By Louis Alemayehu,
Home at the End of Another World
This trip to Ethiopia is coming to an end in a few days from now. In the moment I feel some sadness about that need to say goodbye, but it’s also about the state of things here, Africa as a whole and how that reflects the state of the world. I know that I have a certain perspective influenced by the environmental, peace and human rights movements I have actively been a part for most of my life…no apology for that really. From my perspective, and I am not alone on this, there is a catastrophe unfolding now that has not peaked yet. It is like watching an accident in slow motion with silent screams that cannot interrupt our slide into chaos.
It seems to me that since the 70s there have been people talking about getting back to the land or getting back to Nature as we slowly began to be more and more aware that Western Civilization was really blindly headed for a brick wall. The reality of unlimited growth is not desirable or rationally possible.
These are desperate times and many poor people are pushed to “make a buck” by any means necessary, which can result in exploiting and/or disrespecting themselves, children, women, elders, as well as anyone perceived to be weaker or a means to a “profitable“ end. The wealthy just keep grabbling more and more, way beyond their needs, and are blind or numb as to how their greed devastates the planet.
In this time of transition that is, in fact, of global dimensions, it is best to be able to make friends with ambiguity, contradictions, the unpredictable and the unusual.
If I had come Africa in my 20s or 30s I might not have survived into elder-hood. Surviving into elderhood is of no value in itself if the life lived is not of some substance in terms of values, purpose and direction. I have arrived here at the right time. I have the stability to take in the harsh reality, yet savor the heart-centered beauty of so many people I have met here.
I am thinking right now about one of the first continental Africans that I was honored to make friends with back in my college days. Wilberforce Juta was an open, friendly and warm young man. I also experienced him as profoundly honest and authentically Christian in the best sense. Upon our graduation from Concordia College in Moorhead Minnesota, I wanted to go to Africa. I was inspired by the Civil Rights and the emerging Black Power Movements. For reasons I don’t know, I was never able to join Juta at his home in Kano, Nigeria and teach in the school system there. I was also never able to negotiate the red tape of the colonial school administration of Kenya and find employment there.
In time I began to learn that corruption of the ruling elites dominated on the continent. I imagine that someone as honest as Juta did not fit in. I assume that is why someone like him spent some time in jail. Although my politics were far to the left of Juta, I don’t think I would have lasted there very long in Africa. There is the illusion of decolonization and independence.
There still exists in South Africa a social advantage to being a white European as opposed to a black South African, according to African friends of mine who have spent time in South Africa. The fact that the colonial “South Africa” name stayed in place as opposed to the more indigenous “Azania” might tell you something. There are a critical number of Black South Africans who help that injustice continue as the masses continue to dwell in poverty, while natural resources benefit a few local and foreign elites.
Colonialism can only persist with the paid cooperation of a local elite along with an educational system that is designed to perpetuate colonized minds. This has been a reoccurring pattern throughout the so-called post-colonial era. I liked African Liberation a whole lot better when it was a shared vision amongst those who struggled for it, as opposed to the current fantasy status and misery.
Here in Ethiopia, the oldest Christian nation on the planet, one can go into these ancient houses of worship and find plastic images of a white Mary and Jesus printed in China pasted on the walls in front of the ancient brown and beige indigenous icons. So how is Ethiopia not colonized?
There is also the very reality of patriarchy itself. It is the source of so much abuse and suffering. The abuse of women and girls is “normal” and is tolerated. I am seeing so much of this up close and also in the news. The abuse and oppression of mothers also emotionally damages young boys in many ways. The worst of the damage is that if he assimilates into the role of oppressor of women and girls and protects or ignores his brother’s or society’s damaging behavior, his role of abuser or oppressor becomes a “normalized” identity…it’s “all right”…”I am entitled,” no matter who it hurts.
This is all pouring out now because I have been here for three months surrounded most of the time by women and children. I am very empathic and along with hearing their stories, I am feeling their reality in mind, heart and body. I don’t have the luxury of ignoring it. The Ancestors that guide and protect me won’t allow it. I could not live with myself if I ignored it, the father of daughters and granddaughters. I am my father AND mother’s son. I have been mentored or befriended by some of the most powerful women, both famous and unknown, who strode across North America as radical change makers. To witness this hurts like hell!
What is revolution? What is liberation? What is the road and the process to those states of being with thriving and justice for all? I am sure that it is not Capitalist or Communist. I am sure that it has something to do with indigenous Earth-centered ways as practiced around the world by wisdom keepers in Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, South America and Turtle Island. It is a way that contradicts our practice of patriarchy, industrialization, nationalism, sexism, racism and yes, homophobia. It’s all connected.
By Louis Alemayehu,