Total Pageviews

December 29, 2017

Washing Dirty linen in public - The case of the Masi Gudda - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post No - 40

As discussed in my previous post, Bahirdar was full of Indian teachers. I will attempt to classify these Indians into categories, so that the readers can understand their behaviour.

1) The Desperates: Desperates are Indians who have come to a foreign country as a last resort. This set of Indians tend to be very low in confidence and have managed to come abroad based on various dubious methods which can include fake credentials, fake certificates and even fake experience. They constantly live in a state of fear.

They could have even come on recommendations, by bribing concerned officials or even could have just come on pure luck. Their low inferiority complex can lead to lots of problems for all other Indians. Desperates tend to be average or low level performers and are constantly on the look out to make their own life safer and better.

They would work for unnecessarily long hours, pamper and pander to every whim and fancy of the locals and tend to drive the salaries southwards (downwards). They also throw lavish parties for the local teachers and tend to snitch on Indians. For example, it is quite likely that some Indians could have gone to Addis Ababa on a private visit of their own, only to know the Desperates have squealed on them to their Dean. The Desperates are despised and tend to survive only on the goodwill and generosity of the local teachers and administrators.

2) The No Choicers: These are people driven to a foreign country as they have limited career prospects in India. They are good workers and tend to do a decent job. As they have no chance of getting regular and lucrative employment in India, they tend to be loyal and do multiple contracts. It is quite common to see many Indians who have done 8-10 contracts or have spent 16-20 years on their own in a foreign land. They earn money, but their personal and family lives become affected and it is often seen that the family and the person grow apart over a period of time.

3) The Regulars: Regulars are Indians who want to have a fling of a lifetime. I would consider myself a regular. Regulars go to a foreign country to take in as much of the country and the culture as possible. They lead a normal life and might not save much even at the end of many contracts but carry with them experiences that are worth a life time stay.

4) The Scroungers: Scroungers are the extreme people. They come to a foreign country just to save. This saving inclination can take extreme forms. For example, a faculty who was earning 1000 dollars in Bahirdar saved up to 975 dollars a month. This person survived only on 25 dollars which is 200 birr or an unbelievable Rs 1000/- rupees per month.

This extreme saving habit would mean that they literally survive only on rice and dal and are always on the lookout for freebies in the form of parties that are thrown by more generous fellow Indians. In a way the scroungers are good at their business. They help the Indian family in hosting the party. That would not only ensure a free meal but could also mean take way of the leftover food that would easily last for two to three days. Luckily for them, the lovely cold weather in Bahirdar ensured that the food would not get spoilt very quickly.

5) The extremos: Extremos are Indians who can’t be classified in any other category. This type of Indians come for unexplainable reasons. Many come to a foreign country just to tell others that they have worked in a foreign country or ‘are foreign returned’. They suffer as they generally come alone and spend lot of time moping and worrying.

Extremos also tend to be extreme in behaviour. One extremo faculty in Bahirdar came to our house and asked a bewildered Padma an article to borrow that almost made her faint. Any idea what he asked? He wanted to borrow ‘a masi gudda’. A masi gudda is any old cloth that is used to dust and clean any dirty surface or mop anything that is spilled on the floor. Any old cloth in the house automatically becomes a masi gudda.  

The same person once came up and asked “Anil Saab, do you think that I could marry my Ethiopian maid”. My heart melted, I was touched at his generosity. The very practical Anil in me woke up “Hello hello dear Anil” the inner voice told me “He is already married and has a wife waiting for him in India”.

I said the same, the extremo sighed and said “so tho hai (that is true), I am married and my wife will kill me if she comes to know that I married an Ethiopian girl”. “They why marry?” I asked quite stupidly. “Anil Bhai, there is a proposal from an Egyptian university inviting papers for an International conference and the invitation says that it is only open for Ethiopian Teachers”. My mouth fell apart almost by two feet. This crazy professor wanted to marry an Ethiopian girl only for sending an article for an International publication.

Padma pooh pooed me when I recited the incident to her. She said “how gullible of you. He wanted to marry his Ethiopian maid. His maid Ebolu is quite a stunner and a very pretty girl”. Finally, sanity prevailed and this person could not marry his pretty maid.

Secretly I think that he was quite disappointed. But our guy did have his final laugh. He went to a government hospital at the end of the contract and had a HIV test conducted on himself.  Luckily he tested HIV negative! I asked him the reason for the test “Anil Saab (as he was fond of calling me), I wanted to assure my wife that I am pure and loyal to her” we gave him tea and bade him a farewell.

