When my friend and I arrived in this village in the Amhara heart of Ethiopia we encountered a very curious group of boys. Soon after making acquaintances, we were led to their film theater: a tiny, dark, hot room filled with two dozen village folk fixated on an ’80s Indian movie on a 20-inch tele. Most intriguing was their subtitles: an elderly Ethiopian gentleman standing next to the tele and live-translating the movie for the entire audience!
After having to verify the accuracy of his translation, I emerged back into the sunlight only to be lured into a ping-pong match by some boys. Having played a lot in my childhood, I felt fairly confident accepting the challenge.
But this turned out to be no ordinary game. For the growing crowd of spectators it became a matter of national pride—a contest of ‘Ethiopia vs. India.’ My young opponent soon took the lead in our race to eleven points, while the spirited crowd cheered him on. Still, despite a dearth of rubber on my shoes or my bat, I managed to spring back, point by point climbing my way to a tie at ten points. The young ‘Ethiopian lion’ turned gritty, as if resolving to vanquish me. In this moment of high tension in this remote village, his young comrade turned to my counterpart and imparted breathless instructions, “don’t play with the reputation of your country.”