25 November 2012

Ethiopia: Thumbs Up Africa Blog 8 - All Roads Lead to China

Photo: Elizabeth Mbundu/RNW
Sierd van der Bij, Neda Boin and Christiaan Triebert - Dutch hitchhikers in Africa.

opinion

Yabelo — We hitch a ride with a group of Ethiopian engineers and they give us shelter. Next thing I know I’m in the middle of southern Ethiopia’s breathtaking nature, in a luxurious compound alongside what is still a bumpy road.

A small settlement on the other side of the compound attests to these words. Inhabitants from the region are hoping to earn money by selling coffee and tea to the workers. That number of merchants is growing.

“Of course,” says Abrham, “they discovered that they can make money by selling small goods and services to the Ethiopian and Chinese workers.

Imagine what will happen when hundreds of people pass by every day as soon as the road is finished.”

Little village That little village was established as soon as the workers got into their comfortable compounds. But even after a year, they are not that friendly towards the foreign workers. A Chinese engineer passes by and the laughter starts.

“They eat dogs!” a man yells. “They are crazy. They cannot even talk English.”

Abrham tells me about their 25 or so Chinese colleagues. “There are many obstacles with the Chinese,” he says. “Language is the biggest one. They don't speak any English, so we have to communicate with hands and feet.

That is terrible if you are constructing a road. Apart from that, they're not willing to share their feelings. That is in contrast with our open culture,” says Abrham with a faint smile on his face. “We do need friendship to work together, but communication frightens them.

That's sad, really sad.”

A first But the student is not negative about China's presence in the continent.

“I believe they are doing a good job. Furthermore, they are here because of their abilities. They are also a cheap working force, let's not forget that.”

Being the highly educated, eloquent and enthusiastic guy that he is, Abrham surprises me when he says he has never before spoken to a farangi, a white man.

“There are some tourists I saw, but I never spoke in depth with one of them,” he says. “Most of the time white guys think we, as African youngsters, are not mature, but rebellious. But we are not. Even though our skin is black, we have a bright mind.”

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