Padma remarked “hats off to his wife. I don’t know how she managed to stay married to this character and still remain sane. She should be given a Padma Sri!”

December 23, 2017

Teachers, Teachers and Teachers - Teachers in Ethiopia - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post no - 39


The fulcrum or the kingpin of any teaching, learning process is the teacher. There were four categories of teachers in Bahirdar University, Ethiopia. Category one teachers are the Ethiopian teachers, well educated and possessing master’s or even PhD qualification.

These categories of teachers were very few in number and occupied very senior academic and administrative positions. The second categories of teachers were like me who have been picked up from various countries and given two year contract to work in Ethiopia. At that time in 2002 they were paid between 900 to 1400 US Dollars per month, depending upon their qualifications, experience, especially work experience in Ethiopia. They were given free housing and all utilities were provided.

The astonishing part of any foreign assignment is the exaggerated claims made by the agencies involved about the quantum of money that can be saved in each contract. This talk is so convincing that many including me were mentally hypnotized and internalized, the amount of money that can be saved. The reality is very far from the painted picture.

The savings get whistled down as many teachers make unscheduled visits to India and travel expenses can be daunting. And then, there is the fluctuation in dollars vs birr exchange value. It is said that when two strangers meet in England the most common ice breaker is the query about the weather.

The icebreaker in Ethiopia for any two Indians is “what is the today’s exchange rate of Birr vs the Dollar”. There are animated discussions about when to change Birr into dollars. And there are whoops of delight when the exchange rate of the Dollar appreciates against the birr and groans of dismay when the dollar depreciates.

The funny part was in 2002, we were getting 50 Indian rupees for a dollar. And the rupee started appreciating against the dollar the minute we landed in Ethiopia. It steadily dropped to 49, 48 and so on. By the time we returned it was doing 42 against the dollar. So in real terms our salaries actually dropped by nearly 20% from 2002 – 2006!

And on our return, the dollar started appreciating against the rupee and it’s now 65 rupees to a dollar! That is the way the cookie crumbles! The well-known Telugu writer, Aarudra said “nenu ekkalsina railu oka jeevita kaalam letu” meaning ‘the train I want to board is late by a life-time’. We never get what we want and what we get, we don’t want!

The third category of teachers is the volunteers who predominantly came from western countries. In PEDA we had teachers from UK, Holland and even USA. They were picked by voluntary organizations and had all the facilities that were provided to us except that their salary was nominal. In 2002 the volunteer teachers were paid only 100 US dollars that is 850 Birr (equal to 4,250 rupees). Volunteers come for the love of teaching and tend to be work oriented and regularly indulge in research and philanthropic activities.

One such teacher was the physics teacher from Holland who worked on a combined project with students of Holland and Ethiopia, who were assisted by Ethiopian teachers. Their collaborative work was stunningly advanced at that point of time. The faculty and students of Ethiopia and Holland were working on a dual observation project of celestial objects and were learning their subject in real time! This aged professor was a bundle of energy and was an inspiration to  all of us.  

The fourth category of teachers were the young Ethiopian graduates who were picked up as instructors and junior lecturers from reputed universities like the Addis Ababa university and other older universities. They were a vivacious and energetic lot. They lacked teaching and practical experience but made up on their limitations by their bubbling energy and a zeal to learn. They were paid 800 birr or roughly 100 US dollars per month.

Many of the young teachers who joined during that time like Addis Gedefaw, Latenah, Sewele, Adonios Jimma, Mesalu,  and others have grown by leaps and bounds and have exceled in their  fields and are occupying very respectable positions in Ethiopia and in other countries.

Addis Gedefaw

Sewale Abate 

Adonias N. Jimma

Letenah Eigu Wale 

Mesalu Alamnie
Just today I was reading an article which said that Telugu is the 3rd most spoken language in the USA after, English and Spanish. Telugu has a whopping 3,20,000 native speakers in USA. This does not come as a surprise. Telugus both from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are very enterprising when it comes to going abroad. They are crazy about Phoren countries (Indian way of saying foreign).  R. K. Laxman nailed it on the head with his cartoon which shows an ophthalmologist saying to a Telugu patient “You have a foreign body in your eye, as it is a foreign body would you like to retain it?!”  

Where ever I worked including in Oman, the Middle-east and even in Ethiopia, Indians were the dominant work force and even in that, Telugus stand out as a significant majority. Telugus are everywhere. They do all types of jobs, be it sales and marketing jobs, working in the super markets, working as labour in construction sites etc.  Even among the teaching community of Ethoipia they had an unassailable majority.

