“You, You, You, You, You, YOU,” the children shouted at us. Putting their hands out for money it continues-“Faranji, You, Faranji!”
You’ve heard gringo and perhaps even muzungu, but have you ever heard of a Faranji? Faranji is the Amharic (Ethiopian) word for white man, and without a doubt it is the first Amharic word a traveler learns in Ethiopia. Everywhere we go we’re followed by the word, hardly can we take a step without someone screaming faranji at us and shoving an open palm or a small child in our face.
We’ve written a lot on this blog about the world being “same, same, but different,” and often we’re just focused on the similarities. It’s much easier for travelers on a minibus crowded with locals to think that they are “normal” just like the locals instead of the wealthy, western traveler. Let’s face it, if you can take time off of work to travel, well then you are more financially blessed than most of the world and yes, that makes you different. This is probably the most disturbing of all “faranji” fever experiences – the complete feeling of being unwelcomely alien. Although we’ve been in Africa for several months and usually we’re the only white people on a local bus or in a local restaurant, we’ve never felt as alien as we have here in Ethiopia. Generally people are interested in us, but we’ve never been stared at like we are in Ethiopia. Here we are different, and almost every moment we’re reminded of it. Besides the faranji stare, we’ve had children throw things at us, yell and follow us down the street, and almost every single time we purchase something we’re confronted with faranji price.
No matter how hard we try to ignore it, we are different.
There’s really only one way to deal with ”faranji”, “muzungu” or “gringo.” Humor. Entering a local watering hole the other day in Harar we were greeted by the faranji stare. Smiling at everyone as I took a seat, I turned to the man next to me, who was curiously staring, put my hand out and said “faranji”. He belly laughed and told me his name before turning back to his friends, where from what I can tell he recounted our meeting with a big smile and laugh. Offering Danny some of his meal (did I mention it was kitfo– raw meat?), a special gesture of friendship here in Ethiopia, the man laughed and smiled even as Danny politely refused. Shaking our hands in a traditional way that conveys respect as he left, we smiled knowing that although we were faranji’s we were the same in a place that we’ve felt so different.