Monday, December 1, 2014

Mixing Reviews

I've been residing at Hope University College for one week now, and, with the exception of one full day of vomiting and diarrhea, it's been a great experience. I've visited most of the classes offered here at ILAE, including Physics, History, English, Amharic, Geography, Biology, and Theater, and I've been impressed by both the level of instruction from the teachers and the level of engagement from the students. For instance, in history class, taught by a passionate Ethiopian guy named ክቡር (Kibur), students in groups of four assumed the role of ልጅ ኢያሱ (Lij Iyasu, heir to Emperor Menelik II) and delved into discussing the pros and cons of siding with either the Central or Allied powers during World War I.

However, despite the progressive teaching methods at this leadership academy, some students apparently continue to voice concerns over being prepared for national exams. They say they just want to have "the teacher's notes" to know exactly what to study. Comments like these concerned the faculty to such a degree that they devoted the entire community meeting to explaining why ILAE's curriculum emphasizes critical thinking over memorization.
Lainah, the English teacher from Zimbabwe, talks to students about higher-order thinking.

ILAE ninth and tenth graders at community meeting. In my first opportunity to address the students, I reinforced the importance of progressive education by referencing the ethos of innovation in Silicon Valley.
Since this kind of education is such a break from what they've had before, my guess is that there will be a bit of mixing between progressive and traditional teaching methods. In Geography, for instance,  the teacher lectured in a traditional way about the various types of rock and soil in Ethiopia; the one interactive moment came at the end when he solicited examples of how different ethnic groups in the country use the earth to mark their faces and bodies.

These values are posted outside the ILAE classrooms. Sometimes the value of ጨዋነት (Chewanet, Respect for Elders & Others) can get in the way of challenging authority. Perhaps a blend is needed in the next generation of Ethiopian leaders.
A page from the Civics textbook. Having as one of the lesson's goals to "be patriotic" also subverts critical thinking.

I've been thinking about different kinds of mixings here, especially as Ethiopia is a country with over 80 different ethnic groups. My hypothesis is that language about mixings or hybrids will reveal underlying attitudes about them, in the way that terms like "half-breed," "pure-blood," "mulatto," or "mutt" all have revealing connotations in English.

On Friday, when I visited the theater class taught by an American guy named Noel, students were delivering monologues in the style of Barack Obama. Here is one example from a ninth-grade student:


It seems to me that Barack Obama is universally admired here. I see his name on many taxis around Addis. This is not surprising, since his father was born in neighboring Kenya. But what word is used for a racially-mixed person? My online Amharic dictionary says ዲቃላ (diqala) means "racially mixed child" and it shows the same word for "hybrid." But according to the dictionary, ዲቃላ also means "illegitimate child." So how would an Amharic-speaking Ethiopian describe Barack Obama's identity? The Amharic teacher here at ILAE told me that ዲቃላ is almost always used now to mean a child born out of wedlock, carrying negative connotations. On the other hand, the similar word ማዳቀል (madaqel) has a positive connotation. Thus, one might say Obama is a product of ማዳቀል.

The word ማዳቀል also means "to crossbreed," which must be a common term around here because I learned a few days ago in 10th-grade biology class how hybrid vigor makes a mule better than a donkey or a horse. (Interestingly, this information came from the students. The biology teacher from South India, named Valli, denied the existence of mules, even after every student in the class claimed to have seen one. It was as if they were talking about unicorns. Valli has since recanted her skepticism.)
Many donkeys live around the campus; this one was grazing behind the library. I've yet to see a mule.

The other word that the faculty discussed at the lunch table today was the word ክልስ (klis), which they agreed was another positive term for a racially-mixed person. Interestingly, the infinitive መከለስ (mekeles) can mean "to dilute" (as with water to a stew) or "to revise" (as with improvements to an essay). Finally, I was curious if there was an Amharic word meaning 'bicultural' without reference to race at all. Dawit, the physics and math teacher, is probably the most bicultural person I've met in Ethiopia so far (tricultural if you count his secondary education in Ghana), and he informed me of a fantastic term I hope to use about Anemo: አለም አቀፍ ልጅ (alem aqef lij) — global (literally, world-hugging) child!

