March 27th, 2008
The Fistula Project is determined to raise funds and awareness for the hardships that the women of Ethiopia endure on a day-to-day basis. This project is primarily concerned with the victims of fistula, a child-birth injury usually found in developing countries. As every minute goes by, a woman in this world suffers from a child-birth injury that could have easily been prevented through awareness about midwifery and labor care as well as through the supply of medical doctors. In Ethiopia, the ratio of medical doctors to civilians is very high; hence, not everyone receives the proper medical care in a timely manner. Through this scarcity, it is easy for a rural woman to deliver a still-born child and damage her bladder/vaginal tissue. The Fistula Project aims to not only raise funds to cure the victims of fistula but it also plans to help raise awareness in Ethiopia about fistula prevention and in the United States about fistula and how to assist its victims. The Ethiopian American Youth Initiative will partner with the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals in Ethiopia and the Fistula Foundation in the United States for The Fistula Project.
A single mom seeking help in southern Ethiopia
photo source: www.nhfwc.org
WHAT IS THE STORY?
Imagine a little girl of the unfortunate women in the world that get into obstructive labor. She doesn’t know when she starts her labor, no do the village women know. They tell her to push every day. After four days of pushing she delivers a dead baby. The only reason why she can deliver it is because the baby inside the mother gets smaller hen it’s dead. But she wakes up to a worse horror: finding her bed soaked in feces and body fluid. All the pushing has created that hole so everything is coming out uncontrollably. The young women are often shunned by their husbands, and sent back home to their parents. The women are then shunned by their families and communities because of the foul odor and the ignorance of the child-birth injury as some might perceive it as a contagious illness or the workings of the “devil.” The father orders a shed to be built for the isolated girl. There she will stay forever, until death. She’s ruined, a beautiful young girl, no hope whatsoever.
WHAT IS FISTULA?
Fistulas are holes that develop in the tissue that separates the vagina from the bladder and rectum. It occurs in expectant mothers who have difficulty during labor because of small pelvises or a poorly positioned fetus. In the USA this problem is prevented by the Caesarian Section (C Section) surgery alternative to a natural birth. However, in developing countries, medical doctors are nowhere to be found; hence the women tend to lead a life without proper medical care one might find in the USA. Fistula is a preventable child-birth injury, through the C Section, however it can also be cured. Through a simple surgery, which was refined by Doctors Catherine and Reginald Hamlin, the dead tissue is taken out and new tissue from other parts of the body replaces the dead tissue.
WHAT IS BEING DONE TO ASSIST FISTULA VICTIMS IN ETHIOPIA?
In the 1950s, Catherine and Reginald Hamlin, two Australian Medical Doctors, wanted to leave Australia in order to assist women in unfortunate situations. Their desire was fulfilled when they were called upon to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Hamlins were shocked, having entered a country with almost no resources for pregnant women. They opened a small midwifery school at the Princess Tsehaye Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa. While teaching at the school, a colleague introduced Catherine and Reginald to obstetric fistula and its impacts on the lives of rural women in Ethiopia. Once learning about fistula and the devastating impacts, the Hamlins began to plan the blueprints for a hospital.
After support from folks abroad in Europe and Australia as well as concern from the Ethiopian Government, the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital was officially commenced in 1974. The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital is the only hospital in the world dedicated to exclusively treating fistula patients. Now, 34 years later, the hospital has expanded under the name The Hamlin Fistula Hospitals and aside from the flagship Addis Ababa hospital, five hospitals are being constructed in Mekelle, Bahar Dar, Harrar, Yirgalem and Metu to accommodate women in the rural lands who usually make an enduring trip to Addis Ababa. As of early 2008, the Mekelle, Yirgalem and Bahar Dar fistula hospitals have opened. The Hamlin Fistula Hospitals have cured over 28,000 women since 1974 and now have become an oasis of education and help. An abundance of Ethiopian and foreign medical doctors travel to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital for training in the refined fistula repair surgery which was pioneered by the Hamlins. Today, the Government of Ethiopia is providing much needed support for the hospital. Aside from paying the salaries of all doctors and some medical staff at the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals, the hospital was also given a land grant to build “Desta Mender” (“Village of Joy” in Amharic) as a long-term care facility located outside of Addis Ababa. The Hamlin Fistula Hospitals are also given international support from 7 foundations all over the world which exclusively raise funds for the hospitals, of which in the United States is EAYI partner: The Fistula Foundation.
In 1993 Dr. Reginald Hamlin passed away but to this day Dr. Catherine Hamlin, in her 80s now, still performs the surgeries and can rest assure that an excellent medical team led by Medical Director Dr. Mulu Muleta and administrative team led by CEO Mark Bennet will take charge for the many years to come. Perhaps the most amazing and most important aspect of the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals is that no woman is turned down for fistula repair surgery and no woman pays one cent for her surgery. This is made possible from assistance from the 7 international foundations which support the hospitals as well as a variety of other governmental and inter-governmental organizations.
HOW CAN I HELP?
You can help by donating to The Fistula Project, a permanent project of the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative dedicated to raising funds for the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals. It is $450 US Dollars for the fistula repair package which consists of surgery, rehabilitation, a new dress as well as transportation back to the woman’s home. Practically, for $450 you are giving new life to a woman; you are turning a woman from despair to dignity. For The Fistula Project there are two ways to donate money, either to sponsor a woman for $450 US Dollars or to make a kind donation or gift. EAYI also encourages you to spread the word about the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals and to promote awareness about the rights of women in developing nations and about fistula.
For more information, email email@example.com
To donate, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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March 27th, 2008
Ethiopian wood collector
by Penny Dale, BBC Africa Live
Two days’ food
As the Nobel Peace Prize highlights the environmental role of women in Africa, Amaretch, 10, from the capital, Addis Ababa, tells of her daily struggle.
My name, Amaretch, means “the beautiful one”. I am the youngest of four children in my family. Today, I spent from 0300 to 1500 collecting the branches of eucalyptus trees which people use as firewood. I will sell this big bundle at the market for about $2. This will feed my family for a couple of days
This is one of the hills that I have to walk up with my bundle of wood, which I have collected from the big Entoto mountain, which overlooks Addis Ababa. It is very steep and and it is very far from where I live. I get very tired. Sometimes, one of my brothers or sisters will get up early in the morning to collect firewood instead of me.
No chopping trees
This is my friend Aregash Bayesa. The eucalyptus leaves are used by people in the fire as they cook their injera bread, which Ethiopians eat at every meal. What she has collected today will buy her some coffee and a bit of cereal for her children. Sometimes she goes to collect the leaves every day, sometimes only once a week. It depends on whether her husband has managed to get work. We don’t chop down the trees because we are not allowed.
This is Etensh Ajele, 36. She used to carry wood for 12 years until she got help from the Former Women Fuelwood Carriers’ Association. She now runs this group and helps other women who were forced to carry wood because they were so poor and did not have enough education to do anything else.
“We train women in other skills and gives them loans so that they can start a business. We sell what they make in our shop,” she says.
“Weaving is one of the things that we help former firewood carriers with,” Etensh says. “Most women know how to weave but do not have enough money to buy materials. So we provide that and we also help them with new and different designs so that they can sell the shawls and dresses that they make more easily. Some Ethiopians buy our goods but mostly they are bought by tourists when we take them to a monthly market.”
