The Fastest Way to Receive Money

Ethiopia's flag
Africa » Ethiopia » Addis Ababa Region » Addis Ababa
July 14th 2005
Published: July 29th 2005
Edit Blog Post

Cowherd GirlCowherd GirlCowherd Girl

This girl was amazingly beautiful.
Perhaps the most unnerving part of entering a new country is what makes it so exciting: namely, the uncertainty. Things one has gotten used to (if only for a few weeks) can be swept aside in the few innocent steps that take you across the border. There are practical considerations: money looks different; a dollar can vary from 70 cents (Jordan) to 1.5 million (Turkey) in local currency; the food is different; the language is different; transportation, hotel, and restaurant standards change and must be re-learned. Perhaps the most important change is the renewed uncertainty of one’s position as a foreigner: am I welcome? Am I walking dollars? Am I held responsible for the sins of the West? Do people wish I hadn’t come? Finding one’s niche can be a stressful and long process, particularly when the local society is very different from one’s own. Then, without knowing exactly when the change occurred, you instinctively begin feeling everything is better, and wonder why you were so worked up earlier.

So it was with me in Ethiopia for the first month or so. Certain things horrified me: a cyclist stabbed for reacting negatively to a stone-throwing incident; another with a serious
Migrating to the Big CityMigrating to the Big CityMigrating to the Big City

These kids were on a bus with us going to Addis Ababa, possibly running away from home to find a new life in the big city. The kid in the back grabbed his head in amazement and frustration when he saw the birds-eye view of Addis you get on the way in... Many come to the city and then end up sleeping on the streets or begging.
stone-wound to the head, completely unprovoked; yet another coming to in the back of a truck, on his way to the hospital to receive 20 stitches to his head. What kind of indoctrination or philosophy could justify such behavior? Every traveler I met only added more fuel to the flames: stories of harassment, jeering, persistently annoying begging, and the occasional aggressive “f*ck you!” thrown your way. Things culminated in the theft of X’s daypack in Arba Minch, at which point I was ready to throw in the towel and declare (in a French accent) “I am veghy veghy fed up!”

After that, I don’t know if it was a change in me, or a change in surroundings, or perhaps something different in X’s attitude (a fellow traveler’s attitude can greatly affect yours, and X generally took things too seriously), or maybe it was the addition to our group of Bobby Yulich, and the new blood that brought our team. Whatever it was, things felt better. Everything seemed amusing: rather than feel hounded and forced to answer the continual “where are you go?” questions, I began stopping people and asking them; I’d try to engage young beggars in small talk (or sign language), thereby removing myself from the category of “impersonal, walking money”; I’d point to my tattered pants or torn shoes when they pointed at their torn clothing, and enthusiastically say hello the beggars whom I saw every day. They loved it. In a word, I had found my place in Ethiopia. Too bad it took me a month to do so. By the time it was time to go I didn’t want to leave.

So after suffering through Axum, Debark (truly awful), Gondar, and especially Arba Minch, I thoroughly enjoyed the market day in Jinka - nothing to do but check out the locals there for the weekly market. Normally I would feel uncomfortable, as if I were in a zoo or “investigating the savages” - hence no photos from the event. But the Ari women with colorful kerchiefs and multi-layered skirts and multitude of necklaces, and the young men all carrying their wooden pillows and wearing tons of beads and jewelry and short skirts, they seemed equally curious about us, so I felt my presence was somewhat excused. Then a brief stint at the hot springs of Wondo Genet and the lakeside at Awasa, and we were back in Addis Ababa, to obtain visas for our next countries (Somaliland and Djibouti).

