The Jerusalem guest house, Lalibela
We woke up and unfotunately our money worries were not a bad dream. Damn! Something I had read about briefly in the 'Dangers and Annoyances' section of the Lonely Planet was "Mobbing and Faranji Frenzy". However I didn't really realise the enormity of this country wide phenomenon. I'm sure most people are familiar with a nice peaceful afternoon walk. You know the type, where you walk out in the fresh air by yourself or with a companion, and, although you may pass people along the way, you really are just walking alone. Well, that doesn't happen here in Ethiopia, well not for faranji (foreigners) anyway! Quoting from the Lonely Planet guide: "The most common - and unfortunately the most wearisome - annoyance in Ethiopia is the famous 'faranji frenzy'.
It can take the form of screaming, giggling, shouting or sniggereing children and greets the traveller at almost every turn in Ethiopia.
A priest in one of the rock hewn churches, Lalibela
For the new arrival as much as for the old timer, the phenomenon is in turn distressing, exhausting, infuriating, and demoralising. Unfortunately, you're never likely to get used to it...... Its worth bearing in mind that tourism is still undeveloped in Ethiopia. Much attention stems from the natural curiosity of children. Above all, it is almost never aggressive or hostile" Our hotel (the US$40 one) was down at the bottom of town. It was about 600m to the top up a winding road. We took a walk soon after we arrived to check out somewhere for dinner. As soon as we left the hotel compound we heard "Hello" in all directions.
Children come running. As we keep walking we have more and more companions until we are quite a large group. They have no idea where we are going but they are coming along anyway.
Some walk in silence others ask us questions (actually I'm impressed with their english) "What is your name?" "My name is ...." "Where are you from?" "How did you get here" "Where did you come from?" Out of the corner of my eye I could see some fighting over the 'prime' position of walking in the spot right next to us. At one stage, a little girl grabbed one of my hands as we walked along. Then, another tiny little girl with a very snotty nose grabbed my other. Here we were walking along hand in hand with many others walking with us too. With the little girl, I kept feeling slight wetness on the back of my hand which she must have been wiping her nose with, every so often.
When I looked back at her later, I noticed that she didn't have all that snot on her nose anymore.
I decided that I should probably go back to the hotel to wash my hands before dinner. These two girls held my hand with a vice like grip. It was hard to finally extract my hand from them. All the kids were very sweet, giggling and yelling hello, though some of the boys kept giving us sob stories about needing a new football (they showed us the flat one) or needing money for the local football team, or needing 100Birr to buy a dictionary. Of course there was also the very common one "Give me one pen!". We had to turn down all of their requests (even if we did have money to give them, which we didn't). Don't want to turn them into beggars.
Unfortunately though, it seems like that is too late. Everywhere we turned, hands were out - even a little girl less than a year old said "hello" and held out her hand.
St George's church
There were also a lot of disabled people about (maybe as a result of previous and recent wars - there are still a lot of land mines around) We find begging one of the hardest things about travelling in poor countries such as this. It is hard to know what to do. We would never give to children, but disabled and the elderly.. they can't earn a living but then again it encourages begging and really, giving them a small bit of money doesn't really change anything in the long term. They would be out again tomorrow. We talked about this, and what we could do to contribute something worthwhile.
We decided that we would probably sponsor an Ethiopian child when we got back to Australia. Incidentally, Plan International has projects going on in this town which looks like its been really good for the whole community.
There are signs all over the town and surrounds. Some children are sponsored plus they've built a kindegarten, erected public toilets, and helped out with agricultural projects (the only real industry in this area apart from tourism) When we got back to the hotel, we realised why there is a man permanently sitting by the gate - "the guard". The area is not unsafe at all, but its obvious that he is there to chase the children away from the faranji. He yelled something at them and they all scattered. After that rather intense experience, we decided to eat at the hotel restaurant rather than risk another mobbing. The Lonely Planet was right - it was definitely exhausting (though not demoralising or infuriating this time) It was the same everytime we went out. We really felt like the 'Pied Piper'.