My time in Addis Ababa has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Every single damn day has been humbling –and not in an easy introspective way- The Alliance Éthio-Français may be my least favorite thing in Ethiopia –besides diarrhea- I love speaking French, and at one point was great at it, but as time passed in the States my French skills became archived I some unknown chasm of my brain.
While I have lost much of my French skills, -which is humbling enough- it doesn’t help that the secretary of the AÉF speaks French with a thick Ethiopian accent, making it pretty much impossible for anyone to understand, let alone register for classes. The stress of taking a French placement exam now rivals the moment in which I nearly shit myself last weekend while hiking with friends, and had to quickly duck into a bush –lovely moments brought to you by Ethiopia-
In addition to struggling with French -and embarrassing gastrointestinal mishaps- the language barrier can allow you to feel left out and confused. Being American I often find myself in the position of power in situations in which there is a language barrier –not this time- While most people in Addis speak some bit of English, that doesn’t mean that things don’t get lost in translation daily. I find myself the odd man out as I sit silently while people around me carry on in Amharic.
And then there is this whole applying to jobs and trying to move to Africa thing I am doing. That’s been a doozy. Nothing makes you feel less qualified than editing your CV; removing all the “awesome” jobs I worked in college from my “employment history” is bleak -the dining hall, some pizza place, Abercrombie & Fitch…no, I do not want to be a member of the “A&F club”-
But ultimately, all my “woe is me’s” pale in comparison to the poverty. This is the most humbling of all. Walking down the street I am violently jarred form my usual neuroticisms –I wish I felt more confident in using the Amharic words I’ve learned, why can’t I remember anything? Why can’t I remember French?!?- People grab at my arms on my way home from dinner, asking for the take-out food I planned on eating for lunch the following day. If I’m holding a water bottle, children walk up to me holding out their hands, saying “wah-ter, miss. Peas, wah-ter.” It is impossible to give to all of them, but which one do you give to? –The nagging guilt of privilege-
Everything is insignificant.