Cris in Ethiopia

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Posted by Cris on June 18, 2007

When I am outside the USA I generally try to play the part of the guest: I am the outsider, I dont understand many things, and I am generally in the wrong when there is a conflict. This makes things easier so that I dont have many conflicts. I ignore people who say things that I cant understand,  I try to be funny and diffuse situations where I feel uncomfortable. I see humility and deferrence as a price that must be paid when I am somewhere else.

An entry fee, if you will.

But lately Ive been wondering how long this should go on. I live here, I work here, and I feel like I understand a lot of what goes on when I am out and about.

At least when it is something that I do often enough to know what is right and what is not normal.

To put it simply, Ive been feeling a bit surly lately.

Why should I have to put up with people trying to swindle me, give me the wrong prices, and play me like an idiot?

Its hard sometimes to distinguish between what is honest ignorance or curiosity: “Mister- where you go?” and targeting, but a lot of the times its very easy: “Sure, we will give you a ride. No problem.” (Five minutes later) “Contract, right? 100 birr?”

I try to stay calm, as I honestly believe that confrontation is never a good answer. But sometimes…

My question is this: at what point does a place become “yours”

enough that you can really let someone have it for messing with you?

I know, surely not after 4 months. But Ive been wondering.


A funny story: I was waiting for a taxi the other day, with a group of people, as the taxis were for some reason not coming

at their usual 5 per minute rate. When the taxis come after a wait like this its generally a race and shoving match to see

who gets in. Well, I timed it right this time and got in the front just as a guy got out. “Yes!” I thought. As the taxi started driving away, I heard comments coming from the back, about me. I couldnt understand, but I assumed that they were talking about how wily I was to slip into the front. “Yeah, thats right.” I thought, “Im a farenji and I took the front seat. Too bad for you!” Well, after a minute or so the whispers didnt stop. Glancing over my shoulder I saw the same man whose seat I took, and sitting next to him a very pregnant woman. They both looked less than happy. Thats when I realized that I wasnt wily, I was a jerk, and Id taken the front seat the man was vacating and nobody else was taking for the benefeit of the pregnant lady. Good work, Cris.


Here is a link to an interesting story on Ethiopia in the NYT:


2 Responses to “Manners”

  1. Rob said

    Interesting observations. I think that after 4 months of living there you *are* entitled to expect to be treated as a local. As you point out, you live there, you work there. Maybe it takes years before you blend into the fabric of the community but you don’t deserve to be treated like a tourist.

    Unfortunately, appearances are likely the first social filter that they are applying. Unfortunately your little misadventure in the taxi didn’t help 🙂 Don’t you hate it when you finally decide to be a bit more assertive, take control and it goes terribly wrong? It must have been quite embarrassing to realize your mistake. You didn’t mention if you tried to rectify it by asking the driver to stop and changing seats with the woman…

  2. AD said

    Hey, kiddo, don’t beat yourself up about your misstep with your chosen seat; that type of thing can happen anywhere. The only unfortunate thing is that your actions will be remembered a little longer by those who shared the cab. Life goes on.

    We miss you!

    xoxox to you and Amy.

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