Among the foreign teachers numbering around 55 to 60 in POLY and PEDA, nearly 40 were Indians. Among the 40 Indians, around 35 would be from south India and among this 35, give or take, 25 would be Telugus. Global Placements (the Indian placement company authorized by ministry of Education to source teachers for universities of Ethiopia) headquarters being in Hyderabad could be one of the reasons as to why so many Telugu teachers end up in Ethiopia.  

But that argument does not hold much water as interviews for Indian teachers are held in all the major state capitals and all other candidates have the same opportunity as Telugu teachers to be selected for Ethiopian assignment.

Mansoor Ali Khan
We had four foreign teachers in our Management department. All four were Indian teachers. Among the four three were Telugus, myself, Mr. Mansoor and Dr. T. N. Murthy. The only non Telugu was Mr. Chidambaram who was from Tamil Nadu.  

Accounting department had four foreign teachers. All four were Indians and three among them, Dr. Srinivas Inguva, Dr. Radha Krishna and Ms. G. Rajani were Telugus and again the single non Telugu teacher was Ms. Annie Clara, a Tamilian. There was no dearth of Telugus and Indians in Bahirdar. 

Dr.Srinivas Inguva 

Ms. Annie Clara

Dr. Radha Krishna 

5th P - Silent Salesman - Making teaching, learning fun - Ethiopian Journey - Blog post no - 38

Packaging the Silent Salesman 
Marketing was in very rudimentary state in 2002 and it was quite obvious that here are many opportunities for upcoming entrepreneurs. The introductory stage of the market also meant that there was very little by the way of teaching aids. I told my parents and got lot of packages of FMCG products like tooth paste tubes, soap wrappers, detergent wrappers and many other packaging materials like the boxes of Kellogg from India. I used these as aids and vividly explained the students the concepts of packing and packaging.

Attractive Packaging material 
One of the Ethiopian students recently told me “Dr. Aneel you told us the difference between packing and packaging. You said packing is for protection and packaging is for marketing. You also said something that I can never forget”.

He told me that I had said “Packaging is the 5th P of marketing and it is called a silent salesman. When all the other Ps falls silent it is the humble packaging that has to facilitate the selling process. It has to lure, seduce, cajole, plead and make the customer pick up the product. Once the product is in the hands of the customer the possibility of a sale goes up. In the modern supermarkets, decisions are made in a flash of a second and in that flash, each micro second matters”.

He said that this particular lecture of mine was etched in his mind and that he tries to implement what was told. He was fascinated by the word ‘Silent Salesman”. What a paradox!

He was musing - ‘Salesman and Silent’ how can a salesman be silent? Salesmen are thought as walking talking parrots or people who keep on blabbering. But some of the best sales people that I know are excellent listeners. They talk less and listen more. When a salesman listens to a customer the chances of finding out the real need increases.

God too agrees. That is why he has given us two ears and one mouth. Talk less and listen more. Examples like these made me touch the hearts of my students’ and made me occupy a special place.

I feel that the teacher has to excite and make the student read the subject by himself. Don’t be a kindergarten teacher and try to explain everything. Excite and propel the student into a path of self-discovery.

One of my extension students (extension students are part timers who attend classes on Saturdays and Sundays) used to come late to my class. Being a stickler for punctuality, I hauled him up and demanded an explanation.

Blue Nile River 
What he told me, made me speechless. He told me that he was swimming through the Blue Nile river. He was getting delayed as the currents were too strong for him to swim. To make this easier let me explain. PEDA campus of Bahirdar University was adjacent to the Blue Nile river and this student’s house was on the other side. Coming to PEDA by land would mean a journey of more than an hour and would also cost him at least two birr (2 birr was lot of money back then in 2002). 

Trying to cross
To save time and money he was literally cutting through water! What he was doing was very dangerous not only because of fast moving currents but also due to the presence of a colony of hippopotamuses. These gentle giants are usually placid but could become violent once they are enraged and try to protect their kith and kin.

I was shocked out of my core, the hunger for knowledge and degrees were really unparalleled! It is this competitiveness that has propelled Ethiopia out of its hard time and made what it is today, the fastest growing economy in entire Africa.

