Begging for the Begging to Stop

Beauties and Beasts of Ethiopia

looking shady
Gentleman or Theif?
sweet, eh?
The better half
its bigger, really!
Swank in it’s day
by candle-light only
And peace be upon you
It’s morning, and I’m on my way to the airline office to change my flight, so I can leave Ethiopia a day early. Now this has nothing to do with the US invasion of Iraq, for the Ethiopians are actually kinda glad to see a ‘Christian’ country kicking a Muslim one, but more to do with my inability to take any more of the constant begging, rip offs, scams, and outright incivility I’ve found in this country.

About one half the population finds it completely normal (and justified by their poverty) to beg incessantly from the moment I leave a hotel, until I retreat back into it, going so far as to wait outside shops and museums for me to reappear.

And if I deal with any of them, from ‘official’ guides to hotel employees, they will promise one thing, like a good view of a church or a fast ride to the next town, and deliver something else, like their brother’s tourist shop or a slow bus to the wrong town.

Or they scam me, by charging me 3 to 1,000 times more than the actual price, which can mean an overcharge of a dollar or fifty, but averaging about $2 per transaction. Last but not least, they can just be outright rude, yelling at me if I don’t buy them drinks, give them huge tips, or fall for their scams.

Oh but please don’t get the impression that all Ethiopians are like this. No, only half the population is so worthless and crude, which is why when someone was robbed on the slow bus to Gondar, only they were searched for the missing money.

The other half is breathtakingly beautiful, and since they are always covered from wrist to ankle, their beauty is enhanced by their mystique. Tall and thin, with sharp Western features yet luxuriously dark skin, they captivate me with a grace and flair not seen anywhere else in sub-Sahara Africa.

Now while these two completely different peoples populate Ethiopia, I didn’t come here only to be robbed by the men and awe-struck by the women. I came for the history, religion, and food of the only country in Africa not to be colonized.

The amazing castles of Gondar, the only true indigenous stone castles (vs. forts) in all of sub-Sahara Africa, were a historic sight to behold. They rose up from the highest hill in Gondar, commanding an unparalleled view of the countryside and churches that makes Ethiopia’s landscape so picturesque.

And those churches! From the amazing cherubs staring down from the church in Gondar, to the awe-inspiring rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, this country, second only to Armenia in adopting Christianity as the state religion, is steeped in religious artifacts.

Artifacts like the amazing monolithic rock-hewn church Bet Giorgis, which should really be called Bet Gorgeous as it is perfectly and artistically carved from solid stone, almost justify the trip regardless of the crap I have to go through here daily as a mzungu.

Well, almost.

As much as I don’t want to admit it to myself, as much as it pains me even more to say it to you, I really do not like Ethiopia. Even the food here, which is so spicy and good in DC’s Ethiopian restaurants, fails to impress, as its fasting time (Easter is coming) so the portions are skimpy and meatless, and the spice lacking.

So I am leaving Ethiopia early, and sadly, in my mind it’s a place I’d rather not return to.

  1. I am an Ethiopian, and I would like to thank the person who commented on my country. However, even if the comments have some truth in them, I am afraid that it misleads: was not said genuinely. Yes, there are beggers in my country, yes economically speaking we are poor so it is out right that people beg for some thing to survive. But considering beggers as if they represent half of Ethiopians seem unfair. Ethiopians are 70 million and the writer seems to tell us that about 35 million Ethiopians are beggers. Honestly, he was not careful about his wordings. I think he is from the west and I would have been very much pleased if he were able to use words, like most likely, likely it is apparent and other qualifying words rather than just trying to generalize about the people he hardly knows. How many people did he communicate with? How much does he /she knows about the back ground of the people on the picture. In general, I appreciate and thank him for his courage and concern to comment on my fellow citizens but as much as we can, it is better to tell and write about some thing that we know very well. If we don’t know much about it, let’s tell only as much as we know. Other wise, I feel it would be unwise to be blunt and generalize about some thing we don’t know that much. Thanks a lot. Andualem.

  2. i argue that there is intolerable begging in ethiopia but it is exagerated. Do you know that there are 70 million people living in ethiopia? Do you know that 80 percent of the population is living in the country side? You should not expect to be provided with cakes and ice creams we have our own food we have our own life style which may not be interesting for new comer. if any one wants these and the like a recommend not to come to ethiopia but make it to paris.
    whenever any one make a trip to ethiopia, he or she has one thing in mind that is a sovereign natural beauty and too cultural population that way it happens. there are about 20 million people in ethiopia for them a white man is a legend. they have never seen any if in case they see one they will be surprised it is disappointing to call this people beggars

  3. I know this article was posted in 2003, but I only saw it now. I couldn’t just ignore it. I dare to say the person who posted this article is an Eritrean. I have worked with a lot of Expats, and I don’t even remember one who did not try to stay longer than they planed. In the city of more than four million, Addis, the number of beggars estimated is about 40,000. I know even this is a big number. But the number also shows how this person has exagerated things.
    Also the fact that we have not been colonised, has made us different in many ways with the rest of Africa. But one thing he could not deny is that Ethiopians are known for their hospitality, and humbleness. This clearly was soo unbelievable to him.

    When he explained beauty of “Half” of the People, he said “Tall and thin, with sharp Western features yet luxuriously dark skin, they captivate me with a grace and flair not seen anywhere else in sub-Sahara Africa.” He got that right except for one fact: there is nothing “westen feature” about it. That is endemic to Ethiopia, home of beautiful, proud and unique people.

    In the movie called “My fat Greece wedding” there is a part where the the father of a Greece girl says to her AMERICAN boyfriend. “My ancesstors were writing philosophy while your’s were still climbing trees”. Hahaha… ain’t it funny. Times change man.

    You need to check out your Attitudes first.

  4. My friends and I hitchhiked from Cairo to Lilongwe. We went through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Keniya, Tansania, Zambia, Malawi, and the back via Angola and Zaire.
    And I have to tell you, never had we encounter shuch a horrible problem with begging as in the Northern Ethiopia. We had to ask to be dropped off between the villages, since in every village a crowd of beggars and “helpers” (expecting money) surrounded us, making it impossible to hitch a car. We have never seen this anywhere else, even in Angola and Zaire which are very poor.