Thursday, May 7, 2015

Postcards from Addis

It’s been about a year since I went to Ethiopia. As part of a University of Michigan sponsored effort (EM-PACE), I spent a month teaching two post-graduate classes at the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (AAIT) and got to see, eat, and do some pretty cool stuff. I had a bunch of thoughts while I was there and even managed to write some of them down, but as you can probably tell, never quite fit everything together into a post (or posts) that I was happy with.
Welcome to Atlanta Addis Ababa
Instead, you guys get something else: sports!

During my first week in the city I noticed that an inordinate number of people were wearing jersey, kits, and other team paraphernalia. These guys weren’t repping the likes of the Ethiopian Rugby Premiership either: there was Michael Jordan, Detroit Pistons, Xavier Musketeers, and John Cena to name a few. Even the Toronto Argonauts and Phoenix Coyotes were getting love from people who had never seen ice much less a golden fleece.

At the moment, I didn’t really care about how that life-size cutout of Weezy got on the side of a van, why Mexico gifted the country a giant stone head, whether some guy meant to paint his VW beetle to look like a winged helmet, or where one finds a The Format shirt in any country.* Instead, I recognized this for what it was: the chance to use a small, non-representative sample determine the collective tastes of a nation of nearly 100 million.** By keeping track of who was wearing what over my next three weeks in country, I hoped to compile a dataset that would let me answer questions like “who does Addis Ababa root for when Michigan plays Ohio State?"

*I’m sure she doesn’t get it anyways.
**Fun fact: Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked nation in the world.
The important thing is that it came from the heart
It's not a cab but...hail?
H/t to Graham Billey for the pic
 So I bought a notebook and stuck a pencil in my hat and set a few simple rules:
  1. Each person could only account for one tally for one team so Real Madrid shorts and a T-shirt on the same person only netted one mark for Los Galacticos, not two.
  2. Tallies could only be accrued during active observation so if one of my travel mates came back with a cool story about a dude wearing a vintage 1996 Cheryl Swoops Houston Comets jersey I would have – to my eternal dismay – had to discount it.
  3. Made up teams would not have counted, but only because seeing a Space Jam jersey would have made my head explode before I was able to mark it down.
  4. Ethiopian national football (soccer) team jerseys were everywhere and didn’t count. 
It maybe wasn’t the most scientific thing I’ve ever done, but it certainly kept the 30-minute walk (or 10-minute, 5¢ taxi-van ride) to and from AAIT interesting.

And oh the data! Behold, in all its raw and resplendent glory, the data by major category:
Even more dazzling (dizzying?), separated by individual teams:
So...this is embarassing. There's supposed to be a cool picture here (trust me)
(Click to embiggen)
The first takeaway should be that Addis Ababans le gusta mucho el futbol, though I was kind of surprised that baseball got so much love (especially compared to American football). The second should be that this a whole lot of stuff. A little easier to view with things broken up by category and normalized to those category totals:
(Click to embiggen)
Feel free to peruse and find your own interesting tidbits, but I’ll share a few of my own here as well.

Forgive and forget
Italy has the ignominious distinction of being the only country to try and fail to colonize an African nation. That also means Ethiopia has the honor of being one of the few places to successfully repel a European colonization attempt.* I thought some of that bad blood might show up in team swag, but AC Milan, Juventus, Inter, and the Italian national team all managed to pull some love in the capital city. Although certainly less support than British or Spanish footy, soccer in The Boot tied with international powerhouse Brazil for third most support in the category (and fourth most overall).

*Or at least they did at the end of the 19th century. Mussolini’s invasion on the eve of WWII saw a slightly different result for the Abyssinians, but I’m going to relegate WWII-related conquests to a separate category (you’re welcome, France).

Ethiopian random is the best kind of random
Don’t take this as an endorsement of Mark Chmura – but let’s just say my roommates would have been beyond stoked to find someone repping the ex-Packer’s jersey in Haile Selassie’s city. Other wonderfully random sightings included the Confederacy (!?!), Wu Tang Clan, and a surprisingly strong showing from the Tennessee Volunteers and the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Go figure.

Everybody’s second favorite team
Maybe not anymore, but for a long time that’s how the Catalunyan superpower FC Barcelona was viewed. Their fluid style, selfless play, and stand against Fascism (more implied than explicit in the post-Franco years) made them darlings of everyone but aficionados of rival La Liga clubs the world over. Turns out Ethiopia is no exception – on the whole the country’s second favorite team was the Blaugrana, too.

Really though, we can’t conclude much at all from this data (unless you want to speculate on my sanity). As far as I’m concerned, there are only two things this exercise allows us to say for certain: (1) Ethiopians do prefer UM to that school down south and (2) Lucy – moreso than the rest of her descendants – knows watsup:
So...this is embarassing. There's supposed to be a cool picture here (trust me)
U-rah-rah indeed

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