Ethiopians are some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. We Americans should take note and adopt some of these practices

By Alexander Walker |

1. There’s always food and drink to share

Hospitality is paramount in Ethiopia. Inviting people to your home is common and with that invitation comes the promise of at least tea, but most likely a coffee ceremony and/or a meal. People invite friends, neighbors, the messenger who simply poked their head in or even someone who simply walks by your open gate with calls of “itto” or “buna setay,” “get in” or “drink coffee.”

On holidays and regular days alike, Ethiopians are incredibly generous with food and drink. It is not at all uncommon for my landlady to knock on my door at 9pm holding a steaming plate of food or a pitcher of sua, just because. Holidays in particular are a testament to this hospitality – endless rolls of injera, countless servings of spicy doro wat and more cups of coffee and sua than one should count are all commonplace and offered to every guest who drops by (and even to those lucky passersby who happened to walk by at the right time).

2. Welcome to the family

I have been welcomed into two families as a daughter, have been embraced by a town, and generally feel a warmth and welcome from people everywhere I go in my daily life, which has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Ethiopians.  Objectively, my existence here in rural Ethiopia as a foreigner (one of two for at least 40km) should provoke far more alienation than it does. Sure, people stare, some kids call me “ferenji,” foreigner, I can always turn heads when entering a room but mostly people have received me in a way I would have never expected (and would, unfortunately, never expect to find in the US).

Two families have made me a part of theirs from the beginning with no questions asked and a large majority of people in town greet me by name or as “teacher” and seem genuinely happy to see me. It never ceases to floor me that this happens, that it is the norm experienced by many Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia. Maybe it is another aspect of hospitality, but Ethiopians are some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. We Americans should take note and adopt some of these practices.

3. “Stranger danger” doesn’t seem to apply

I cannot begin to explain how it feels to have countless children yell your name, run up to you for a handshake or a high five, to be greeted in the middle of nowhere with calls of  “Ally, Allu, Ahri, selam!” from children you’ve never laid eyes on before. Kids who can barely walk see me coming down the road and race (as fast as their little legs can carry them) away from their mothers to give me a handshake.

I cannot separate my “ferenji-ness” from myself here, and many kids are eager to say hi for this reason. But the startling fact is, especially coming from an American context where any interaction with someone else’s children is steeped in perceived dangers and extreme wariness, parents encourage this, some even seem as tickled as I am when their kid yells my name and trots over to shake my hand.

Continue reading this story on Passport to Ethiopia
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