Well, I never received a host family, and it seems we will be staying put for the rest of the trip– not that I’m complaining. I am living with the Donald Trump of Haramaya. The first time I went out with him we took a Bajaaj (open taxi) for the equivalent of about two city blocks, got gaping stares and free qat from the market, and walked through the building he is having constructed “downtown.” He has a wife and four children. The way I just presented this family, I realize, seems awfully sexist. But that’s how they see things.
His children are wonderful, but my favorite child in the house is the servant, Mahdi. Often when I’m playing with the children I see him pause and watch from a distance. Sometimes I can talk with him. He is nine years old and very intelligent. When I teach him he listens intently and understands quickly.
The other day I allowed each child to listen to my CD player. When I tried to pass a headphone to Mahdi, the other children looked at each other and shook their heads at me as he sheeped away. I made him take a turn. A smile spread across his face, shy at first, but unstoppable. He tapped his fingers and nodded his head to the beat (BSS), appreciating it so much more than the others.
My host mother was calling him. Suddenly his movements stopped. He yanked the headphone out of his ear. Brought back to reality, he looked at me wide-eyed, as if to see how I was judging him for his lapse in servitude.
And he snapped to his feet, off to serve my host mother.
The servants here live in total subservience to the families they serve. One night I woke up in the middle of the night overwhelmed with nausea. I ran outside toward the toilet but before I made it I threw up on the rocks behind the house. The host mother came out and screamed, “Malia” over and over until a girl came running outside. My host mother returned to bed and I watched as Malia fetched a bucket of water and scrubbed my puke. I tried to ask to help but my Oromo was not good enough and she wouldn’t have let me anyway. I felt horrible watching her do it.
My host siblings are sweet and loving, but it is hard to see their good fortune juxtaposed with Mahdi’s hard work. I watch them drop gum wrappers on the ground one minute, and I watch Mahdi pick them up the next. It is unfair, but it is economics. I cannot blame the family because Mahdi is lucky to have the job.
This is where I believe education must enter as an equalizer. As the system exists in Ethiopia, my host siblings will receive a good private education and go on to study at a university or become a wealthy qat exporter like their father. Mahdi will receive a poor public education and will probably continue to be a servant like his parents. The problem is accessibility.