These are the children of women who used to carry firewood. They are taught by members of the Former Women Fuelwood Carriers Association. They say it is nice to be able to go to school to get an education while their mothers are at work.
I don’t want to have to carry wood all my life. But at the moment I have no choice because we are so poor. All of us children carry wood to help our mother and father buy food for us. I would prefer to be able to just go to school and not have to worry about getting money.
Photos and interviews by Penny Dale, BBC Africa Live
March 27th, 2008
ARTISANAL GOLD MINING
Mercury is one of a number of pollutants causing growing concern because of the long-term impacts on ecosystems and human health. Artisanal and small-scale mining in contrast to other sectors where mercury utilization is decreasing, remains a dangerous source of mercury pollution. The problem affects all developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where gold is produced on an artisanal basis.
Artisanal mining accounts for one-quarter of the world’s gold output and it is estimated that 2 million are directly involved in this sub-sector, with several million people being economically dependent on the activities. A high percentage of small-scale miners use the mercury-based amalgamation process. The resulting peripheral contamination and introduction of mercury into the food chain have potentially catastrophic results for the environment, miners’ health and the health of people involved indirectly, including the unborn. In recent years, life-threatening mercury pollution has been identified in most developing countries where artisanal gold production is taking place.
THE PERILS OF GOLD MINING
‘A Wedding Ring Produces 20 Tons of Waste’
The high dollar price of gold isn’t the only cost: Mining for the precious metal around the world causes significant loss of land, contaminates groundwater supplies and leaves behind toxic waste that often ends up in the ocean. In a SPIEGEL interview, mining expert Keith Slack demands cleaner mining methods.
SPIEGEL: What is the impact of the high price of gold on the mining of this precious metal?
Slack: It has led to a situation where there are more and more mines around the world, also in regions of Africa, Latin America and Asia that were not affected up until now. And the governments in these countries and regions mostly do not deal particularly effectively with the mining companies.
SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?
Slack: There are no proper environmental standards, there are not enough laws which could protect the rights of the local residents. Take Guatemala, for example, where the rights of the indigenous people, who live in mining areas, are not taken into consideration. The mines spread over vast areas, also over the sacred sites of these people. They can be up to two kilometers wide and one kilometer long, and one can even see them from space. But once the land is gone, it has been destroyed forever.
SPIEGEL: It can never be used again once the gold has been extracted?
Slack: Enormous quantities of poisonous chemicals are used, particularly cyanide, which separates the gold from the stone. It is estimated that gold mines worldwide use 182,000 tons of cyanide each year — a gigantic amount.
SPIEGEL: Cyanide is highly toxic. What are the consequences for the environment?
Slack: It gets into rivers as well as groundwater and can kill fish. The water is no longer drinkable or usable for agricultural irrigation. Sometimes even minimal standards are lacking. In Indonesia, the toxic mining waste is simply dumped into the ocean.
SPIEGEL: What are you trying to do about that?
Slack: We want the mining companies to secure the approval of local residents before they open a mine. Needless to say, the companies are not particularly keen to do so.
SPIEGEL: That doesn’t sound particularly effective.
Slack: It is probably the most effective means we have. Currently there is a dispute going on in Nevada, where a company wants to turn the holy mount of the Shoshoni Indians into a mine, and they are resisting. So this doesn’t only happen in developing countries.
SPIEGEL: Where are problems with the mines especially concentrated?
Slack: In Ghana a single mine has permanently displaced 10,000 people from their land. Another example is Peru, one of the most important metal exporting countries. The government there is not very effective in regulating the mines. Often, the local residents are completely on their own.
SPIEGEL: But what can you possibly hope to achieve if governments are even failing to achieve anything?
Slack: People know what effects mines can have, they exchange their experiences with others in similar situations worldwide and they offer resistance. When mining company Numont wanted to expand the world’s largest gold mine in North Peru in 2004, more than 10,000 people protested and blocked the access roads, forcing the temporary closure of the mine.
SPIEGEL: Isn’t it also possible that the mines could bring needed jobs into poor rural regions?
Slack: The modern large mines are mostly on the surface and employ only a few people. The mines can be highly profitable, but the locals very seldom see any benefits. And, of course, there are also problems with working conditions and low wages in the mines.
SPIEGEL: Do the mines operate similarly worldwide?
Slack: We are particularly concerned because there are clearly double standards. In Europe and the United States the companies would never exhibit the behavior they get away with in developing countries.
SPIEGEL: How much waste is produced to extract enough gold for a wedding ring?
Slack: That produces 20 tons of waste.
SPIEGEL: Is this only loose rock that can be pushed somewhere, or is it poisonous waste?
Slack: The problem is that cyanide treated rock, when exposed to air, will give off sulphuric acids, like those contained in car batteries. This process continues forever and can permanently contaminate the groundwater. Even mines the Romans operated in what is today France still exude these substances.
SPIEGEL: That sounds just as problematic as cyanide itself.
Slack: It is an even bigger problem.
SPIEGEL: And what advice do you have for consumers, who aren’t necessarily aware of the environmental and social damage caused by the gold they purchase?
Slack: We are trying to cooperate with large jewelers and mining companies to introduce certified gold which is produced according to higher environmental and human rights standards that would be similar to the standards applied to organic foods and fair trade products. So far, nothing like that exists for gold.
Interview conducted by Cordula Meyer.
March 24th, 2008
Yirga Cheffee (photos: Admassu)
This is the final episode of my photo story on Yirga Cheffe. Before taking other themes in this series, I would like to take you to the place beyond the town it self. Yirga Cheffe is a small town and it doesn’t have many diversities to fill my day. To avoid repetition of my daily routine, I usually go hiking around the remotest nearby areas. That is actually where you meet the real people and atmosphere. So let’s start the tour…
… it was raining for a while as usual but has just stopped. The sun has taken it’s usual place again….
…. going to be a nice start of my tour. I am already meeting friendly and eager faces on my way…
… the new beginning of the daily scene on the road means that …
…. I am going to meet more eager and friendly faces everywhere who want to know who I am ….
…. if there is something unusual about the road scene is that I seldom see grownups. It seems as if small children are the one who are managing the daily life here ….
… I see them managing their parents businesses ….
… and taking care of the transportation of their cattle to the market ….
… guarding their homes and property with ….
… a demonstrative confidence and determination ….
…. or even giving useful services to their village by doing errands earning some coins…
…. When I keep on walking deep in to the landscape, the forest is filled with it’s organic coffee trees and ready-to-harvest coffee beans. The awesome color contrast is everywhere …
…. even when I meet the people who live here and chat with them, I am more aware of the contrast of color…
…. The people here are quite friendly. After they once know that I am just interested in their life and surrounding, they invite me to their yard…
… invite me to a coffee ceremony. And the kids even bring me fruits from their backyard …
…. and they watch me photographing each fruit before eating it. They ask me bewildered, what is so special about a fruit and why am I spending my precious film on some dumb thing like that. I wouldn’t dare to explain to them what all that means to me because I don’t want to spoil their day by doing so…
March 23rd, 2008
Yirga Cheffe after Rain (photo: Admassu)
When it stops raining the sun usually appears right away. So one is glad about this quick change of the nature scene….
… even though the back yards of many houses are still wet and uncomfortable to walk through…
….. or even if some small roads could still be muddy and uncrossable…..
…. or even if small children need help to cross some side roads….
