The Strong Women of Ethiopia
So when I got to my town, the altitude did take its toll on me at first; but now, I have adapted, in the words of Ethiopians.
But what I haven’t adapted to is how incredibly strong Ethiopian women are. Not only strong, but with endless stamina and an ability to adopt the craziest body contortions to accomplish a variety of tasks.
The other day, I was sitting at the best bunna* bet in town with my friend, Esmeal, talking about how I got 4 packages at once and carried them back to my house in one trip. Esmeal of course, is appalled that I didn’t call him to ask for help carrying it all home. So I told him, if Ethiopian women can carry all the crazy, heavy things that they do everyday without being offered help, then I can certainly carry 4 boxes for a fifteen minute walk. If they can do it, so can I. I am a strong, independent woman living in Ethiopia after all.
Esmeal laughs at me for about five minutes, and concedes that yes, that does make sense. That as much as ferenj** women are offered help (for money or for the good in the hearts of those offering), its important to show that we are not fragile creatures to be coddled, but strong, independent women who are no different from the women we interact with in country.
At least, that’s the conclusion I had reached before telling my other friend, Ayub, about this little exchange. I was pretty proud of my answer, so I wanted to share it with him.
Now, I consider Ayub a very forward thinking Ethiopian, as well as one who is very honest with me and gives the best advice.
So when I tell Ayub this story, his reaction is the following: Well yes, you are capable, of course, but the problem is that when you say ‘No’ to friends who want to help you, then they start to think that all women are fine on their own. Already, its a problem that the women do all the work, and very few men offer to help them. You should show the men in the town that they need to offer to help women. That they should respect women enough to offer to help them instead of walking past a woman carrying an insanely huge bundle on her back who has to stop to rest because it’s too heavy. Oh, and she’s also carrying a child.
At first, I wanted to spout off a witty comeback, to disagree and say, ‘No, my view is correct! And you should realize that!’
But I had to just sit back, because it really made me think. Back home, I would carry as much as possible and say I didn’t need help so that people would think I’m strong. I’m an incredible woman, who doesn’t need help doing things, look at me! In Ethiopia, sure, you can think that way, but the mindset doesn’t quite equate.
Here, women are strong, that’s a given. But they are also basically considered beasts of burden. So me, not accepting help when offered,doesn’t help women here gain any sort of standing. That comes from my first world upbringing, but helloooo, you’re living in the third world now, honey. All it does is prove something that doesn’t matter here. As a transplant, I need to show the men that yes, you should offer to help because its important to help each other, and to show that women are valued for what they do. And then maybe, just maybe, we’ll think about each other’s needs a little more rather than just making assumptions.
Now, lets look at this revelation with a grain of salt. I’m talking about when you’ve been living in a place for a while, and your friend, landlord, or colleague offers to help. I am not saying you should accept the help of the man at the Shashamene bus station, or in Addis, the capital. Because then they may just be after money, or your bag, or the cellphone you carelessly tucked into the open side pocket of your giant travel backpack. Yes, there are genuinely good people out there, but let’s be real, when you’re traveling in Ethiopia, just bring what you can carry. When you’re living someplace, it’s a whole other ballgame.