves. The strong desire of the Beta Israel to distance the barya both geographically and culturally suggests a fear of blurring the boundaries between the two groups. Thus, in the narratives relating to this group, it emerged that the ancestry of the barya was significantly obscured. Some informants hypothesized that the barya originated in southern Ethiopia, characterizing the region as a wild and uncivilized area where it was possible to “steal people during the night and sell them.” A related belief was that the barya possessed no ancestral memory. They were depicted as being completely cut off from their past, a perception reflected in such phrases as, “He doesn’t know who his mother is” or “He has nothing in his head from his parents.” Ancestral memory plays a central and valued role among the Beta Israel, and elders can recite seven or more generations of forefathers. The barya’s lack of even a minimal ancestral memory thus relegated them to a sub-human level in chewa perception. The pagan origin of the slaves further reinforced the general view of the barya as a tabula rasa, as non-human. Chewa interviewees told stories of the barya worshiping trees and stones yet described them as “having no faith.” In this context, chewa interviewees made statements such as this: “They believed in trees and stones, in nothing,” and “just maybe in some nonsense, in some tree or something.” Another chewa stated: “He doesn’t know how to pray, just says bo, bo, bo.” Thus, despite the fact that the barya in most cases understood and spoke the language of his masters, his prayer is described as inhuman, his groans and grunts like the inarticulate lowing of cattle.
A system of mythological stories, rituals, and customs was conceived to perpetuate the barya’s “otherness.” Most prominent among the proof texts resorted to are the Noah stories both in the Kebra Nagast and in the Old Testament. Ham, one of Noah’s three sons, witnessed his father’s nakedness when he was drunk and, unlike his brothers Shem and Jephet, did not cover him.
According to these mythologies, when Noah became sober, he gave Shem and Jephet his blessing and cursed Ham with slavery (Genesis 9:21-24):
//He [Noah] drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness [ . . . ] When Noah woke up from his wine and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; The lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”//
The black skin color of the barya thus signifies their descendency from the tribe of Ham, while the Beta Israel and their other chewa neighbors are identified with the tribe of Shem. These genealogical distinctions served over the generations as a divinely approved explanation legitimizing master-slave relations.
While the Noah stories that reinforce exploitation are recorded in the Ethiopian historical canon, they come to life and take on a painfully intimate presence in personal life stories as seen in the following excerpt of an interview with an ex-slave:
//They would always say to us that it is written in the Torah. Noah had two or three children, so they would say to us that they [the chewa ] are the tribe of Shem and we are Ham. So sometimes they would say: Everyone is the children of Noah, but we have different bones from you. We are the children of Shem and you are the children of Ham. Ham was punished for laughing when he saw his father naked. But no one knows the truth. They’re chewa and we’re barya, that’s what they know. But who is really their father? That, no one knows. If you ask them, you’ll see that they also don’t really know. To this day, they say that our bones are something else. Ham was punished for laughing at his father, and you are from Ham, they say. What can we say?//
Another personal rendering of the chewa-barya story, told in two voices—those of an ex-slave mother and daughter—places the emphasis on the aspect of external physical difference, again demonstrating the potency of the Noah story:
//When our mistress would get annoyed, she would say: You’re that way [a slave] because you cursed your father, so it’s not my problem, it’s your problem! It’s a problem with our father, who was naked and you laughed at him. I’m not guilty, that’s what she would say. I was a little girl, I would always hear her say that. [Her mother adds]: Right, she would say that. Our father would curse at the children who laughed at him and say that the teeth of the children of Ham would be white, and their hair kinky, and their faces black and ugly. [He would say:] “You’ll always work for your brother, he will be above you and you below him.” That’s what she would tell us. [Her daughter takes over the storytelling] But they always say that we are ugly. They say it to us only because of the color. They say, like, their hair is straight and ours is really not pretty. But our mistress, for example, she has tiny tiny hair—you can’t comb it, so she says and they say to her that her hair is like thebarya. She doesn’t like that we have pretty hair. We have pretty hair, so she would always cut it, shave it off when it would grow, and she has little, little.//
In-group variation in appearance provides an ongoing visual reminder that the racial distinctions between the chewa and the barya are culturally constructed. Although the difference between chewa and barya are described in terms of skin color, the sight of a fair-skinned barya is at least as common as the proliferation of master-slave conjugal relations. Mixed offspring and their progeny continue to be perceived as barya as long as the collective memory, particularly deep in Ethiopia, can be perpetuated. Regardless of their actual skin color, they continue to be considered “black,” and therefore categorically different.
A color-based racial frame of reference persists even today among Ethiopians in Israel. The stories told by descendants of both the master (chewa) group and the barya group reveal a continuing preoccupation with color.
One chewa woman relates:
//Barya are blacker. They have that kind of hair, like they have in South Africa. They are really black . . . but one doesn’t marry them. In Israel, we all know who is barya and it continues; we don’t marry them. People always ask to which race one belongs.//
The following account of a woman of barya origin again betrays internalization of color hierarchies and aesthetics:
//Sometimes, when we were out [in the fields], we would hear someone who knew about us . . . point and say: there, they are barya —they’re so ugly. . . . But my cousin really is beautiful. She is light, and she [is barya ] like us. They would always ask [her mother]: “How did you get such a white child?” [my emphasis—HS]//
During another interview, a young woman of barya origin poignantly evoked this aesthetic while presenting me with a photograph of her grandmother:
//You see this picture of our grandmother? You might look at her and think, “She’s very, very black,” and so you don’t really see her. But her heart is very, very white. She loved everybody, takes care of everybody.//
The most pervasive and sweeping ramification of the barya-chewa division is the prohibition against intermarriage, mentioned in one of the interviews already cited.
