Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Feast at the Horn of Africa

Last night, a group of us gathered at the Ethiopian restaurant, Horn of Africa, in north Portland. This is only my third time eating at an Ethiopian restaurant (the first time was in 1995 in Washington, D.C.; the second sometime in the early 2000s in Atlanta) and I keep forgetting how good it is! But of all the three places I've eaten, Horn of Africa has the best decor. The building is loft-style, with a private room upstairs for groups. It looked like we were inside a tent.

The purpose of the gathering was to hear Jeff's presentation on his ten weeks in Cape Town, South Africa this past summer where he measured the air quality in the townships. I learned a lot about South Africa, even though I'm quite knowledgeable about the country already. However, I haven't been to Cape Town, which is one place I hope to see some day. I had no idea that the main part of the city is in a "bowl" between Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, and that most of the people live on the area on the other side of Table Mountain, away from the ocean.

South Africa still has a lot of problems in the post-apartheid era. One of them being that young, educated white South Africans face unemployment prospects if they stay, and the temptation to emigrate abroad. This is what happens when a country has spent decades building up a system of inequality in which one racial group reaped all the benefits while the other groups were denied a fair chance. Any plan to equalize the employment is controversial, especially since the education system is still unequal.

Jeff told us a funny story about how some African was asking him about his religious beliefs. Jeff considers himself a "hardcore atheist." I had no idea that he was, as the topic of spirituality has never come up in our twice a month discussion group with the World Affairs Council. Anyhow, he said that the African asked if he went to church, what holy book he bases his beliefs on, who he prays to, etc. When he said all this, I was laughing along with everyone else, but probably for different reasons. On the Community of Christ Facebook wall, the debate about atheists in the Priesthood continues. Its amazing that people still have no idea what atheism really means. Based on comments people have made on the Facebook page, they seem to think that atheism is merely the rejection of the God of the Bible, not a "strict scientific materialist" view of the universe. So, it is not surprising that an African would be confused about what atheism means.

The dinner was a feast and I couldn't help but think of the awful joke that a few guys made in 1985 when Ethiopia was suffering devastating famine. The worst was: "How many Ethiopians does it take to fill up a bathtub? I don't know, they keep slipping down the drain." When I mentioned to someone before that I had eaten at an Ethiopian restaurant in D.C., they had asked me in all sincerely, "Did you get enough to eat?" Well, did I? Man, I was stuffed last night. No one walked away hungry.

Most of the people in the group attend the World Affairs Council discussion group, though there was one lady no one had met before. She started her own non-profit organization building schools in Tanzania. When I heard that, I was stunned, because that's exactly what Orphans Africa does, another non-profit organization based in Washington that was started by church members (in the Community of Christ). I asked if she knew about Orphans Africa and she did. She named one person in the organization that she knew. Small world! But she said that the non-profit world was small and interconnected. That's interesting to know. A friend of mine wants to start a non-profit next year, but based on helping underserved youth locally.

It was a great evening among internationally connected friends, enjoying an excellent meal of Ethiopian cuisine while hearing about the challenges facing South Africa. I could use more days like this!

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