There are times when I feel the urge to do nothing. I don’t want to worry about buses or haggle over room prices or discover new places to eat or religiously visit the sites the Almighty Lonely Planet deems essential. I just want to do nothing. It can be problematic when travel companions don’t see eye to eye on the topic, but in Addis Ababa we all had a severe case of inertia, and besides we had an excellent excuse: we were waiting for my replacement sandals to arrive in the mail. My French friends were amazed that the company DHL’ed me new sandals free of charge after they fell apart after 6-7 months of use: they say it would never happen in France. We ended up staying n for 2 weeks, our lives even more routine than that which we were ostensibly escaping by traveling.

The rat race began with the collective effort to wake up, followed by an excursion to “The Breakfast Place” -- where we ordered the exact same thing every day -- then a brief visit to the internet
A Street VendorA Street VendorA Street Vendor

In Harar again.
café. At that point we had the rest of the day ahead of us, demanding to be killed. Sometimes we went to see Hollywood movies in the middle of the day. Sometimes we saw Bollywood films. X was emotionally disturbed by a Bollywood film, and repented of his wicked ways, vowing to become a better person. Too bad that wore off after a couple of days. Bobby and X had a great default in the French Cultural Center - X generally stuck to comic books. Or sometimes we’d saunter over to the Merkato (largest in East Africa) where I tried to find a decent shortwave radio (no luck), and X hunted for muslim hats. On certain lucky days we visited embassies, but for the most part there was absolutely nothing to do. X made a number of friends, and would sometimes go to chew chat with them. Chat is this green leafed plant that apparently gives you increased mental abilities while the “high” lasts. It’s the rage in this part of the world, and people sit around for hours in the middle of the day, doing nothing but chewing on the leaves and socializing. After repeatedly saying “it did nothing”,
Cactus Pears for SaleCactus Pears for SaleCactus Pears for Sale

This girl burst into tears when she realized I was taking her picture. For the rest of my stay in Harar I had to hold the camera to my chest and take pictures like that for fear of offending people and/or being mobbed.
he came back one night with eyes as big as pigeon eggs, and spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling. Needless to say, I didn’t care to share in the experience.

So, in the absence of any real activity, the incorrigible Frenchmen turned to seduction as a pastime. I wish I got a nickel every time X made eyes at a girl and got a huge smile in response. Bobby was just as bad if not worse. From innocent flirting, things quickly progressed to “appointment-making”: after making eye contact and exchanging smiles, the daring French would attempt to make an appointment to meet again with said beauty. And some beauties they were! They weren’t usually successful: three times out of four the girl would simply not show up, and we’d end up walking over to “The Pizza Place” together, a wise band of philosophical bachelors. Until, that is, X began flirting with the waitress there. On one of the more memorable occasions, we were at the Breakfast Place at closing time, and Bobby was waiting for one of the waitresses with whom he had an appointment. The girl spoke no English - and it was pretty clear Bobby didn’t need her to - and some of the other waitresses were trying to tell Bobby to leave her alone, that she was married, had a very jealous husband, very dangerous, etc. The waitress we commonly referred to as “X’s fiancée” came over and asked me (in non-existent English) “What is problem with Bobby?” “He’s French, he can’t help it!” “No Protocol! No Protocol!” and gave him dirty looks. Later as we were kicked out and Bobby waited at the front door, the girl (who all along had been smiling and saying “yes, yes, I’m coming!”) disappeared through a back door. Of course, that didn’t prevent her from flirting with Bobby again the next day.

One particularly dangerous place for this activity was “Park Hotel”, a joint where some other travelers were staying, and where we’d generally meet at night for a few drafts. It wasn’t a large establishment, and the waitress was Bobby’s, the cashier X’s, and the fat momma was making eyes at me - something Bobby encouraged at every turn. They had fallen for the girls one night when intoxicated, and had to return the next day to verify that the girls actually *were*
Women's Way of BeggingWomen's Way of BeggingWomen's Way of Begging

It's hard to focus when you can't use the viewfinder.
attractive. Plenty a night were spent setting up appointments or missing them. I think Bobby holds the record for “most ditched by the same girl”. Things occasionally took on absurd dimensions: X was jealous of and angry with the cashier because he saw her flirting with another man (her boyfriend); after thinking nothing of missing an appointment, Bobby would be annoyed if a girl missed hers.