Two central organizing themes in the personal stories of the barya group are therefore the topic of marriage itself and the related question of how to pass this painful legacy on to the next generation:
//In Israel, externally, we and they are the same thing, but inside it’s something else. If you go out with one of them, they say “we have to find out if he’s barya, or chewa. ” . . . So even the little kids, my sister or my cousins, who are already pretty big, and even the ones born in Israel, we tell them that they’re this way or that, you get it? So that they’ll know. That’s the way it is. But then the kids say to us: “We and they are exactly the same thing, so why do you tell us that we’re something different? We are all dark, all the same color.” That is what they understand. They didn’t go through everything that we did. But in the end they also learn, and then it’s very hard. And they also start to hate. //
Yet alongside the themes of marital restriction and the dilemma regarding the next generation, a third organizing strand emerges in the stories of the young generation, that of rebellion:
//You see, it also continues with the children. There’s no end to it. The children don’t need to suffer from this any more. That’s it. . . . You see, we’ve already suffered, but our children, why should they have to suffer? [ . . . ] Even my cousin, who is a soldier serving in the army, says that’s it, enough: I am serving and they are also serving.//
The personal stories told by the barya reflect the pain and rage inherent in the separation between master and slave groups. These emotions are often channeled into an attempt to deny the differences between the groups, rather than into protest against racial differentiation per se. For example, one barya woman’s rendering implies that if only one of the groups were black, then a justification for exploitation might exist.
Her insistence that both groups are black suggests an internalization of the role of skin color as a legitimate divider:
//The person—God created him. God just made a person. Afterwards God created Eve from his rib. And afterwards why barya? There’s only a person who God made. Not barya. There are so many ugly chewa, they have their disgusting clothes, their faces are disgusting and not clean. There are! So what is this word [barya], I don’t know. No one knows. Who knows? It’s an invention. It’s nonsense. They are also black. Look, everyone in Ethiopia is black. Everyone everyone. Really, we are the same as them. We lack nothing, what are we lacking?//
The words of another woman of barya origin reflect the same assumption, incorporating a second “racial” feature: blood. A more radical departure from the internalized system of racism might be reflected in a narrative that bases a condemnation of chewa exploitation of the barya on ethical grounds, not on an argument claiming racial similarity:
//They simply assumed power over the poor people, and said that we were different. . . . But they have the same color, the same blood. . . . Tell me, if we [i.e., all Ethiopians, chewa and barya alike—H.S.] are all the same color, then where did we come from? Are we Swedish?//
Another interviewee’s rage is evident as she dares, liberated by the new reality in Israel, to challenge these sacred assumptions:
//[Laughing bitterly]. But what are bones, really? They mean that there is a difference. As if flesh and blood is not important, but bones are the most important—that’s what remains. The bones remain. What, are my bones different? Tell me? It’s bullshit, all that. Maybe you’ll research it really. But it’s just a story, just nonsense. Really, sometimes I say that I will ask in the synagogue: What is this? What is the difference between us? Maybe someone learned could help . . . could tell me how it is, how they even got to this. I simply don’t understand. Believe me, I think that they themselves don’t know. Go ask even the top rabbi that you know if he knows, ask him what the difference is between you and them. Let’s see what he tells you. Just ask him and he will get totally tripped up. He won’t know. Because everyone is the same.//
This manner of telling, however, assigns the listener the task of confronting the official narrative, the narrative in which she herself still participates. Only through a complete outsider can she fully fantasize reducing the story to the realm of human invention.
The acceptance of blackness as a determinant of racial otherness, of a shared color aesthetic between chewa and barya, as reflected in the narrative material presented above, indicates cultural collaboration in upholding the racial cosmology. The protest expressed in these barya accounts rejects stigmatization of the barya group without challenging the basic legitimacy of racial categories and hierarchy in Ethiopia.
In the hegemonic Western corpus (imbued as it is with Western cultural perceptions), and even among its most eminent critics, systems of racial oppression are overwhelmingly projected as white and non-white (”other”): it is this contrast that renders them visible. The Ethiopian racial system, seen from the outside as black on black, is therefore obscured by the lack of relevant contrast to the uninitiated observer’s own categories. The difference between the systems extends to more fundamental levels. For example, during a visit to the home of a former barya slave, while watching an American film on television featuring a black actor and a white actor who played side by side, my hostess pointed at the screen and said: “I’m dying to go to America. There, there is no racism like [there is] here.” Questioning her comparison, I replied: “I’m not sure that blacks in America would agree with you,”…
and so she explained:
//There it’s not racism. It’s different there between blacks and whites. Surely whites and blacks are different, but here, when blacks say things about other blacks —that’s racism! [emphasis added].//
The frequent references to skin color are supplemented by stories referring to other indices, most specifically race-specific “bones.” It was explained that even in the case of fair skin color, the bones remain those of a barya—”black” bones.
According to a story shared by a woman from the barya group:
//They always said, “You, your bones are something else.” That’s what they think. But what kind of bones do barya have? They say that if he’s a barya, everything is different. But these are only thoughts. Nobody has actually checked our bones . . . . What’s the difference between human beings? We were all brought into the world by a woman, a female human being, and there’s no difference . . . . We and they came from the same dust. What are they talking about [when they say] different bones? Who are they anyway? We are all the same. //
The flesh and bone, external/internal dialectic plays a vital role in establishing “black” otherness as a fixed category. Unlike bones, skin color, while retaining its distinguishing fixed categories, is subject to a mysterious metamorphosis.
Consider the story of one woman of barya origin:
//They [the masters] let a barya prepare flour, but they don’t allow her to make the injera [Ethiopian bread made from a thin batter and baked on a sizzling pan]. They think that the color of her skin can enter the injera and blacken their own skin.//
Another example of the contagiousness and fluidity of skin color is the popular belief of the Beta Israel that they were originally “white” like other Jewish groups, but became dark due to the Ethiopian climate. According to this belief, upon immigration, the skin of the “real” Jews would turn white again.
From Ethiopia to the Promised Land:
Changing Racial Consciousness in Host and Immigrant Societies
Given that shared origin is at least as much a defining criteria for Jewish belonging as religion, the Jews who live side by side in the State of Israel, with their rich assortment of skin color and physical appearances, pose a constant visual challenge to Jewish identity. Tensions relating to this heterogeneity, perhaps due precisely to their potential to undermine the “shared origin” myth, were never explicitly expressed in racial terms. But while it was once ostensibly possible to turn a blind eye to these physical distinctions, the case of Ethiopian Jews rendered such avoidance more difficult. Although in Israel one can find ethnic tensions between Jewish groups of varying skin colors, the arrival of a distinctly “black” group allowed the term racism to enter Israeli public discourse.
