A few weeks ago I wrote about 10 Ethiopian Habits that Americans would find totally strange. This time around I want to bring you habits that I find 100% enduring and lovable. Most of my days here are filled with stress and “OMG, I’m going to kill someone” moments – but when these habits shine through all the craziness I can’t help but smile.
10 Admirable Ethiopian Habits
1. Hospitality runs deep. Ethiopians welcome you into their homes with open arms. In the states we say “oh yea, stop by anytime” – which really means “umm I’m just going to be polite and say visit me…but please don’t… unless you give me a weeks notice.” But Ethiopians really mean it. And if you don’t do it they will find you! And when you do stop in you’ll be welcomed with a 15 minute greeting, more food than your stomach an handle, and 3 cups of bunna (coffee)… And of course instructions to come again soon.
2. Once a friend, always a friend. Ethiopians are really good at networking and keeping connections. Everyone I meet ALWAYS remembers me; I thought this was because I’m ferenji and completely unique but it turns out everyone remembers everyone. You could meet someone once, all the way across the country, exchange phone numbers, a year later call them up to say “hey I’m going to be in your area, can I crash at your pad?” and they’d be more than happy to say yes. It really amazes me. And it really makes me feel ashamed because unlike Ethiopians, I do not have a talent for remembering faces and names.
3. When they love you, they really love you. These people love with all their hearts. I have been very fortunate to find such a caring and supportive community in my town. My landlady and landlord are definitely my parents-away-from-home. From the minute I stepped foot onto their compound I was “theirs”. If they hear I have been mistreated in any way they pass up the typical habesha (Ethiopian) response of ” just ignore it” and immediately hunt down the offender to let them know what’s up. I have also been very lucky to find an amazing friend in my office. Despite me being the “town weirdo”, he accepts 100 % for who I am – craziness and all. He has never been one to point out our cultural differences – which makes me feel “normal” and I appreciate from the bottom of my heart.
4. An infinity of cultures. Okay, not really. But Ethiopia has over 80 cultures within the country. And each one is totally unique in cuisine, music, dress. Observing all the different cultures is my favorite part of Ethiopia. I haven’t visited all the regions but I’ve picked some of my favorite cultural categories. Gurage has the best, best, best music and dancing. Gojam has pretty trendy style with their short-shorts for men. And everywhere in Tigray has hair that puts all other regions to shame.
5. Gorshas. I mentioned these in a previous post. A gorsha is when you shove a handful of food into someone else’s mouth with your hand. It sounds disgusting, and most of the time is, but it’s one of he strongest forms of endearment here. It’s filled with love! As a guest in the country I get gorsha’d at almost every meal I eat outside of my home. Usually the amount of food is three times the size of my mouth, and it spills everywhere, but every gorsha is followed with smiles and laughter.
6. Communal eating. To go with gorshas is the communal eating. Most meals are served on a large serving platter that everyone at the table eats from – with their hands (no silverware in this country). It’s a germaphobic’s worst nightmare. But it totally brings a sense of community to every meal – thus make every bite full of love (awww).
7. Community babies! My mom used to tell me in Norway woman would leave heir babies outside the supermarket, just chilling in their strollers. When one would cry a stranger would walk by, put a pacifier in its mouth, and keep on walking. I ways thought this was crazy… until I came to Ethiopia. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the office, on the bus, or walking down the road when a random person would hand me their baby. At first I was like, “hey, I’m a stranger… I could kidnap this little cutie” but now I just love it! The community is strong here – everyone knows everyone and the bad seeds are easy to spot. So trust is a major thing. Nothing brightens up my day like holding a random, giggling, squirmy Ethiopian baby.
8. They know how to let things go. I can hold a grudge like no other. That girl who got the lead in my dance recital when I was 6 is still on my shit list. But Ethiopians know how to forgive and forget. Habesha are very opinionated, thus thousands of tiny little arguments happen every day – coffee with salt vs. coffee with sugar, she stole my style, I didn’t like the way you did you hair for your wedding… okay, since my Amharic is horrible I don’t actually understand what they are arguing about but I imagine it’s things along these lines. But it seems like no matter how small or big they always are able to walk away in good terms. I totally don’t understand it but I give mad respect.
9. Pride. Ethiopians have tremendous pride in their country. I don’t even bother watching Ethiopian news anymore because all my friends fill me in on what’s going on in the country and how their country is helping the world. Not only are they masters of current events but they also know their history better than any other culture I could imagine. Every holiday I get the full back story of how that holiday emerged and why it is still so special to their people… and trust me, there are a lot of holidays in this country. They also manage to sneak the Ethiopian flag on to everything, I mean EVERYTHING – food, floors, busses, underwear (!!!) – you name it and green, yellow, and red are on it.
10. Innovation. Ethiopian children are some of the most innovative people I have ever seen. Every day I pass by even the smallest of children making games out of rocks, toy guns from mud, and cars from wires. They really can take anything they find and run with it. This thirst for new ideas continues with them into adolescence – where almost every child will tell you they want to be an engineer or doctor; and then far into adulthood – where they continuously look for new technologies and methods to improve their country.
If you’re in another Peace Corps what cultural habits does your country have that you would like to see more of in America?