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Help with finding info on East African culture

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As many of you know, I manage an apartment complex. I recently changed companies and the one that I manage now has a very large contingent of people from East Africa. Many of them are refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and other severely hit East African countries. I am trying to learn more about their culture and most of what I am finding is US Department of State documents and tourism reports.

What I am looking for is more info about what their day-to-day lives back home are like. Sadly, asking them is really hard as there is both a language barrier and I was informed by one of the social workers who helps many of them, that they are afraid of anyone with "authority". I am trying to figure out community building ideas as well as trying to find/set up resources for them all.  They all seem like wonderful people and I really want to help.

hmm, are there any church outreach groups that are involved in helping them?  It might also be possible to talk to somebody who has been there as a missionary or volunteer of some sort.  I do know somebody whose sister is in that region right now with a medical group. It might be difficult because there could be very different groups with different languages/traditions/cultures/concerns all in the same area.  I imagine it is very possible to have two Ethiopian families who seem quite a bit different culturally, for example.

The embassy or consulate usually has good information. Check if they have a website or give a call - there should be someone who helps to integrate the immigrants with the local society.

They may be a bit wary of church groups as well as authority figures.

Ethiopia has a religiously mixed population, with about 2/3 Christian and 1/3 Muslim. The Christians are mostly members of the Ethiopian Coptic Church, which has a very long history indeed. They may not feel comfortable with approaches from other churches, but this would depend on how the approach was made.

Somalia is mostly Muslim, and again they might feel a bit awkward about approaches from church groups.

I've got some experience of working with and alongside Somali refugees. The people I've met have usually been rather quiet and shy. They have usually been through some very unpleasant experiences before getting away. You might want to be a bit cautious about asking questions about families, as some of them may not have heard from them for a long time and be desperate for news. It could be a painful subject, so tread carefully.

I think possibly your best option might be to contact agencies helping refugees (especially those which offer a drop in service for them to meet) East African community groups in your area, or see if there is a Mosque or Ethiopian Coptic Church nearby.

I've worked with Jewish Ethiopians who emigrated to Israel. this is from about 15 years ago so i don't know anymore what is relevant.

I don't know if the Jewish Ethiopians have the same cultural characteristics as non-Jewish, but what we found was:
*many came from small rural villages but some also came from big cities so there can be a difference in education levels. for example, in the school where i worked, there were children who didn't have the concept of numbers (other than, 1, 2 and many) and there were children who had gone to school so the gaps were big.
*because of a lot of different cultural/political reasons, many people are used to having "the government" take care of things so they may not understand the concept of being proactive.
*people lived in clans/groups (family based); there is a hierarchy in the community - "the elders" are respected and revered. anyone who is thought to be 'older' or 'in charge' will probably be treated with the same kind of respect. I wouldn't say it's exactly a fear, though, more a quesiton of respect.
*it was considered tacky to brag about yourself so some people might not be able to answer a question like "tell me about yourself".
*something that may appear like "stubborness" but is a reluctance to say that something is wrong,or that *you* made a mistake. example - in the school where i worked, the kids had chores. This was a Jewish/orthodox school that followed Rabbinic Law (which is what modern Jews follow). this is different from Biblical law (which is what Ethipian jews were following). so on the Jewish Sabbath (friday evening to saturday night) no "work" is allowed, but there are chores that according to Rabbinic Law you are allowed to do in specific prescribed ways. however, one student didn't know about the difference between the types of laws - all he knew was that we were trying to force him to do something that he believed was not allowed. however, he couldn't *say* to us "you are making a mistake" so he refused to do the work (which his group leader saw as a *behavioral* problem but luckily the social worker stepped in and spoke with the kid and realized it was a *cultural* problem.)


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