The Ethiopian immigration led the racial discourse in Israel from a state of denial to explicit discussion. In the course of Operation Moses and the absorption of the first large wave of immigration, the racial otherness of this group was a constant subtext but was rarely addressed directly. One telling example of sublimated racial concerns was the oft-repeated warning of the need to be particularly careful with this “special group,” so that they would not come to perform all of “our” “Arab labor,” also known as “black labor.”
This concern, aimed at preventing exploitation, carried its own racial paternalism, in which the Ethiopians’ religion was viewed at the mythical level as more pure and original, and their behavior as more “demure” and “civilized” than that of the hegemonic religion and culture. On many occasions when I referred to my academic interest in the Ethiopian Jews in conversation with veteran Israelis from a variety of backgrounds, the typical response was a mixture of apology and condolence: “They’re so beautiful. I really feel sorry for them. Look what we’ve done to them. Such a quiet group [Heb. edah]. So noble. Look what we’ve put them through.” Or, in another vein, following a public lecture I delivered in a series for senior citizens, one woman commented. “I really like the Ethiopians. But please tell me, why are they so black?” A highly reactive interchange occurs, then, in relation to this unique Jewish group, as shared faith disrupts the colonial system; the idealization of religious authenticity merges with orientalist fantasies of an exotic, pure, unspoiled, and ancient Judaism preserved so long in the “wilds” of Africa.
During the initial immigration period, the public in Israel attempted to place the Ethiopians on a single continuum with other Jewish groups, particularly those from Yemen and India. The attempt to identify them with the darker-skinned Jewish groups in Israel obscured the unequivocal racial otherness that potentially threatened their inclusion within the boundaries of an origin-defined Jewishness. Jokes connecting the Ethiopian immigrants with those from Yemen and India circulated, and even the immigrants themselves, seeking a physical likeness, were often heard saying, “The Yemenites aren’t really different from us, we are alike.” This shared rhetoric of a racial continuum aspired to the dismantling of categorical distinctions between black and white.
Racial issues simmered over the years, but following a headline-breaking scandal concerning Ethiopian blood donations in early 1996, Israeli racial consciousness lost its guise of innocence. A major evening newspaper revealed that officials of the country’s blood bank had for years been routinely—covertly—disposing of blood donated by Ethiopians. This had been the practice since research linked the HIV virus to Africa, and in fact, among the group that waited for visas in Addis Ababa, the incidence of AIDs was relatively high. All of the blood was disposed of, even the many donations that tested negative. This revelation brought a series of confused explanations by the Ministry of Health, which sought to portray its motives in terms of the general public’s safety. Within a few days, unprecedented expressions of frustration and rage were heard from Ethiopian immigrants. Their bitterness and anguish culminated in a violent demonstration by thousands of Ethiopian Israelis and their sympathizers in front of the prime minister’s office. In their eyes, the rejection of their blood was the result of racial discrimination, and claims of protecting public health were seen as mere camouflage.
The blood scandal marked a point of no return in the discourse on race and racism in Israel. The fact that the incident focused on a physical matter as permanent and unchangeable as blood—the same hue no matter what color the skin—strengthened growing feelings that racism had for many years quietly existed behind a “color-blind” veneer. Using the terms “race” and “racism” in relation to internal Jewish affairs had until then been taboo in a society that reserved them exclusively for relations between Jews and non-Jews. Explicit discussion of the question of racial boundaries led to new questions in additional arenas, both within Jewish society in Israel and in reference to non-Jewish groups in the country—principally Palestinian Arabs and Bedouins. In the wake of the demonstrations over the blood scandal, a young leader of Ethiopian origin was included for the first time by the Labor Party as a candidate for the Knesset (Israeli parliament). The election campaign was financed in part by a Muslim Bedouin living in the Negev (southern Israel), who in a public interview explained his support with the words: “We blacks must help each other.”
The inversions imposed on the Beta Israel racial labeling take on many forms, including radical reinterpretation of traditional usages. A prominent example deals with the popular use of the Hebrew term “kushi,” used to express black otherness. Because of the biblical passage identifying kush as a son of Ham, “And the sons of Ham: Kush, Mizraim. . . . ” (Genesis 10:6), the derogatory term kushi translates directly for the Ethiopians, well versed in the Noah stories, into the “barya” sons of Ham, as seen in a number of the personal stories told.
One Ethiopian woman of barya descent explains:
//They [the chewa ] say that we barya are so ugly. They always point out our ugliness. Like kushi. You say kushi, no? They think that we are kushi, and not they. But the problem is that the Israelis tell them “You’re kushi. ” So they lose out. [ . . . ] It insults them, you see?//
Another woman of barya descent relates:
//The Israelis don’t distinguish between us and them [meaning between barya and chewa ]. They, the Israelis, call them [the chewa ] the same thing: ” kushi. ” I don’t mind if they call me that, because my color really is black. But I’m really glad that they call them [the chewa ] kushi too. That makes me really happy!//
In another interview, a woman of barya origin further elucidated this permutation of racial hierarchies:
//They (the chewa) all hated us, and there were beatings and everything. . . . They said to my mother, “You have no right to complain whatsoever, because your race [Heb. gez’a ],” they said, “should be sold and subjugated, so you all have no right to complain.”//
The comments of these interviewees, all identified as barya, upset the Ethiopian racial conventions. In the upshot, chewa find themselves labeled kushi, or black. In the chewa-barya hierarchical dynamic, then, red and black find their symbolic counterparts in Israel in the basic distinction between whites and blacks, or Israelis and Ethiopians. Ethiopian Jews, chewa and barya alike, now find themselves in a negation of the former situation that is also a literally visual negative—black on white relief. The first period of the group’s struggles for full recognition as Jews was characterized, then, by denial of racial otherness. These attempts to suppress color distinctions were ultimately replaced with a painful resignation, which evolved into pride, expressed in the saying, “Our color does not wash out in the laundry.”
