On the way to Adama, we had about 2 hours in the car with our Ethiopian collegues. I had gotten to know most of the group on my last trip, but Abraham was newer to the organization. I am sure he would have rather slept this warm Sunday afternoon away, but he got stuck near me in the van and we started talking.
Abraham is a smart, hard working man with a great sense of humor. I also learned he had a lot of curiosity about the States… I encouraged his questions, as I am very curious what people might want to know about our country.
Here are some of Abraham’s (and other’s) questions
Roller Coasters: this was an easy topic for me since I had spent the last 8 days in Disney World, but how do you explain Amusement Parks to a 30 year old Ethiopian man? We tried to described the different types of “rides” and we all had different opinions about what we like and didn’t. Abraham’s eyes lit with excitement and curiosity… What I would not give to go on a huge coaster with him for the first time!
Black People: I have noticed that a lot of African people have this idea that they could come to American and all would be wonderful. It is so hard to explain prejudice to them. There is prejudice against Black people, and there is prejudice against immigrants. They do not seem to understand, many of my friends there think that discrimination is a “thing of the past”. How do you help someone understand the historical context and explain to them how Americans still get it wrong so much of the time….A few of my friends say back to me: “But we will be in America, with JOBS, WORK, a home, what does it matter…” But I know it does and it will. I know there are prejudices in Ethiopia and of course in Africa, look at the genocide surrounding the borders of Ethiopia…But in their mind America is still the land of Milk and Honey and they can not fathom anything bad there… (I guess it is how I think of England where everyone goes for fish and chips and says “God save the Queen” and watches “football” in pubs, and wears trendy hats and drinks tea”) It is easy to glamorize what we do not know…
Slang: We then started talking about slang, which lead to ebonics. I tell you what, it is pretty funny to try to teach slang words and ebonics to people who English is a second language and have no context for the slang. By the end of the car ride we had explained IDK, BFF, GTK, LOL and others… we moved on to such things as “baby mama”, “make it rain”, was’sup… and I know there were many more, but you get the idea…
Salary was also a popular topic, but we could not just talk about salary with out also talking about expenses. This brought us to debt and how so many Americans leave beyond their means. This is impossible in Ethiopia. Loans are almost non existent as is credit. This was a great discussion about is a “rich” person really rich if they live beyond their means?
And after we talked about rich, we discussed poor, especially homeless people. We discussed the drug and alcohol problem that can lead to homelessness as well as mental illness.
Which somehow brought us to walking. In Ethiopia you walk EVERYWHERE. They can not get over that in American you rarely see people walking. The 2 people in the car who had been to America just could not get over the fact that highways and roads were absent of people walking. Just as we can not get over how highways are full of people walking!
This brought us to the weather. We had to explain how different parts of the country have different weather and how different people like different weather…In Addis it is 70-80 degrees and sunny pretty much every day, except in the rainy season where it is only partly sunny : )
We wrapped it all up with Abraham wanting to know about History, specifically historical sites. It is ironic discussing American History with and Ethiopian, who lives in one of the oldest countries in all of time… So we talked about civil war battle sites and the east coast where people can go to see places related to the constitution, declaration of independence and so on. Then we tried to describe “ghost towns” and “out west” history. We discussed how many Americans like to take vacations to National Parks, mountains and oceans. It reminded me how much diversity in our terrain we have. Really, with in 24 hours I can be to an Ocean, a mountain, a cave, or a major historical site of my country. Or I could go to Canada : )
How 3 Midwestern white girls ended up explaining all of America to 3 big city African boys (and 1 girl) I will never know, but I hope we did it some justice!