And underlying all this (and making it possible) is the fact that these girls were interested because they didn’t see us for what we are: rapidly approaching middle age, with filthy clothes and unkempt hair, sitting on our lazy asses and taking advantage of the fact that our money is worth more here than back home. I would say that if they don’t see us as a ticket to go to the West (the Hollywood West, of course), it’s something pretty close to that. Otherwise I don’t see why a gorgeous 17-year old would walk around town holding hands with (and later visit the room of) a short French guy with bad teeth (Bobby). As westerners we’re quick to denounce this opportunism in others, but not so willing to acknowledge our own opportunism.
My Dear Lover SabierMy Dear Lover SabierMy Dear Lover Sabier

As for our Marriage we can decide later!
None of these girls would even look at us twice in our respective countries. But denial is sweet while it lasts, and it’s great to feel like an irresistible chick-magnet. So everyone is happy until there starts talk of “us”, at which we cry foul and declare we’ve been misled!

Despite X’s objections, I refuse to supply any incriminating evidence against myself, as it may interfere with my pending application for sainthood.

In a mood of competition with Bobby, X asked out a waitress at the Breakfast Place. He then saw the Bollywood film, so he was making an attempt at being noble, loyal, etc. On his first date they were accompanied by her older brother who spoke English (she didn’t speak any) and could translate for them. He let X know that they wanted him to be “serious”, but that once he gets an HIV test the two can do anything they want. They’re a very progressive family. X returned determined to not hurt the girl or take advantage of her in any way (ah Bollywood, a force for good in this fallen world). The next day they met at a restaurant, where by X’s description “she practically raped” him, all the while purring something about “Sagla, X, very good sex characteristic.” We’re still not sure what was meant by that. She endeavored to teach him some Amharic, and he created an email account for her, and was more starry-eyed than ever. The following day when they met she kept her distance, and they were soon joined by Brother #2 as well as Big Sister. It’s evident that the Bollywood effect was wearing off by the fact that X found Big Sister very attractive. Bro#2 started off saying something like “so I understand you two want to get married”, at which X took a spit-take. Turns out the pervious day they were discussing marriage without X being aware of it. Sirens! X tried to weasel his way out, saying he was going to Yemen to study Arabic (which is true), and didn’t know when he’d be back in Ethiopia (never), and so they should take things slowly. The reply was that he should use Western Union - The Fastest Way to Receive Money Worldwide (mad applause and cheering) - to send her money while he’s in Yemen. The discussion ended with X being told to think it
Men's Way of BeggingMen's Way of BeggingMen's Way of Begging

It's hard to compose the picture when you can't hold the camera to your eye.
over for a day (probably not what he meant by “more time to think”) after which he would meet the whole family together to decide on a marriage date and possibly fix the amount and frequency of money transfers. X was very disillusioned that night.

A word about Western Union in Ethiopia. It has offices everywhere and the proud black-and-yellow of TFWTRMW is the surest sign of civilization, even in the most remote of towns. It has some pretty amusing ads: one shows a doctor, complete with white lab coat and stethoscope, eyes a little dim from working late hours yet with a dutiful smile on her slightly pale face; this juxtaposed with the healthy ruddy faces of her three siblings in another picture, wearing the bright strong colors of imported clothing, with eager happy expressions, and eyes as care-free as the blue sky in the background, waiting for Sister to send the next wire. No need for subtlety: let sis work her ass off, I don’t care as long as the money keeps coming in. Fastest way to Receive. Another more basic ad has the globe in the background (flattened to show all continents), with a hand from the US passing money to a hand reaching out from the eastern part of the world. It’s as simple as that. And then we wonder why begging is a problem.

