Category Archives: Ethiopia

Maaza Mengiste, Carrie Brownstein, and Jill Filipovic on gender and power

The issue of gender is coming more and more to the fore. Gender is a multifacetted way of describing your personhood, your being YOU. To many gender is linked to power, who is calling the shots, who is defining and setting standards.

Maaza Mengiste is one  of the speakers at a session on gender and power. Read more about it here

Maaza Mengiste talks about

Maaza Mengiste Talks about Ethiopian Women and her Forthcoming Book - Image 1Every picture tells a story. Some prefer to write stories, others prefer to shoot pictures. In the end both of them are storytellers, each in his or her own way. 

Maaza Mengiste is a storyteller with words, just have a look at her books. In recent times she has also included a look at photographs, that tell a story. In this article Aaron Bady writes about this move or expansion by Mengiste. 

 

INFIDEL

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (or as it used to be Ayaan Hirsi Magen) is a Somalia-born former Dutch politician. In this book she tells about her background in Somalia, her ancestry (very important), the clan she belongs (very important), Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Her father is involved in Somalian politics in the days of the dictator Barrè and later on. Most of the time he spends away from his nuclear family working for the political causes of Somalia.  This work of his forces his family to stay in other countries. For Ayaan these years have been very formative, for she saw at first hand the strict ways of Islam in Saudi Arabia. During her stay in Nairobi she gets involved with the local Muslim Brotherhood (also including sisters), she even was present when people protested against Salman Rushdie after the publication of his Satanic Verses.  She decides to dress in a more traditional way. Already at a young age she shows to possess an independent mind and an inquisitive mind.

When her father has arranged a marriage with a Somali man living in Canada she decides to stop her journey to Canada in Germany, she decides to go to The Netherlands where she applies for a status a an asylumseeker. Very soon she gets permission to stay in The Netherlands. She works hard to learn the language, to get acquainted with Dutch life. She does all kinds of odd jobs to be selfsupportive. She decides to go for further studies and in the end she finishes her studies in politicology at Leiden University, the oldest university in The Netherlands. Later on she gets elected to the Dutch Parliament on a ticket from the Liberal Democrats. In parliament she raises the issues of the position of muslim women, integration of people from non-Dutch descent, the negative effects of the islam. She makes a short movie (called “Submission”) with the cineast Theo van Gogh (indeed related to the famous painter) about what the Quran says about women. When Van Gogh is killed in broad daylight in the streets of Amsterdam by a muslim, the life of Ayaan is at danger as well. Security forces keep her in hiding, even abroad. In the end she leaves Dutch parliament and moves to the United States of America to take up a position at a thinktank.

A few things that struck me in this well written book: 

  • the ‘blame it on the Jews’-attitude she encountered in Saudi Arabia and in the circles of the Muslim Brotherhood. All negative things that happen are caused by Jews. 
  • in The Netherlands she is surprised by the way society is so well organized. Should not be there total chaos (fitna) in this land of the infidels? Should not a life under Allah’s law be much better? 
  • In Dutch society she witnesses so many muslims (especially Somali) who try to stay away from mainstream society. Many have a poor grasp of the language, many are unemployed, many think their own society is better than Dutch society.
  • Her sister Haweya also moves to The Netherlands, she has a very difficult time in this country, she is even treated in a psychiatric hospital. In the end she moves back to Nairobi. Two sisters with two different stories.
  • Ayaan confronts people who say that violence and terrorism and maltreatment of women etcetera have nothing to do with islam. She does not want to look away and she is of the opinion that all these things are connected to islam. 
  • when she talks about her political work (in and out of parliament) she does not mention the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders, with his strong anti-islam sentiment. They were together and worked together in parliament for the same political party. A remarkable omission. 
  • Ayaan describes her route from being an islamic believer to a more strict way of believing in her years in circles of the Brotherhood to the days that she became an infidel. To her this last step is a step into freedom. 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Infidel – 2007 

Returning to Ethiopia

When he was very young Dinaw Mengestu heard his father tell bedside stories. Stories he did not immediately connect with Ethiopia. He was young and living in exile in the United States. Later on he heard less stories, but it was clear his father was still very much connected to Ethiopia and the developments in his former country.

Was it a former country? Or was this country still very much present? How did it effect Dinaw? In later years Dinaw travelled to Ethiopia, saw what happened in the streets, met relatives.

In this account he writes about the permanence of exile. 

children stories collection

What language to use, is often a question posed by writers on the African continent. Ngugi wa Thiongo raised this question already many years ago and he took his pen and wrote in Gikuyu. This alarmed the government of Kenya. The writer must have hit the heartstrings of his audience. 

In Ethiopia the Ministry of Education, together with the Ducere Foundation (yes, still some Latin influence !), has embarked on a project to publish children books in different languages.  

Read more about it here

This picture is not part of the article, but shares the same message.

 

michela wrong on writing

Michela Wrong has done some journalistic work on issues in Africa. Now she has set her mind to writing her novel. Africa is not far away in this novel. Her knowledge of African affairs is played out in this book that is set in the horn of Africa.

She answers questions in this interview

this ethiopian prince

Prince AlemayehuSometimes we get a glimpse into history. Maaza Mengiste writes about a young Ethiopian boy, whose remains are kept in the United Kingdom. Attempts have been made to get his remains back to his country of origin. To no avail. 

The next step in this story by Maaza Mengiste is present situation of refugees. She writes: “Yet there is nothing graceful about the overloaded boats heading towards Europe.” Indeed, nothing graceful (or is it an act of grace to have arrived in Europe or the United States?)

May I add:

There is nothing graceful about dictatorial regimes in Northern Africa.
There is nothing graceful about dictatorial regimes in the Near East.
There is nothing graceful about warring factions in Syria and Iraq.
There is nothing graceful about human traffickers.
There is nothing graceful about countries in the Islamic heartland who accept only a few refugees. 
There is nothing graceful about refugee-camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

We need more grace, not just in Europe, but in other places as well.