“Let’s stop in here,” Tedros suggested to his young son, Dawit, pointing to a small café. “I’m hungry.”
“Yeah, I could eat,” agreed Dawit. “Plus, it will help us pass some time while we have to wait for this darn bus” he added.
It was early evening on a Sunday in the middle of August. Tedros and Dawit were returning home from a long day of work at the family’s small electronics repair shop. Having travelled by foot a long distance in the unforgiving heat, with the sun beaming overhead, they now eagerly looked forward to a cold drink, small snack, and some cool confines. “We’ll sit over here,” Tedros stated, pointing to an unoccupied table located near the entrance and facing the large Samsung television stationed above.
The small, neat café was empty, except for a group of what appeared to be tourists congregated at a table near the back. Dawit settled down, swatting away some flies. Tedros slowly ambled to the washroom to rinse his hands and wash the sweat from his face. “Order whatever you want, and I’ll have a Fanta and panino,” he instructed Dawit.
Dawit nodded while his eyes and attention were glued to the football highlights running on the television screen. As Tedros returned to join his son, his stomach growled, announcing his deep state of hunger. He hadn’t eaten anything since the early morning, which now seemed a distant memory. Although it was Sunday, a day traditionally reserved for prayer, relaxation, and visits to family, friends, weddings or baptisms, a house full of kids and countless obligations meant Tedros simply had to work. The day was hectic. There had been numerous visitors to the shop and little opportunity to take a break. Sighing deeply as he sat down, he asked Dawit, “Did you order, yet?”
“No,” Dawit responded. “No one came yet.”
Slightly surprised, Tedros turned his head, trying to flag down an employee. Oddly, none seemed to be around. Furrowing his brow, he turned back to Dawit, whose eyes were still transfixed upon the television, reassuring his son, but also himself, “They’re probably just busy in the back. They’ll be out any minute now.”
After nearly ten more minutes, and still yet to have placed an order, Tedros began to get impatient. He clapped his hands loudly. No success. Shaking his head in frustration, he turned around again to seek out an employee. “What the heck do you have to do to get some help around here,” he muttered to himself quietly in disgust.
Scanning the back of the café, gaze shifting from side to side, his focus zeroed in on the table of tourists. Their large backpacks, adorned with colorful patches and pins, were sprawled out on the empty chairs surrounding their table, and everyone had a large bottle of beer in their hands. They were speaking loudly in Italian and the conversation was accompanied by manic gestures, sporadic bouts of hysterical laughter, and regular pauses for selfie photos. Tedros watched them intently, slightly envious. “Man, I could so use a cold drink right now,” he thought to himself.
His attention then moved to the end of their table, where he noticed a large stack of dishes; the scraps of food, leftover condiments, half-eaten vegetables, and chicken drumstick bones served as evidence of a recent feast. “Dad, where’s the waiter?” Dawit asked, tapping his father’s leg in annoyance, no longer concerned with the television.
Just as Tedros was about to turn around to respond to his son, a short, balding man made his way out of the back and took a seat among the tourists, passing out several more bottles as he did so. While the others at the table were clearly foreigner tourists, he was a local.
“Does he work here? Maybe this is some sort of self-serve spot?” Tedros thought to himself, slightly puzzled.
“Dad, when can we order? I’m hungry,” Dawit persisted, now grabbing and shaking his father’s arm, breaking his train of thought.
“Um…soon,” Tedros responded, continuing to focus on the table at the back.
To him, it was clear the “local” man was not an employee. He was pounding back the drinks and looked to be a part of the group. As Tedros arose from his seat, finally having decided to leave, he briefly made eye contact with the local man. Placing his bottle on the table, the man got up, pushing his chair back, opened the door to the kitchen, and loudly called out, “Hanna, get out here. We have some customers.”
Tedros was taken aback. Changing course from the front exit and toward the back of the café, he approached the man, questioning him sternly, “You work here?”
“Work here? I am the owner,” responded the man with a mix of pride of bewilderment, arms folded and resting upon his protruding belly.
“Really? And you didn’t see me and my son waiting there patiently?” Tedros replied. “You didn’t even offer us a glass of water. Even a simple menu,” he continued, his irritation increasingly palpable.
“Sorry,” the man responded, almost sneering. “I was busy helping other customers…but now Hanna here will help you.”
He turned back to sit with the tourists who, engaged in joking and drinking, had been largely oblivious to the discussion.
“Ah, I see,” Tedros stated in disgust. “Shame on you,” he added, pointing at the man and with his voice rising. “You see, your problem is that you think you are someone you are not. You think you’re laughing with the group here…one of the boys. No. They are laughing at you. People respect those who respect themselves.”
With that, Tedros grabbed Dawit’s hand and led him out of the café.
So, what exactly happened at the café? The same thing that occurs every day in countries across the Global South.
Such as when Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first prime minister, closed his speech at Nigeria’s independence ceremony with the words, “God Save Our Queen”. It’s the same thing as why phrases like, “tsaeda getzu, tsaeda libu,” and “kei kem ade Mariam,” remain so prevalent in our own society. It is why, no matter where you go, a white lie is excusable, and a black lie is all that is wicked. It is what Lula, former leader of Brazil, meant in describing, “Many times here in South America, we had governments that were subservient. Many times, it was also the same with the elite. Everything American was good, everything European was good, everything Japanese was good. Everything that was ours was worthless.”
Colonialism and imperialism did not function merely through suppression and violence, but through the export and institutionalization of external or foreign ways of life, organizational structures, values, interpersonal relations, language, and cultural products. Although seemingly long gone, confined to history, colonialism and imperialism remain potent and continue to have an impact.
As Fanon (1973) has evocatively written, the cultural encounter with the colonized created a long-lasting Caliban complex, an internalized sense of inferiority that lingered long after the colonialists had returned home. In the same way that the café owner completely neglected his local customers, brushing them off and assigning them a “lowly” local employee, while he attended to the tourists, “The colonized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country’s cultural standards. He becomes whiter as he renounces his blackness, his jungle” (Fanon 2008: 9).
However, respect comes to those who respect others. And, of course, to those who respect themselves.