It was my last year of college and with an open J-term coming up, and I was determined to take advantage of the month long break and travel abroad. I just wasn’t sure where. Coincidentally, two of my good friends were planning a trip to Ethiopia to visit friends and relatives. Knowing that my parents would sleep better at night knowing that I was traveling with two male friends of broad and tall stature, I booked my plane ticket to Addis Ababa.
We decided that, for the first two weeks, I would stay with a host family in Addis Ababa and volunteer at a local school while my friends visited family in Gambella, and then we would meet up and travel around the country for the last two weeks of our stay. When we landed in Addis, my host brother and his friend greeted me with flowers and about six relatives came to pick up my two friends. I should mention that my friends come from a tribe native to South Sudan called the Lou Nuer who are known for two things: their daunting height and ability as warriors. Needless to say, after a sufficient amount of intimidation towards my host brother to keep me safe, we went our separate ways.
It didn’t take me long to realize that my gender, combined with my blond hair and fair skin, was enough to draw more than just a little bit of attention. Once, while walking through the streets, a boy sitting outside his house sang a line from a popular Rihanna song, “Hey na na, what’s your name?” as I walked past. Those were probably some of the few English words he knew. Heads turned everywhere I went, to the point where one of my friends reminded me later, “You better enjoy this now because you know it won’t be the same once we go back to the States.”
Though there were six people in my host family, my host brother was the one I ended up spending the most time with since he spoke much better English than anyone else and was the only one with a car to drive into the city. This gave us plenty of time to talk and for me to explain my background, how I came to be in Ethiopia and that my friends were going to be in a city that took two days to get to by bus. Only after it was too late did I realize this might not be a good piece of information to share.
After being in Ethiopia for about a week and going into the city several times with my host brother, he offered to show me the nightlife of Addis. He explained that he, his sister and I would drive into the city, meet up with their friends, check out some bars and dance clubs and if it got too late to drive back that night, they would stay at a friend’s house and get me a hotel room in the city. As I am both adventurous and love to dance, I couldn’t turn down the offer. The next night I got all dressed up, ready for a night of fun, but just as we were about to walk out the door, my host sister informed me that she was no longer coming with us. As I was already halfway out the door and didn’t think anything of it, my host brother and I got into the car and headed for the city.
It became clear to me when our first stop was to a very fancy restaurant, where he had made a reservation for two, that the evening was not going to go according to plan. I brought up, multiple times, the plans to meet up with his friends but he failed to ever give me a clear response. My mind raced for a way to get myself out of this situation but being alone in a city where you don’t know the language or even how exactly to tell a taxi driver where you live, doesn’t leave you with many options. Three bars later I still hadn’t come up with a solution. The night ended with both of us staying in the hotel room that was meant only for me and contained only one bed. There, amid failed advances, he proposed marriage and explained that even though I might not want to marry him, it was clearly God’s will.
This was a small hiccup in an otherwise amazing month in Ethiopia, but it did teach me two things: don’t be as trusting as I was and keep your intimidating male friends with you when you travel in Ethiopia. Sad, I know, but true.