…. or even if the misty hills give their sign about another rainy hours ….
…. the new weather does some magic and the normal behavior of the surrounding starts all over again ….
…. and the sun does it’s job quickly and within few hours the town looks like as if it hasn’t seen any rain for months…
…. and if you take a walk to the town you might even encounter…
…. that some are already looking for shelter from the sun….
…. or you might see kids playing their new founded games… or if you are lucky….
… you might even meet an interesting individual to chat with….
March 21st, 2008
Yirga Cheffe (Photos by Admassu)
It is always green in Yirga Cheffe and also in the surrounding areas. Actually, the majority of the landscapes in southern Ethiopia wears green through out the year. Yirga Cheffe is one of the extreme examples. When it rains, you better remain at home. But can one do that if it never stops raining the whole day and night? The roads are not walkable and there is no way to scape the red mud if you are out there once. Here are some photographs to underline my statement….
Not an easy game to be a student here…
… but quite a refreshing break for horses, because they usually don’t have any…
… some animals use the opportunity to take over the town …
… it is your best friend if you have the right shoes … and it is also your worst enemy if you have the wrong shoes …
… car wash is quite a flourishing business in Yirga Cheffe…
… drenched with rain but never lost his humor…
… don’t worry we are not in the Far East. The art of bamboo umbrellas is an old tradition here …
More photo stories from Yirga Cheffe are coming soon…
March 20th, 2008
Samuel Malher, a religious scholar from Strasbourg who has written the first unabridged French translation of the Kebra Negast, a sacred Ethiopian text. by Jennifer Brea
The Kebra Negast, or the Glory of Kings, is considered sacred not only by Orthodox Ethiopian Christians, who comprise 65% of the country’s population, but many Jamaican Rastafarians who believe it predicts the last Ethiopian King was God incarnate. It documents the lineage of the Ethiopian monarchs, who are said to descend directly from Menelik, son of the Israelite King Solomon and the Ethiopian Queen Makeda, otherwise known as the Queen of Sheba. It also tells the story of how the Ark of the Covenant was taken from Israel to Ethiopia, and how the Ethiopians became God’s new chosen people.
In the interview, Malher explains how he first became interested in Ethiopian Christianity in 1998, while studying theology at the University of Strasbourg.
One of his professors, an African, noted that African Christianity was often imported by Western missionaries, but questioned if that was true for all of Africa.
I realized that Ethiopia, where Christianity had already arrived by the third century, deviated a bit from the rule, Malher says.
Malher decided to go to Ethiopia to learn about the Queen of Sheba, the Ark, and a dynasty of emperors who ruled Ethiopia from the 13th century until 1974, all deriving legitimacy from their professed Solomonic lineage. He found an Ethiopia that was “deeply religious as it was proud of its history, always independent. A unique history still visible in its grand cities.”
Makeda, Queen of Sheba and the Ark of the Covenant
Makeda means “the beautiful” in Ethiopian. When she first heard about the wisdom of Solomon, she could not [wait to meet him]. She set out with her caravan, bringing along many precious stones, incense, things to bring to honor King Solomon, who already had a great reputation in the region. The meeting was to take place in the palace as soon as she arrived. But she also had time to see the country, the Gaza Strip, for example; different places are mentioned in the Kebra Negast, and one can find these places, it’s true.
This famous queen met King Solomon and gave him a descendant.
What is astonishing is that this queen did not stay afterwards with someone who could have been a consort, a husband or a life partner. She returned to her own people in the Kingdom of Sheba, whose location is very difficult to locate. It was probably smaller than present-day Ethiopia, and without a doubt was concentrated in, was limited to the high plateau of Abyssinia, north of Ethiopia.
The Political Origins of the Kebra Negast
Malher explains that the Kebra Negast was likely written sometime between 1200 and 1270, when two dynasties were vying for power in Ethiopia:
…it was a time when two dynasties were competing for power, one the dynasty of King Solomon, and the other the dynasty of Agrées. There were two peoples claiming power in Ethiopia. And so there is in the Kebra Negast the famous Isaac the poor who is of the Salomonic dynasty side and who would have compiled the Kebra Negast not only from biblical quotes but also from oral traditions, and he wrote them down undoubtedly first in Arabic, then in Coptic, before being able to translate and publish them openly in Ge’ez.
The Kebra Negast established the Solomonic dynasty’s divine origins, and thus their right to rule over Ethiopia:
It is a model [where] power is transmitted with a blessing, with the idea of selection, and that is very important. Many countries have had this tradition, up until the moment they arrived at the idea of democracy, and the idea of monarchy was, little by little, pushed aside.
And also to repel foreign invaders:
The Kebra Negast is really known in Ethiopia; it was emperors’ primary book for administrating their country but also for wocomparing themselves to other countries. By calling themselves descendants of King Solomon, by attaching themselves to noble origins, [Ethiopians] had something with which to confront those countries that perhaps wanted to invade Ethiopian territory.
The Ark of the Covenant, the Chosen People
Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and the rule of its Kings were supported not only by their claims of Solomonic ancestry, but by their possession of what they believe is the Ark of the Covenant, built by Moses in the Old Testament to house God’s Ten Commandments, and brought to Ethiopia by Queen Makeda and Solomon’s son, Menelik–without Solomon’s knowledge.
The Kebra Negast is a collection of writings which describe the history of the patriarchs, and the queen, but also story of the Ark of the Covenant, which is currently sitting in a church in northern Ethiopia, and the prophecies surrounding the selection of the Israeli people [as the chosen people] which would then be transfered to the Ethiopians with the presence of the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark of the Covenant is mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Exodus and in the Book of Kings, where Moses was commanded to fashion a box from Acacia wood and cover it in gold. The two tablets on which the ten commandments were inscribed would be placed iside. This Ark also interested the Ethiopian people because it represented God’s presence among the people. Wherever the Ark was would be sanctified…It represents the presence of God and the selection of the people of Israel, because the Ark had a great power, it freed itself almost on its own from the will of the Israelites to accompany the Ethiopian people on their voyage.
And today you find a reproduction of the Ark in each church and copies which represent the ten commandments. It’s a little like how the Host represents the Body of Christ.
Today, the Ark of the Covenant has become something of an object of curiosity among journalists and scientists, but at the same time it is protected by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which preserves it in the famous cathedral of Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion.
I think that it’s really a question of faith. When an Ethiopian priest response: “If you want to prove that the Ark isn’t there, then go ahead.” And the journalist inverts the question, asking, “Is the Ark is really there? Whether it is there, is for you to prove. Whether it is not there is for you to prove!”
Kebra Negast and the Bible
Like most non-canonical texts, the Kebra Negast was not included in the Bible and some translations were even destroyed by the Church.
It’s the story of the Apocryphas. The Church has always had a priority to keep a collection of texts which is called the Bible. There are many apocryphas which were in effect cast aside, which were already ignored by many followers and were not very correct in terms of what the Church wanted to say. There were writings concerning the life of Jesus, the life of a prophet, the life of a patriarch, that should the human side of these men and women, and the Church wanted first of all to pass on the message of God, of justice…There were certain reasons not to use these texts.
