Fulbright Experience in Ethiopia

In 1993, I was awarded a Fulbright grant to Ethiopia where, in the ’60’s, I had done my initial fieldwork in the remote highlands of Ethiopia for my doctoral work at the University of Chicago.

With my wife and two sons, five and eight years-old, I set off for Ethiopia, this time, in the capital city at Addis Ababa University.  My over-arching project was to establish a Master’s Program in Social Anthropology.  There, with my Ethiopian colleagues, I developed a curriculum of courses and supervised the ethnographic research of my students.  I had 26 highly motivated male students, and one German woman, ranging in age from mid-20’s to 50’s. We had access to two Land Cruisers donated by a Norwegian Foundation, that we used to travel to the far reaches of the country where each student would choose an area and a people to work with.

In the course of our first year I also created an anthropology library from a large pile of books lying on an office floor plus books supplied with a Fulbright book budget.  With the help of my students I launched six major research projects:  1) I researched the evolution of Addis Ababa in the Kennedy library, which is now a published book.  2) I embarked on a two-year investigation of prostitution, an issue of critical social significance, which resulted in a few journal articles.  My students were helpful accessing the women and girls and assisting in a fine-grained translation of their experiences.  3) We interviewed aging women and men on their experience of growing old in the city.  One of my undergraduate students successfully wrote his B.A. Thesis on this topic.  4) Of personal interest to me, we  studied the Rastafarians in Shashemene, who had migrated from Jamaica.  My first fieldwork, in 1965, was among the Rastas of Kingston, Jamaica; and now almost thirty years later, here they were in Shashemane, to the south of Addis Ababa in an established community.  5) One daring Amhara student worked among what National Geographic once called “the most ferocious people on earth”, the Afar nomadic pastoralists of the Danikil Desert. In order to insure his safety we had to enlist the protection of the elders, who protected him from the young men seeking trophies of manhood.  6) The entheogenic plant ch’at or khat is chewed widely in Ethiopia, and is a multi-million dollar export industry to the Middle East.  One of my students did a fascinating study of this plant, its psychogenic effects, and the attitudes and meaning this plant has for its users.  These were the studies that I was directly connected with.  Other students found their peoples and research problems to work on and all were successful in achieving their Masters Degrees.

Two full years of profound learning on both a cognitive and emotional level led me to write a Memoir of some 662 pages that I cut to 317 pages, which included my 2005 Fulbright Specialist award; this book is not yet published.  My 2005 award was for the establishment of a social science program at Bahir Dar University in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, at the foot of Lake T’ana.  This university, at that time, was too impoverished to have a working library in social science, but I did present a series of lectures on proposal writing and funding strategies and did a study of the status of women in this region.

Suffice it to say that my research from the late ’60’s, mid-90’s, and in 2005, has infused Ethiopia into my blood and I still have connection and communication with my friends in Addis Ababa and beyond.

-Dr. Ron Reminick, Professor Emeritus, Cleveland State University

 

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