When we are Ferenji (foreigners) it seems like our interactions with people are polar opposite. People want to do everything for us, ask us questions, serve us quickly, open doors for us, carry our bags… you name it. Often in trainings, we are considered experts just because we are American. On the other hand some people try to take complete advantage of us.
Last night at dinner we ordered a bottle of wine. We asked for a specific wine, Kemila, and we were brought something different. I asked the waiter about it and he said “it is the same thing” I did not believe him so I said “Really? You promise?” He said “Yes, it is the same” and pointed to the Amharic words on the bottle. One taste made us realize it was not the same. So we asked our Ethiopian friend to figure out what was going on. The waiter admitted it was busy and he did not have time to change it out so he just gave us what he had. The manager then gave us the bottle we ordered. He assumed that since we were Americans we would not notice. He does not know that Kamila is our favorite wine and all we drink here.
At the airport a man just started helping us with luggage. We did not ask for help. But he insisted. I figured we would need to tip him, but not much. By the time we were through he was asking for 20 USD. Crazy man! I am not giving you 20 USD when we did not want you to help us. I gave him 20 Birr which is the equivalent of less than a dollar ( a typical tip here is 5-10 birr, so even 20 was a lot). He was so mad. I think he believe because we are Ferenji he can take advantage.
Today while we were shopping, we were followed by 3-4 boys who were begging for money. They would not leave us be no matter what we said. When we finished we gave them each a granola bar as we got in the car. As we were driving away they stuck their tongue out at us. They kept asking us to buy them food and we gave them food, it was clear they just wanted money.
Last night, at the Meskel festival, we were allowed to go past the guards to take pictures and be closer to the activities, but the Ethiopians were not.
In different areas of the city we are looked at differently. Right now we are staying near the Canadian Embasy and I think they are used to white people. No one gives us a second thought. In other areas of town people stare. They smile, they shake hands, they try out their English. We were at a coffee shop tonight and there was a little girl all dressed up in a silver sparkly dress. I said to her dad “butum konjo!” (so cute!) and he said “Really? Are you sure? You think so?” Jill and I assured him we thought she was beautiful. He seemed so taken aback that Americans would think his daughter was cute. And she was!
I remember a client of mine talking about time he spend in Albania. He is a doctor and would go there and hold clinics to see the children in poor and rural areas. He said most of the children that came to see him were totally fine, and he would tell them this and then tell them how beautiful the child was. After a week of this he realized that most parents just wanted an American to tell them their child was ok and pretty.
I really is astounding the power we have just being an American. I get smiles from people, just because I am white. I get questions from people, just because I am white. People say “I love America!” and I say “Have you been?” and they always reply “No”. I just want people to realize how rich their culture is here. How in America, yes, we do have a lot, but it is far from perfect. All they know is t.v. I tell you what, if my life was like t.v. I would love America too! And speaking of American t.v., we were at dinner tonight and they were playing MTV on the television. The Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball” song came on. The music was dubbed over by and Ethiopian song, but there she was, in all her glory, swinging on her ball and doing all the other bizarre things she does in this video. I think we have no idea how we influence people. I do not think America, Americans, understand the impact they make on the world. The ethics and values that the media portrays is so disgusting. I cannot convince a person that America is not perfect.
Jimi Hendrix said: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.”
Emerson said: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
We have a huge responsibility and we cannot overlook it. We have to be real about what are lives our like. We have to share our struggles. We have to admit that many of our success’s have not had positive results. We have to admit that we have so much to learn from the world. We have to give more than we do and with a heart of love, not of tax breaks. We are 95% of the richest people in the world. And we do not look around. We do not fully understand our responsibility. I should not be given credit based on my nationality. I should be given credit based on my talent, my choices, my personality, my passions and my love.