May 14, 2005

Another flower

Read a really amusing article yesterday in the Sub-Saharan Informer titled, “Schoolgirls collapse in hysteria attack”. I don’t think there’s an April Fools equivalent here, so that’s ruled out. My wife heard about it on the radio as well, so I think we can confirm that this is a bona fide media story. Here are a few quotes from the article just to give you an idea:

“Up to 50 Addis Ababa schoolgirls collapsed in their classrooms yesterday in what authorities described as an attack of mass hysteria.”

“Eyewitnesses…said one girl started shouting uncontrollably around midday then fell over. Seconds later other girls joined in from surrounding classrooms and started collapsing around the premises.”

“School staff told the SSI that they were mystified about the cause of the mass attack. One teacher said, ‘there were at least 50 students holding their eyes, shouting and collapsing’. The girls were all under 16.”

“Passerby who saw the girls holding their eyes assumed their might have been some sort of chemical leak at the site. But neither the school nor hospital authorities could confirm that any chemical substances had been used”

“One doctor at the hospital put the incident down to ‘mass hysteria due to unknown stress’”.

Well, I’ve never seen anything like that, except maybe the images of adoring female fans collapsing at Michael Jackson concerts in his music videos (the old Michael Jackson). Maybe Teddy Afro (one of, if not the, hottest pop star in Addis – he wrote this song about the Olympic 10,000 meter race where Haile GebreSelassie, Kenenisa Bekele, and another Ethiopian runner dominated the competition. (The song talks about Kenenisa and the unknown Ethiopian turning back to look at Haile at about 7,000 meters to see if he could continue with them [up to that point, the two Ethiopians had been trying to slow the pace for Haile]. After seeing them recognize him, Haile tells the youngsters to go off, and so they did. [I’d actually recommend watching the race – you can really see all this happening].) Anyway, Teddy Afro wrote this song the day after the race. It starts off with the Ethiopian national anthem and then goes on to describe the race. Truly, it’s a beautiful song and I chills me every time it comes on.

So that’s hysteria incident constitutes the “news of the weird from over here”. The Sub-Saharan Informer actually includes a weekly “news of the weird column”, generally about overweight Americans or hapless criminals – seems they missed a gem right in their own pages.


Tomorrow is the big election day. I was called out of home for a meeting this afternoon and everything was exceptionally calm. There are definitely a lot more police in the capital – you can see trucks of them driving around and they create a pretty intimidating presence when they come close. But, all is calm, as far as I know.

Despite the massive opposition protests, so many opposition supporters are not registered, which could turn into a major problem. I don’t think they realized their power and it was only a few weeks ago that all the opposition parties agreed to form a single party if elected. But, registration was three months ago, so many of the opposition supporters are irrelevant, at least until the next election. Problem is, they may feel like they deserve a little more than they actually receive when the results are announced. I can’t say as I expect major disruptions, though my mother-in-law just called to advise us to stock up on candles. Point taken.

Today, we installed a water pump to move water up into the tank we have sitting on our roof. Pressure from the city water lines has been really low, meaning our tank hasn’t been filled. With the pump in place, we hope to return to the days of warm showers and daily car washes. Today’s installation did raise an interesting happening – me having to hide whenever repair people come to the house.

It’s actually pretty annoying, but whenever we have house repairs, I’m obligated to stay out of sight to prevent costs being bid up. I’ve gotten used to it – we lock off different rooms, close curtains, etc. There is a picture of my wife and I from our wedding day that sits on the table at the front entry. Normally, we remember to turn it over, but today we didn’t and I think the guy saw it – the cost came in quite a bit higher than we expected. Granted, there were two people working, but there was still some finagling going on. In fact, knowing that they were in a Farenj household, and once all the pieces were dismantled, awaiting installation of the pump, the two workers indicated that the job was much bigger than they expected and that they would need more payment. My wife told them that as a doctor, she can’t just cut someone open and then say to the patient that the costs will be much higher than she expected. She followed that with an option for them to take their stuff and go, without payment. They stayed.

I continued sneaking around all afternoon, but eventually the door was open and one of the guys got a look at me. I don’t think it mattered at that point, because they’d already seen the picture, but that probably solved any remaining confusion. Anyway, they left with their originally agreed price and we now have what we believe to be a functional water pump.

The other aspect of having workers in the house, and this is probably true in the U.S. as well, is that we have to watch them like hawks. We’ve had a few things disappear from the house after visits from laborers, so we are now exceptionally careful. Somebody is with the workers at all times, from the moment they enter the house. No bathroom breaks, etc. It’s a bit harsh, but unfortunately, especially because I’m Farenj, I think we are a bit susceptible to having things disappear from our premises. Today, my brother-in-law got the assignment of worker watchmaN and he handled it like a champ.

Sometimes our concern for our property can backfire. Last week, we had one of the neighborhood guards at our house to paint the inside of the water tank. Not wanting him to go through our bedroom, we told him that the balcony door was broken. The deceit worked fine until the afternoon when he returned to close the lid on the tank, which had been left open to help things dry. Unthinkingly, we’d left the balcony door open. He didn’t say anything, but he obviously noticed it. Oh well. I don’t like having stuff disappear, so I don’t mind being a bit zealous/devious.

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