The news from Ethiopia, and why I’m bad at taking vacations

My European friends laugh at me for taking very brief vacations, instead of the month-long holidays they favor. (Actually, the Rabbi and I are about to disappear for six days to exotic, far-off Maine.) The truth is – I’m afraid of email. Were I to actually go offline for a few weeks, would I need to declare email bankruptcy, ala Larry Lessig? Turn off email altogether, like danah boyd? Or do what most of my friends do and bring a Blackberry with them, sneaking clandestine glances while on the beach?

And then there’s the blogs. And the news. Even if you keep up with the incoming email, that doesn’t prevent the rest of the world from moving on without you. Take the experience of my friend Andrew Heavens:

Andrew returned to Ethiopia from his holiday in Europe and discovered that:
– Blogs were no longer blocked by the national telecom company
– Flooding has led to a malaria outbreak and minor cholera epidemic
– The nation is making warlike noises towards Somalia and facing Eritrean troops massing on its border
– The government is executing fighters from the Ogaden National Liberation Front

As he puts it, “…when you come back from a month-long break and all this hits you in one day, you can start to feel a little overwhelmed.”

In the overwhelming news from Ethiopia is a fascinating “tale of two Ethiopian books“, which Andrew wrote up for Global Voices. One is a text by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, where he argues that “…the neo-liberal paradigm is a dead end, is incapable of bringing about the African renaissance, and that a fundamental shift in paradigm is required to bring about the African renaissance.” This is probably not good news for countries like the US and the UK which have lionized Zenawi as an example of a progressive African leader… until his troops started shooting demonstrators in the streets.

Garnering much more attention than Zenawi’s book is “Dawn of Freedom”, by Dr. Berhanu Nega, an opposition politician and the mayor of Addis Ababa… until he was thrown into Kaliti prison in treason charges, a popular charge for Ethiopian opposition leaders these days. The book – written while Nega was in prison and smuggled out to be published in Uganda – has evidently sold more than ten thousand copies, and copies were selling in Addis for three times the cover price. For those of us who don’t read Amharic, Ethio-Zagol has a close reading, review and background on the book, complete with the abusive, anonymous comments that accompany any online Ethiopian political discussion.

By the way, the reason I found Andrew’s post on Global Voices? David Sasaki’s daily digest, which is the only way I can navigate the amazing volume of content our project creates every day. I highly recommend subscribing so you can find the best five stories we run each day – there’s at least one tale this convoluted and interesting every week.

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3 Responses to The news from Ethiopia, and why I’m bad at taking vacations

  1. zephoria says:

    You’d be surprised how nice it is to come home to ZERO email. The addiction to email, blogs and being always connected it intense but the withdrawal symptoms are only bad for 2-4 days. And then you let go and it’s surprising how nice it is to be completely free of people contacting you.

    I’ve done it twice now. When i came back, i asked a connected friend for a synopsis of the most important news of the last month. It was great to see the news boiled down. Sure, you miss some things but you’re more effective when you’re sane and that requires breaks.

  2. Ethan says:

    I have no doubt that you’re right, danah, and I’ve pointed dozens of people to your post, suggesting they go on email leave the next time they take a serious vacation. The real question for me, I think, is how to take those “real” vacations – making the choice to truly disconnect for at least several weeks. This year, the vacation is only six days for a whole bunch of external factors too complex to ennumerate – I’m planning a danah-style long break in, oh, 15 months or so… :-)

  3. sokari says:

    I know the feeling – slight panic that you will miss someting, the addiction to blogging, your 1000 plus emails – you would be surprised to see how soon we are forgotten himmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

    Take a break – the world will still be there when you get back and if it isnt then it wont matter anyway!

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