There is something about being in a foreign country with different systems and ways of doing things, combined with the fact that I am so visible as a foreigner, that leads to frequent embarrassing moments.
The first in the series was a couple of weeks ago now (and I’m only just ready to talk about it!). I was walking along the dirt road towards the CPAR compound. In order to make it to the gate, I had to make a right turn, but coming up on my right side was a horse and cart. Not too familiar with horses, I thought that I could make it in front of the buggy. As I went for it, I realized what a miss calculation that was, and in my hurry I dropped my cell phone. I reached back for the phone, to get it safely out of the way of pounding hoofs, and as I did, a roar of shock and laughter went up from the row of merchants across the street. I made it safely into the compound, unscathed. When I decided to venture outside again about an hour later, the laughter began once again at the mere sight of the farenj who almost got hit by the horse!
My cell phone works on a pay-as-you-go system. Each time I run out, I fill it up using the code on the back of a card. The prompts on the card are in English, but over the phone they’re in Amharic. The other day, my phone ran out of minutes for the first time: I dialed the number of one of my Canadian friends, and in response got a stream of Amharic. I figured that maybe the maid had picked up the phone, so I tried in my broken Amharic to explain that I wanted to talk to Dwayne. But she just kept on talking, repeating the same thing over and over again in a language I couldn’t understand. She didn’t even try to say anything about Dwayne! ‘Rude,’ I thought, and hung up the phone. Slowly it dawned on me that I had probably just tried having a conversation with a recording, telling me that my phone credit had run out!
While we were in the CPAR Jarso project areas, visiting with the beneficiaries, one of the farmers reached into his field and picked some pea pods and offered them to me. They contained the sweetest and tastiest peas I’d ever tasted. Two weeks later, I found a man with a wheelbarrow on the corner near my house, selling the same pods. I spent 3 birr (about 40cents Canadian) on half a kilo and took them home for dinner. Unfortunately when I opened the first one, they were mealy and tart. I tried the next one, and experienced the same thing. Not wanting them to go to waste, I brought them to the Lunch Club leader, to include in the menu (cooked) sometime this week. I guess he misunderstood my intention, because the Tea Lady has just arrived in my office with a heaping plate of boiled peas, still in the pod! Coworkers keep coming into my office, looking at the plate of food with a strange glance, and pretending it doesn’t exist. I think I’ll donate it to the lunch buffet when 12:30 hits.