Where Am I From?


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, May 29, 2004 was originally posted on June 03, 2004.

DAY 224:  Great, another trek, I sarcastically thought to myself as I caught my breath hiking up the mountain, trailing behind my 16-year-old guide Adam.  The two-hour uphill trek alongside faithful villagers took us to the Asheton Maryam monastery, carved out of the side of a mountain before King Lalibela ever had the vision to build his eleven rock-hewn ones down the hill.

This was just one of the activities in the “program” Adam had for me on the second day of my two-day unofficial tour of Lalibela.  We finally reached the monastery by 9:30 in the morning, and although quite impressive, was sort of anti-climactic with all the UNESCO restoration scaffolding obstructing its face.  Inside was less of a let down with paintings old (300-years-old) and new (60-years-old).

“Hello Mister!” one of the five or so kids called to me as we walked down the mountain trail together.  “Where are you from?”








The game went on for the entire one-hour trek back into town (picture above).  “Italy?  England?  Taiwan?”  They pretty much mentioned every country in the world that they knew of, but none of them said “Philippines.”  When confirming my flight, I asked the Ethiopian Airlines guy to guess my heritage and he guessed Kazakhstan off the bat.  Kazakhstan?  I never got that one before.

After some Mirinda orange soda and a Pepsi (Pepsi products seem to have dominated Coca-Cola ones in Ethiopia), I took a rest before Adam’s first afternoon activity:  to watch a football/soccer game at my request.  We walked across town that windy day — gusts blew dust and dirt into our faces — to the dusty field by the primary school.  It was there I met Tesfe, a sports education college graduate and teacher or two years, who had returned to his hometown of Lalibela to organize a soccer league of different age groups to help discipline kids and keep them off the streets.  It was a day of 17 and under to play, each team distinguished by their “uniforms.”  I put “uniform” in quotes because there was no official clothing for most teams, just a common color of hand-me-down clothes sold to them indirectly from the Salvation Army.  Yes, the old clothes you donate to Salvation Army isn’t just given to poor people, it is sold to them.  Old clothes from the States are shipped overseas, which is why I shouldn’t have been surprised them I saw a woman in Zambia wearing a Pascack Valley Hospital shirt from a hospital in Bergen County, New Jersey.

Hand-me-Down Yellow played and beat Hand-Me-Down Blue 5-nil and afterwards Adam and I stuck around for the first half of the next game to see his friend play.  I sat on the sidelines watching the game with other kids — most of them were less interested in the game and gave all focus to me, the outsider.  Again, the guessing game began with what evolved from a couple of kids to a small mob surrounding me.  The usual “Japan!” “China!” “Korea!” were all rejected by me and I wouldn’t get them an answer.  One funny boy was convinced that I was fucking with them after they mentioned all possible answers.  “No, you are from Japan.  Come on.  Japan,” he said.

FIVE CHURCHES DOWN, six to go.  Adam led me to the final six, the Tomb of Adam, St. Michael’s (the largest church which held the Tomb of Lalibela), Beata Danegal, Beata Meskel, Beata Madenmelen and St. Mary’s, the first of the churches to be built.  Out of the eleven churches, none of them were used (so I was told) for the religious procession that suddenly came through town.

“It’s a faranji wedding,” an onlooker told me.  Faranji was Amharic for “mzungu” or “gringo” or “foreigner.”  Soon a caravan of mules, trucks and people escorted a French couple that had just gotten married.  The groom was an ex-pat living in Lalibela as a teacher in a French school.  While most people smiled at the silly faranjis in their procession through town, one old man, who obviously hated the intrusion of Westerners into his holy homeland, attempted to stone the party with big rocks — a younger, more tolerant man had to restrain him.

ADAM ENDED HIS TOUR FOR THE DAY.  I paid him 140 birr out of the 150 I owed him, with ten to be paid after he took me to a church ceremony early the next morning before my flight.  My teenage guide went on his way, leaving me to finally experience how the villagers would behave towards me without a local escort.  There was a lot more calls of “Hello Japani!” which I just ignored, althought it was impossible for me to ignore the boy that followed me into a restaurant and sat near me.  He too couldn’t guess where I was from and just gave up after twenty minutes.

Back in the streets I walked down the hill to the Private Roha Hotel.  An old woman saw me alone and obviously hated my Western presence (or was it Far Eastern?) in her holy homeland.  She said something in Amharic that just sounded angry and then threw her cane at me.  She missed.

But not everyone was so confused at my presence.  One boy recognized me and told me where I was from.

“You were from the soccer game today!”

Correct you are, kid.

Next entry: Passing Through History

Previous entry: Holy Land of Honey

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Comments for “Where Am I From?”

  • why is there so much hostility to foreigners? i can understand the hatred against americans, but what have the other nations done to make these people so mad? it is so sad to see that racism is everywhere.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/03  at  11:39 PM

  • Japan? China? Korea? None ever say “America”?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/04  at  12:22 AM

  • MARKYT:  Yeah, they say America, but it’s usually the tenth choice down the line… they actually guess Italy or Canada before that…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/04  at  10:52 AM

  • The Ethiopian people whould love us Americans, in 2002, the U.S. Government had pledged over 1,000,000 tons of food aid to Ethiopia valued at approximately $475 million, and delivered 626,029 tons.

    We never get recognized for the good stuff we do. . .

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/08  at  08:03 PM

  • What? No one’s allowed to see it?  There’s probably nothing in there. And why is the monk never allowed to leave? Can’t he just lock up the place and go out for a while? Why on earth would they not let people see it? So many questions, so few answers.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/09  at  12:43 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Passing Through History

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Holy Land of Honey


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