Fighting with Ethiopia

Last week I decided to leave town, speak English for a little while, pee in a toilet, eat a cheeseburger…enjoy the finer things in life. On my way to Hawassa for the day to meet a few friends, I stopped by a suk (small roadside store) to purchase credit for my phone.  It was raining, and I was carrying about 40 pounds in the duffle bag on my back.  The small girl working at the suk was overly friendly, kissed my hand, and called me ferenji.  The norm, but I knew not to trust her sweet gestures necessarily.  After all, I was in a rush, and ready to meet my friends!  I handed the girl 10 birr for a mobile card, but when I finally got to the bus station, I realized she had only given me a 5 birr phone card.


Enter angry Amanda!  Full of indignation, I sat in my wet jeans, pulled the duffle bag on my lap, and fumed!


I come to this country to work for free!  I teach your children.  I leave my friends and family to serve you.  And you treat me like this?


So I decided to brush my feet at the door, so to speak, and continue with my trip.  I rode to Hawassa, met my friends, spoke English, peed in a toilet, and ate a cheeseburger.  All in all, a good day.


Until I arrived in Shashemene to switch busses, where the bus drivers/workers tried to charge me four times the price of a bus ticket to carry my duffle bag home.  Finally, my travel buddy, neighbor, and friend Paula had to tell me to stop calling people balegay (rude) and calm down. But really, all I could think was


I come to this country to work for free!  I teach your children.  I leave my friends and family to serve you.  And you treat me like this?


The day after I returned, I told my counterpart, Serstu, about what happened at the suk.  “It’s really not about the money, but I feel like people are always taking advantage of me here.  I don’t have a lot of money.  I don’t always know what’s going on. I don’t have a family in Ethiopia.  Why do they treat me like this?


So Serstu and I went to the suk to talk to the store owner about the incident.  And then, an unbelievably redemptive thing happened.  “My daughter told me about what happened on Friday,” Abbansuki, the store owner said.  “She said that when you left, she realized that she made a mistake.  I am sorry.  Please excuse me.  It will never happen again.”


With that, Abbansuki gave me a 5 birr note and shook my hand.


And later, I felt the way I did after I fought with the workers at the bus station, sitting in the front seat of a packed minibus, seeing rolling pastures of farmland, forest, and livestock.  Clouds so close it seemed like you could touch them, breathe them into your being.  Light after a rainstorm, real and fresh and unadulterated.  A type of beauty that isn’t easy, but present.


It’s hard to be mad at this country for too long.


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