Both as an identity symbol and a potential rallying point for political power, color is assuming increasing importance among Ethiopian youth in Israel. One interviewee relates:
//The Ethiopian youth increasingly feel that they are getting closer to the blacks in the US. Really. Whether it’s in dress, or how they walk, or how they stand. Have you noticed that now there’s already a uniform walking style? All the young Ethiopians—whether it’s the haircut, or the earring, or the songs. They don’t like Israeli songs at all. The Ethiopians, the youth, identify more with the blacks in the US or in Jamaica. That’s how it is in recent years—the youth identify with them because they’re looking for a certain identity . . . they aren’t finding their place, either in Israeli society, or in the Ethiopian community, because in our community, the adults don’t understand them.//
In another interview a young Ethiopian woman of barya origin relates to this phenomenon:
//They [the Ethiopian chewa ] look for a certain identity in order to imitate it, because suddenly they’re black themselves. They think that in the US there’s no racism and everything is fine and dandy. Because they see the singers—on MTV there are tons of singers—they see the television, the football players, the movies and they say: hey, let’s go to America. They think that there’s no such thing as racism, and they rebel against the fact that there’s racism in Israel.//
In the course of my fieldwork, I encountered overwhelming identification of Ethiopian youth with Western black singers. Posters of Michael Jackson and Bob Marley, on backgrounds of green, red, and yellow, symbolizing in their view the Ethiopian flag, are displayed in their rooms. 30 Occasionally, “Rastafarian” dreadlock hairstyles, “boom boxes,” and other symbols of identification with American blacks are seen as well. Observed on a recent New Year’s Eve at one of the reggae clubs in Tel Aviv were not only foreign workers (mainly from Ghana and Nigeria) and black American marines temporarily stationed in Israel, but also young Ethiopian Israelis.
The idealized identification with blackness also renders a change in the definition of “the white other.” The “other” has evolved from “not Ethiopian,” encapsulated in the term ferenji (foreigner), to the totally new color-specific categories of se’ada and s’eado for speakers of Tigrinya, [End Page 19] or the terms bula and bulit among Amharic speakers, which include anyone who is not black (lit. “white” and “gray”). I was told that these terms are unflattering. With these new inverted black/white coordinates in view, a young woman of barya origin shares her astonishment:
//I met an Ethiopian guy who didn’t know that I’m actually barya. So one day we were talking, and he told me that if he had to choose between marrying a barya or a se’ada, he would prefer the se’ada. Imagine! And that’s a racist person who hates Israelis! I told you that se’ada is a word that makes fun of the color white. The Ethiopians don’t want to marry them—it’s considered disgusting. So think about what that means: that he’d rather marry a se’ada than marry us!//
Negotiating the Metaphor of Blackness
Of the vast body of racial studies, it is the focus on specific cases of racial phenomena that demonstrates that actual race relations are far more complex than any text can contain and that they are hardly unequivocal or even coherent. The immigration of the Beta Israel to the State of Israel shows to what extent power relations, as articulated in the metaphors of black and white, are negotiated by the different sides in shifting arenas. The power dynamic is projected through multiple subjectivities in the shape of intertwining, sometimes competing, origin stories. The dominant Jewish narrative based on shared belief and origin joined the Ethiopian Jews, as descendants of the lost tribe of Dan, with Jews around the world vis-à-vis a non-Jewish “other.” The immigration to Israel thus underscores the act of reconnection, the reunion of all Jews. However, this construction clashes with reality on the level of daily confrontation, in an ongoing process of racial splitting, attaching stereotypical meanings to the metaphor of skin color which, as mentioned, took on a number of paternalistic manifestations. The resultant colonialist system is at odds with that based on shared Jewish faith and origin. In other words, this is a colonialist schema with a twist. Alongside the colonial picture is the radically different image of a homecoming, not of the colonial “other” but rather the lost “brother.” The Jewish common faith combined with blatant racial otherness rattled the foundations of the traditional colonial dynamic.
The obsession with the mythical moment of split and separation between the tribes of Israel is reflected in the contemporary ambivalence stemming from the sameness and otherness of these “black brothers.” Ethiopian Jews are conceived as primitive and tribal, threatening, but also quiet and submissive. Their Jewishness has been questioned, but at the same time they are idealized as bearers of a primordial religious truth. The colonialist fantasy, captured so vividly by Homi Bhabha (1994), is a constant search for difference and liberation from difference—as the beginning of a history that is repeatedly denied. Being both black and Jewish, Ethiopian Jews are located precisely along the boundary through which Jewish culture dis-covers, in a constant back-and-forth of verification and negation, its “border-text.”
Oscillations are not the exclusive mode of the colonizer. By presenting a multidirectional dynamic, the post-colonial reading makes room for a subject who is not merely passively present. When applied to the case of the Beta Israel, it relocates the group’s immigration to Israel within a constantly changing dialogue negotiating identity in terms of race and religion. Just as the controller represents himself by way of a “detour through the other” and through reshaping the story of colonization accordingly, so are the chewa Ethiopian Jews, in experiencing themselves for the first time as blacks, assigning black identity a variety of alternative meanings without relinquishing the racial cosmology they brought from their homeland. Exposure and even resistance to a new racial system have not yet transformed their relationship with their own “blacks.”
The racial reorganization among Ethiopians in Israel includes the reshaping of narratives and the reshaping of stories, fashioning them into political strategies oriented towards the new reality. In this vein, one finds not only Scott’s “public scripts” but also other types of strategies discussed by Scott, including “hidden transcripts” of resistance and subversion (1990). The present study suggests that dominant discourses on race and religion today in Israel—themselves in constant flux and dialogue with modern Western images—contribute to the group’s race rhetorics regarding both past and present. One striking example of the commutation of racial terms is the restructuring of racial alignments by Israeli Ethiopian youth, who retell their stories in a manner that transports the arena outwards. The attachment to African Americans circumvents the limitations of the local, without ignoring or resisting the stamp of black otherness. Due to a subjectivity that is unwilling to assume the role of “border text,” a revised alternative narrative emerges: identifying and allying with blackness in the controlling Western culture. Whereas in the first stages of immigration to Israel the chewa sought to disconnect their very bodies from the identity to which they aspired, through their magical stories of skin transformation and their identification with the Yemenite Jews, now their stories are reuniting identity and body. At this juncture where the Beta Israel acknowledge both their religious belonging and their racial difference, the seeds of a new, de-essentialized, Jewish self-definition are planted.