However, the Kebra Negast relies strongly on certain Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, according to Malher:
The later chapters of the Kebra Negast…talk a lot about Christ, of the New Testament of the Bible, but also a lot of the old…the Ethiopians took important versus from the Old Testament, such as those of the prophets Jeremiah, Zachariah or Hosea…which are not widely read…
The Kebra Negast blends together the stories of the major Israeli patriarchs into one, great patriarch and incorporates Old Testament prophecies about a Messiah which, “will come, build his house, and save his people.” Malher says these are words of forgiveness for all people, but that according to its own tradition, “Ethiopia is the chosen country, the favored country. For the other peoples, there is an idea of pardon, of reconciliation. I think that it is very important for the people of Africa, for people around the world to be able to read these promises, these prophecies.”
Malher also says that the Queen of Sheba’s story is told in the Koran, but there she is responsible for Solomon’s downfall, for tainting his behavior. The Bible on the other hand emphasizes the queen’s decision to submit to the God of King Solomon and bring the religion of the Israelites back to her own country.
On Rastafari Beliefs
Roots and Culture also asks Malher about Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, whom Rastafarians consider an incarnation of God. Malher disagrees with this interpretation, noting that the divine blessing described in the Kebra Negast extends to all of Ethiopia’s kings, not one in particular.
The Kebra Negast stops after 117 chapters of praise and glory, it stops with Christ.These are prophets, kings, entities but nothing is mentioned about the last emperor, Haile Selassie.To put it simply, the blessing accorded to Ethiopia and the various kings, without having known the God of Israel before, they suddenly turn to him at the moment that Sheba and Solomon meet.
Nothing predisposed them to submit to this God.
They took the path that gave them this blessing. That’s what it says at the end of the Kebra Negast. It was Haile Selassie who relied on this relied on this text to legitimize his descendents, his ancestors; and so he has a legitimate power.
I met Rastas in Ethiopia, at Shahamenie. We talked, and we agreed on many things.
Sometimes it’s also a prejudice, divine election, I think that every person is blessed, every person can be chosen, Emperior Haile Selassie is not the only chosen one.
This blessing extends to all the Rasta; each is considered by the Almighty God, who looked upon Ethiopia.
Why Translations Are Important
The last French translation of the Kebra Negast was published in 1915, and included just ten chapters detailing only “the most romantic elements of the encounter with the Queen of Sheeba.” His translation from Ge’ez, an ancient Ethiopian language, is unabridged.
Malher says this translation is very important, particularly now that other forms of Christianity have taken root in Ethiopia.
Among the 65% [who are] Christians there are naturally also churches which are very recently arrived: the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church, and a Church from an American community, which implant themselves in Ethiopia. There are many concessions, different communities…
…Many religions develop or take an important place in the lives of the Ethiopian people. It’s important to be able to have a dialog.
As many religions have books, the Bible is translated into many language, Ethiopia is uniqu ein having the Kebra Negast, a millennial text which deserves to be known by foreigners, by those who visit Ethiopia, to dive into the culture a little bit and into Ethiopian literature. By translating the Kebra Negast into French we are already taking a great step in that respect…
Photographs: Kebra Negast by Samuel Malher; the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Ethiopia, which houses the Ark of the Covenant (Wikipedia); and Haile Selassie I, the last King of Kings of Ethiopia (Library of Congress)
March 20th, 2008
Francis Falceto-Ethiopia: Diaspora and Return
Interviewer: Banning Eyre
Francis Falceto is the creator of the 21-volume, and growing, Ethiopiques CD series on Buda Music. The series gives the most complete picture available of modern Ethiopian music, specializing in the highly productive era of the late 60s and early 70s in Addis, on the eve of the 1974 revolution that ended the long regime of Haile Selassie and launched the 18-year, socialist-military regime known as the Dergue. Ethiopiques includes some traditional music, and some music created since the end of the Dergue in 1991, but it’s great strength is its careful documentation of the extraordinarily creative years leading up to the revolution. Francis Falceto is also the author of a beautiful book, Abyssinie Swing: A Pictorial History of Modern Ethiopian Music (Shama Books). Banning Eyre met Francis in New York in 2005. Here is part two of their conversation, a companion to the Afropop Worldwide, Hip Deep program, “Ethiopia—Diaspora and Return.”
B. E: I want to talk about Ethiopians living in diaspora. After the Ethiopian revolution, there was this enormous movement of people and culture out to other places around the world. I think you first visited Ethiopia during the ‘80s, when this process was well underway. Mengistu Haile Mariam and his brutal Dergue regime were at the height of their power. What was it like?
F. F: I arrived in a county that was under military and Stalinist dictatorship. For me, it was something extraordinary, unimaginable. The most visible thing was military everywhere. No nightlife, because of curfew. Ethiopia had this regime known as Dergue, which installed a continued curfew from 1974, the year they overthrew the emperor Haile Selassie, until the fall of the dictator in 1991. In fact, it was in 1992 that the curfew was cancelled. But imagine, 18 years of curfew in a big city, in a capital city like Addis Adaba. Imagine your city, New York, Washington, a smaller city, for 18 years. No nightlife from 8, 9pm—even if the curfew started at midnight—until 6 in the morning. Nothing. Nobody in the streets, only armed military, and hundreds of dogs also.
Right after the beginning of the revolutionary period, the music scene was destroyed completely. It was difficult to make a living through music, because you could not perform at night. There were almost no more nightclubs. The only nightclubs that were allowed were the big hotels, just on Saturday night, mainly for the diplomats. NGOs and the like. But average people, they could not attend these nightclubs in the big hotel. And you could stay the whole night, locked inside the hotel.
So, you land in a country just to meet the musicians and you fall in the middle of such an incredible landscape. Nothing was possible. In one week I could meet one musician, because it was so difficult to meet the people, to go from one place to another place, police everywhere, suspicion everywhere. That’s the way it started. So after this trip, I made another 2 or 3, and it was the same failure—impossible to finalize anything. In fact, I realized quite quickly that everything was under the control of the government. They wanted to control each and every aspect of the social life, including the music. Even when a friend comes to invite an artist, even if he is a superstar in his country, they want to control it and preferably, they wanted me to invite an official artists, a propaganda artist. That wasn’t my cup of tea at all. That’s why the first three times I went, it was a total failure. In fact, I couldn’t invite who I wanted to until the early ‘90s, after the fall of the dictatorship.
During the Dergue regime, there was no possibility to express yourself, or to make your living as a musician, so many tried to leave, to emigrate, not only because it was impossible to have a job on the musical scene, but also because the situation was terrible. There was not any more freedom, and many people left because they were in danger. So there is a big, big, big immigration. Mostly to America. If you go to Washington DC nowadays, and the surroundings, Alexandria, Virginia, and all these places, you can find little Ethiopia. Many of the brilliant singers of the “golden age” have defected to this region. You can find the great saxophonist, Tésfa-Maryam Kidané, singers like Teshuma Metequ, Muluqèn Mèllèssè, Nawayda Bebe, Tela Guebre, Mogo Sapte, many, many musicians.
B.E: Ethiopians have created strong diaspora communities in the U.S., haven’t they?
F. F: Yes, but Ethiopians are a very special immigrant. Shall I say they are not very good at integrating themselves in the country. They just re-create a kind of little Ethiopia, staying together. And you can observe that since the beginning of this immigration, 30 years back. There is not at all a crossover of Ethiopian music produced in America for the American audience. The Ethiopian musicians stick together, and many of them have even abandoned the scene and are doing other jobs. But a lot of the veterans of the golden age are now based in America. A lot in the Washington, DC area, in Los Angeles, in Texas, in Colorado, in Philadelphia and Chicago. Toronto also, in Canada. In a way, it is a bit of a disaster, because the best elements have left. Most of them did not return after the end of the revolution. They are not in such a good position, living in exile in America. The Ethiopian scene in America is not in very good health, I would say. Unfortunately. Even if there are still a lot of good elements.
