Most Ferenjis agree that the single most annoying thing about living in Ethiopia is
not the cockroaches, or the dusty roads or even the lack of cheese - it is the hassle. This
is the term we use for all the attention we receive. It includes staring, pointing,
shouting, following, and even the throwing of small objects. Whenever I step foot outside my
front gate, I am certain to be inundated with attention. Much of it, particularly in my
neighbourhood, is very friendly. Barefoot children run up to shake your hand and say hello. Most
days this is quite pleasant.
But the attention is never ending. A short list of things that are shouted at me:
"You, you you"
"Ferenj, Ferenj, Ferenj"
"Money, money, money"
"Where are you go?" - As an English teacher trainer this one is always quite distressing!
"Hey guys" - but only when I am alone. See above.
"Are you fine?"
"Howareyou?" - always said as one word.
"I love you"
"Sarah" - the two volunteers before me at the college were called Sarah.
"Give me one birr"
"What are you?" - this is my all time favourite.
How I respond depends on the type of day I am having. If I am generally in a good mood, it
is easy to understand the reason behind the hassle. To most Ethiopians, all white people
are zillionaires, so asking me for money must be worth a try. And of course most
people do not understand my motivations for being in Ethiopia; some assume the worst. Under
the previous regime, The Derg, Ethiopia was quite closed to the rest of the world. There
just arenít that many foreigners living in the country, and very little
tourism, so I am very exotic.
On a bad day, the hassle can get quite frustrating. One of my particular pet peeves
is children in private school uniforms shouting "money, money, money". It seems that years of
aid money has had some very negative effects. And the hassle always has the effect of
reminding me how different I am, how I will never really fit in to this society.
As a woman, I seem to get a different sort of hassle than Keith generally gets (although
sometimes men shout "I love you" at him too). I am very attractive to men here. I
literally stop traffic. One day on my way to work a big truck full of men in the back
crossed to the other side of the street where I was riding, stopped and all the men
proceeded to regale me with enticing offers. I have learned to be quite cold, rude even
and also that being married is not enough to dissuade an attentive man; I have to
make it clear that my husband lives in Awassa with me.
When we walk around after dark, particuarly on nights when there is no electricity
and it is very, very dark, we can surprise people with our ferenj-ness. We can come right
up to people and only then do they realize and shout in a very surprised voice, almost
as an after thought at this point, "Ferenj!". It is like having a Romulian cloaking
device. (Star Trek reference, nothing Ethiopian in case you were worried about having missed
something for the upcoming quiz!)
After ten months of living in Awassa, many, many people know my name. Now when I ride
around town, many children shout "Lori", or "Laura" or "teacher". I respond to all of those with
a wave and a smile. On my way to work there are lots of children who used to shout "Ferenj" to
which I always responded "Habasha" (Ethiopian). Now when I cycle past, many of them
pre-emptively shout "Habasha" at me. As you can imagine, everyone, Ferenj and
Habasha alike, find this very amusing.
Hope all is well in your part of the world!