Life is Beautiful in Color – Accommodating Differences

Since war begins in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defense of peace must be constructed!” UNESCO

After staying in Jijjiga for three days, we decided to visit Somalia.  Six of us (three men and three women) went to Somaliland and I was the only woman who wore trousers and did not have scarf.

The Boarder Gate Keeperstated: “Hey lady, you cannot go to Somalia wearingtrousers and your hair uncovered.”

I said, “Why not? Iam decent.  No part of my body is exposed and I am covered all the way through, of course except my face and hands.  What is wrong?”

The gate keeper: “This is not Ethiopia. This is Somalia.”

I said, “I am definitely aware of that.”

The gate keeper: “You need to wearshitti(a piece of cloth that women put on) and cover yourself if you really want to come back alive.”

Since some of my friends have already left, I said, “Okay, I will buy from there,”and entered the Somaliland.”

I thought I would get away with it once I passed the boarder but the harassment and out loud pointing out to me continued to the extent I could not move anymore.  A lady came straight to me and said, “Go back to your country and buy shitty, and then come backcovered if you want to.

I replied, “Why wouldn’t I buy shittyfrom Somalia, the driver is gone and I cannot go back now?”

She said, “The Somalia men would not allow you to move freely.  They will stone you to death. So please go back and buy shitti to cover your hair and your trousers.”

I said, “Why would they care about my outfit? After all, I don’t belong here so why am I required to assimilate? ”

She said, “This is for your safety.”

One of us was Ethiopian Somali and knew their language.  Thus, he took me and on the way to finding a shop, he kept on telling everyone who stared at me, yelled at me, pointed fingers to show my unfitting dress code, showed hand gestures that demonstrated I was very inappropriate.  The Ethiopian Somali guy,let me call him “my body guard” had to calm them down that we were on our way to buy shitty and get it fixed immediately.  Thank God I did not listen to their harsh talks but I could see their anger from their gestures and hear their loud and sharp tone of voices.

On our wayto looking forshitty, I asked ‘my body guard’, “Why on earth they insisted that I would dress like their ladies?“

He said, “Somali men do not like seeing women uncovered.”

I replied, “Ooops! But we don’t live for their view pleasure.”

He said, “The women also accept it.  This is a longstanding culture and even the women insist that you should cover.”

I said, “This does not make it right.  Shouldn’t everyone be given a chance to choose what he/she would like to wear and women who prefer not to wear shitty, be accepted the way they are? Why would men determine what women should wear?”

He replied, “That is not tolerated in Somaliland.”

I sensed that it was not logic that was ruling our discussions, so I stopped pushing it.   Since my flight was in three hours to come back to Addis and I did not want anything to happen to me for silly reasons, I managed to buy two pieces of clothand covered my whole body including my hair.

Last week Paris has been the target of terrorist attack costing the lives of innocent people.  While thinking about where did things go wrong, I watched the CNN interview conducted with Reza Asian and his explanation made sense to me that nothing was wrong with the religions whether Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or othersper se in terms of inciting violence.   Individuals who are violent and socialized to be aggressive may have barbaric practices and they happen to be members of certain religious groups.  Instead of condemning religion, we need to focus on dealing with dehumanizing practices that violate human rights.

The horrific Paris shooting event and my trip to Somaliland prompted me to discuss how not accommodating differences can lead to abuse and human rights violations.  The thinking behind such action is, “If you are not like us, you are not supposed to exist.”

I think the beauty of this world is in its different colors.  People have different personalities, different characters, different family and cultural backgrounds, different tastes, different religion, different political ideologies, different socio-economic status, different sex and orientations,different age, different professions, different life style, different languages … which all contribute to their distinctiveness.  However, we all share one thing in common– HUMANITY.

In marriage or love relationships, some couples mistake unity in diversity to being the same in everything.  A man and a woman may think, feel or behave differently and yet can work for common good.  Fights usually come as one person or both insistthe partner should be like him/her and they demand the partner must change to live in harmony, thus demanding diffusion instead of accommodation.  Different opinions and actions may be interpreted as not loving, not caring and not obeying, hence inflicting pain on the onewho isdifferent.

In leading organizations, managers constantly deal with people who have come with different professional, socio-cultural, economic, sex, age, personality, and so forth differences.  Leading in the context of an organization to achieve commongoals needs more than tolerance.  It requires planning to create team spirit and use differences to learn from one another and build the organization.

In a country like Ethiopia with about 80 tribes and languages, differences may tear us into pieces if we do not respect each other to live in harmony with our differences.  To keep unity within diversity, differences need to be respected, managed very carefully balancing identity issues and rights, as well as juggling interests.

Throughout history, most wars were results of not appreciating differences and overpowering others to be converts by violating their rights.  Unless people exhibit tolerance for better life, over magnifying differences and priding in one’s identity to destroy the other will be detrimental to humanity. Hence, being aware of our own biases and prejudices and dealing with them is necessary for humanity demands respect for one another to survive and thrive.

Would you check your mind and learn where you need to widen your horizon?  That is where you can construct peace and enjoy dissimilarities.

Yes, life is beautiful in color so let us accommodate our differences!