I Was Selamed – Twice

16 11 2011

I was in Washington DC over the weekend.

There is a huge Ethiopian community in DC.  As per usual, I was seeing Ethiopians everywhere I looked.  Sometimes when I was really seeing, well, you know, the world is a big place.

It started with the cab ride from the airport.

I Selamed our driver when he put my bag in the trunk.  He responded kindly.

After getting in the car and telling him where we were going, things got a little rough.  I had to try to tell him a specific way to get there.  But I didn’t really know all the details.  It wasn’t a super pleasant exchange.  No one was rude.  No one was happy.

As soon as that conversation ended, I started another one.

“Are you Ethiopian or Eritrean?”

“The world is a big place.”

“Yes, it is.” (feeling very stupid and not sure what to make of THAT comment.)

My friend who is not the type to strike up these types of conversations quickly jumped in to try to save me.

“She has a son she adopted who was born in Ethiopia.”

“Well, I am Somalian.”

I said, “I am sorry for the troubles in your country.  I worry about your people.”

Do you think you hear the sounds of ice breaking?  No, more like the sounds of traffic outside the windows.

Still, I pressed on.  And I laughed.

“Well, I am not completely stupid.  I mean, I figured you were from the Horn of Africa.  I know it is a big continent, but it is not like I asked you if you were from Nigeria.”

That got a small smile.

I explained I live in a small city in the middle of the country with very few African immigrants and that I am always looking to make connections, blah, blah, blah.

The cab ride continued with talking between my friend and I, and a few interchanges with the driver in which my comments and compliments were sincere but also born from my need to fix the problem I had accidently created.

And, because I need everyone to like me, and he couldn’t get my credit card to work, I made lots of stupid jokes at the end which finally had him laughing.

When we got out of the car and he was getting our bags out of the trunk he said to me, “You know Somalia?”

I said, “Of course.  That is why I told you I am worried about your country.  Worried about the drought.”

He thanked me for my concern.

I felt like I could get a job at the UN – pissing people off then trying to fix the problem I created.

So, not an auspicious start in a city where I was hoping to bask in Ethiopian glory.

Fortunately, I was wearing this all weekend.

I bought this beautiful thing in Addis.  But I hardly ever where it.  Because Little Dude rips it, and any other necklace I wear, off of my neck.

Four days without Little Dude meant four days in my beautiful necklace.

I was stopped in a restaurant on my first full day in the city by a couple of Ethiopians who could tell the necklace was from Ethiopia.  This led to a great conversation and me showing pictures of my children.

On my final day, while eating lunch in the airport, another Ethiopian woman asked me about the necklace.  Again, we had a fabulous conversation.

I don’t want to generalize about the Ethiopian people, after all there are millions of them.  But I can say this.  My conversations with these random strangers filled me with hope.

I think the way I pronounce Selam, when translated from Amharic back to English probably sounds a lot like, “That’s a beautiful necklace.  Did you get it in Addis?”

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7 responses

16 11 2011
Melanie

I love that you’re will to go out of your comfort zone and Selam. Even when it doesn’t work.

16 11 2011
Captain Murdock

Oh the first half of this story had me laughing out loud, literally! Travis tried with all his might to get the cabbies in Dubai to chit chat with him, and they were not having it.

16 11 2011
Sam's Mom

I KNEW the lady at my parking garage was Ethiopian. The accent, the perfectly perfect loose shakable curls … the cheekbones, the eyes … I pegged her as Oromo and SHE IS! I literally asked her, “are you Ethiopian, because my son is and you look Oromo to me.” After I said it I felt like an ass “what if she wasn’t??” But she IS. And she was amazed I could tell just from her accent and her face.
I saw her nameplate one day and started calling her by name and she was so pleased I said it right. She asks for pictures of Sammy and I say a couple Amharic words in conversation. Its lovely. So nice to make those connections.

16 11 2011
Wendy

Laughed out loud at this, because I get it. Completely. You see, I see Filipinos everywhere I look, and sometimes I also see Thais. When I actually get it right, which is, surprisingly most of the time, I love making the connections and learning more about my daughters’ birth countries from these wonderful folks, who mercifully not only humor me, they actually accept me. We usually end up in great conversations, and I’ve even made some great new friends by starting out the conversation with a simple, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but…are you (Filipino/Thai)?”

16 11 2011
Cazadora

Selam, Mamacita. Come back and purposely bump into Ethiopians with me. The world is a big, intimate place.

16 11 2011
Tesi

love it

17 11 2011
Lara

“And because I need everyone to like me….” hehehe. It’s like looking in a mirror! That necklace obviously has a lot of power. Must be magical. 🙂

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