The rapid and dramatic transformation of Ethiopian Jews’ racial subjectivity is a tale spun in a multi-vocal, dialogic context. One of the voices is that of the researcher. My discovery of the existence of internal Ethiopian racism overshadowed the hope that resides at the basis of my attraction to this group: that the Ethiopian Jewish immigration to Israel signified the possibility of a color-blind option. Listening to the voices of both chewa masters and barya slaves was a painful process. As a second-generation Israeli in a family of Holocaust survivors, facing the reverse alternative, in which the black and Jewish double victim—perceived as the controlled—is transformed in front of my eyes into the racist controller, left me with shattered fantasies and a reality that challenges the most familiar conventions of control and racist ideology.
The shocking effects of this discovery may very well extend beyond my internal world, including my belonging to the larger Israeli and academic culture, once the topic enters the public realm. The traditional perception of the blacks and Jews as historical victims risks compromise by this revelation: that fellow Jews had slaves and that black Ethiopian Jews have their own “blacks.” Disclosing the existence of barya within the Ethiopian community in Israel could also stoke the flames of the already heated debate surrounding the Beta Israel’s Jewish identity.
The confusing and contradictory feelings that I experienced supported the veracity of the dialogic model of racial power relations. It was with these mixed feelings and hopes that I accepted an invitation to present this material at a conference entitled “Black Responses to Enslavement, Exile, and Resettlement,” held in Israel in 1998. One of the respondents to my paper was an Israeli-Ethiopian academic. As I delivered my address, the look of mortification on her face compounded my anxiety. When her turn came to respond, she did not conceal her agitation: it had come to her as a surprise. She did not know that Israelis knew about “all this.” Regaining her composure she said, “But overall, I think it is a good thing that these issues come to the surface. Ultimately, I believe it is all for the better.” I felt revived. It was as if I had found an ally in the Ethiopian community. But then she explained: “It is a good thing, because currently, native Israelis think that all Ethiopians are black, and we are not. Once they know, they will be able to differentiate.” In trying to disentangle this web of emotion, I suddenly understood that the barya and chewa were caught in a similar trap of paradoxical victimization. The reversibility of race relations and the rapid transformations from racializing—black on black (chewa/barya)—to racialized—white on black (black Ethiopians in Israel)—and again to racializing—black on white (se’ado or bula)—reveal that there are no certain terms in the never-ending stories of self-definition.
The public meeting of voices at the conference was a vivid demonstration of the ongoing process of constant mutual narrative re-interpretation, in which Ethiopian and Israeli race perceptions are refracted within one another, both in the sense of fracturing and of replication. The research takes shape in a hall of mirrors, of reflected stories, and the division between researcher and researched is all but obliterated by the impassioned human response evoked on both sides in parallel fashion.
Department of Jewish and Comparative Folklore
The Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Hagar Salamon is a senior lecturer in the Department of Jewish and Comparative Folklore, and a senior research fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, both at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Her most recent book is The Hyena People: Ethiopian Jews in Christian Ethiopia (University of California Press).
Composing the acknowledgments for this article, as well as for other publications on this sensitive topic, is particularly poignant. Many people from the various groups that comprise the Jewish Ethiopian community in Israel, people unrivaled in their honesty and courage, come to mind. These people shared their memories, fond and painful alike. It is my hope that my research efforts will mark the beginning of a new chapter in the successful integration of the entire group in the Promised Land. I would like to thank Galit Hasan-Rokem, Harvey Goldberg, Steve Kaplan, Rachel Elior, Tamar Katriel, Eyal Ben-Ari, and Jessica Bonn for commenting on earlier drafts. A [End Page 23] former version of this article was presented in a conference entitled “More than Cool Reason: Black Responses to Enslavement, Exile and Resettlement,” held at Haifa University in 1998. I would like to thank the conference participants who contributed their comments and support. The article is the result of a study sponsored by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.
I came across the songs from K’nann coincidentally. The first song I stumbled upon was the track TIA (This Is Africa), a dynamic and a strong lyric that combines Hip Hop with African elements. Eager was I to know more about this artist. I was surprised that he is of a Somalian origin and I was also pleased as I listened to his other songs and witnessed that he is using quite a lot of Ethiopian music fragments in his tracks.
15 Minutes Away
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, K’naan spent his childhood
in the district of Wardhiigleey (”The River of Blood”) during the Somali Civil War, which began in 1991. His aunt, Magool, was one of Somalia’s most famous singers. K’naan’s grandfather, Haji Mohamed, was a poet. K’naan is also a Muslim. His name, K’naan, means “traveller” in the Somali language.K’naan’s father, Abdi, left the country, along with many other intellectuals to settle in New York City and work as a cab driver. He mailed money home to his family. As the civil war continued and the situation in Somalia continued to deteriorate, K’naan’s mother, Marian Mohamed, petitioned the United States embassy for an exit visa. In 1991, on the last day the US embassy remained open as the government of Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed their visa was approved, and they boarded the last commercial flight out of the country.
They joined relatives in Harlem, New York City, before moving to the Toronto, Ontario neighbourhood of Rexdale, where there was a large Somali Canadian community. His family still lives there. In his new country, K’naan began learning English, some through hip hop albums by artists like Nas and Rakim. Despite speaking no English, the young K’naan taught himself hip hop and rap diction, copying the lyrics and style phonetically. He then also began rapping. He dropped out of school in grade ten to travel for a time, rapping at open mic events, and eventually returned to Toronto.
