Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ethiopia: Bale Mountains, Day 3, Sunday, Part 2

Ayano and I picked up an earlier conversation about traditional Oromo marriage customs. There are primarily four:
  1. The boy's and girl's families arrange the marriage. An example: A boy's family approaches a girl's family about the prospect of marriage. Discussions begin, taking into consideration the reputation, character, and wealth of the families. If the girl's family agrees in principle to the idea, then a discussion begins regarding the transfer of some wealth from the boy's family to the girl's family, much of which will end up with the couple. Once the families have agreed on economic matters, the girl's family will consult the will of God. This is when omens become important. I regret that I can't remember Ayano's examples of good and bad omens, but suffice it to say that the universe has the final word.
  2. An Oromo boy might kidnap a girl he desires, perhaps with the help of his friends. About 24 hours or so after this event, the boy's family will contact the girl's family. The boy's family will apologize for the boy's bad behavior, prepared to pay a financial penalty. Once the families agree on the penalty, the boy's family will then have to pay the customary marital price on top of that.
  3. Sometimes a girl will approach a boy's family, most often after she succumbed to a boy's claims of love, and sometimes when she is already pregnant by him. She will make her case for marriage with this boy, praying the family will approve.
  4. In Ayano's case, he identified his future wife as the girl he wanted to marry. He then asked his family to intercede with her family on his behalf. Much discussion ensued, with the result that his future wife's family agreed, only if Ayano was willing to wait for two years before proceeding further and also to support her in completing her education. Ayano and his family agreed. After the two-year wait, Ayano and his future wife (I can't remember her name, so I'll call her Alemnesh) began to meet (let's call it "dating") and talk about their future together. They spent many hours negotiating their wedding. Ayano wanted a quiet, simple affair, while Alemnesh wanted something more elaborate. My take was that Ayano wanted to save the money they'd otherwise use for a wedding and apply it toward their future in other ways. I got the impression these conversations were sometimes quite difficult, but in Ayano's belief, the result was that they have few disagreements today.

Also, Ayano feels good that he respected Alemnesh and her family's expectation that he support her completion of her education after they married. My understanding is that this included his taking a very active role in child care.

We continued our walk back to Dodola, leaving the mountain, skirting foothills, walking by rolling pastures. Occasionally, we (I) rested beneath a shady tree, and then moved on again.

I'd asked Ayano what his dreams for his sons are. A difficult question for many to answer in Ethiopia. An education, certainly. Some Ethiopians do get a free university education, but only the top 5-15 percent in test scores. Ayano himself was not among the few, and paying for a university education was beyond his or his family's means. (And as noted in a previous entry, there are very few jobs for university graduates.)

Ayano and his wife have a long-term plan toward financial stability that they began to execute some time ago.

Throughout the weekend, we'd engaged in some interesting conversations about organizational development, customer service, and risk management.

In this context, I shared this with him: 
  • How do you know who is the change agent in an organization? 
  • That's the person lying face down with a knife in his back.

A concept universally understood.

I'm guessing that change is much riskier here than in many other places in the world. For one, for the vast majority of Ethiopians, if you lose your job, there is no safety net, including perhaps, your extended family, for whom you may have served as their net. There is no guarantee you'll find another job any time soon.

Second, in the rural areas, there seems to be an intricate web of relationships: immediate family, clan, friends, local government officials, the community, and regional and federal government officials. So to effect change, one must weigh personal financial risk and complex relationships against the benefits of changing the status quo.

In America, if I take a risk and lose, I can, in most cases, brush myself off and move on to something new. In Ethiopia, taking a risk and losing might result in unrecoverable devastation.

Reaching the outskirts of Dodola meant leaving my bucolic dream and getting onto the dusty rocky streets. My God, the dust is just too much! Some day I am confident there will be trees planted along these roads, which will both quiet and trap the dust, but until then, it is maddening.

I became rather grumpy as we neared the end of today's walk. When Ayano began pointing out to me the different designs of mourning shawls (including the way a woman wraps one around her), I responded in monosyllables, thinking "I don't give one shit about this; I only want to know when I'm going to get off this godforsaken, dusty, rocky, miserable thing that passes for a street." In truth, the information was interesting, but I just didn't have any room in my brain to appreciate it. Vacationing can be hell. ;>



About 4:00 p.m., I was out on the restaurant terrace. Hussein, another Bale Trek guide, dropped by, and then Ayano joined us. We had coffee and chatted about various trek-related things, including the good things about Camp Changeti and a couple of things that might be improved.

I had told Ayano about Belay's (Gonder guide) desire to find someone interested in the medicinal qualities of plants in Gonder. Ayano had told me there was already a book in Amharic on that very subject, and he brought it with him to the cafe this afternoon. The writer, Bekelech Tola, as of five years ago when the book was published, lived in Asela, not very far from Dodola. I considered going to that town and seeing if I could track her down, just for the heck of it.

While the three of us talked over coffee, I could see and hear the BBC on the TV. The TV hung inside a cabinet under the protection of a roof overhang, on the restaurant patio.This Sunday afternoon, quite a few Dodolans sat outside and watched the news.

The Oscars were the news of the moment on this BBC broadcast, and what should I hear, but mention of the movie, Winter's Bone, filmed, of course, in (and about) Missouri. I laughed and said loudly to no one in particular, "Hey, that's where I'm from!"

I was getting tired and hungry, so we split up and I later took pleasure in a solitary and simple dinner served on my private little porch outside my room. Fresh air. Pretty pines. Birdsong.

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