Ethiopia journal: The court room

Now this is one curious waiting room – broken chairs against the wall, a pile of papers and boards in the corner. The signs say “Silence!” in several different languages, but no one heeds them. The chatter is loud – Amharic, English, Italian, Spanish, German, and cell phone ring tones. A small metal door opens without warning every few minutes. A hush descends immediately as the clerk calls out a name. Everyone is straining to hear. You don’t want to travel 10,000 miles to spend an hour on the threshold not paying attention.

When the Americans complain about the court over here (as I have done myself), I think they must project their own image of bureaucratic hang-up that they are familiar with in the states. It is nothing like that. The infrastructure is incomparable. The court hearing takes place not in a shiny wood-paneled chamber with robes and lawyers and police officers, but in a cinder-block building above a street with goats running on the sidewalk below. Clearly our polished facade of trust, order, and stability has many advantages. Underneath it though are the same human beings, selfish and less selfish. At the end of the day, that is who you ar dealing with. A judge sitting in his tent in 1000 BC could be just as just or unjust as a whole entourage of elected social scientists.

Here, the judge was kind and soft-spoken, sitting at one end of a tiny office. She wanted every ‘t’ crossed in the paperwork, but it already was. After a quick glance, she said “She is yours” and smiled.