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January 16, 2008

Comments

Alem

Really?! It's very nice of you respecting your family and friends,though. Just FYI, your parents local paper, CNN (even NPR) has a lot more profanity than your blog these days.

WereQet

hmmm...

As much as I might have liked to ignore this and let my earlier comments stand in that pool of vitriol, the old guy in my conscience chamber upstairs is banging away. So here's an apology for the overtly aggressive tone I took and the insults... In addtion, when you mentioned that your mother reads this blog...hehe... that tipped the scale for me. I know all too well how mothers take to any sort of criticism of their children... let alone rough, vulgar ones like the one I launched earlier... But mother or no mother, I think a public blogger knows the unwritten rules that with comments would come criticisms and some of these, especially with regards to posts exploring other countries, might tend to take a turn to the 'impassioned'... I'll try to minimize my words to that...and avoid any foul language...

What I can not apologize for is my extremely unpleasant reaction to how you described your experience in that post. I say one shouldn't mistake this to be cause-less, nebulous alergic reaction on my part. However blind and deaf some might have been to the tones and imageries broadcast in your post, I felt convinced that there was a dash of unmistakable arrogance and condescension which possibly (I believe) stems from a flawed approach to the new culture you live in. Some may have thought it was a humorous descripition of the troubles and vagaries of languages... but what I sensed was that it was another tangent that shoots off from the arc drawn by several of your posts which share similar themes as this one.

There are many foreigners who have the misfortune of being shackled to their past experience with old spectacles glued to their eyes after they move to new (and in this case arguably less 'comfortable' environments). The majority of foreigners are like this, I believe. And that is no shame for it is the natural way to be. However, no amount of pretense can save such traveller from the certain end of being unable to truly understand his new enironment. Such travellers might say the experience is eye opening and horizon-broadening and what have you... but the dead cold hard fact is that while their old yardstick remains firmly strapped by their side, all the potential rewards of exposure to a different culture are almost completely diminished ...

For no particular reason, I had assumed that one of your objectives is understanding your surroundings and its inhabitants. Well, one way to see new environments, we are told, is to learn to adopt the anthropologist's and the humanist's eye of seeking to understand how societies came to be where they are, why people behave the way they do, and being ever mindful of cultural biases... otherwise, the only other option left is to end up with simple tick-boxes of comparisons to what you have grown comfortable with and to the alien surroundings you currently find yourself in...

But then why do I assume that you are a person who seeks such insight and hope ofr some revelatory experience from living in another culture which might help solve riddles you face in personal life...? Why do I assume that you seek anything more than the paycheck you get from your employer for whatever it is you do... Perhaps you are to be praised for acting on your instincts and however presumptuous you may sound, typing out your thoughts as they had occurred to you... That certainly is honesty. No question about that.

But I'm unable to answer those questions above...I don't really know why I thought you are one of those soul-searching, answer-seeking traveller who is always on a quest to step into others' shoes and take the plunge...the risk to try and see if only for a moment how the world looks from the eyes of these people you live amongst. Maybe it is one post I had seen here in the past which struck me as touching on the theme of how "Home is where you make it..." A person which such questions on his mind, I thought, must be one who is on a quest for answers.

In any case, the funny thing is, without ever slightly changing your approach to this whole "expat living" thing at all... you would I think, as odd as it sounds probably end up drawing from this experience as a source of understanding of other cultures in the future. But can you get any true meaning outside of good chatter and jokes at cocktail parties or water coolers about your time in Ethiopia... Or maybe that line about foreign-living experience on your resume... Can this 'expat' experience be elevated to a higher level?... Is it even possible to do so...?

Anyways, I think I better go now. Computer is running out of ink...

:-) Selam hun...

And as we say back home, libona yisTen!

P.S. - I also sincerely regret any insults I made against your country/countrymen. Incidentally, I am one of few in my surroundings who has quite a favourable view of the U.S. I guess spontaneous human reaction is always prone to such mindless generalities.. and knee-jerk aggression... What can I say... emotions vs. thought, emotions will always win... At the very least, the first round. And that was the case with me. Sorry.

Marc

Wereqet, thanks for your very thoughtful comment. You bring up an interesting topic: really getting to know your host country. And I've become convinced the only way to really do so is to live Peace-Corps style: living exactly as the locals do, with very little money. We expats OTOH live in "expat ghettos," travel in expat circles, go to expat parties, etc. Either because we're shunned by Ethiopians or whether we don't make enough effort to get to know people, we just don't. So your point is well taken. Oh, and there's no need to apologize. I've been called a lot worse. Recently. :-)

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