Friday, May 05, 2006

a ferenjwa on ferenji (or ferenjoch, however you want to put it)

Information is coveted. It feels the most acute when you see something out of place, something that doesn’t belong. There was once a segment on Sesame Street where they grouped objects and asked with a catchy tune, “which one of these things doesn’t belong?” I can say without hesitation that it’s ferenji in Ethiopia.

I am out of place here and I don’t belong. So the question becomes, why? Why is she here? I wonder the same about other ferenji I see.

One the things that’s most difficult about being here is being obvious and having attention called to it. I’m a nonchalant kind of girl and I use nonchalance regularly to try and avoid detection. It doesn’t work (I still get comments and I still get stared at) but I’m still trying. I attempt to look like a normal person walking down the street. I attempt to look super casual crossing Gotera on foot, but at the same time I wonder, do any other ferenj cross here regularly like me? I saw a girl “of my kind” (as my Ethiopian friends like to joke) yesterday near Gotera. I wondered where she was coming from. Did she just cross Gotera? What is she doing in Ethiopia anyways? Despite wanting to know all these things, despite having “not belonging” in common, we never made eye contact and ignored each other completely. It’s a funny fact that ferenji seem to ignore each other in a mutual attempt at nonchalance.

Ferenji don’t want to cause a scene. We get stared at. Two ferenji crossing paths feels more like a social experiment in a closed room with people standing around ready to take notes. People are watching to see what will happen. And so we ignore each other. Observations are made but at least we can be sure the conclusion is not “all ferenji know each other.” The other part of it is the message that ferenji in Ethiopia are no big deal. “We don’t make a big deal about each other so please don’t make a big deal about us.”

I like to think it’s humility that motivates us in this respect but in all actuality, it’s ignorance. We’re all asking a lot of questions, but there are no answers. We’re not even trying to find the answers. Being here has been very isolating for me. I need to share experiences with people who understand, who may have better ways of coping and ideas to share. It can’t happen when we can’t even make eye contact. What kind of a message is that to send anyways?

4 Comments:

Blogger Beth said...

Come home Sara :)

6:37 AM  
Blogger Dina said...

I understandfully- your "different" exterior glaringly obscuring your ordinary humaness, turning you into a zoo-specimen.
As for ferenj ignoring other ferenj- I think there's a bit of a "pioneer" spirit thing going on- "I wanna be the first ferenj to have conquered life in Addis." A bit like travellers who want to tick off Tibetan monastry life, Thai hilltribes, swimming with Wales, making "exotic" friends.
But there's plenty good ones out there- both Ethiopian and Ferenj, you just need to look beyond the bark of Addis at it's gummy old mouth.
Check out my post "stoopid attacks" posted sometime in Feb. -might cheer you up.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Great post.

I disagree about the pioneer spirit. Here in Tajikistan, foreigners are not very likely to say hi, either. We just don't want to be stared at. Everyone knows that the Russians were here first, and besides, there were thousands of aid workers during the war. Ethiopia is a mecca for aid workers. But still... you don't like to make a scene, to be picked out.

But to Sara- can't you go to a bar where all the foreigners hang out? Just wait until five, then follow the UN vehicles and see where they go. Voila, ferenji central.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

That was me, Im pretty sure. Sorry if it was rude, but its awkwardness rather than feeling like a pioneer (please) or ignorance. I dont feel like I have to share my experiences with every white person I walk past, and anyway, Im too shy most of the time.

I like your blog though and maybe on the rare occasions I cross Gotera these days (Ive moved house) we will bump into each other. Next time I promise to stop - in fact, next time I'll buy you a macchiato!

1:51 PM  

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