B.E: Do these artists perform within the community?
F.F: Only among the community. If you go to 18th Street in Washington DC, you will see dozens of places. Restaurants, nightclubs.
B.E: I have been to some of those places. But do you see great performers like the ones you were naming? I personally have not experienced that.
F.F: Sometimes, but it is more and more rare to meet the giants of the golden age.
B.E: Might you find them at a big concert at a hired hall in the hotel, or something like that?
F.F: Weddings. Weddings are very important for Ethiopians. A wedding can gather hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. It is a demonstration of power and wealth. If you have a big wedding, and you invite 2000 guests, you invite the most famous singers, even from Ethiopia. It is a big thing.
B.E: So that’s when you might see Mahmoud Ahmed?
F.F: Mahmoud Ahmed used to sing many times. And Tlahoun Gèssèssè. All of the Ethiopian singers, on one day or another, perform for these huge weddings. This immigration, by the way, continued after the end of the revolution. There was a kind of—I don’t know what to call it—an exile syndrome and Ethiopia. As I see it, it is something of a disaster, because the immigration syndrome is, “I am going to El Dorado.” And it is not El Dorado. The style of life is different. You need to work very hard to make your living when you are in America. So many things are different from Ethiopia. It is not a success for many of them. The dream of an immigrant is to come back to his country one day, once he is rich. He can come back and buy house or plan a business, and show off his beautiful car imported from America. It’s very rare the one who can do that, especially among the musicians. Many of them left a good career over there, and have not found a very good life here. This is very sad to observe. I was in DC recently, and I met many of them. It’s sad to see pop stars, knowing how big they used to be, and here they are stuck among themselves. Very often, they fight in clans. It’s a bit of a desperate life. This is not unique to Ethiopian immigrants. It can happen to any immigrants. But it is particularly sad that this music did not crossover, did not reach the American audience in general.
B.E: Well, one artist to tried to do that was Aster Aweke. And she had some success, didn’t she?
F.F: Yes, yes. She was living in America. She is still living in America, but she was invited by a British producer, actually, to produce something to be exposed to the general audience. And she made two brilliant records on Triple Earth records, Aster (1989), and Kabu (1991, Columbia).
B.E: Then what happened?
F.F: I think we should ask her. But I think she has needed to take her career in her own hands, and produce her own material.
B.E: So she has continued to record, but more within the community, is that it?
F.F: This is an important point. What about the Ethiopian productions in America? We should speak first about Ethiopian production in Ethiopian nowadays, I mean in the past 20, 30 years. It is a pure disaster. It’s the one-man band. A synthesizer playing all the lines. It’s very cheap production. Many musicians are discouraged. In the Ethiopian diaspora, in Canada and America, Sweden and England, all the productions are cheap as well. The rule is the keyboard. Apart from the very rare case. There are some Ethiopian producers who have tried to make real bands with real musicians. But it has been discouraged because the market is very small here. Of course, there are several hundred thousand Ethiopians in America, but it’s not big enough to make a market by itself, so the tendency is to make very cheap productions. And this definitely cannot crossover. Did you hear some of the CDs and cassettes that are released here and America?
B.E: Yes. The production is certainly disappointing.
F.F: Even if you listen to Aster’s recent productions, I mean it cannot compare to what she has done in England. And I’m very sorry about that because of course, I am a fan of the golden age of Ethiopian music, but I would like to see this music today very alive, not continuing what the veterans have done, but being still stronger than them, because this is the challenge. They don’t have to imitate the older generation. They have to be better than them. But there is a lack of producers, a lack of arrangers. There is not any more arrangement. When you listen to the old recordings, the ones you find in Éthiopiques, if you listen to the horn lines, for instance, how intermingled, how sophisticated they are, how groovy it is—I don’t see anything comparable nowadays. That’s why I say it’s very sad to see… It’s not decadence. But it’s a bit long to wait for a renaissance. It’s now been 15 years since the new régime came. The musicians can express themselves. They can play the music that they want, produce what they want. Nothing seriously innovative has happened. I see nothing seriously innovative in the picture. Nothing.
B.E: Let’s talk a bit about your Volume 5 Tigrigna. What do we need to know about this music?
F.F: Tigrigna music is one of the most important musics in Ethiopia. You know, Ethiopia is a meeting of several cultures, several populations. Tigrigna is also a language; it’s a language spoken in the Northern Province of Ethiopia, Tigray, and in most of Eritrea, which became independent Eritrea. And in this music the beats are very different from other regions. You have on one hand this Tigrigna music but there is also an Oromo music. Also a people of . Very important, very strong culture, and also different from the music of the Asmhara. The Asmhara used to be the ruler of Ethiopia for a very long time, for some centuries. They were dominant. But apart from them, there are other musical cultures. Not to mention any of the musical cultures of Southern Ethiopia, which are brilliant, incredible, but the access to this musical culture for the capital city Addis Ababa is very little, very reduced. But it shows that in Ethiopia there are many different musics. Tigrigna music is remarkable for its strange beat, very different music from the rest of Ethiopia.
B.E: Now a lot of music that is on that CD Volume 5, it’s mostly from the 70s, some of it a little later. Is this music being recorded in Addis now?
F.F: It has been recorded in Addis, because, I mean, the people from Addis could listen to the music from the North, also. At the time different people from different cultures used to live quite in a good mood altogether. You know Ethiopia is basically a Christian Orthodox country, but there are also a lot of Muslims in Ethiopia, and as they used to listen to music from every corner of Ethiopia there was often a very good mood between Christians and Muslims. It is something which has a bit disappeared, a remarkable mix of different cultures, different languages, different religions, different music, and there was something exceptionally harmonious at the time. This is something which has disappeared now. There are more conflicts. It goes with the time everywhere, but at the time anybody could listen and enjoy Tigrigna music. Like they could enjoy music of the Amhara culture, or another one. Statistically you can read, and you can understand through the record productions that Tigrigna music or Oromo music was a minority in the production.
B.E: And you mentioned that the azmaris were mostly from the North, so is it more of a possibility for the azmaris to enter into the musical production when we’re talking about Tigrayan music?
F.F: There are some azmari also in Tigray, singing in Tigrigna. In Tigrayan they are called something different, called watta. But it’s the same meaning. They use the same instrument, mostly the masenqo, this kind of one-stringed violin, played with a bow. They used sometimes the krar which is a lyre with six strings, but the status of an azmari in the northern provinces of Ethiopia or in Tigray, is the same. Their role is the same.
B.E: What about the music going on with the azmaris today in Addis? These are the traditional minstrel musicians, and from what I hear on Ethiopiques, Volume 18, Aseguèba, there is some interesting music happening there.
