Ian’s Kind Stranger

[Ian is a rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill and a Morehead-Cain Scholar. He interned at Berhan Yehun from May to July 2013.]


It has been a short 8 weeks here in Addis Ababa, but I already find it difficult to recall how I reacted to everything in the first week. When I arrived, I was by no means used to city life, let alone in a city where I could not communicate with most people, and so some major adjustments had to occur. Specifically, I had to learn how to ignore tons of people every day, and I also had to learn how to use the minibuses.


On my third day commuting to work, I screwed up the transition from my first minibus to the second and ended up on the other side of the city from my destination. This resulted from having misunderstood the minibus caller and having felt uncomfortable about trying to talk to a random person in English in hopes of figuring out where we were going. I was trying to act like I knew what I was doing in hopes that people would not notice or bother me – this is generally a reasonable practice when you in fact know what you are doing, but I have since learned that there are times when you just have to own up to the fact that you are a clueless ferengi who will stick out regardless of your behavior, and so asking people questions will do little to worsen your situation and most likely improve it instead.


Anyway, I was able to get on a minibus headed back in the right direction, but when I prepared to pay for the ride, I found that my wallet was missing. I had had it out so I could pay for the last ride, and in the confusion and distress of getting off and then back on the minibus and communicating with difficulty where I actually needed to go, I had dropped it, and now the other passengers assured me that a man had picked it up and walked away. There was barely anything in the wallet, but I now had no money whatsoever, not even the eight birr I needed to get to work from there, so I was let out in the middle of the city and left to figure out what to do.


I took my phone out, planning to call Amy at Cherokee and see if she had any ideas before I started walking. My stress must have registered on my face though, because right then a random lady walking by on the sidewalk stopped, told me not to worry, gave me 20 birr, and departed without giving me a chance to say thank-you or explain my situation.


I have immensely enjoyed my stay in Addis, but it would be difficult to say that I will miss commuting. I simply do not enjoy ignoring so many people who try to talk to me every day. I like to think that most people are as kind as the lady who helped me, and I naturally want to engage the people I encounter, but unfortunately that is not a smart way to approach city perambulation. That being said, the random interactions I did have, like this one, had significant impacts on me and were usually enough to clear up whatever smog-filled kind of day I was having.

In addition to commuting, Ian also mastered the Gurage traditional dance.

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