December 21, 2017

Cyclostyling and preparing reading material for the students - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post no - 37

Cyclostyling Machine 
Teaching in Ethiopia was a new experience. From a cocooned School of Management Studies, CBIT India, I was thrown into the deep end of an ocean of education – Bahirdar University. It was a university so big that teachers travelled by bicycles to go from one block to another. And in 2002, if a person was not in his seat it was very difficult to trace him/her as there were no dog chains (oops Cellphones) around the necks!

The University was lush green and there was lot of wildlife to be seen. It was very common to see white Colobus monkey called mountain Guereza. One of which was a frequent visitor, to one of my classes. This enormous monkey would perch himself on the window sill and would take in all that was taught! 

He would sometimes munch on some leaves and just look like an absent minded student pondering on a problem for which the solution could not be found. He had a permanent perplexed expression on his face! Once the class was over, he would gracefully jump into the foliage of the tree and disappear. Sadly with the expansion of the university such memorable sightings were lost by the time I left in 2006.

All the teachers had to offer a course. Frequently students would come up in the market, introduce themselves and say “sir, you offered us a course in Introduction to Management and so on”. All teachers had to prepare a course outline which corresponds to an Indian syllabus sheet. This prepared course outline, had to be approved by the Dean and the HOD, cyclostyled and then circulated among the students.

I had also noticed that many teachers were giving one or two page handouts, which the students gratefully accepted. A visit to the library confirmed my thought process. There was very limited availability of books and even those books were quite outdated.

Within a month I hit upon an idea. I started making quite elaborate notes in each chapter and got them cyclostyled. I would offer these notes to my students who were delighted to get printed reading material. I had an ace up my sleeve. I was cyclostyling 25 sets more than my students’ strength.

This notes built up into a very nice reading material and in no time the semester was over. I had a cover page made, clubbed it with the study material and got it nicely bound and presented the entire set to the delighted librarian. Sometime later, I was called into the Vice President‘s office (Vice President is like our Vice Chancellor).

I was not very overtly worried as I was getting good feedback from all my students. But some lingering doubt remained – “why was I called in?” I was ushered in and the VP said without any preamble “I was told that you are giving study material to the library, whose idea is this?” “Mine” I said “Any problem sir?” “no, no” he assured me “No problem at all, it is a great initiative. During my visit I found many students referring your notes. How much did it cost you to make the 25 sets of reading material?”

“Not much sir” I told him “I must have paid around 100-125 birr for the binding”. The VP was beaming “I am very happy that you are taking so much effort to educate my students. From now on you don’t have to worry, get them bound in the university press and I will see that you are not charged anything”. I thanked him and left.

By the time I finished two contracts I had contributed 16 sets of different reading material to the library. I had taught sixteen different subjects in four years and thoroughly enjoyed teaching each of them. Even though I taught many subjects, in hearts of hearts I loved teaching Introduction to Marketing, Sales and Distribution, Marketing Research and Strategic Management. My Ethiopian students still remember me as a ‘Marketing teacher’. 

December 10, 2017

“Google! What the heck is that?” - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post no – 36

 Terms like ‘The only constant in this world is change’ and “where are we?” “Oh at the beginning” “Where is the beginning?” “At the start” might be very good opening statements in India but would fox and bemuse Ethiopians who would take things literally.

Idioms like “steps to be undertaken to solve the problem, Paradigm shift, trying to pound square pegs in round holes’” would confuse them. I learnt to use simple language and be as graphical and pictorial as possible. I would give them both Indian and Ethiopian examples which were highly appreciated.

Whatever I said, I would write the same on the board. Most of the class rooms had two boards and I would totally fill up the entire two boards and would not erase them. This was an advice from an Ethiopian colleague. The matter on the board would be copied by many other students including many who were not even remotely connected with management education. That was the hunger for information and knowledge that the Ethiopian students had in 2002.

Back then, Google was still a new medium and not many students have heard the word!  I am told by Dr. Elefachew Mossisa that I took the entire class of B.A in Accounting to the computer laboratory and told them in a stern voice to open the internet browser and type in the word ‘Google’. He told me in an awestruck voice that it was his first experience with Google and it is still etched in his memory. I had unwittingly introduced the magical world of Google to an entire batch of accounting students!

My very neat, crisp and clear handwriting was highly appreciated. Indian teachers were very much liked by the Ethiopian students as most of them had no accent at all and were easily understandable. But the same can’t be said about the accent of the Ethiopian students. Their English was very difficult to understand and they would pronounce ‘Fifteen’ as ‘fifty’. This led to lots of confusion.

