07 August 2007


I am livid. I am so angry, I can barely breathe. The type of anger where all your jaw and neck muscles are clenched, restricting your trachea. They type of anger you only feel when you have been 100% wronged and there is nothing you can do about it and there will be no peace. The type of anger an American, who is used to laws and regulations that work and protect her rights, feels when a complete injustice has been done and she must shrug her shoulders and walkaway. I first noticed situations of complete injustice, followed by silence and no action while in Moldova. It was one of the key things that turned me from anti-American to a patriotic Citizen. Seeing people be wronged, day in and day out, by neighbors or even the government and then NO ONE complaining a word or protesting. I realized at that time, I am an American through and through. If I see injustice, my tongue can not be silenced, and I am proud of the fact. There aren't many cultures that promote this type of speaking out. Most encourage silence or patience with issues, where in the US we are raised, taught, and shown by example, if you feel wronged let someone know about it. I realize it has gone a little over the top, people suing over useless matters, and I realize the US government also wrongs people, but at minimum there is someone to voice your concerns to. Here that is not the case, neither was it the case in Moldova.

So, what could make me so angry? So enraged? Extortion. I am being extorted (is that proper use of the word?). I know, it sounds devastating doesn't it. Whole movies are made around the plot of extortion and here I am facing it. Unfortunately, I have learned, this particular extortion is considered a business in Ethiopia. I will tell you the story, but want you to have some context, price context that is. So, one liter of milk is three birr, loaf of bread is two birr, dinner at the FANCIEST restaurant in town 300 birr (maybe 400 if you get the lobster flown in from the Red Sea), dinner at a local cafĂ© 25 birr, dinner at the places my husband goes 8 birr, pizza at the only restaurant in town to serve pizza worthy of my palate 25 birr, ice cream cone from the ice cream truck 5 birr. So these numbers in mind—note I'm a nutritionist so they are all food based, the story goes as follows:

I needed my driver's license. My poor husband has to shuttle me everywhere, and when he drops me off at home we joke he is putting me in my cage. I can't use the public transport as I don't know Amharic. In the central locations of the city, some of the drivers might speak some English, but where I live, not a chance. Taxi's are TOO expensive, so I sit home. Tired of being dependent (and he tired of having a dependent), I have been in the process to get my drivers license. It's long and expensive—30 dollars to the US embassy to authenticate my US driver's license, then 300 birr to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to authenticate my authenticated license (I think they just want more money), then 70 birr to the Ministry of Transport and two very long days being sent from window to window getting stamps, signatures, etc. Our first day at the Ministry of Transport, we were told we could not park inside the compound (huge compound by the way, LOTS OF SPACE) we had to park on the road. We found a spot and went in. We emerged tired and cranky 5 hours later, half finished with this process. When we got to our car, there was something wrong. Nothing tragic—just the handle on our hatch back Toyota Corolla had been ripped off the car. It doesn't serve too important of a purpose, but the car now had a dirty rusty spot where it had once been. I am angry and stamp off to talk the police officer standing less then a block away from our car. Henok goes across the street to talk to the shoe shine boys to see what they say. The cop essentially laughs at me and sends me packing. This irritates me, but that is JUST the beginning. Henok returns and says we have to wait for a bit, if the boys find information they'll come over and we'll pay them for it.
"Excuse me? We'll pay who for what?" I question.
"The boys, they know who did it or did it themselves and they'll give us information on where to get it back if we pay them," he explains as if it's rational. Further irritated I sit in the car. The boys don't come to our rescue, and 30 minutes later we finally leave. Henok tells me he'll go to a car parts place, junkyard of sorts, and look for another one. I tell him no bother, it doesn't really have a function, but whatever makes him happy.

Fast forward two days, and Henok has visited the junkyard. They don't have the piece we need, but will see if they can locate one. Nice enough I think. Then, it happened. Today, as I worked away at my borrowed desk at UNICEF Henok got a call from the junkyard, they had located the part. He drove over there to see if it was the right part, and what do you know it was the EXACT right part (meaning, it was ours that had been stolen). At this point in the story (as he is telling me) I interrupt and tell him we need to call the police. He gives me an odd look and says, why—they can't help. He then asks me to guess the price they wanted for the part. Remember this is a piece of plastic (now damaged b/c when the ripped it off the car they left a chunk behind).
"um, 30 birr," I venture knowing it is probably a low estimate, but just hoping.
"Hmm, that's a nice price. But just a bit higher," my cute husband replies.
"Did they ask you 50 birr for that piece of plastic? I hope you didn't pay it? Why can't we call the freaking police?" I respond. Henok laughs and tells me the REAL price they asked. ONE THOUSAND BIRR!! That's right, 1,000 Birr. Can you BELIEVE IT?!? I bust up laughing—idiots. Henok of course refused to pay the price and said a few choice words to the man, which I can translate for you as insults here are animal names like monkey, donkey, and camel. I love it when someone tries to insult me, it's just so funny. So we are laughing about these losers, I am still pushing Henok to report it. He says nothing will happen, the keen American in me explains if no one complains, nothing will ever change. We should report the losers. He says he'll think about it. You are wondering, if I am laughing, how can I be so angry now? Because that isn't the end of the story.

