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A FERENJI’S RESPONSE TO “HOW IS ETHIOPIA?”   (published in Ethiopia)

July 2, 2010 by   Comments(0)


By Mirjam Zhender – Journalism Volunteer

It’s been nearly three months since I came to Ethiopia.  Being a foreigner who has never set foot in Ethiopian, my experience in this country has generally been a pleasant one.  Now, as I prepare to go back in time here.

I arrived at Bole International Airport 12 weeks ago. I arrived in the middle of the night; I was jet-lagged and there wasn’t much to take in at that time. The next day I was able to look around and the city seemed huge for me. I grew up and live in a small village with 1,500 inhabitants and the biggest city in Switzerland, Zurich, has 400,000.

The first two weeks were tough. Constant power cuts, being pointed at and called ferenji on the streets and the sight of poor people all over the city were some of the things I was not used to.  Soon enough I got used to the way of life here and learned a few things from my mistakes on the way.  For instance, it was constantly raining for the first month of my stay.  I learned never to go outside without an umbrella after I got soaked through to the skin the first time.  The food here proved a little problematic for my stomach for the first three weeks.  I was new to injera and was not used to being careful about the type and amount of food I ate.  Since I was living with a host family here, I had most of my meals with them and got used to different kinds of Ethiopian food and developed my taste.  I especially developed a taste for Shiro.

My knowledge about the country and its culture developed through conversations with different people.  All my conversations had one thing in common: everyone said to me “How is Ethiopia?” and “how is Addis?”  I never really knew how to answer those questions.  Good, beautiful, busy…..?  For me, a one-word answer is insufficient to express the range of feelings I had.

I found Ethiopia to be full of diverse aspects.  I loved the landscape, the culture and its people.  I visited many places: Awassa, Bahir Dar, Dire Dawa and Harar: each spectacular on its own.  Having had no idea and expectation about the country, I was positively surprised by what I saw.

Of course, there were a few downsides .The large population’s lack of adequate infrastructure, the traffic and the pollution from the car exhausts and dust all proved difficult to handle at times.

One thing that caught my attention and stayed with me from the beginning was the people and their good nature.  Everywhere I went people always had a nice smile on their face and some nice words on their lips.  My worries of venturing into a country I didn’t know dissipated really fast.

Whenever I got lost or was in need of help in communication, I found that I could rely on the kind assistance of people here, be it on the streets or in a shared taxi. This was a nice change from the individualistic and self-centred attitude I was used to in the west.




I will miss many things from Ethiopia when I go back.  Ethiopian coffee tops the list. I never drank coffee and disliked the smell of it back home. Soon after my arrival, I tasted Ethiopian coffee and acquired a liking for it immediately. I will especially miss the Ethiopian coffee and ceremony which I got used to at my host family.  As I prepare for my departure, I buy some coffee beans to take back for my family.  I know I will be back to Ethiopia in the future for whatever reason.  But for now I will take some part of Ethiopia and its culture and tell my family the wonderful story of the country that is the birth place of coffee.


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