F.F: It is very important to mention the azmari, because they’re the only ones who are alive at the moment in Addis Ababa. The azmari musical scene is the most alive musical scene there. I myself, I’m very reluctant to continued to go to nightclubs, to attend and listen to new singers, new bands, one-man bands. It is simply boring. It’s really boring, I am sorry to say. Again, I’m very sorry as a fan of Ethiopian music, I’m very sorry that I don’t see the renaissance coming. I wish it would come one day. But 15 years is a bit long to wait. But you know, we had the same case in Europe. If you look at what was the situation of French music after the Second World War. They had a kind of an invasion of American bands, you know, the big band with cowboy songs. It was several years before chanson francaise became something strong, and adopted by the audience. We had 18 years of the dictatorship. Now it’s been 15 years of… I don’t know how to call it. But obviously, it did not yet bring a new renaissance of the size and strength of the sixties and early seventies.
B.E: And from what we have seen so far, it is not happening in the diaspora either.
F.F: Small-market. Cheap production. No innovation. No provocation I would say. Because an artist should invent. Provoke. He has not to follow the expectations of the audience. An artist is someone who brings things, an innovator. I don’t see anything like this. There is a kind of general laziness, and sluggishness in this production. Probably because the market is so small that they cannot invest seriously in normal and good productions. But, on the other hand, they could think about crossover, and try to develop the audience for this music, but being innovative, investing in more sophisticated production. Maybe it will happen. I wish. But I don’t see anything like this until now. There are some exceptions, of course. I cannot say that all the productions are garbage. Not at all. From time to time, you have a beautiful thing in the middle of all this nowhere and nothing. But not enough to consider as a renaissance.
B.E: All of this really makes one reflect on what a rare and amazing period that was in the sixties and seventies, doesn’t it? And I have to say, the world owes you quite a debt for making all this visible with the series the way you have.
F.F: I’m just a music lover. You know? And my sickness is when I love something I want to share it. This is something that was very difficult for the Ethiopians to understand when I started working on this music. All of them used to tell me, systematically, “But do you think the foreigners will like our music? They don’t understand the language. Why would they like it?” And I would tell them, “Look, I myself. I don’t understand the language. And I love the music. I’m sure it can be adopted by the Western audience. My target is to introduce this music to the Western audience, to expose it to a non-Ethiopian audience, just because it deserves to have a larger audience than the national audience, you see?” By the way, thank you for inviting me. At least that means I have achieved part of my goal, if you like this music, and if you support what I have started. And I wish many other people would come into this musical field, because there are still a lot, a lot of beautiful things to bring to light.
The Éthiopiques series is a small thing compared to the mine that is sleeping there, almost thrown away sometimes, forgotten. There are beautiful tapes in some corners. They have to be brought to light. For me, it is a great thing, and it has been a totally unexpected adventure. I did not start to do this for 20 years. Even when I started Éthiopiques, I thought I would release 12, 13 CDs. And in the meantime, other musicians, other producers came to me. Even singers. They came to me and said, “We would like to be in Éthiopiques. What can we do?” This is welcome. This is great. There is real support from some musicians. There is also a lot of suspicion. Because it’s not easy to be a foreigner when you are in Ethiopia. You are not from the country. What are you doing? Are you making business? It’s always difficult. Even if I’m basically a historian more than a music businessman, sometimes I have to heavily explain what I’m doing. But fortunately, I cannot complain. Many musicians are very supportive of what I’m doing.
B.E: You’ve also put together this wonderful book, Abyssinie Swing: A Pictorial History of Modern Ethiopian Music (Shama Books). It contains wonderful images of the golden age in Addis, and before. Do you think the images and sounds you’ve been working with are alive in the consciousness of today’s Ethiopians, especially in Addis?
F.F: In fact, very little remains, especially in the memories of the people. Imagine that you’re a teenager in 74, the moment that the regime of Haile Selassie falls. Let’s say that you are seventeen, and you want to cruise in the nightclubs, to be a teenager. You cannot, because the revolution comes, the curfew is here, you can do nothing. When this is finished 18 years later you’re 35. Nowadays you are 50. It means all the Ethiopian under 50, which is 9/10s of the population, they have no souvenir at all of the pre-revolutionary period. It is completely out of their memory. There was a photo exhibition of this time, with the elegance of these big bands, with the beautiful swinging Addis. When the youngsters came to see this photo exhibition of the end of the empire, they simply couldn’t believe it. They had no idea this could have happened in their country. So this has totally disappeared. You don’t see any more big band in tuxedos, for instance. Terribly elegant. Not to mention the singers. People simply cannot imagine what it was like in that period, and since then, after the fall of the revolutionary regime, nothing like that has risen again.
B.E: Does this story get told to young Ethiopians now? Is it mentioned on television? Are the songs on your Ethiopiques albums released there, and are they played on the radio?
F.F: This music is still played on the radio. Even nowadays you can listen to the music of the 50s, 60s, 70s. It is very alive. You can find most of this music on cassette in very poor condition because of piracy. Do young Ethiopians find this music interesting? It’s difficult to say. The music in Ethiopia nowadays is completely different. It’s mostly one-man-bands. There are some technological aspects which have terribly influenced the music, not only in Ethiopia. Two are very important. One is the keyboard, electronic keyboards, not only in Ethiopia but in many countries in the world it has totally spoiled the music because keyboard is mostly used as imitation of acoustic instruments. With an electronic keyboard they think they can have horn section just like a real horn section, a string section, bass, a drum, etcetera, etcetera.
So this technological innovation was very influential in destroying the music of the old days. Another technological phenomenon is the arrival of cassette. All this happened about the same time. The first organ synthesizer arrived during the 60s and was dominant throughout the revolutionary period. And cassettes started in in the mid 70s. Even before the end of the empire you had the first cassettes. Okay it’s a cheap, democratic medium to sell music that anybody can do in his kitchen, in his loo, wherever. But with piracy and the bad technical quality of recording and duplication, it’s worse. Piracy also means the producer doesn’t get his income, the artistd don’t get their income. Hence the poverty of the musicians. All that has contributed to killing this music and the musical world.
B.E: Maybe to end on a more positive note, we should recognize the contribution that the Either/Orchestra is making, because that’s something that could make a mark, when a band comes from the other side and then brings Ethiopian music to its home audience.
F.F: This is one of the nicest consequences of the work I started through Éthiopiques. You can find now in many corners of the world musicians, music fans, taking some Ethiopian tunes, just to give their own version, playing covers of Ethiopian tunes. This is done with each and every music, all over the world. Anybody can play, for the good and the bad. It was through the first edition of Ethiopian Groove CD (now, Ethiopiques Volume 13) that the Either/Orchestra picked Ethiopia. By chance, and through one musician of the band, an American band, Morphine. He brought back this CD from France to Boston, and immediately Russ Gershon, the Either/Orchestra band leader, fell in love with this music and started to play some covers.
But what I like in Either Orchestra, on top of the fact that they’re real music lovers, and great musicians one by one, is what they did out of Ethiopian classics. It’s simply great. Okay, there is a specific jazz blend, which is American. But you can recognize Ethiopian music. And I didn’t intend originally when I invited the Either Orchestra to play at at an Ethiopian music Festival in Addis Ababa in January 2004, I did not intend to include this live concert in the series. But concert was great. The response of the Ethiopian audience was great. incredibly emotional. The recording was not bad, and more than not bad, I would say excellent, enough to be released.
B.E: Thanks so much, Francis. You’ve taught us a lot.
