By: Hirut Mesfin
Bethlehem Abera is the much talked about Big Brother Africa contestant of 2013. This beautiful, smart and astute girl was representative of Ethiopia in BBA house South Africa. I don’t know what it takes to be elected as a contestant to the Big Brother house but listening to Betty explaining herself on Admas Radio; it is a pretty tough competition to say the least. First, an on-line application followed by four different phases of selection; each phase, producing winners and losers just to be a contestant. Our Betty won all those phases and made it to the BBA house. This is an achievement that merits acknowledgement. Good on you!
I must admit I never watched BBA during its broadcasting. I had an overdose of it when it first came to England. Like millions of others I was hooked on it, any spare time was entirely dedicated to watching Big Brother so it was not something that interests me anymore.
However, this year BBA keeps popping up in conversations wherever I go around my circle of Ethiopian friends and family. I keep hearing this Ethiopian girl and her Sierra Leonean mate with whom she had something going on so and so forth. This was until I heard what she did live on television, apparently there were other horrible scenes or “acts” as she calls it; nevertheless this one scene was more than enough for me to understand what the whole thing is about.
When I did, all sorts of emotions were flying in my head. One minute I feel they are acting but very bad at that, another minute I am asking why she needed to do it, and then I was annoyed that they did not exactly look an item, in fact they both looked disappointed after wards. Whatever the truth, (Betty claims to be acting)! What really upset me was when she began slowly to move the sheet further down and gave the whole world the full Monty, what! I could not believe my eyes. Disgusting, nasty, cheap. You name it; I screamed it all on the screen. Why did she do that – there was no need!
After the initial shock, I questioned my own emotion. Why did I feel so angry? I am not Betty, she does not represent me or my country then I realise of course she does. May be not me but she represent our country and this is what our Betty decided to sell us as to the outside world.
The debate is raging all over the world. As they say we live in a global village and nothing is hard to reach to a village gossip of global scale. Now she is finally booted out of the BBA house, Addis Admas Radio had managed to conduct a phone interview with Betty on the phone from South Africa. The interviewer made a lot of effort to make her feel ashamed. Nop; not our Betty. She is quite defiant about her behaviour on BBA. She even has the audacity to blame her society’s lack of understanding as to what Big Brother is all about. She also pointed out the lack of internet access in Ethiopia as the reason why her people misunderstood her. Really? What has that got to do with how you chose to be shameless knowing you are going to be viewed by millions? I get it. What Betty means is we don’t understand that sex is not taboo elsewhere- on the process, showing total disregard to her country and her culture. Betty clearly sees herself as a separate entity from her culture. But is this possible? Can any one of us see ourselves any different to the society from which we emerged? I doubt very much. In another attempt to justify her action, Betty said she did what everybody is doing in private. Her arrogance is staggering.
She went on to defend herself from this national anger that has engulfed her by pointing out why all the good things she taught her room mates about Ethiopia during her stay were never mentioned. She repeated this question to the interviewer and demanded he asks his audience why this part was ignored. Oh Betty, c’mon, It is not rocket science love; even if you conduct a live surgery and saved a life and then you went on to show your vagina – as you just did, it is the latter that would make it to the News – As you have just discovered!!!
So in the grand scheme of things, who is Betty? A naïve beautiful young woman who did not realise what she has done or is she a reflection of the moral decline in our country hence shrewd enough to make a name for herself by whatever means necessary? Let’s see why I raised these questions. I have read this young woman has a BA in Biology, she has a job as an English teacher, and she appears confident certainly stunning. So why on earth would someone who has so much going for her decided to sink so low? A lot of people have come to the conclusion that is for money. The winning prize is $300,000. Betty denied this emphatically.
There are three things that I want to bring into this discussion. Materialism, Individualism and Internationalism – all of which are features of Capitalism and I will try to emphasise and link it with the story here. There has been huge wealth accumulation in the last twenty or so years in Ethiopia. Many have become rich beyond their dreams. Many more are left just salivating about what they see around them but overall, everyone wants to be rich instantly in today’s Ethiopia. A lot of people want quick and easy money. I am not talking about money for one needs or survival. I am talking about in search of riches. Women have been bought and sold for money so to speak. That is liberal capitalism for you! Wealth does not just trickle down to the lower level of society through normal economic activities as they would like us to believe but evidently, through exploitation of one kind or another.
I can tell Betty had a good upbringing. She most likely comes from a middle class back ground, where her needs and wants were met and access to good education. But, this does not appear to be enough. She is also a product of globalised world; i.e. Betty probably knows everything that happens in the US or any western city than those of us in it – such is the level of integration and awareness about Global culture in Ethiopia among the metropolitan, middle class, city dwellers. All thanks to 24 hrs television and If one is as cleaver as Betty is, there is all sorts of other things that social media can provide. Therefore, she would be constantly fed who the celebrities in the west are, what they do and how they have acquired this and the other. So here begins the idolisation of those who are faraway places and yet to the likes of Betty this feels tantalisingly close. Thanks to modern media.
All these things have a huge impact on the thinking and formation of individuals in any metropolitan city. Betty’s appearance and behaviour here is not reflective of the culture or upbringing she has come from but the culture she idolises and identifies with. She believes this sort of behaviour is the norm around those she believes are as enlightened as her. In other words (western). This she buys and what is sold to her. You are wrong Betty. Modesty is universal. Selling your body in any form of sexual act may bring fame and money but it won’t earn you any respect anywhere! This is a sad reality of the modern capitalist system. Everything is up for sale. Even your precious body is a commodity!!!
One has to listen to Betty’s interview to understand where I am coming from. I am not judging her from the outset but based on her own explanation. She pleaded that we watch what happens in the British or Aussie BB reality shows before judging her. She claims worse things to have taken place and we Ethiopians are taking this out of proportion. For your information Betty, No one before you has shown their private parts on BB to my knowledge. Even if they did, so what, must you follow such degrading path? Betty also try to teach us this is “acting” if so, such “acting” is not going to be shown in National Theatre is it Betty?“There is a name for this sort of “acting”. It is called Pornography.
You have stated about your forthcoming photo shoots. Who knows, at the rate you are going, there is all sorts of possibility. Once you show your bits, It is been known opportunities in films, modelling and advertising to have come knocking your door. Our Betty is fully aware of that and ready to exploit it. But I urge Betty to think again. What has been done is done but I believe you are better than that. My sisterly advice is, be assertive in the future. Use this experience to bring something positive that does not involve taking your kit off.
There are thousands of Ethiopian women in exploitative situations today- be it in the Middle East or at home, they have no mouth or power to defend themselves, you have. You are an intelligent girl. Why not use your abilities, qualities and your new found platform to bring positive changes to your sisters in need and your country in general. Don’t get carried away by what you believe is the norm because it is not. There are so many good things you can do that would bring you popularity in a positive and productive manner.
The writer can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org