K’Naan on Somali Pirates -There is a reason why this started
K’naan became a friend and associate of Canadian promoter
, Sol Guy, who helped him secure a speaking engagement before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1999, where K’naan performed a spoken word piece criticizing the UN for its failed aid missions to Somalia. One of the audience members, Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, was so impressed by the young MC’s performance and courage that he invited him to contribute to his 2001 album Building Bridges, a project through which K’naan was able to tour the world.Critics have said K’naan has “a sound that fuses Bob Marley, conscious American hip hop, and brilliant protest poetry.” His voice and style have been compared to Eminem, but his subject matter is very different; according to K’naan, he makes “urgent music with a message”, talking about the situation in his homeland of Somalia and calling for an end to violence and bloodshed.
He specifically tries to avoid gangsta rap clichés and posturing, saying: “All Somalis know that gangsterism isn’t to brag about. The kids that I was growing up with [in Rexdale] would wear baggy track suit pants, and a little jacket from Zellers or something, and they’d walk into school, and all the cool kids would be like, ‘Ah, man, look at these Somalis. Yo, you’re a punk!’ And the other kid won’t say nothing, but that kid, probably, has killed fifteen people.”
This statement was made to explain his position on the world of difference which exists between where he grew up, and the ghettos of the first world. Nonetheless, K’naan denies that he is overtly political, instead explaining that he “shows the state of the world and if you call it like it is you’re being political. His own opinion of his music is that it’s a “mix of tradition and kind of articulation of my own life and my past experiences.”
K’naan has said that he is influenced by Somali music and the traditional instruments of Somalia.
December, 2008 Despite diplomas, Ethiopian Israelis can’t find jobs By Dina Kraft
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Asaf Negat, 29, made his way to Israel from Ethiopia as an 11-year-old boy and worked hard to find his way in a new land and learn to speak a new language. Eventually, Negat graduated with a business degree from one of the country’s top universities.
However, since completing his studies in the summer of 2006, he has not found work in his field. Unemployed, Negat spends his days trolling the Web sites of banks and investment houses, seeking job openings and sending out resumes.
Assaf Negat speaks during a business seminar
for Ethiopian students at Kibbutz Shfayim. Photo by Brian Hendler
“It’s not exactly a hopeful situation,” said Negat, whose only job since graduation has been as a counselor at an absorption center for newly arrived Ethiopian immigrants. “It makes people like me feel pessimistic, especially when we look at our younger brothers and sisters who see what we are going through.”
Negat is not alone.
Of the approximately 4,500 Ethiopian Israelis who have earned university degrees, fewer than 15 percent have found work in their professions, according to a recent study. Instead, most end up working temporary public-sector jobs serving the Ethiopian Israeli community, remaining disconnected from the larger professional Israeli workforce.
Working in such jobs, which often are project-based and subject to elimination once funding runs out, these Ethiopian Israelis earn less than other college-educated Israelis. Ethiopian Israeli graduates earn an average of $1,375 a month, compared with $1,925 monthly for their Jewish Israeli peers, according to a joint study of the Israeli government and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
afrol News, 4 October - New legislation that cuts all social aid for rejected asylum seekers has left refugees starving and freezing on the streets of Oslo (Norway). As five rejected refugees from Ethiopia have had to escape hunger in Norway by turning to Sweden, the UN’s refugee agency and the Norwegian Church now protest against the “inhumane” legislation in one of the world’s richest countries.
- It is wrong to deny anyone food, today said the UNHCR representative in Scandinavia, based in the Swedish captial Stockholm. The UN spokesman, Mons Nyberg, said his agency had received five Ethiopian refugees that had seen their asylum applications rejected by Norwegian authorities. After this rejection, the five were thrown out of the refugee reception centre and denied financial support or wotk permits.
Authorities in Addis Ababa, on the other hand, reject reciving exiled that do not return out of free will, thus blocking their sending back to Ethiopia. The five refugees, as a result, have lived on the street in Oslo for six months, without any means, without a possiblity to leave the country and barred from having legal incomes.
As a result, the refugees were close to starvation and facing deadly risks as the northern winter is approaching, according to reports from the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK. The five Ethiopians escaped their harsh destiny by fleeing to neighbouring Sweden, where the UNHCR received them and a local priest gave them temporal accomodation in a Stockholm church.
Mr Nyberg today protested the harsh treatment of rejected asylum seekers in Norway. According to international law, every human being has the right to food and a bed, the UNHCR spokesman said, adding that it was the first time ever he had heard of such a harsh treatment against rejected asylum seekers.
The legislation providing for a total cut of services for rejected asylum seekers was approved this year by the right-wing majority in the Norwegian parliament. It has been met by strong protests by the socialist opposition, the Norwegian (Lutheran) Church and several municipalities, rejecting its implementation. According to the Church, the legislation is “putting lives at risk.”
Ethiopians constitute a realtively small group of asylum seekers in Norway. Norwegian authorities in general hold that Ethiopians have no good case when seeking asylum on a political basis.
Israel accused of discrimination after ending Ethiopian immigration By Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem
Israel has ended a three-decade-old policy of immigration from Ethiopia, saying it wants to devote resources instead to integrating Ethiopian Jews already in the country.
The move evoked a furious reaction from leaders of the 120,000-strong Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel, who said the “discrimination” and “prejudice” of the Israeli government would strand thousands of people in Africa and thwart family reunifications.
Government spokesman Mark Regev said the step “will enable us to focus more effectively and invest resources on the successful integration of Ethiopian immigrants”.
He added that the government was abiding by a cabinet decision in 2003 to bring to Israel a total of 17,000 Ethiopians, known as falash mura, who are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity but who consider themselves Jewish.
In accordance with the quota, the falash mura have been flown to Israel at a rate of about three hundred a month since 2003, with the last group of 61 of them arriving yesterday.
Israel mounted major operations – codenamed Moses and Solomon – to bring thousands of Ethiopian Jews to the country in 1984 and 1991, depicting the immigration as fulfilment of the biblical prophecy of a gathering of Jewish exiles to Zion.
But the Ethiopian community of about 120,000 immigrants and their descendants is the poorest sector of the Israeli Jewish population and is beset by unemployment and school drop-out rates, although there have also been success stories.
In an affirmative action to make up for their impoverished background the government has underwritten their mortgages.