March 19th, 2008
Following the Rum Into the Wild
By JONATHAN MILES
THINK Africa. Now think cocktails. Now admit you just pulled a muscle. “It’s kind of a clean map,” said Marcus Samuelsson, the chef best known for his work at Aquavit in New York. Mr. Samuelsson’s latest venture is Merkato 55, a pan-African restaurant and lounge that opened this month on Gansevoort Street in the meatpacking district of Manhattan.
Photo: Joe Fornabaio for The New York Times
EXOTIC TASTES The Kinka is more brooding and mysterious than your typical meatpacking district fruit punch.
It’s an exultant, theatrical spot — the big-lot antithesis to what Mr. Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, calls the “mom and pop places” that have been the primary loci of African food in New York.
The feeling of the restaurant, which sprawls across two levels and is festooned with silk-screen prints and basket lamps and acres of raw wood and clay, might be glibly likened to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, if Mr. Samuelsson, and his menu, weren’t so earnest. But can earnestness like his survive in the meatpacking district?
A proven survival component in the area is booze. Mr. Samuelsson is betting on rum, which he said was the liquor that’s “always at the center of the African diaspora.”
There’s a slew of infused rums that are served on their own (neat) in the same way Mr. Samuelsson features infused aquavits at Aquavit: date-infused, curry leaf-infused, lemon grass-infused.
Rum also rules the cocktail menu, which was developed with Junior Merino, a beverage consultant and former bartender at the Modern.
The Takada, for instance, corrals all of Mr. Samuelsson’s influences, combining rum with aquavit and ginger beer along with pink grapefruit juice and litchi purée, while the Yabara pairs rum with a more Eastern mélange of Lillet Rouge, hibiscus, mango tea and lime.
The drink names are derived from African dances. This works spectacularly well with the Ding Ding, a mixture of rosemary-infused cachaça (rum’s burlier cousin), aguardiente, ginger beer and lime, but less so with the Larakaraka (tequila, elderflower liqueur, pineapple juice, ginger liqueur, lime), which I overheard one patron despair of trying to pronounce and instead blurt out, “Hakuna matata,” the signature phrase from “The Lion King.” The Swahili phrase can be translated to mean “no worries.” Proving the point, the correct drink arrived anyway.
I took a shine to the Kinka: easy to order, easier to drink. In the Kinka, Bacardi Gold rum meets Averna, a rootsy, herbal Italian amaro, with tamarind concentrate adding some earthy, exotic sweetness and blood orange purée and lemon juice adding citric tang.
It’s a suave mixture, way more brooding and mysterious than your typical meatpacking district fruit punch, and a boon companion to Mr. Samuelsson’s spiced cuisine. Is it actually African? An academic drinker might say no.
Another drinker, however, might smile and say merely, “Hakuna matata.”
Kinka Adapted From Merkato 55
1 ½ ounces Bacardi Gold rum
½ ounce Averna liqueur
1 ounce tamarind concentrate *
1 ounce freshly squeezed blood orange juice
½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Shake ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into ice-filled rocks glass.
Yield: 1 serving
Source: The New York Times
March 19th, 2008
Citing Pollution, Gebrselassie Opts Out of Olympic Marathon
By KATIE THOMAS
Published: March 11, 2008
Haile Gebrselassie, the world-record holder in the marathon and perhaps distance running’s biggest name, said Monday that he would not compete in the marathon at the Olympics in August because of concerns about the effects of the city’s pollution, heat and humidity. He said he still hoped to run in Beijing in the 10,000 meters.
“The pollution in China is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42 kilometers in my current condition,” he said in a telephone interview with Reuters.
Gebrselassie, 34, has exercise-induced asthma, his agent, Jos Hermens, said in a telephone interview Monday. Gebrselassie feared that the conditions expected in China could damage his body and prevent him from competing on a high level in the future, Hermens said. “He’s still on top of the world, he’s still very fit, his body is still in good shape,” Hermens said. “And he still has some big dreams.”
Gebrselassie has won several world titles in distance running and two Olympic gold medals in the 10,000 meters. His decision is a blow to Beijing Olympic officials, who have sought to allay athletes’ concerns about pollution by promising to improve air quality before the Games.
Justine Henin, the world’s top-ranked women’s tennis player and the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, said she was considering not competing in the Olympics because of air-quality concerns. Beijing is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Olympic teams have been preparing for months to combat the effects of pollution at the Games. The United States Olympic Committee’s lead exercise physiologist, for example, is urging American athletes to wear specially designed masks in the days leading up to competition. Some American teams are planning to train in South Korea and Japan instead of China.
Gebrselassie plans to compete in the 10,000 in Beijing provided he qualifies for the event during the Ethiopian team’s Olympic trials May 24 in the Netherlands, Hermens said. Gebrselassie has never won an Olympic gold medal for the marathon, but he set the world record last fall at the Berlin Marathon, finishing in 2 hours 4 minutes 26 seconds.
For many athletes, the Olympics represent the zenith of their sport; few would even entertain the notion of not competing.
But for long-distance runners, the marquee fall marathons like those in Berlin, Chicago and New York carry perhaps more prestige and financial reward.
Dathan Ritzenhein, a marathon runner on the United States Olympic team, said he could understand why someone like Gebrselassie would forgo the marathon in Beijing. “He’s won multiple Olympic Games and he’s basically accomplished everything in the sport,” said Ritzenhein, 25. “For me, it’s totally different. I’ve never accomplished what he has yet, and so for me, I’m looking at it as a huge opportunity.”
Gebrselassie receives appearance fees of at least six figures for major marathons. Hermens said Gebrselassie had not decided where he would compete in the fall, but he said Gebrselassie was eager to break his world record, possibly in Berlin.
“Haile is an astute businessman, and I think this decision reflects who he is as a person,” said Mary Wittenberg, director of the New York City Marathon.
“He’s smart, he’s analytical. I think he’s very realistic and he’s the ultimate competitor, who wants to win.”
For now, however, Hermens said Gebrselassie was disappointed that news of his decision leaked Monday, instead of after the qualifying trials in May, when he had hoped to make a public announcement.
“It will be a big disappointment for the people in Ethiopia to think that he will not compete,” Hermens said.
Source: The New York Times
March 16th, 2008
Fake fears over Ethiopia’s gold
Ethiopia’s national bank has been told to inspect all the gold in its vaults to determine its authenticity. It follows the discovery that some of the “gold” it had bought for millions of dollars was gold-plated steel.
The first hint that something was wrong reportedly came when the Ethiopian central bank exported a consignment of gold bars to South Africa. The South Africans sent them back, complaining that they had been sold gilded steel.
An investigation revealed that the bank had bought a consignment of fake gold from a supplier, who is now under arrest. Other arrests followed, including business associates of the main accused; national bank officials; and chemists from the Geological Survey of Ethiopia, whose job it is to assay the bank’s purchases of gold and certify that they are real. But what has clearly now got the government even more worried is that another different batch of gold in the bank’s vaults has also been found to be fake, and this time it was gold which had been there for several years, after being seized from smugglers trying to take it to Djibouti.
The Ethiopian parliament’s budget and finance committee ordered the inspection of all gold in the national bank’s vaults. A report from the auditor-general on the affair is expected to be presented to parliament during its current session.
Gold is mined in Ethiopia in considerable quantities, and a trader selling gold to the central bank has to have it tested and certified by the Geological Survey. Whether the bank bought fake gold in the first place, or whether real gold from the vaults has been swapped for gilded steel, the fraud has cost the bank many millions of dollars, and it must have involved collusion on a considerable scale.
