If you were an ordinary person in Ethiopia, what would life be like? Ethiopia has towns and even big cities, but most live in the country – and most are also Christian – so I take that point of view in what follows:
Work: Men farm, women cook, keep their children clean and looking nice, pound grain into flour and look for cow dung and wood for the family fire. Older girls look after children, older boys look after sheep. Most families have about a hectare of land (less than three acres). All water has to be carried back from the nearby well, something that falls to women or children.
Work hours: Men work 80 hours a week, women 126 hours. You are supposed to take Saturdays and Sundays off, but how many do?
Pay: $123 a year (in 1998. That comes to 3 crowns a month, which is just what shepherds made in Shakespeare’s time). Most Ethiopians grow their own food, build their own houses and so on. Their wealth is in their animals: cows, chickens, sheep, etc. Like Jack in the Beanstalk, they sell one when they need money – for things like salt, coffee, oil, pots and clothing.
Housing: A small, two-room house. One room to store food, the other room for everything else. There is a fire that is always going. No electricity or running water.
Transport: Walking. The nearest market is one to three hours away on foot.
Dress: You have one change of clothing, maybe even ill-fitting, second-hand clothing at that. If you go to school, you get a second change.
Food: Bread, maybe with egg and vegetables. Meat on special occasions. Everyone eats from the same dish with their fingers.
Family life: Families are big. Ethiopian women have about seven children. As a child you grow up near your cousins, aunts and uncles.
Holidays: Christmas, the Baptism of Jesus, Good Friday, Easter and the Feast of the Cross.
Education: Only a fourth of all children regularly go to school. School is free, but schoolbooks, school supplies and school clothes are not! Early schooling is in your own language, but to go further you need to know Amharic or even English because that is what the books are written in!
Entertainment: Mainly visiting and storytelling. Most people cannot read and have no electricity. Men like to sit, drink coffee and talk.
It could be worse and sometimes it is:
- Famine: Having little money and growing all your own food means that when the rains do not come it gets very bad: you can water only so much of your land by hand and sell only so many of your animals to buy food. A million people died this way in the 1980s.
- Genocide and civil war: Ethiopia is in effect an empire, so for most people their land is ruled by foreigners, and evil ones at that who are not above wiping out your kind. A quarter million have died this way in the last 60 years.