Once I grandly announced “you will have an exam tomorrow at 8.00 a.m”. There were groans and slightly loud ‘Ahs’ but I thought that they got the message. The next day I gulped my breakfast, rushed to the department, got my exam papers and went to the exam hall. There was NOBODY there, except a very forlorn looking puppy, which was horrified as I ushered it away from the class room.

I waited for half an hour and went to Ms. Addis Gedefaw in a huff. I was irritated. I reported the exam boycott to Addis. Addis was frankly exasperated and said, “Anil, get used to our timings, you said 8.00 a.m and the students have understood it as 8.00 a.m, Ethiopian Time” (which is 2 p.m. according to European Time). I was flabbergasted.

Dr. Neelima Ramakuru from the Physics department had sent an e-mail to her husband. Sending an E-mail was a minor coup in BDU at that time. E-Mails would take upto to 10-15 minutes to get transmitted. As she was heaving a sign of relief, her husband shot a reply “What are you doing in the university at mid night (1200 p.m.)” Dr. Neelima was totally nonplussed. Then it struck her. Her husband would have got an e-mail with the time stamp as 1200 hours and immediately assumed that it was 1200 in the night. Actually it was only 6 p.m. in the evening and there was light everywhere, including the University.

Working hours at Bahirdar University were a breeze. Most Indians would be allotted a load of two subjects per semester and they would be given subjects which could not be taught by the local Ethiopian teachers. Once a class was taken the faculty was free to go. So it was up to the faculty to stay in the campus or go home. As Indians had been accustomed to staying on the campus for eight hours most of them preferred to stay in the campus and work on the internet that was maddeningly slow! 

“Are you not coming to the class?” - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post No – 35

 Ethiopian Graduate students come to the university from a very vigorous schooling system. Government Universities in Ethiopia can be compared with the Indian IITs and IIMs. The students come from all over Ethiopia and are allotted seats in different universities based on their merit score.

All the expenses are taken care by the university. Typically students come to BDU (Bahirdar University) on their own but from that point onward all their expenses including tuition fees, food, and accommodation are taken care by the university.

By the time I returned back to India, the federal Government came out with an innovative scheme where all the expenses were initially paid for by the government. But the students had to sign a document promising that they would serve the government or would work in the country for a period of four years. If any of the students break the bond they would have to repay all the expenses incurred along with interest.

Students would come to the class with a single note book. Most Ethiopian students in my time would have very small and compact hand writing. I was initially puzzled but quickly understood the logic. They were conserving space! Many of my students could write one entire day’s class notes in a single page. So one note book of 200 pages would be enough to write notes for three subjects. So with two, 200 page note books they would manage to write down all the notes for the whole semester.

Most boys would wear jeans and T-shirts and on it would wear an unbuttoned shirt. The open shirt would double as a coat. Some would wear a stylish coat. Most girls would wear a western dress or a long coat.

Ethiopian students have some of the most startlingly big eyes in the world. And to go with those big eyes they had the most solemn expressions on their faces. They would simply stare, not smile, not acknowledge me and remain expression less. It was annoying and yes, it was very puzzling. The facts about Ethiopians in the book that my Brother-in-law, Sai Matam had gifted came flashing into my mind.

Ethiopians endured a very brutal Derg regime that suppressed all type of dissent. So any expression shown on the face would instantaneously mean punishment or even death during that regime. So an entire generation of Ethiopians had mastered the art of ‘dead pan expression’ on their faces. Once they trusted and liked a person, Ethiopians opened up and their faces would explode into a mosaic of expressions.

They would listen solemnly and when I made eye contact, would give a shy smile and drop their eyes. Most would not ask questions as English was not the medium of instruction till graduation and they would speak English very haltingly. They would get confused between I and you and would inter change the usage. For example one of my students asked me “Mr. Anil (they would address the faculty by name) who teaches your children at home?” I replied “my wife”, “my wife!?” he asked, I got little perturbed but said “not your wife, MY WIFE”. Seeing his puzzled expression, I simply left the issue. Some things are better as they are!

Another student came to the faculty room and enquired “are you not coming to the class?” I was totally foxed. If I said yes, it means that I would not be coming and if I say No, it meant that I would be coming to the class. But I was not very sure if the student actually understood the meaning. Giving up, I simply nodded my head and walked to the class room as quickly as I could. 

If I asked a question for which they have to give an answer in affirmative, the students would emit a soft guttural sound “ah”. Initially I thought that the entire class was grunting. Even after four years I found the Ethiopian way of saying yes, charming, puzzling and yes a little disconcerting!

