Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ethiopia: Solo Quandaries in Awassa, Day 9, Tuesday

When you're traveling in a place where you look, speak, hear, dress, and sometimes act differently from most everyone else, it is easy to get into a self-centered place. As in, you assume every slight, every larceny, and every kindness is because you're a foreigner. You forget that slights, larcenies, and kindnesses occur every day to everyone in the place.

Photo credit: Social Enchilada

This morning, I felt stressed. I had a decision to make and a problem to solve, and they felt like large rocks I had to move. It didn't matter that both the decision and problem were minute.

Decision: When do I leave Awassa? To where?

Problem: I'd turned off my phone, not remembering that I'd have to enter my PIN to re-access it, and not realizing that I'd lost my PIN. After I entered some possible PINs, the phone then requested a PUK #, about which I was clueless. So I had an unusable phone that wasn't even mine -- it was that scoundrel Habtomi's. How was I going to fix this problem?

Why I was letting either of these trivial issues get me so downhearted, I don't know. I think it's one of those occasional downsides of solo travel - you get weary of being responsible for all of the decisions and problem-solving.

On my way out of the hotel, I stopped at registration to pay for tonight's room. I mentioned my phone predicament to the daytime clerk; she asked if I had the larger card from which the SIM card would have been popped out. (All of this communication occurred via a little English, a little Amharic, and some body language.) I said no, realizing, of course, that Habtomi would have this. The clerk said I should go to "telly," the telecommunication agency, across the street from the agricultural college.

Ok, this is an exaggeration. Photo credit: Stafford Carson
Later in the day, I did go to that office, where I entered a room filled with seated people awaiting their turn at an official's desk. I groaned inside, envisioning a maddening experience a la Sprint or Embarq, those spawns of Satan. But then the yin/yang of faranjidom kicked in, and the guard pushed me up to the next desk opening despite my (admittedly weak) demurral. I explained to the patient official that I was borrowing the phone from an acquaintance and that I lost my PIN, and had neither the PUK # nor my acquaintance's phone number. The official looked up "my" phone number in the agency's computer system. (Fortunately, I'd had the foresight to enter the phone number into my notebook.) He located the SIM card's PUK #, retrieved my PIN, got my phone re-started, tested it out, and sent me on my way. He wrote the PIN and PUK #s down for me. Problem solved! And no charge, even. I walked out of the agency building down the boulevard, easy and light.

(Is it fair that I got pushed up to the head of the line? Hell no! And I'm embarrassed that I was such a willing accomplice to the fact. ... 'course, maybe this is a benefit of the faranji tax.)

Note: On further reflection on experiences like this - being pushed to the head of the line - another way to look at it is that we faranji are sometimes treated like guests in an Ethiopian home, which, I think, is the best and most likely explanation.

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