Children, I’m your Ambassador

Once I declared that I was in South Africa, my facebook friends asked me some questions to be answered. One of them was this:

“OK Mezemir. I like your diaries. One of my professors (in Makerere University in Uganda) has attended his PhD in South Africa. We are very impressed when he tells about the system and everything about RSA. I would love if you jot down about how [do] you see the country. Have a nice time there!”
My objective in this piece is to answer some of your questions on my trip to South Africa like the above one and to state the nature of the workshop.

I went to South Africa invited to a workshop by the South African Institute for Distance Education (SAIDE). They invited me from Ethiopia. There were others from Kenya, Uganda, Lesotho and South Africa.

Accommodation and flight costs were covered by the organizers and I should thank them for that.

The Guest House

Once I reached the guest house, I registered. The worker there, a black woman, showed me my room and how to operate the keys. When you thank them, the blacks respond, “Plesha”.After staying in the room for a few minutes, I left my room and went out of the compound. There I met my driver who was eating. I asked him where he bought the food from. He showed me a supermarket. He added that I should go to a restaurant if I wanted to eat sitting. I went and saw one. I entered a room where both black and white people were dining and serving. It is my first time to see a white woman work in a restaurant. I explained that I needed a menu. The black girl brought me. I ordered one that I didn’t eat before. I explained that I had only US Dollars. The girl went in and came with the white manager and owner. This manager told me that he will charge me 7 dollars for the meal and mineral water. I agreed. He brought me around 1100 Rand change. We talked about our continent and peace in the Middle East and the world.

Immediately after I ate, I went out and started to walk back to the guest house. I bought souvenirs made of beads on my way from a street vendor. I like this local art. Afterward, I saw an Anglican church just opposite the guest house. I asked one white man if I could visit it. Then he told me that he didn’t know. Another black guy who was sitting nearby told me it is advisable to go to my room than talk to strangers there. I went in.I think this guy wanted to protect me from any possible danger wondering around may bring.

Pic. – The Abyssina Guest House that I saw on my way
The guest house’s main gate was opened, so I didn’t have to use a key. When I went into the compound I saw old white couple and asked them where they were from. The man responded, “I own this place.”  My intention was finding out about them if they were guests from another country. The man and his wife looked very unfriendly towards me probably because I came in through the gate they opened and they thought I could mean some harm. I went into my room.

Posters reading “Armed response” are posted on the walls of each compound. You are warned not to go near any compound. I compared this with hospitable families in my country.

The Workshop

All the space in the 14th floor of the building is SAIDE’s headquarters. The Africanstorybook Initiative is an inspiring educational program I am involved in. In the morning session we started our day by giving brief introductions about ourselves, our work and how we came to know the program, and we did. As to me, I explained how I came to know the Initiative – through a US Peace Corps – Benjamin Rearick. I think I explained to you in my previous articles about the work we do. SAIDE signed an MOU with Debre Berhan University. They are helping my library, Ras Abebe Library. We held two writing competitions in Debre Berhan. All in all, we are working hard to reach children who are the speakers of three major Ethiopian languages among others. The stories written and translated by ASb people and volunteers help to develop the children holistically. I really like what we are doing.
SAIDE is, based on what Lissa told me, an organization founded by women. These women are called the founding mothers. I think they are the ones I met during the workshop. One of them, Tessa, told us that she came to think of forming the organization when she compiled an anthology of children stories.

The workshop was organized mainly to familiarize us with the new website changed as of April 1, 2017. We were given tasks to be undertaken in pairs. We did those with the supervision on top SAIDE people and an IT expert. Afterward, in the afternoon, we filled in a questionnaire and answered questions on the new website. A discussion was held later on why we answered so.

The expert was asked if the website could work for ten years. I think he assured us.

The next day the discussion was on ASb values. Everyone was pointing out what they think should be our values as ASB. The meeting was opened by Dorcas and supervised by Lisa.In the discussions, I was passive possibly for two major reasons. First, I was in a new country and my mind was not ready for work. Second, I didn’t familiarize myself with how they use English. The English I know doesn’t work there. I often don’t understand what they say – when they especially talk among themselves.
When I told the IT expert that we have 330 characters in Amharic, he asked me if children learn that easily. He then asked me how we do that harm of learning these characters to children. The other woman said this would help improve children’s thinking.  I took Tessa a gift from Ethiopia. It wa the Amharic or Geez typing software. I can’t tell you how happy she was. They need it to open and post Amharic stories to the ASb website. Tessa’s energy at this age is surprising. She is lean and she works hard.
Dinner At Lisa’s House

Lisa, from our host institution, took us from the workshop to a shopping mall. She guided us by telling about the different places we see on our way. We saw the University of Witwatrand. She said it is an old one and it has different campuses. UNISA, found in Pretoria, is the biggest. There are also others including UJ.
When we saw one black beggar with crutches, Lisa told us that she fells sad for him and she said she gives him money. Ogot said that in Uganda begging days are Fridays because of the religion there – Islam. In Rwanda, according to him, it is throughout the week that they beg. I think the same is true in Ethiopia. At another time, Ogot told us that In Rwanda Hutus and Tutsis do not still intermarry.

