November 19, 2010

With a Little Help from My Friends (or Complete Strangers)

Another quick note, but once again, I want to share a little slice of Ethiopian culture…I seriously freaking LOVE it here…

In Ethiopia (or at least in my fairly large village), perhaps because of the sheer volume of people, or perhaps as a small measure of privacy (privacy is still an almost entirely western concept here, as in many places throughout the world), strangers are not expected to greet or speak to each other unless the situation warrants it, much like in America (i.e. no need to talk to everyone you pass on the street).  (Of course, as a farenji, a large number of people try to speak to me, but that’s for entirely different reasons.)  However despite this social norm, people are remarkably quick to come to one another’s aid when distressing situations occur. 

For instance, in the situation I described in an earlier blog, when a horse carrying a cart fell, a large group of men rushed to her aid, and persisted kindly helped her until she was back on her feet.  Similarly, when a minibus stalled, passers-by—even some who were quite well-dressed—immediately began pushing it to the side of the road.  On one occasion, a man began following me aggressively, trying to grab me and shouting “farenji” (something that is remarkably uncommon here—although people may try to get me to talk to them, very few are at all threatening or harassing), a total stranger ran across the street and pulled the man from me, yelling at him in Amharic, telling him that it is not okay to treat me that way.  On another occasion, I took a bajaj home from a friends’ house; we had a agreed on a price, but when I went to leave, he doubled it (again, incredibly uncommon here).  I refused to pay the extra money and he began to yell at me.  A woman at a shop nearby burst out of her shop, asked what happened, and told the man to leave, grabbing me and bringing me to my shop—she didn’t let me leave until he was out of sight, and then she walked me all the way to my door.  (The following day, I gave her a scarf and candle to thank her for her kindness—gift-giving is a common form of thanks here.)

In my short time here, I’ve witnessed similar occurrences time and time again, and each time it still creates a warm fuzzy feeling—a sense of incredible comfort and safety.  When I arrived, I asked the director of my NGO what the Amharic word for “help” was.  He told me, but quickly assured me that there was no way I would ever need to use it.  At the time, I thought he was simply trying to quiet any concerns I may have had for my safety, but now I see what he meant—it is superfluous to ask for help here; it comes naturally.

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