I remember my first class of “Sales Management”. I wore a very formal dress and a matching tie. I was sure the students were very impressed by my persona. I cleared my voice and said ‘Good morning students” in my best voice “Let us get the ball rolling”.

There was a pin drop silence in the class! I could hear the leaves rustling from outside the classroom. The students initially looked confused but later a knowing smile came on many students’ faces. They started looking around. Then it struck me. ‘Oh my, my”, I said to myself. Not knowing the idiom “let us get the ball rolling” meant ‘let us get started or let’s start’, my Ethiopian students have thought that this strange Indian teacher was a football lover and wanted to have a game of football in the class room itself.

December 06, 2017

Indians, Education and Bahirdar University – Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post No – 34

Indians are among the most ardent travelers in the world. They have traveled to Africa too, but the reception and reputation that the Indians have got for themselves has been a mixed bag. The Indian freedom movement started in South Africa and Indians are admired and Nelson Mandela has been a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violence movement.

Both Great Leaders Dr.Abdul Kalaam and Nelson Mandela

But everything is not honky-donky about Indians in Africa. Most Indians have prospered in Africa and have made a name for themselves as traders and as businessmen. But the Indian way of frugalness and uncanny skill of making money in any situation is not very much liked by the easy going Africans. In some countries Indians were seen as exploitative and not assimilating enough with the local community.

Indians leaving Uganda in 1972
This antipathy and resentment sometimes had taken an ugly turn and Indians have been thrown out quite unceremoniously in Uganda where Idi Amin dumped almost the entire Indian community. Indian businessmen are not very much liked in Kenya and even in Zimbabwe.

But luckily, in Ethiopia most of the Indians came on teaching assignments and Ethiopians proudly say that they have been taught by an Indian some time in their life. The last Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie had been a friend of India and he was the person who encouraged Indians to come and teach in Ethiopia.

Last emperor of Ethoipia Haile Selassie with Mrs.Indira Gandhi
For a long time there were very limited number of government universities in Ethiopia and in early 2000, the Federal government of Ethiopia started many new universities and one of the newly set up university was Bahirdar University. Bahirdar University was not a new university. It was coming together of two institutes POLY (the polytechnic institute that imparted engineering education) and PEDA (the pedagogical academy that taught  Arts, Science and Commerce streams).

The new university was set up in 2001 and we were among the first foreign faculty who were specifically recruited for Bahirdar University.

Ethiopian Students
I belonged to the Faculty of Business and Economics and specifically to the Management department and there was another called the Accounting department.  The Management department’s head was Addis Gedefaw and we had another Ethiopian Teacher, Abraham. We also had a Nigerian teacher by name Ibrahim. The Management department had as many as four Indian teachers; Mansoor Ali Khan, Chidambaram, Dr. T. N. Murthy and myself.

Typical batch of Ethiopian Students 
At that time in 2002 the management department had a couple of diploma programmes, one in Marketing Management and another in Sales Management. The duration of the diploma programme was two years. In 2001 a four year course called ‘B.A in Management’ was introduced. It was quite strange to be asked to teach diploma and degree students as I was already teaching Post graduate students of Management. In India BA is not associated with management and at that time BBA was not in vogue. .  But I cheerfully accepted the challenge.

Ethiopian education system follows the American pattern which is credit based. The entire focus is on picking up credits and the credit weightage. For Example the subject ‘Introduction to Management’ could be a 1 credit, 2 credit, 3 credits or a 4 credit course.

So a one credit course is allotted 10 sessions of one hour each and a four credit course is given 40 hours. And correspondingly a student taking a four credit course in ‘Introduction to Management’ shows more interest in the subject and more respect to the concerned teacher. This was puzzling to the Indian teachers who are used to the system of standardized subjects without any difference in weightage.

The grading is based on the normal curve distribution. Students are given grades according to their position in the normal curve. ‘A’ grade is worth 4 points, ‘B’ grade is worth 3 points, a ‘C’ grade is worth 2 points and a ‘D’ grade is worth  1 point.

To pass and move on to the next semester a student has to have a minimum of 2.0 CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point  Average), which means that a student can actually get a D  (a fail grade) in a subject and still progress. All this was quite new to us but we quickly got into the flow. 

November 25, 2017

Our Garden in Bahirdar "without Hard work nothing grows but weeds" - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post No - 33

Padma next attacked the garden. The garden can’t be called a garden at all. It was a front yard full of pebbles, stones and rocks. Padma was heartbroken looking at its state. It had construction rubble too! The soil was very powdery and she doubted if anything would ever grow in it. Padma tried taking the stones away but it was a back breaking job.