Then we saw the most expensive private school in South Africa, St Johns. They have big sporting grounds. In these grounds you see students playing cricket. Lisa said her car would not be considered as a car if she took her child with it there. It is a white’s school.

I have no words to tell you about the greenery of the country. Walking in Joburg is like walking in a jungle. All the roads I saw are asphalted and there are places where there are roads every fifty or so meters. You drive fifty meters and you get a four direction road. Who said that these roads needed repairing? I think I saw less tall buildings than in Addis. Church of Scientology we passed by – no one can tell us what makes them special.

Lisa dropped us at the gate of a big shopping mall and told us to meet her there at 05:10 and the gate number was P1. Butter was served everywhere and there is much food compared to what we have in Ethiopia. It is English custom according to Paulo.

In the shopping mall everything was expensive. I was shocked to learn that a watch could cost more than what I expected. I was told that all the watches were above 20, 000. This means 40, 000 Birrr. I headed to another shop where they said the cheapest is 800 Rand. I felt sorry about all this. Only Dorcas bought two dresses.

Lisa came later and we headed to her home where we met her husband Paulo, a man of Italian origin and whose father invaded Ethiopia as a Fascist. He regrets that. I appreciate their house. First, in the three sides of the living room are filled with books. Then, the compound and the house is attractive and warm.

At dinner we talked about many issues including the Chinese just doing business, not politics. They were said not to care about what you read but want to print it for cheaper price. We ate to the fullest. Unlike in Ethiopia, we were served by Paulo, who cooked the meals for that night. It is nice to discover that the couple were both vegetarians. After an enjoyable night, Lisa called an Uber or a taxi using a mobile application. She knew how far he was and when he wa at the gate we went out and left with the couple waving their hands for us. The driver was guided by the software that tells him to turn left or right or to turn after fifty metres. The fruit of technology! One thing I should tell you is how the driver sits is the opposite of Ethiopia – at the right side.

Everyone at airports asks you for money. A guy who showed me a way asked me. Why did I ask girl pushing a woman on wheel chair for direction while I could read? Why didn’t I use my reading skills? Less Ethiopians I saw while I was flying back home. There were almost less local passengers except merchants than when we went. This testifies the assumption that more Ethiopians are leaving the country while less are coming back.  When they speak to me in Amharic, I felt happy. All in all, my patriotism is gone comparing South Africa with my country.

A guy talked to me very fast and I kept answering yes. He tried to take my bag and asked me to claim it in Addis. I told him that I didn’t agree. This was a communication problem.

The driver said there is much work, but he said he wouldn’t complain because it is work. He said he is a tour guide working transport when tourists don’t come.  When I asked the driver why it was only blacks that I see walking, he said it could be because the majority there were them. He told me that there are white beggars in the country. “There is one at my child’s school too. I sometimes give him money.”The driver complained of white people not giving the blacks money.He showed me a video in which blacks hit whites.Sorry for the mess South Africa!

No hand washing is known in South Africa. You just eat with a fork without washing hands.Eating bread with tea is not known. You eat a huge meal and the morning breakfast is like a huge banquet. You eat for no less than an hour. A day is lived to the fullest. Since the people vary much you easily know them. At least their hair helps you know black south Africans. I saw some Ethiopians as well.  You easily know them. The whites in the country are English and Afrikaans speaking. It is my first time to hear many English accents.Tessa said their pilots were trained in Ethiopia during apartheid, and she told me that they are grateful for that. She also remarked that like Dubai Addis is becoming a hub for Africa.
On my way back home

I made an interview with the Hadiya guy at the airport. He said he comes from a small village called Venda fearing the xenophobic killings. He came to the country on foot from Ethiopia 7 years ago and has 7 children. He says that he will not go back to SA. He is hopeless about living in Ethiopia because of the joblessness. He remarked me, “If there were jobs in my country, who would come here? Who would die on the road to come here? Ethiopians will not stop coming here since our country is poor.” I felt sorry about the situation he was in. He showed me a passport they sold him in Johannesburg for 1700 Birr. Without it, he can’t come back legally.
Captain Alula was the pilot when were heading back. We flew 39,000 feet high. I was able to see the countries on my way because I sat by a window. Green Africa! Beautiful farm lands! Seen from the sky at night, Addis Ababa was like a field on which broken glass was scattered. Following the towns including Nazareth and the small ones in its environs on your way back home was pleasing.