You. You..... give me money!
That is the most likely greeting you can expect to hear in Ethiopia. The country, long associated with FAMINE, has now become addicted to AID. As insulting as this may sound, I think the symbol of an outstretched palm should be on the national flag of Ethiopia.
I am cheap and don't like to hand out money for nothing. But it's nice to see that even I can help. Everytime I pass by one these so-called beggars, I can perform miracles it seems. Children crowd me around full of energy, the lame can RUN and the blind can SEE, for they all seem to make a beeline for me.
I am walking down the street in Gonder when a blind and a lame man spot me from opposite direction. They ask for money, I say “no. “ I hurry past them to get away and a few seconds later, I hear heavy footsteps behind me, and so I turn back to see. The same lame man is now chasing after me -- hands reaching out and dragging the blind man along. It sounds bad but hahahahahah! It IS funny.
I am also happy that I inspire children, some as young as 3-years old, are dying to write when they see me. Give me pen, give me pen, they cry.
Remember that starved doe-eyed, skeleton of a child with bloated stomach, unable to muster the energy even to swat the flies away coming to you through your TV? Forget that image.
Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and that hungry child remains a feature somewhere, no doubt, but most everyone have enough food. In fact, food in most cities, Addis Ababa especially, is way under-priced, encouraging quite a few tourists to hang around (I am guilty too!) for that bargain $1/piece whopper-sized cheese burger or the 30 cents-a cup avocado-mango juice. And yet, there are beggars everywhere -- downtown area, outside hotels and restaurants and at bus stations especially.
The DV 2006 is another amusing extension of this begging. Sounds like a new software program, DV actually stands for Diversification Visa Lottery for Immigration to United States. It is prominently advertised everywhere in most cities wherever a telephone line can be found. Mostly illiterate farmers, who know what is better than receiving food are lining up outside newly-minted internet cafes, hoping to become the next American. Haven't you heard? Applications are now accepted via the internet. Why not? If America can keep supplying barrels of unneeded food, surely MONEY must grow on trees there.
Ethiopians have been on AID for so long it has become part of the national culture and a hand-out is expected from all foreigners that they meet. Everyday, if I am outside, I am sure to encounter at least three requests for money and some are now turning aggressive if they don’t get it. In three weeks here, I had eceived two death threats.
“I will kill your husband tonight,” a young teen Abebe told dromogal outside a hotel when I was not around. He ran when dromogal tried to grab him and as he saw me coming. We took his threat seriously and reported it to the POLICE, who assured as that we would not be murdered under his watch. That was in Gonder.
In Lalibela, the same threat was thrown at me : “I will kill you.” By a teenager, who I also countered by trying to catch a hold of him. He ran away.
They may be half playful threats but reflects the sentiment of the people as if they have been denied a RIGHT. My brother back home wrote me an email saying that Ethiopia was recently featured on an episode of TV show AMAZING RACE, and he was surprised to see how helpful the children were. Well, I half laughed when I read that, thinking back how I had slapped the head of a 10-year old who tried to irritate me. Sure they are helpful, the kids are also professional beggars unfortunately.
Many parents are training their children to leave school and beg because it has become profitable. The tip for a child-service is 1-2 Birr by tourists. A meal costs 5 Birr.
Yes, Africa can be a cheap place for travel. Every time I reach into my pockets though I face a mini-dilemma – thinking about the POWER I am about to exercise and the message that I will be sending across.
You, the anonymous donor out there, PLEASE also do so!!