Seeing her toil without much success, I hit on what I thought was a great idea. I asked Padma to ask if Mulugeta’s (The Kable’s watchman) son could help. When beckoned the young man appeared. Padma asked him “Clear the stones?” The boy looked on impassively. “Clear, Clear” Padma was getting desperate. The boy could not comprehend what Padma was asking.

Padma showed him what has to be done by actions. The teenager slowly nodded his head. Padma heaved a sigh of relief. “How much?” she asked. The boy simply smiled. This was testing Padma’s patience. She said “100 Birr!” The boy looked on. “100 birr, 100 birr,” She remembered my bargaining in the market “Aend Meto, Aend Meto (one hundred in Amharic)” Padma was blabbering by now! The boy nodded and went off.

Padma waited for three days and later told me about her experience. “I don’t think the work is worth more, I don’t know what to do!” I went to my go for person when I have any issue – Addis Gedafaw.

Addis said “Anil, I am sure that the boy must have thought your wife was joking! I am sure that the watch man gets 25 birr (Rs 100) a month as salary. So when your wife said 100 birr he must have thought she must be joking. Being a kid and that too not being very good at English, he must have simply avoided the entire issue”.

Addis told me that typically most house owners would have offered 5-10 birr. Later I came to know that the Birr has tremendous intrinsic value and that most Ethiopians earned very little.

Ethiopian Maid 
Ethiopian maids were very famous. Most local Ethiopians would give their maids 30-50 birr a month (Rs 150 – Rs 250).The Ethiopian maids would come early in the morning and would stay back till late in the evening. Some of them are so poor that they would be happy to stay permanently in the Injera house if food and accommodation was provided.

They would do any type of work. Sweeping the house, cleaning the utensils, washing, drying folding and even ironing the clothes, taking care of the children, roasting, pounding and making coffee, preparing the dough and making Injira and the different varieties of wats.

In short they are super workers! And they would do it 365 days a year. Their washing of the clothes was a sight. They would wash the clothes in a small tub and they would bend and wash very slowly and very methodically. Padma remarked “no wonder they are so slim and agile. They simply can’t put on weight when they do so much hard work”.

The Ethiopian girls who worked in expatriate homes were super special. They could speak English and some of them could even cook Indian and European dishes. Most maids who worked in Indian houses would get between 70-100 birr (Rs 350 – Rs 500) per month.

These maids would be well dressed and were very stylish in behaviour. Most of them would address the Indians by name which the Indians found very disconcerting. Most would stylishly sit at the dining table and have tea and coffee along with the family. They considered themselves as working professionals! Some of them even pursued extension courses (distance education) at PEDA.

Pranav and Sahithi on the rocky mound that Padma created 
Seeing that help was not forthcoming Padma set to do the work all by herself. She worked like a lady possessed! I saw with astonishment as the stones and pebbles slowly disappear over a period of ten days. A small rocky hillock was formed at one end of the compound.  The garden had only two small saplings, one was a mango and the other was a guava. The rocky hillock would later take shape of a rock garden!

I went out and got some Cannas from the PEDA campus. We planted them on the either side of the pathway that Padma created. It was very difficult but slowly the garden started taking shape. Later we planted some marigolds, dahlias and Zinnias. We got some rose cuttings and planted them too.

Pranav and Mrs. Anasuya Devi, Padma's mother at the rock garden (earlier the rocky mount) 
What was surprising was the strength of the soil. It was the richest soil that I had ever seen. The soil although appearing dusty and lifeless was full of fertility. The plants would shoot up and in front of our unbelieving eyes would grow fast and start flowering in no time at all.

Zinnia plants and the garden 
In one instance I plucked out fully grown marigolds and replanted them in the path way. Padma was howling her protest “they are mature plants, they would die”. To our ever-lasting astonishment they not only survived but thrived and flowered profusely.
Sahithi in the front yard of our garden
The thrown away dried marigolds seeds resulted in literally millions of small plants. It was heart breaking plucking and throwing them away as weeds! Contrast that with what happens in India. Even a humble plant like the marigold has to be bought and it would cost at least 50-60 rupees a plant.

Our pathway and Panther the black cat that was incredibly tame!
We had bought sun flower seeds in the market and Padma planted them. We were eagerly waiting to see if the sunflower plants would come out! Seeing sun flowers in our own garden would be a treat in itself. 

