8.7 Being the farench/faranji

In Ethiopia they have a word they use at foreign looking people, especially white people. Actually it is two words which seem to have the same meaning. One of these word I read about in my guide book to Ethiopia, this word was faranji (Briggs 2003). Faranji can be translated to foreigner, not necessarily a white foreigner. The other word was farench. This word, I was told, came from an Ethiopian general that didn’t manage to pronounce French right. This later came to describe white people. In the time the socialist regime reigned and foreigners from Cuba were more common, kids in the streets of Addis Ababa were shouting “cuba”. After the fall of the socialist regime this seam to have changed to “farench”.

In this section I will give a short account of how I experienced being a “farench” in Ethiopia. It is always differences in the culture, big or small, between different countries and even between different cities. The biggest barrier between people of different cultures is not as much in the way of behaviour as it is in the language. The people I worked with in Ethiopia spoke English and I therefore had no greater difficulty relating to them. I don’t think it would be more difficult to work with French people for instance. The difficulties I faced where mostly related to language, contaminated food and to too much attention.

The language problems were evident in our dealings with the Tigray Health Bureau. A lot of discussions were conducted in Amharic and I had to ask for a summary of the discussion from my colleagues. The three people I worked with in Tigray all were from Ethiopia and therefore found it easier to speak in Amharic, leaving me out. Often the conversations at the lunch and dinner tables were done in Amharic. The others spoke in English if I said something, but the conversation almost always automatically went over to Amharic until I said something again. It is very boring looking at people speaking in a language you don’t understand.

What put most strain on my stay in Ethiopia where the almost two weeks I where having serious stomach problems. I was expecting to get some problems, but I got more than I bargained for. I where amazed at how week I felt laying in bed with fever, even getting up from bed where a challenge. I experienced what many have experienced before me, that I am not invincible. It is easy to be proud and self reliant when you are healthy and things go your way. I suppose I experienced what Job in the Bible experienced, but on a much smaller scale. I were grateful when the fever passed and I again could focus on our work. Through it all my relationship with God and the Narnia books (written by C. S. Lewis) helped me through the day.

Being a white man in a poor African country I could only expect a lot of attention. White people from the developed world coming to Ethiopia are immeasurably more wealthy than the beggars on the streets. I can’t really blame them for asking me for money. It is just that there were so many of them. When I walked from the university guest house to our office in the Siddis Kilo branch of the university there were between five to ten people asking me for money. I found it difficult to just ignore this people, but after some time I realised that I just had to.

The beggars were men and women, old people and children. The children were very determined and wouldn’t give up. Many children sold paper napkins, chewing gum and similar things. They have to do this in order to afford going to school, I was told. Some aid organisations provided napkins for children to sell. It is more dignifying to sell things than to beg.

The begging I could deal with and was understandable. The frequent shouting from children and even some adults were more annoying. I often heard someone shout “farench” or “faranji” after me. It also annoyed me that they took a much higher price from me than from my Ethiopian colleagues at hotels. Considering how much wealthier I am even as a student, than most Ethiopian people the lower price for Ethiopian nationals don’t seem unreasonable. On the other hand Ethiopian people using hotels is not poor, and it doesn’t give an impression of hospitality.

There is not much violent crime in Ethiopia, so I felt quite safe. Petty theft is, however, not uncommon to face, especially if you are white. One time I was walking in the streets of Addis Ababa one man threw him selves at my feet, in order to distract me I guess. I noticed two men approaching from behind on my left and right side. I managed to get out of the situation without loosing my money, thankfully. This was the first time in my life someone have tried to rob me.

It might seem that I make a pretty grave picture of my stay in Ethiopia, but I am very grateful for the chance a got to be there. I met many interesting people. Both Ethiopians and, after the Norwegian summer holidays where over, I met many Norwegians. My colleagues from HISP where easy to get along with, and I got the honor of being invited to a wedding. Coffee is like small encouragements through the day, so I was happy that Ethiopia is a coffee country. Coffee is said to be originating in Ethiopia, and espresso like coffee with lots of sugar is available everywhere. Hot milk with coffee where also common, and became one of my favorites. Finally I consoled my self with the fact that even if my surroundings were unfamiliar to me, working with a computer was not.