Monday, March 28, 2016

I Was Spat Upon and Other Cultural Experiences

We are conspicuous in Addis Ababa. My pale, white family of four does not fit the national mold. We feel eyes on us when we walk or shop or drive or eat. Some people match stares with polite greetings; a bell hop and nun have addressed Margot as "Baby." Other folks petition us for birr (that's Ethiopian cash), tips, or patronage; every twenty meters (that's Ethiopian distance) stands another shop.


In our first full day, our pale, white family of four braved this foreign land. We all took second takes at the breakfast buffet when we rolled back the lid to uncover spaghetti with scaled eggs, roasted broccoli, ground beef with mushrooms, and watermelon juice; but no one took seconds. My wife fought back a panic attack when we spent thirty minutes at the Post Office (that's Ethiopian for market) bargaining for cultural garb for the girls.  And we constantly watch from our car seat the constant disorder of traffic, thankful for a gracious driver who both navigates and negotiates for us.


In spite of the cultural differences, we have managed well thus far. Most people we have encountered speak English. Most menus and signage are translated for our tongue.

Even the man who spat on me yesterday apologized in English. He raced after me with a handkerchief to erase the offence. With his free hand he reached in my pocket for a deeper crime. I caught him in the act. Having learned how to stop bullies from my educated daughters, I looked him in the face and said, " Stop. I don't like what you're doing." He removed his hand and dashed off, waiting for the next big, white target.

Being conspicuous, though, has its upsides. We have received more generosity than scrutiny. Moreover, it will help us empathize with minority people when we return home. And when this pale, white family of four returns home, we too will be conspicuous. For we will add a quiet and dark son (that is Ethiopian), making us a conspicuous family of five.

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