November 22, 2017

Bale Rejim Rejim Tse’gurua Setyo - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post - no 32

The problem with the pink house was that it was not the way we expected. The kitchen was not yet given to us and Padma was forced to cook in the drawing room. And it was quite tough as we did not have the adequate utensils. We decided to go to the main market.

We came out and took the blue and white mini bus. The fare was 55 santims (Rs 2.75). But there was a problem with the mini buses. They would be full of students of PEDA and inevitably there would be at least two or three of my own students. The students would be overcome by awe and shyness but would giggle and stare at Padma. Immediately they would whisper “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo” (thanks are due to Elefachew Mossisa for making me get the term and the spelling correct).

We thought it was quite offensive. But any how there was nothing that we could say or do, we could only grin and bear with it. We got off at the market and went on a shopping spree.

We bought a kerosene stove, kitchen utensils, plastic buckets, mugs and then kerosene. It was refreshing to buy kerosene without a ration card. Then the trouble started. All the earlier shops where we bought were big and the shopkeepers  were polite and would speak a smattering of English. 

The interior shops were manned by Ethiopians who would not speak English. Padma and me started showing them what we wanted and then started buying them in quantities that we wanted. We were getting zipped (over charged) but we had no other way.

And the crowd, they would rally around and imitate our voices and actions. It was a riot. The situation was so desperate that we wanted to give up. Then a voice spoke out “Sir, can I help?” and that too in English! I spun around violently. It was a sight just like seeing an oasis for a person who did not have a drop of water for many days! I gaped at the English speaking Angel!

The person who spoke was Tigist (unfortunately I don’t remember her full name). She was a Marketing Diploma student from PEDA and I was teaching her Sales and Marketing course. She quickly grasped the situation and swung into action. From then on the shopping was smooth as silk.

We would tell her what we wanted and show her the items and Tigist would ask, haggle and buy. I could see the difference. I started spending less and less. What we thought would take us hours got finished in a jiffy. I learnt the magical word “sintenum” (how much) and say ORRO nasally which meant ‘oh no” in a slightly annoyed way. Later I learnt to haggle and say “Habesha, Faranji yellam which meant I am a local and not a foreigner”.

We were feeling thirsty and wanted to have a tea or coffee. I had tea, Padma and Tigist had Avocado juice and it was a herculean task trying to stop Tigist from paying the bill. My extreme big built and the Ethiopian traditional respect to teachers finally made her accept my view point that I should be allowed to pay the bill.

Then the real drama started. Tigist started picking up all our bags! She effortlessly picked up bags weighing well over 20 – 25 kgs. At the same time, she looked expectantly at Padma. We did not understand what was happening.

I tried taking the bags but Tigist would not budge. I got rattled and asked “what is the issue, Tigist? Why are you not allowing me to carry the luggage?”. Tigist wailed “oh teacher, how can I let my teacher and that too a man to carry the bags. That is the work for the women folk”.

I was getting a flicker of an idea! I knew what was happening! In traditional Ethiopia, it is the women who carry the load and the man would saunter ahead and take-in the scenery. She thought it was her duty and was getting puzzled why I was so insistent.

I explained to Tigist that in India it is the man who carries the loads and that woman would walk happily behind and may be help with a small bag or two. But Tigist would not budge. She was adamant. It was a stalemate.

There was no getting around Tigist. The omnipresent crowd materialized. It was a scene from a bollywood movie. It was so dramatic and that too it was between a Faranji and a local Ethiopian girl. 

They must have thought that the Faranji was fighting or harassing the local girl, that too a university student! Some of the young men in the crowd I am sure would have started flexing their mental biceps. They were spoiling for a fight.  The situation was getting out of hand!

We started walking to the bus stand and someone suddenly blurted out “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo”. That was absolutely the final straw. I looked at the crowd and yelled “why are you being so rude, why can’t you leave us alone?”

The crowd fell silent but Tigist was puzzled “why are you shouting at them sir?” I was upset but controlled myself and said “This has been happening all the time since we arrived. We know that foreigners are fair game but this is really too much”.  

Not Padma's Picture 
Tigist’s face broke into one of the most beautiful smile “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo is not making fun sir. They are complimenting your wife. The phrase means lady with long hair. They simply love your wife’s dark black hair”.

Padma at that time had very long and luscious hair that would at least be 4 - 4.5 feet long. For Ethiopians who are used to seeing short and curly hair, long black hair would have appeared lovely and exotic. Not understanding the language can lead to so many problems. So after that whenever someone yelled “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo”, I would grin and laugh but Padma somehow could never get used to all that extra attention.