Ethiopia is not an easy place to love. From the moment I touched down in Addis Ababa and was bodily pushed out of the airport door by a security guard, my impression of the country was damaged. Then, as we traveled out to northeastern Ethiopia, the land became more strewn with rubbish and the people increasingly aggressive. Children threw rocks at us. A boy barely ten years of age threatened to slit our throats with a machete. Two men bigger than me smilingly asked me to take a photo of them, then grabbed my arm and demanded payment for it. A toddler threw a stick at our car with so much vehemence that his feet lifted off the ground. We were heckled, shoved, and had our personal space invaded at every turn (though it was sometimes out of curiosity and not maliciousness).
At first I was really upset. Who likes to be treated with this little respect, consideration and dignity? Then, one day, our tour guide sensed the mood and told us: don't worry. Do whatever you want. If you want to take pictures or walk around the village, but they shout and throw rocks at you, ignore them. They are nothing.
Ethiopia has a rough history. Wars, politics and famines have ravaged the country; its scars are obvious to see. There are people begging on the streets for money. As you get further out from the capital the requests become for food, then water. We even visited a tribe that lives in abject poverty, in an area so parched and primitive I could barely believe it exists. Not hard to understand, then, why its people react with such collective resentment.
His words gave me a jolt. In an instant, I understood why and how these people came to act the way they do. How can these people be expected to treat others with respect when they aren't accorded the same, not even by their own countrymen?We all struggle to survive the only way we know - some more so than others - and perhaps, at the end of the day, the best we can do is to recognize how far a little kindness can go.
Sarah Yap, has been a blogger for over 2 years. While her home base is in Singapore, she travels the world and shares her experiences on her blog, Small Girl Big Travels.