So, feeling very used, X wrote her a note essentially saying he felt like she had taken advantage of him and only wanted his money. Famous words from Dr Strangelove: “Of course not! I respect you very much as a person!” X would not be going to the meeting with the family. X, who had hitherto tried to hide his experimentation with chat, his great love for sheesha, and his resurgent smoking habit - he now smoked at the table and didn’t care. His repentance was short-lived and he had some catching up to do.

The next morning we were full of anticipation: would she yell at him? Would she be teary-eyed over her lost love? Would she try to reassure him of her genuine feelings? How would react to his note? Things were surprisingly quiet and uneventful, and she mostly ignored us and acted like nothing had happened (she did, however, continue to give Bobby dirty looks). While we were leaving she ran out and handed X
Mango SellerMango SellerMango Seller

Ethiopians say no by shaking their finger to the right or left. It seems really arrogant the first time you see it, but it's really useful.
the following note. Immediately after which a young attractive customer ran out and asked X for his phone number and address. X swears he never set eyes on her before.

Unfortunately I don’t have access to Bobby’s many lipstick-smeared love letters to offer in comparison - he has since left us and is now back in France. I naturally have my favorite parts in the letter, but I include the entire thing uncommented and unabridged, with the original capitalization, as a warning to all.

Dear my Lover, Xavier!

Above all I would like to submit my best Greetings for you. As to me I am very fine except longing of you.

Dear Sabier, I think I have partially introduced you my opinion or idea.

You know that our country is not Technologicaly developed, that means there is no vacancy to employee and get some Amount of money. Because of this my occupation does not allowed me to continue my Education. And the Economy of my parents is very low. I am young; at this time I have to learn and join a job. So to accompolish or to do this, I need help.

Dear my lover Xabier, you told me in written that I need your money but not your love. I am sorry this is wrong. Because I need you in love to tell you the Fact. So If I become your lover for the sacke of our Friend Ship (love) you must assist me according do the Ethiopian Culture.

Dear Xabier, my parents told me to do this, and they want to see you and talk to you also.

So as a Friendly to stay together, I wish to fulfil the above mentioned.

And for our marriage we can decide later on.

Big kiss for you!!

Your lover Sebele

Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


A Street in HararA Street in Harar
A Street in Harar

Harar has an amazing "old city" built in typical Arab style, with narrow winding streets and plenty romanticism.
Frenchman in HararFrenchman in Harar
Frenchman in Harar

I don't know where he got that ridiculous "O'Neil" sweatshirt from, nor why he keeps wearing it.

15th August 2005

broken glass
milyonlar 8 ay once kalkti artik ytl var ALLAHIN KIROSU!
9th May 2006

Ooh too much for the white man
Your supercilious attitude, blogged with a self importance only a pitifully immature and dispassionate a person could have, makes me wonder why you bothered making the journey at all... travellers such as yourself give westerners a bad name .... but hey your blog is compulsive reading all the same, if only to give oneself more reasons to dislike you and your French friends. Just wished you appreciated the life you live a little bit more... not many people get the chance to experience what you have of the world. Just give up about the begging lark FFS!!!
10th June 2006

this narration rouses a great pity for his author ! He is pitting on everyone, and his gobs are the exact reflected image of what he really is : somebody without a personality, moving in an ocean of emptiness, with some taste for masochism... For instance, what that idiot had to stay and to do with French people if he could not back up them ? Pityfull...
16th August 2008

Not really enlightening. Your french friend behavior is nonething new" french are known to try to screw anything with toenails, and if doesnt have toenails,they will find a orifice"
21st November 2009

way we ethiopian can not send mony to other country
i am in tanizania my family need to send me mony to me ethiopian bank told them you can not send but u can ressive is big probilem. i do not have any mony also to eat

Tot: 0.366s; Tpl: 0.014s; cc: 22; qc: 130; dbt: 0.2565s; 1; m:domysql w:travelblog (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.5mb