June 28, 2005

Tea and soccer, but this isn't about Britain (that is so funny)

A funny anecdote about the cleaning lady at my work. She and I are in a bit of a battle of the wills, though it has subsided considerably since the first days after her arrival. I’m a big tea drinker. I’m really active and I need something to keep me busy all day. Coffee is just too strong and would be counter-productive. I wouldn’t be able to sit still. Water is either too cold or too tasteless. I’ve settled on tea and frequently find myself in the back room making a nice cup of the stuff. The problem is, I like my tea a somewhat weak. If it's too strong, I end up with a stomach-ache, so I prefer to dip the bag four or five times and then set it on a plate for repeated use (up to four or five cups on the same bag). I’d been handling my tea as such for a few weeks before the new cleaning lady arrived. However, much like my meticulous father, she likes to keep her areas clean and orderly. As a consequence, during her first week of employment, my teabags kept disappearing from their countertop placement on a saucer, forcing me to open a new tea bag for every cup.

Being highly meticulous myself (dare I say anal), I finally voiced my dismay to the cleaning lady, mostly through gestures and a few broken pieces of Amharic. I believe my message was understood, because after that point, my used teabags were left on the counter, but not without a price.

I’ve often thought that an Ethiopian woman upset is like finding yourself on a deserted, country road with no civilization in sight. Actually, this is my first time to think this, but it seems a fitting characterization. That feeling was reaffirmed for me following the tea-bag incident. No eye contact, no smiles. Passing in the halls was done with downturned eyes. It was like I didn’t exist. Granted, I was confident in the righteousness of my cause, and having lived in Ethiopia so intimately for the past 11 months, I was not without my own personality strengths. Mostly, you have to be patient and recognize what the other person is trying to tell you which is usually, “you arrogant piece of cow droppings – don’t ever speak to me again.”

I don’t know how it happened, but the cleaning lady and I managed to turn the corner. I think it was at the office party when I introduced myself and joked with the people sitting at her table. After that, things thawed and we’ve begun speaking. I’m even trying to ask her questions in Amharic. A word to all casual visitors and would be foreign residents of Ethiopia. You will be given a lot of latitude as a foreigner. Most people will assume gaffes are because you are from a different culture. However, if an Ethiopian thinks that the situation is personal and that you are consciously disrespecting their opinions or values, be ready for hardball; they will come at you and you might not even realize how.

By the way, to update you on the tea situation, it is comforting to note that more people around the office are now leaving their partially used bags on the counter. Though the cleaning-lady and I suffered in the short-term, maybe our misunderstanding is contributing to greater development of the office environment.

In other news, the changing season has also marked changes in my preferences for sports. Let me start by saying that I have absolutely no doubt that 30 years from now, if I should still live in Ethiopia, I will be a firm football fan, loyal to some English team and supporting Argentina or Brazil when the U.S. is not playing. I’ve started to make the adjustment to football. Being here without daily access or awareness of the BCS, pro basketball, draft lotteries, etc., and having football (soccer) as the only sport regularly broadcast (running events are few and far between and even in Europe and the non-Africa world, they are rarely televised), I’ve begun to make the shift.

Last night was the big game between Brazil and Argentina – the final of the Confederations Cup (which I have no idea about). Argentina scored early in the first half. My wife and I happened to be in a packed sports bar and when the first goal went in, the all-male clientele erupted in support or disappointment; I'm not sure which. Unfortunately, I don’t know who won the game because we had to leave early, but I’m beginning to get a taste for the different styles of the teams, their histories, etc. That’s what makes soccer interesting, so I’m on my way to becoming, dare I say it, a football fan.

That’s an interesting thing to think about. Many of you Americans have heard other Americans say that they just don’t understand football – it’s so boring, there’s no scoring, that kind of stuff. (You may have even thought it yourself). Keep track of me. If I’m honest and continue developing into a fan of the sport, you will know that it is possible for you as well, that football may not be intrinsically boring but simply not understood. I propose that all Americans try to like football, thereby allowing us to join everyone else in the world. Maybe if we start to like football we won’t start as many wars and we will balance our budget. Maybe we will lose some of our innovative abilities and independence, as well. You decide.

1 Comments:

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12:29 AM  

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