Ethiopian Jewish groups in Israel say there are still about 8,000 falash mura in Gondar, Ethiopia, seeking to move to Israel.
“It is inconceivable that the descendants of Jews and Jews, who need to emigrate, should have the door shut on them,” said Danny Kasahon, director of a coalition of Ethiopian lobbying groups.. “There are many families here who have parents or children in Ethiopia waiting to come to Israel.”
“This is discrimination. It cannot be defined by any other word. It could be based on prejudice,” Mr. Kasahon added.
Mr Regev denied the charge and said there could still be family reunifications “on a case by case basis”, but added that “collective mass immigration is behind us.”
Digging for Truth in a Life That’s Built Upon a Lie
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Fundamental issues of ethnic and religious identity and the agony of exile are at the heart of “Live and Become,” an intermittently compelling swatch of recent Israeli history filtered through the experience of an African immigrant.
With epic aspirations that are only partly realized, the movie, directed by the Romanian-French filmmaker Radu Mihaileanu, aspires to be something like a contemporary “Exodus” from an outsider’s point of view. But so many themes converge with so much history, as the film tries to integrate an anguished personal odyssey with two decades of events, many seen briefly on television, that 140 minutes is barely enough time.
For most of those two decades the young unnamed African, who assumes the name Schlomo, lives a lie. (He is played by Moshe Agazai as a boy, Mosche Abebe as an adolescent and Sirak M. Sabahat as a young adult, and the movie’s transitions from one actor to the next are smooth.) His secret — that he is Christian and not descended from the Ethiopian Jewish tribe known as the Falasha, also called the Beta Israel — lends the movie its moral traction, as well as suspense over whether his secret will be discovered. Conceptually the film is a sequel of sorts to the director’s 1998 Holocaust fable “Train of Life,” in which Jews pose as Nazis to escape deportation.
The story begins in 1985, when the boy is 9 and living with his mother in a squalid refugee camp in Sudan. In the wrenching opening scene the mother (Meskie Shibru Sivan) forces her weeping son to leave her side and join the transport of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the secret Israeli airlift code-named Operation Moses. Under the provisions of Israel’s Law of Return, those with Jewish parents and grandparents could settle in Israel and become citizens; thousands emigrated.
Too young to understand that his life is probably being saved, the boy is substituted at the last minute for Solomon, the dead son of Hana (Mimi Abonesh Kebede), a Falasha woman who agrees to take him. The enigmatic final words of his mother, “Live and become,” resonate through the rest of the film.
Drilled to remember the facts of another boy’s identity, Schlomo (shortened from Solomon) is warned never to reveal his true identity, lest he be deported. It isn’t until years later that he realizes his mother’s rejection was his salvation and not a punishment. For the remainder of the film he pines for her, and a recurrent, overused image shows him gazing at the moon and talking to her.
The film track by Ofra Haza
Soon after arriving in Israel, Hana dies of tuberculosis and Schlomo is adopted by a liberal French-Israeli couple, Yael (Yael Abecassis) and Yoram (Roschdy Zem), who already have two children. Although they are affectionate and supportive, Schlomo has difficulty adjusting; he refuses to eat, picks fights and tries to run way.Racism is a fact of life. The only nonwhite student in his school, Schlomo is shunned by his schoolmates, whose parents demand that he be withdrawn because he is exposing their children to exotic African diseases. Outraged at their prejudice, Yael storms into the school, throws a fit and, in the film’s most unexpected and moving gesture, publicly kisses and licks Schlomo’s face to demonstrate he is not a health threat.
As a teenager Schlomo develops a crush on Sarah (Roni Hadar), a spirited girl whose father, sensing Schlomo may not be Jewish, slams the door in his face and warns that he will cut off his finger if he presses the doorbell again. But the relationship continues long distance after Schlomo leaves Israel to study medicine in Paris. And when he returns after years apart, they marry.
Schlomo finds a mentor in Qes Amhra (Yitzhak Edgar), a kind-hearted Ethiopian rabbi who helps him write letters to his mother in his native language. But as he assimilates into Israeli society, mastering Hebrew, studying the Torah and having a bar mitzvah, the movie portrays him as a divided soul torn between his African roots and his assiduously cultivated Jewish identity.
The movie is more successful at developing subsidiary characters like Qes, Yael and Sarah than at plumbing the depths of Schlomo’s tormented inner life. Armand Amar’s score, a wailing pastiche of Middle Eastern and Western styles, helps evoke his suffering and longing, but it is both annoyingly repetitive and, like Schlomo’s monologues to the moon, mawkish.
As the movie barrels from the mid-1980s onward, its pace becomes choppy. Incendiary emotional confrontations are rushed, shortcuts taken, and the movie screeches to a halt in an overly sentimental ending that is too abrupt to elicit the buckets of tears it might have, given more preparation.
Yet “Live and Become” exerts a tidal pull. It makes you feel the weight of history, of populations on the move in a restless multicultural world. It makes you reconsider cultural assimilation, a process that may seem to be complete but whose underlying conflicts may never be fully resolved.
Haven’t you yet met someone who gets never tired of narrating about his or her student years in the good old Soviet Union? Most of you must have met someone like that already…. or you are that someone. If you are none of the above, I am hereby going to feel that gap. We are spread out all over the world. Most of us didn’t go back to Ethiopia preferring to stay away in order to search for something we could still not describe. Though many of us might reach a certain goal in our life abroad, I choose to call us “The Lost Generation”. If you have already listened to those stories from ex Ethiopian students in USSR, the ingredients of their narration will definitely throw some light in to this terminology “Lost”. When we talk about our years in Russia, we usually talk about the great life we had there but never about what we have gained after our study and after we left. Unfortunately, most of us learned subjects that we couldn’t implement afterwards.
The lost Generation.
Moscow “The Arrival”
Two strange things hit my mind on my arrival in Moscow. The sun was not as warm as it should be and there was no spice in the food that I first tasted. Two missing essential aspects that could easily discourage a new-comer student from Ethiopia. Before leaving Ethiopia, I remember spending my hard earned money on a jacket in Merkato hoping it could keep me warm through the dreadful Russian winter. It was around the end of September and I knew, I should have invested that money on something else like on ten kilogram of Berbere.
