Thursday, March 1, 2007

Wherein I learn

My good friend Marc is living in Ethiopia with his wife and child*, and I've been keeping up with his life via his blog. Over the last few weeks, his family and friends-oriented blog has turned into a hotbed of comments controversy.

Now, I knew absolutely nothing about Ethiopia before Marc moved there. Wait, strike that. I knew about injera (yum), tej (yum) and other foods I've eaten at local restaurants. Paradoxically, I also "knew" (as only a young American child in the 70s and 80s can) that there were "children starving in Ethiopia," and so we were urged to eat the food we were lucky enough to get. Even if it was SQUASH!**

So when Marc started writing in his blog, I found it fascinating. He's extremely well-traveled, and my experiences in other countries have been limited mostly to Europe. The differences between European and American cultures seem to me to be very subtle compared to what Marc is seeing.

So, here's the part that I'm finding so interesting***: Ethiopia has a very government-controlled media, and so it seems that blogging has been one of the only ways to get the word out. As one commenter over on the blog said, Ethiopia is like a Soviet propaganda machine. Skype doesn't work because of a government phone monopoly. Blogger is blocked, apparently to control what gets said against the current regime. There's an issue with freedom of the press, or rather, lack thereof.

I have to leave in 30 minutes for work, so I'll wrap this up succinctly. It looks like the Ministry of Information may have found Marc's blog, because there's this guy over there making some really random comments accusing Marc of government subversion. The same guy accused me of being a suicide bomber for Eritrea. Because of my WTF comments and questions over there though, I've had some interesting exchanges with people who follow Ethiopian politics.

Marc? Thanks...if it weren't for you I'd probably not have learned much about Ethiopia, its strengths and its weaknesses.

(Donning asbestos suit now, because any comment about Ethiopia seems to bring out some very strong opinions, and I've got thin skin for a flame war!)

*I never thought I'd link either of those words with Marc!

**Note to any Ethiopian readers: I'm admitting to ignorance of your country, here. I'm not saying that Ethiopia is bad. I apparently am saying, however, that the common perception of Ethiopia in the US in my childhood was that of starving children.

***Mind you, my understanding is rudimentary at best. I've had a couple of kind folks help me to figure out what's going on, but I'm still learning.