Ethiopia – The Good, The Bad, and The Funny

By Naome Seifu

My whole life, I’ve dreamed of coming to Ethiopia. I was born and raised in the U.S and this trip was my very FIRST time coming to Ethiopia.

A lot has happened, and I can honestly say I’m becoming a new woman. I’m learning who I am and how I can better myself. I’ve always loved life, but I’m appreciating the life I’ve been given. It’s the simple things that I take for granted.

“I’m learning who I am and how I can better myself. I’ve always loved life, but I’m appreciating the life I’ve been given. It’s the simple things that I take for granted.”

Meeting my family for the first time and genuinely introducing myself to another part of my identity I never faced was truly a once in a lifetime experience. My family is HUGE. My mother is the 8th child out of ten.

Naome’s grandmother, Alemenesh or emama around age 30.

My emama (grandmother) and ababa (grandfather) have a total of 18 children. The history behind my family and the deep connection I have with them is indescribable. For instance, I’m amazed by the similarities between emama and my mother–it’s like they’re the SAME person. I have my mom’s personality, but I have her younger sister’s laugh. My emama and I have the same hands. We have the same smile as well. All my life I thought I only looked like my mom. In Ethiopia I realized how many other family members I look like. It’s so wild to understand that people I’m JUST now meeting really shape who I am in so many ways. That’s the power of family.

Amongst many other lessons, this trip has given me a greater understanding of my mom. She’s my best friend. She’s my mother. Now, I’m getting to know who that woman is. Learning about my mother as a person has helped me understand where I come from and why I am the way I am.

Even though the experience is deep and meaningful – it does not take away from the crazy (funny) cultural experiences I’ve been facing as a diaspora.

So, while I’m struggling I figured you should laugh. Here is my Top 10 List of Crazy Things That Happen To Me In Ethiopia, or as I like to call it…


1 As I’m walking to work on the streets of Bole, a man grabbed my hand and kissed it. He said “Melkam Ken Yehunilish” which means, “Have a great day.”

2 I’ll be on a minibus heading home (a minivan that only holds 8 people) with at least 20 people in the car.
One day I was on a minibus taxi, and the “Redat,” who collects the money and shouts out the destination of the bus was just a young boy. If you’re a “Redat” it requires you to be bold, loud, aggressive, and all the above. You’ve got to be quick. You need to count money fast and make sure people are getting the right change. You need to make sure that when people say “Werag Aleh” (someone needs to get off) you let them off. You need to make sure you’re hustling and getting the bus packed because that means more money.. He was young and new and was struggling giving people change because it was hard for him to calculate the change. It costs me $2.50 birr to get to Gergi on that bus. I paid him $10.50 birr, which means he owed me $8.00 birr. He only gave me $5.00 birr. People on the bus were laughing and I could tell in his eyes he was embarrassed. I told him to take his time. Then more people got on the bus so he forgot to give me the rest of my change. When it was my turn to get off he looked at me and I told him he owed me $3.00 birr. He thanked me for understanding and gave me the change. That experience really opened my eyes. Surviving is the most important thing for people here in Ethiopia sometimes. That young boy sought after a way to survive and for him, that was becoming a “Redat.”

In front of Naome’s aunt’s house in Wolkite, the plant ensete is what the Gurage people make their well-known food kocho out of.

3 Some are nice while some are a real challenge. You’ll encounter toilets and other times you’ll have to squat. Carrying tissue paper with you at all times is a must if you choose to use the bathroom in a public place.

4 You can’t really drink a drink with ice, which is a HUGE challenge for me since I love ice. Drinks are not really ice cold. Most drinks are lukewarm.

5 I’ve seen a blind man with literally no eyes playing the flute so beautifully.
6 People, mostly men, aggressively snap at restaurant waiters and waitresses to get their attention. It’s not weird to people. It’s just a part of the culture.

7 I was walking to work and a man was scaring women as he was walking on the street. Literally, he would jump in their face and scare them.

8 I got locked in the restroom at work for about 15 minutes because the door was jammed.

9 Power at work goes off at least 4 times a day. Sometimes the power will be off for the whole day which means, on the production side, no work can get done.

and the last, and truly confusing situation…

10 Everyone laughing at me for wearing my bright yellow rain boots.

Meskel celebration in Addis.

One day it was pouring rain so of course my sneakers and socks were soaking. It was such an uncomfortable feeling because if you don’t have a car you walk literally everywhere. In a day I walk 5 miles and take 2 minibus taxis. So I was walking all that distance in pouring rain. I know…crazy. The next day I didn’t care anymore. I said, “I’m wearing my rain boots!” In Ethiopia, people who wear plastic rain boots get laughed and stared at excessively. I had avoided 3 weeks of rainy days because I didn’t want to be “that girl”. As I walked to work that morning, I got the laughs. I got the stares. I even got comments. One moment really caught me. I was close to work and one boy, probably 5 years old, was pulling his mom’s shirt and pointed at me. He was telling her in Amharic that he wanted shoes just like that. He was referring to my rain boots. I don’t know why, but that really stuck to me and I smiled at him.
I have so many more stories and everyday is a new experience. Everyday I face something, see something, learn something new about myself and my country. The longer I stay the more I can be a part of the country, the people and the stories.

“My mom said it best…she had always told me to love being Ethiopian and here I am living that dream.”

My mom said it best – she said she was proud of me – it was simple, but I understood what she was seeing was a seed she had sowed. She had always told me to love being Ethiopian and here I am living that dream.


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