Firstly, all of us new-comers from various countries were sent to a big camp in Moscow where I and most of my Ethiopian colleagues had our first experience of seeing so many young students of different origins. We must have been over thousand in this camp and our stay in there was professionally organized. Many Russian young girl and boy students were assigned to help us through different processes of a day. Specially the creation of various groups while the meal time was essential. A lot of chaos would have happened if this young Russians haven’t been around.
Before being sent two our designated universities and institutes through out the Soviet republics, we have stayed in this collective camp for about a week or two. The amazing atmosphere in this place was that everything there was too hype to believe. There have been music videos from the west running on various monitors that were placed in every dormitory. We rarely went out of the compound because it was so perfect for us in there. After getting to know the other students from countries like Cuba, Angola, Columbia, Afghanistan, etc., the camp was so cozy and full of positive reflection that most us started to see USSR in a quite different eye view. We were sure that it would be fantastic like that through out our stay in the country…
In 1976, after receiving Moscow’s assurance of military assistance, Lieutenant Colonel Atnafu Abate, vice chairman of the Derg, announced that Ethiopia would restrict its future purchases to “socialist countries.” By the time Somali forces captured Jijiga in September 1977, Moscow already had decided to supply military assistance to the Mengistu regime.
1985, Ethiopian art students on state scholarship in the USSR
Within three months of this decision, the Soviet Union had initiated a massive arms transfer program. Approximately fifty Soviet ships had passed through the Suez Canal on the way to the port of Aseb to unload crated fighter aircraft, tanks, artillery, and munitions–an estimated 60,000 tons of hardware–for delivery to the Ogaden front. Moscow shipped additional equipment from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen). At the height of the buildup, between November 1977 and February 1978, Soviet transport aircraft, including giant An-22s, landed at twenty-five- minute intervals at Ethiopian airports. An estimated 225 transports–about 15 percent of the Soviet air fleet– participated in the operation.
The 1977-78 Soviet supply operation impressed Western observers, who admitted that the display of Soviet transport capability had added a “new strategic element” to the EastWest balance. The Soviet Union drew on large stockpiles of equipment created by high production levels. Soviet aid– which included eighty aircraft, 600 tanks, and 300 APCs–had an estimated value of US$1 billion, surpassing in a matter of months the total value of United States aid provided to Ethiopia between 1953 and 1977. One-fourth of the Soviet assistance was a gift; reportedly, the Libyan government financed a small portion.
In November 1978, a few months after the end of the Ogaden War, Addis Ababa and Moscow signed a twenty-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. Among other things, the treaty called for close military cooperation. With the promise of future arms deliveries, the Mengistu regime continued to pursue military victory against Eritrean and Tigrayan separatists in northern Ethiopia. In July 1979, for example, the Soviet Union underwrote Ethiopia’s fifth offensive against Eritrea by shipping military hardware to Ethiopian army garrisons at Mersa Teklay and Asmera. Moreover, Soviet officers reportedly commanded Ethiopian field units. However, like the four earlier ones between 1974 and 1978, this offensive failed to bring rebel areas under government control.
By mid-1980 Ethiopia’s military and economic debt to the Soviet Union had grown dramatically. The total value to be repaid was US$1.7 billion, to be spread over ten years beginning in 1984, with 2 percent interest to be paid concurrently on the principal. In addition, Ethiopia agreed to repay a US$300 million commercial debt to the Soviet Union for items such as trucks and cranes. Addis Ababa met these obligations by sending coffee to the Soviet Union and by making foreign-exchange payments from export earnings elsewhere.
Throughout the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union’s military commitment to Ethiopia continued to grow, despite Moscow’s purported encouragement of a political settlement of the Eritrean problem. In 1982, for example, Moscow provided about US$2 billion worth of weapons to support Ethiopia’s various Red Star campaigns in Eritrea. The Red Star campaigns were planned jointly by Soviet military advisers and their Ethiopian counterparts. Although the 1982 campaign failed to produce a military victory in Eritrea, the Soviet Union remained committed to the Mengistu regime. By 1984 Moscow had provided more than US$4 billion in military assistance to Ethiopia, with arms deliveries in 1984 (worth approximately US$1.2 billion) at their highest level since the Ogaden War. The number of Soviet and East European military advisers in Ethiopia also grew from about 1,900 in 1981 to approximately 2,600 in 1984. Additionally, by 1984 more than 1,600 Ethiopian military personnel had received training in the Soviet Union.
After Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in March 1985, Soviet policy toward Ethiopia underwent a fundamental change. The value of arms deliveries from the Soviet Union and its East European allies declined to US$774 million in 1985 and to US$292 million in 1986. The number of Soviet military advisers in Ethiopia also declined, to about 1,400 in 1988, although it returned to normal levels of approximately 1,700 in 1989.
More important, Gorbachev told Mengistu during a July 26, 1988, meeting in Moscow that the Soviet Union was unwilling to increase military assistance to Ethiopia. Instead, the Soviet leader encouraged a “just solution” to the disputes in northern Ethiopia. In subsequent meetings between Soviet and Ethiopian officials, Moscow refused Addis Ababa’s request to reschedule its debt and declined to indicate whether it would conclude another arms agreement after the one in force in 1989 expired in 1991.
As further evidence of the Soviet Union’s interest in a negotiated settlement of the Eritrean issue, in early July 1989 Yuri Yukalov, director of the African department at the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met with Issaias Afwerki, secretary general of the EPLF, to discuss Ethiopia’s future. Additionally, the Soviet Union expressed support for the peace talks taking place in 1989 between the Ethiopian government and the EPLF and TPLF.
Throughout 1990 Moscow continued to reduce its military commitment to Addis Ababa. In March 1990, for example, the Soviet Union announced the withdrawal of its military advisers from all combat zones. Despite Ethiopia’s growing need for helicopters and other counterinsurgency equipment, Moscow refused to conclude any new weapons contracts with the Mengistu regime. It should be pointed out, however, that the Soviet Union honored all commitments set forth in the military assistance agreement, which was to expire at the beginning of 1991.