March 13th, 2008
The story below is taken from Spiegel Online Magazine . This is not a usual case in Germany. We just want to make our readers aware of the social and cultural impact this story of a brother and a sister might have in a country like Ethiopia. How would our society get along with such a case? What would be the constitutional and social reaction towards this situation?
By presenting this story, we are not trying to reflect that this matter is normal in Germany. Actually, this story is quite unusual in Germany too and it doesn’t reflect the core nature of the daily life and the culture of the country. (Lissan Team)
German High Court Takes a Look at Incest
By Dietmar Hipp (Spiegel Online)
Must consensual sex between close relatives be punished? Germany’s highest court is about to rule whether incest will continue to result in a jail term. It is referring to the case of a brother and sister who have already had four children together.
Brother and sister, and lovers with four children. Patrick and Susan from Leipzig.
At first sight they look like an ordinary couple, strolling through the park with their child and their dog. But when the two adults hug each other their physical similarities are unmistakable. They have the same pronounced nose, the same blue-green eyes, and the same thin lips. Patrick S. and Susan K. are brother and sister. They are an incestuous couple.
Since Susan became pregnant with Patrick’s child and their relationship became known to the authorities, they have been prosecuted repeatedly. Their case touches an age-old taboo, it’s exotic and tragic at the same time. “Coitus between relatives” is illegal in German law and punishable with a fine or a jail sentence.
Patrick S. has served a jail sentence of more than two years because of his love for his sister, and he may have to go back to jail for at least another year, unless Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court rules in his favor. The verdict is expected soon.
The key issue is whether the protection of a powerful moral taboo is sufficient justification for punishment. And whether there are reasons beyond that taboo for locking someone up, for depriving children of their father, a woman of her partner.
Some 2-4 percent of the population have “incestuous experiences”, according to an estimate by the Freiburg-based Max Planck Institute. There are fewer than 10 convictions for incestuous sex in Germany per year.
Incest trials usually involve a father’s abuse of an under-age daughter, which is punishable under a separate law on abusing minors. Even cases of incest between siblings that come to trial are usually based on sexual abuse charges.
But in cases of incest between two consenting partners like Susan K. and Patrick S. there is no victim to be protected. Theirs is a rare case. Patrick S. was born in Leipzig in 1976, the second of five children. His sister Susan K. was born eight years later, and he didn’t meet her until he was 23.
The father was a violent alcoholic. When Patrick was three years old his father grabbed him and held a knife to his throat. Neighbors called the police and Patrick was taken into care before being handed to foster parents near Potsdam. His new family adopted him, but they eventually told him they weren’t his real parents.
Patrick is a shy man. When he speaks, he frequently looks down at the floor, tells his story with few words and a soft voice. When he was 23 he went to the youth welfare office to find his real mother. A few days later she contacted him.
On May 20, 2000 he travelled to Leipzig to see his mother again for the first time in 20 years. His parents had separated long before and the mother had a new partner. The three other siblings have since died, and the 16-year-old girl staring at him wide-eyed across the living room table was his sister.
Susan K. is a bit slow mentally. She looks up to her brother because he seems so capable and experienced compared to her. He was only meant to stay for a week but Patrick’s mother asked him to stay longer. He said yes. “I felt drawn there,” he recalls. He gave up everything. A job in Berlin, a relationship with his girlfriend at the time, and moved into a four-room flat in an apartment block near Leipzig.
There was a stepbrother who had his own room, and Patrick and his sister shared a room. No one thought anything of it and the relationship at that time was still platonic, says Patrick. Suddenly, on Dec. 12, 2000, their mother died. She had heart problems but the exact cause of death was never found.
“We couldn’t cope with losing our mother,” says Patrick. Before her death his relationship with his sister was “quite normal,” says Patrick. Afterwards “the connection between us grew stronger because we were the only remaining children of our parents.” Initially no one appeared to notice that the relationship between the two had become intimate.
Incestuous Desire Is Ages Old
The phenomenon of incestuous desire is ages old, as is the taboo surrounding it. Napoleonic France stopped punishing incest in 1810 in the wake of the declaration of civil and human rights during French Revolution that the law only has the right to prohibit such actions that are damaging to society. It’s impossible, or at least very hard to prove that consensual incest does such damage.
German law since 1973 has stated that punishing incest serves to protect families from destructive influences. But social research shows that incest is more likely to be the result of family problems than the cause. Eugenic aspects, which the German statue book cites regarding sibling incest, are a poor justification for punishment. The risk of hereditary disease for offspring also exists with other people with genetic defects. Yet the German constitution would scarcely forbid such people from having children.
It’s the physical proximity of siblings as they grow up that helps to suppress sexual desire between them. But if close relatives only get to know each other as adults, this no longer applies. Patrick S. and Susan K. probably wouldn’t have fallen in love if they hadn’t grown up apart from each other.
In October 2001 Susan gave birth to their first child, a boy. A social worker suspected that her brother was the father and reported them to the police. In 2002 Patrick was first taken to court. He got a one-year suspended sentence. Then, they had a second child. The first two children are slightly physically disabled and are a little slow mentally as well. They were both taken into foster care. They then had a third child which had a heart problem, but which is now completely healthy after a heart operation.
In 2004 there was a second trial in which Susan K. was a co-defendant because she was 18 when the second child was conceived. Neither of them was assigned a defense lawyer. Patrick was sentenced to 10 months in jail. Susan was put under the supervision of a social worker for six months.
After his second conviction Patrick approached a lawyer who appealed against the verdict. Meanwhile Susan gave birth to a fourth child. It’s healthy and she was allowed to keep it.
Both were put on trial again. Patrick got sentenced to one year and two months in jail, and his sister was again placed under supervision. An experienced lawyer then took over the case and managed to bring it before the Federal Constitutional Court. By November 2006 Patrick had served his second sentence. Only if the court now rules against his third sentence will he be spared a further jail term.
“One can’t put this poor person in jail again,” said his lawyer Endrik Wilhelm.
March 6th, 2008
Alemu Aga’s Begena Concert in Frankfurt
It was a sacred moment and I was glad to be there while Alemu Aga was giving his Begena (David’s harp) concert at the Icon Museum of Frankfurt. It was a closing ceremony for the exhibition of Ethiopian traditional Christian art and iconography. The museum has done a great job presenting these priceless traditional pieces for the German public for the last three months.
Mr. Alemu Aga with organizers of the exhibition
Alemu Aga’s Begena performance was a perfect closing gesture of the museum which has gone even further in preparing additional concerts for Mr. Alemu Aga in other major towns of Germany by contacting interested organizers to host the shows.
Before attending the concert, I have done some researches about Mr. Alemu. Though he is well known and a celebrity of his own in his knowledge of Begena and the art of music, I was positively surprised to see how polite and friendly he was answering to all those eager questions of the German audience patiently right after the concert.
After the show there was the obligatory autograph signing session. Many copies of his well known Ethiopiques album CDS were sold out quickly. I was glad to have one with his signature in my CD collection.
To those of you who are living in Germany, Mr. Alemu will be performing around Germany (most probably also near your town) till next Sunday, 09.03.2008. Don’t hesitate to be there and enjoy this sacred and unique moment because such an occasion rarely happens around here.
Admassu (Lissan Magazine)