So, we drive to Henok's school and he jumps out and I am about to drive off (with new license in hand). He opens the back door to grab his papers and freezes. He gets this look of confusion and anger on this face, I assume he forgot something important at home and ask what's up. He shuts the door and goes to the other side of the car and opens all the car doors looking into the car.
"Honey, what are you looking for? Did you lose something? Can I help you?"
"They screwed me again," he states in an eerily calm voice.
"Who screwed you? What happened?" then I see it, pieces of plastic missing from our back doors. The pieces of plastic that clip on around the frame to secure the carpet and other random bits. I am sure they have names, but I don't know. While Henok was arguing with the loser trying to charge us a kajillion birr for a stupid piece of plastic, his little minions had stolen MORE!! At this point I DEMAND we go to the police. Henok is too angry to bother responding to my stupid American request. Then, what do you know—his phone rings.
"Abet (what you say when you answer here). Cajfdoaj ksld;fjaj;lfkjajf…." That means a conversation in Amharic took place. He hangs up the phone, "That was them. They'll give us back the pieces (the second ones they stole) for 200 birr."
This is where I LOSE it, "WE ARE NOT PAYING THOSE LITTLE DEMONS ONE FREAKING CENT FOR OUR OWN PROPERTY!!!!!!!!!!! We are calling the police. They aren't even important pieces, I can't believe this is happening!!" The anger is rising in me. I am imagining a sting operation we could set up to catch the little devils. I could help the police, I'd lend them our video camera if they wanted.
"Jessica, you're right, they are small pieces. The police won't care and won't do anything, besides they can't," he says deflating my dreams of justice in just one moment.
"Fine. Do they want us to come now?"
"Yes, they are over at Mercato."
"I'm coming with you. At minimum I want to see their little faces, yell at someone, and maybe even kick someone. Can you slap people in this country?" I am getting a little bit of hope for resolution, b/c at minimum I can yell at the cronies.
"You can't come. I have to go alone, and it's not safe if you come," that's his polite way of saying, the American attitude won't help us here sister! I don't need you yelling at anyone or we'll get nothing back. After a few more minutes of arguing, he wins and I concede to return to work while he goes for the 'exchange.'

So, here I am sitting at my desk waiting for him to call me and tell me we got back the STUPID pieces and he didn't get beat up or anything. Not that there is a risk for that, just in my imagination I picture thugs with pipes or something. It's probably a guy in a suit. Waiting waiting, while my husband goes and pays our extortionists and I have to sit here and work on my nutrition report. Grrrrr.

He called—the deal is done, we have the pieces back (the second ones stolen, not the original) and he only paid 100 birr. Losers. I need to kick someone. Whoever crosses my path next will face the wrath, just a warning.

Okay—writing to you all actually makes me feel better—sharing your pain or some psychological theory of that sort. I am still irritated, and hope to cross paths with these losers some day when I have the upper hand, but chances are slim. However, one thing came up while writing this story I want to comment on—insults. As a rule, strangers can't insult me. There is nothing they can say that will hurt me. The only people with the opportunity to 'hurt' me are those who know me best and can state something specific. So, in public in the US, India, Moldova, or Ethiopia—whatever is yelled at me generally just entertains me. This is good for me, as you get things yelled at you all day every day when you live in foreign places. Henok gets more irritated then me, BY FAR—I'm usually just laughing. So, as I stated earlier insults here are animal names. When Henok exchanges 'words' with someone (usually a driver who cut us off), I ask him to translate.
"Well, I called him a monkey and he called me a donkey. So I called him a monkey again." I usually crack up laughing much to his annoyance, b/c he is feeling insulted for being called a donkey. After learning these things, I have taken to calling him a camel or donkey when he annoys me—it makes us both laugh.

Another form of 'insulting' is through body signals. In the US it's the middle finger, in other places it's the thumb, or other parts; here it is showing the bottom of your foot. Again, someone lifting there foot at me just makes me chuckle, but recently we had the BEST experience ever. We were driving along when some losers in a Toyota truck cut us off. Henok honked and called them Hyena's. They slowed down—not a smart thing to do with my husband at the wheel. Henok pulls along side and calls them Hyena's again and then it happened. Sitting in the passenger seat is a large (over weight) and in his mid-fifties. He wants to insult us in a non-verbal manner. If this were the states, we'd see his middle finger, but here in Ethiopia this man ACTUALLY attempts to lift his foot up to window level to show us the bottom. His face is red and strained, he is obviously in pain as he pulls on his leg forcing it to stretch where it's never been before, and I lose it laughing.
"Jess, that's an insult," Henok responds to my laughter stunned I'm not ready to take up arms.
"That guy is about to have a coronary b/c he is trying a yoga position only advanced people can do, and you want me to be insulted—I'm sorry, that's funny." He sees my point of view, is calmer now, but still feels offended. I am still laughing at that man's face a week later. So funny. I bet he pulled a muscle. He paid a higher price for the insult then us!! he He HE!

Okay—I really do have a lot of work to do. We (Henok and I) leave on Saturday and for the US trip and I have a TON to finish before I go as well as much to do on the trip. Unforutnely, I'm an adult now (really not a fan of this some days) and this will be a working trip for me. Luckily I love my work or we'd be in big trouble.


No comments: