Roaming through Addis Ababa during orientation week of the IFP, I was often reminded of my first international development internship in Dhaka, Bangladesh four years ago. I suppose some sights, smells, and sounds are commonplace in developing cities: bamboo scaffolding supporting cement buildings frames; small piles of trash burning along residential roads; roosters from neighboring slums crowing at daybreak. Around the world, urban poverty manifests itself through similar physical traits. While these resemblances are easily recognizable in Addis, my comfort level here reaches far beyond what I felt in Dhaka. Addis air doesn’t scratch my throat with every inhalation. Almost no beggars suffer from disfigurement or maiming. Even public transportation, usually shared minivans, seems safer than shaky rickshaws.
Perhaps the most appreciated improvement in daily life, especially for a Westerner living in the upscale neighborhood of a poor city, comes from treatment by the locals. Bangladeshis were unabashedly curious about foreigners. They stared intently and sometimes snapped cellphone pictures as we crossed paths. Ethiopians welcome newcomers with friendly greetings, but generally focus their eyes ahead towards their destination. For a native New Yorker who walks fast and impassively, the social reservation feels like home.
Over the next two months I will continue to be awestruck by sandal-clad construction workers, barely averted traffic collisions, and goats herded along city highways but will take solace knowing that I myself shock nobody. Without the worry of disapproval by my new neighbors, all that remains is settling into another routine.