28 October 2012

Addis NGO Fair and driving instruction

Today in Addis Ababa there was an event called the NGO fair. This is something held once per month at a location in Addis - a rather large evangelical christian compound. The place is packed with more Westerners than I have seen since I first came and spent the night at the Sheraton. And everyone is pushing and jostling to consume, consume, consume. I forgot about this very intense culture of ours. I was bargaining for a handmade leather bag, although you aren't meant to bargain at this fair, and this older woman just barged in with a crisp $50 USD bill, doubling the price that I had just bargained down to. I looked at the seller who was reluctant - as custom says we were bargaining - but I encouraged the seller to take the $50 and we laughed afterwards.

A grad student cannot compete with Embassy employees and development community salaries. 

It is encouraging to learn about how many different groups there are in Ethiopia working to help people. Ethiopian, European, Catholic, American based groups targeting different specific needs or subcultures. Each booth represented a different organization; one to get street kids off the street by making leather wallets and bags, another to help with polio victims to make hot plates out of false banana, a quilting collective for HIV/AIDS women, another making wooden and fabric toys for people with eye afflictions, women's cooperative for widows. I bought some present for Christmas.

Efyie - new sandwich place

Driving across Addis (PM Meles looks on)
I also gave Catherine a driving lesson. We drove her Vokswagon across Addis - which for an experienced driver can be terrifying! Catherine took it slow and we survived. We went to the NGO fair, then walked to a new place for sandwiches, went to this very successful Ethiopian eco-friendly shoe store (yes Laura, I went to the store, and yes I can get some ordered for you if you are interested), and had some street coffee (the best kind). We also went to Suzanne's shop, a local artist I met when I first arrived and lived in the house of the Ethiopian family, to look at her overpriced jewelry and clothes. We stopped at the Radisson on the way home (more for the exercise of parking, starting the car again, backing out) for a juice and coffee.

Catherine with her duck
We discussed the NGO fair. My friend Catherine pointed out, just the common people on the street need the business too, why don't these same people go to the regular markets? I am sure that some of them do, but I am sure that some of them never would. The markets here are for negotiating. It is expected, as in many other cultures, but not in the western culture. This makes the Westerners uncomfortable and tired. They would rather just have the stated price and believe it is the market value. Get in, get out. No interest really in engaging the sellers. In the west we are less interested in the social aspects of daily life. Our modern society has us choosing to interact more with our devices and computers than with each other. So, my cynicism says to Catherine, but these people live in gated compounds and then they go in their SUV with their driver to another gated compound to eat, drink coffee, and then to another gated compound to shop, and then to retreat behind their gates again. This is very controlled, predictable, and safe. This makes them feel comfortable. We do this too. But we also go on foot outside the gate, drive ourselves when the car works, take coffee at a street-side traditional coffee spot, shop at the local markets and bargain. Why do we want this experience? We are perhaps looking for something else - not necessarily better or worse, just different. Something outside the walls of a compound...just beyond the gate.