In India, I got used to people (especially children) publicly acknowledging my being a foreigner. People call out “Faranji” (derived from “French” colloquially meaning “white person”) here in Ethiopia all the time. In Kerala, children would shout “Madama!” and point to me from cars, shops, and anywhere else I went. It’s usually harmless, done in good humor with no ill intent, but it takes some getting used to. However, during my last 3 weeks in Addis Ababa I’ve experienced a most perplexing phenomenon: having my racial/ethnic identity being misidentified.
It all started my first Saturday here when I went to the Merkato: a huge, crowded, open air market in Addis that sells everything you could possibly imagine and one of the big sights-to-see in most travel guides. Of course I drew attention, and unsurprisingly heard lots of “sister!” “faranji!” “America/Germany!” And then one guy stopped in front of me and said “Bruce Lee!” My friend Nahom, who was acting as my guide in this maze of shops and stalls, laughed and said, “he thinks you’re Chinese!” I was willing to chalk this experience up to the guy’s poor eyesight, but it’s happened several times. Anytime I’m out, a good 1/3 of the shouts I hear are “Chinese/China!” Still trying to figure out why.