As is the case of any individual who is visiting or new to a country, I made several observations in my first week of living in Ethiopia. Perhaps what I found most appealing was the warmth and easy-going nature of the locals in Addis Ababa. It was not difficult to strike up conversations with a wide array of people; I socialized with the shopkeepers, taxi drivers, residents of my neighborhood, and even random passerby’s. Aside from the fact that Ethiopians are very sociable, their ability to speak English has played a crucial role in facilitating communication.
Secondly, the hospitable nature of Ethiopians is something that I immediately took notice of. The first time I experienced it was when the landlady offered to prepare a traditional meal for my roommates and I. Although I declined to be polite, she insisted. Later on that day, she called everyone downstairs and had a huge spread that consisted of Injera, various kinds of Wot and the local wine, Tej. Even after serving us, she continuously offered us additional helpings and proceeded to place more food in front of us despite our insistence that we were full. My second encounter was at a café in our neighborhood. A man sitting next to me was having lunch and invited us to join him. I thanked him and declined but my roommate who was sitting with me at the table shared a couple of bites with him and that made him very happy. It has been my exposure to these aspects of the culture that has made my experience of living in a new country more comforting and allowed me to adapt to my new setting far quicker than I expected.
It appears that the gender dynamics in Addis Ababa were not as conservative as I had expected or had been told to expect. When I refer to the gender dynamics, I am talking about the interactions between the different sexes. After just a few days of being here, I got accustomed to seeing young couples holding hands and being physically familiar. Also, after asking several individuals about the nature of relationships and marriage, they all gave me the same answer. I was told that majority of the youth in Addis Ababa specifically, will have a boyfriend or girlfriend that they have met either at school or at work, but their parents cannot know about their significant other. Only when they meet their parents and ask for their hand or marriage or make the intentions of marriage clear, will their families be made aware. In the meantime however, they will go out in public to restaurants, dance clubs, etc. and be known as a couple amongst their circle of friends.
An observation that I found quite interesting was the religious makeup of the city. Although I had known beforehand that Ethiopia has a sizable Muslim population, it was surprising to find that Muslims have such a visible presence in Addis Ababa, considering that the Christian religion dominates Ethiopian culture. On my first night in the capital, I awoke to the morning call for prayer emanating from a nearby mosque. Also, I have come across several Muslim owned shops and seen Muslims walking the streets of different parts of Addis Ababa and working at some of the organizations that we have been to. Furthermore, it appears that on the surface or at the social level, the relations between the two religious groups are harmonious. I took great comfort in witnessing that firsthand and being conscious of it.
I would say that overall my experience and observations here in Addis Ababa has been positive and refreshing for the most part. For one, the food and people are great, the culture is rich and the history is profound. Not to mention that I get mistook for a local frequently, which tends to work in my favor at times. However, I struggle with having to see beggars, especially street children and the disabled, so destitute, helpless and clearly unable to access assistance from the government. In addition to the scaffolding and construction at every turn in the city, this issue is perhaps the most challenging sight to get accustomed to seeing daily. Lastly, although many people speak English in this city as I have previously mentioned, the fact that I barely speak any Amharic makes me feel disadvantaged at time, unable to grasp the full experience of living here and discourages me from exploring my surroundings at times. But I hope that over the course of the two months of being here, my knowledge of the language will increase, which will then allow me to have a more fulfilling experience here in Addis Ababa.