Friday, October 21, 2011

Elliot from Hawassa University

(Photos above - 1) university apartment where we live - in middle of cow pasture!; 2) ping-pong game on nearby road, 3) university run hotel where we stayed first two weeks in Hawassa)

This is Elliot now writing on Oct. 21 2011. I started teaching classes this past Monday at Hawassa University, teaching Development Anthropology to ‘second year’ students in the three year anthropology program. This is a large and spread out campus (really three campuses – the main campus, where I teach, the medical school where Marty works, and the agricultural campus, which, oddly, is in the middle of town.) It is the oldest of the three. There are about 25,000 students here, and anthropology, with sociology and psychology, is in the School of Behavior Sciences. I have 37 students, about 2/3 young men and 1/3 women, and the class is manageable. Anthropology is a relatively new major in Ethiopia, and I think these students are trying to find jobs in the development sector, such as with the government or NGOs, or work in heritage studies and tourism, which revolves around Ethiopia’s classic medieval sites at Gondar and Lalibela. Hawassa is capital of the Southern Nations and Nationalities, and Peoples Province, in SW Ethiopia, and home to many of Ethiopia’s ‘tribal’ people including Mursi, Bodi, Dasenech, etc.

The students come from a variety of backgrounds, both ethnic and class. Some are quite fluent in English, others much less so. They are drawn form around the country to the six large universities (Hawassa has about 25,000 students), and it is very competitive to get into university. Students here come from all over the country, but with the new federalism, there are many from this region which is predominately Sidama, famous for growing coffee. Students also come from the capital, Addis Ababa (Amhara people), Harare (Muslim and Somali) and Tigray from the north. The students are polite but a bit quiet, and I am getting used to them not asking questions (I don’t think they are encouraged to do that).

I had to jolt the students by the second class, as the fact was that only about 5 students were taking notes of the lecture. So I stopped and said "If you have any hope of passing this course, you better start writing notes, beginning with everything I write on the board. There is no text book for this course and the readings, although few, are difficult to follow for non English speakers." They started writing. Several eager young men sit up front, erase the blackboard, want to carry my briefcase. These are the “group leaders”, elected by the students, whose job includes passing out the one copy of the readings to everyone else. I decided to type up my lecture notes and pass those around as well, something I do not typically do at Smith College.

The government still pays for their education and board, which is remarkable as Ethiopia has embraced the neo-liberal orthodoxy of the World Bank so completely they seem to invite any and every company and country to invest. We’ve seen greenhouses growing flowers and vegetables for the  northern world run by Saudis and Israelis, concrete factories and road building by the Chinese, and hear about large agribusiness growing bio-fuels (including sugar cane for ethanol) by India, Djibouti, etc. The poverty is among the highest in Africa. As I was explaining colonialism and globalization, I discussed the question of cheap labor as an important reason to colonize (as well as getting at natural resources not available in the global ‘north’.) I asked what was a typical daily wage for someone with some skills, say construction or truck driving. They told me it was 15 Birr, about 88 cents. I told them someone at a similar occupation in the United States, making $10 and hour, would earn 1360 birr a day, something incredible to them. College professors make $235 a month, something with a $50 monthly housing allowance. My colleagues are friendly and helpful but overwhelmed - they normally teach 3 courses per semester and not infrequently are asked to do four or five. No one has a PhD, everyone teaches with a Masters degree, but it is difficult to matriculate through the PhD and keep their jobs. I am called Dr Elliot (as Marty is Dr Marty). Who needs second names in Ethiopia? (Actually the second name is one’s father’s name, and the third name is one’s grandfather.)

Good news as Marty said is we finally got into our apartment, which is like a large pent-house (2 floors) on the top floors of the University Guest House (4 story building). The down side is the building is in the middle of a cow pasture and corn field attached to the university, not quite prime real estate next to the lake (which is beautiful). But it is big and quiet, plumbing and kitchen a bit basic (and we are still waiting for a fridge from the University). Marty and I bought bicycles - I think most Ethiopians think we are crazy (why don't they have a car like the other Europeans?). The upside is that the university runs a hotel for their Hotel Management department, a stone’s throw from our apartment, where no dinner costs us more than $2.40 each.

We have two American neighbors, a fellow teacher in anthropology, Adam Boyette and his wife Emilia. Adam is a graduate student at Washington State University, and worked with Barry Hewlett (who was the Fulbright last year) studying socialization among Aka pygmies in Central African Republic. He shared a funny story, saying that corruption was so bad in the CAR that he and his professor had to bribe the Government Ethics Committee to get clearance! Fortunately Ethiopia is not like that. You can bargain with street sellers, but Marty and I have not had much luck with shop keepers, even in their extensive and lively market (more about that from Marty).

I’ll stop here, undoubtedly there will be much more to say in the future,
Cheers, Elliot