And then there is culinary mixing. Every night I've been getting a ጁስ ስፕሪስ (jus sprees) before bed. It's a mixed juice blend of every fruit a shop sells, with a surprising emphasis on avocado. I've been trying to find out the origin of the word ስፕሪስ, because any word that uses a form of the 'P' sound (ፐ ፑ ፒ ፓ ፔ ፕ ፖ ፗ) is necessarily a foreign word, like ፒዛ (pizza) or ፖስታ ቤት (posta bayt, post office). There's even a drink called ቡና ስፕሪስ (buna sprees), which is a mixture of tea and coffee. When I consulted the Amharic teacher, he claimed sprees came from the word "espresso." I pointed out that espresso had nothing to do with mixing or blending, but he couldn't think of another explanation. Until I hear otherwise, I'll assume he is correct.
This is where I get my jus sprees. ጭማቂ (CH'maqi) is the Amharic word for juice. ዕድገት (idget) means growth, emphasizing the health benefits of drinking fruit nectar.
The cup tells the whole story of jus sprees (minus the avocado).
The majestic Buna Sprees. In England this might be called a Black and Tan. Imagine, I never have to decide between coffee and tea again!
Before closing, I also want to say something about the mixing of time systems (which I believe Jan, Pete, and Joe have been discussing in the Global Citizens class). The anthropologist Edward T. Hall famously posited the existence of monochronic time and polychronic time (m-time and p-time), where m-time is all about the linear, sequential, and efficient management of discrete time units, and p-time is concerned more with human relationships and the ever unfolding present, allowing for flexible interpretations of concepts like 'schedule' and 'appointment.'

Ethiopia is clearly on p-time. When I saw the director of ILAE, Panos Hatziandreas, on Friday, he was heading off to some government office to discuss more bureaucratic paperwork. He wasn't sure what to expect, he told me, because the government had just instructed him to come "in the morning." Plus, he knew that at any time an official could deem another meeting more urgent and not show up at all. I could tell that operating in p-time was frustrating to him.

At least Panos has control over the schedule here at ILAE, and at last Wednesday's faculty meeting, I witnessed a discussion about the timing of a community event to be held two days later (now last Friday). As Panos's wife and children had just recently arrived from the United States, the students wanted to officially welcome them to Ethiopia. Panos was game, and he suggested the last class of the day be shortened by fifteen minutes so that the ceremony could take place from 3:00 to 4:00 PM. (Such careful accounting of minutes is a hallmark of m-time.) Not surprisingly, the teachers of those final classes asked why the ceremony couldn't simply take place at the end of the school day. No one could think of a reason why not, so it was settled: the event would run from 3:15 to 4:15 PM. However, the faculty was trying to impose an m-time attitude onto a p-time situation. The actual event, complete with coffee ceremony, slide show of Ethiopian history, the reading of several epic poems, and an extensive interview with Panos and his wife, didn't get started until close to four and went almost until six. And with the exception of two of the non-Amharic speaking teachers, everyone remained to the very end, at which time the original idea of shaving fifteen minutes off of classes seemed absolutely ludicrous. Perhaps ILAE can embrace a healthy blending of m-time and p-time systems.
Panos (left) and his wife, Nunu, being interviewed by Michael, ILAE's Amharic teacher.
A student roasts and brews delicious coffee for all the adults. That's ቆሎ (qolo, roasted grain) in the plate on the left.
Below is an excerpt of the interview. I enjoyed listening to Panos's wife because her insertion of English words gave my brain a rest and allowed me to process more of the Amharic. There's even a word in Amharic for the mixing of English and Amharic: ጉራማይሌ (guramayley). I might as well just tell people that's the language I speak!


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