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November 22, 2017

Bale Rejim Rejim Tse’gurua Setyo - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post - no 32

The problem with the pink house was that it was not the way we expected. The kitchen was not yet given to us and Padma was forced to cook in the drawing room. And it was quite tough as we did not have the adequate utensils. We decided to go to the main market.

We came out and took the blue and white mini bus. The fare was 55 santims (Rs 2.75). But there was a problem with the mini buses. They would be full of students of PEDA and inevitably there would be at least two or three of my own students. The students would be overcome by awe and shyness but would giggle and stare at Padma. Immediately they would whisper “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo” (thanks are due to Elefachew Mossisa for making me get the term and the spelling correct).

We thought it was quite offensive. But any how there was nothing that we could say or do, we could only grin and bear with it. We got off at the market and went on a shopping spree.

We bought a kerosene stove, kitchen utensils, plastic buckets, mugs and then kerosene. It was refreshing to buy kerosene without a ration card. Then the trouble started. All the earlier shops where we bought were big and the shopkeepers  were polite and would speak a smattering of English. 

The interior shops were manned by Ethiopians who would not speak English. Padma and me started showing them what we wanted and then started buying them in quantities that we wanted. We were getting zipped (over charged) but we had no other way.

And the crowd, they would rally around and imitate our voices and actions. It was a riot. The situation was so desperate that we wanted to give up. Then a voice spoke out “Sir, can I help?” and that too in English! I spun around violently. It was a sight just like seeing an oasis for a person who did not have a drop of water for many days! I gaped at the English speaking Angel!

The person who spoke was Tigist (unfortunately I don’t remember her full name). She was a Marketing Diploma student from PEDA and I was teaching her Sales and Marketing course. She quickly grasped the situation and swung into action. From then on the shopping was smooth as silk.

We would tell her what we wanted and show her the items and Tigist would ask, haggle and buy. I could see the difference. I started spending less and less. What we thought would take us hours got finished in a jiffy. I learnt the magical word “sintenum” (how much) and say ORRO nasally which meant ‘oh no” in a slightly annoyed way. Later I learnt to haggle and say “Habesha, Faranji yellam which meant I am a local and not a foreigner”.

We were feeling thirsty and wanted to have a tea or coffee. I had tea, Padma and Tigist had Avocado juice and it was a herculean task trying to stop Tigist from paying the bill. My extreme big built and the Ethiopian traditional respect to teachers finally made her accept my view point that I should be allowed to pay the bill.

Then the real drama started. Tigist started picking up all our bags! She effortlessly picked up bags weighing well over 20 – 25 kgs. At the same time, she looked expectantly at Padma. We did not understand what was happening.

I tried taking the bags but Tigist would not budge. I got rattled and asked “what is the issue, Tigist? Why are you not allowing me to carry the luggage?”. Tigist wailed “oh teacher, how can I let my teacher and that too a man to carry the bags. That is the work for the women folk”.

I was getting a flicker of an idea! I knew what was happening! In traditional Ethiopia, it is the women who carry the load and the man would saunter ahead and take-in the scenery. She thought it was her duty and was getting puzzled why I was so insistent.

I explained to Tigist that in India it is the man who carries the loads and that woman would walk happily behind and may be help with a small bag or two. But Tigist would not budge. She was adamant. It was a stalemate.

There was no getting around Tigist. The omnipresent crowd materialized. It was a scene from a bollywood movie. It was so dramatic and that too it was between a Faranji and a local Ethiopian girl. 

They must have thought that the Faranji was fighting or harassing the local girl, that too a university student! Some of the young men in the crowd I am sure would have started flexing their mental biceps. They were spoiling for a fight.  The situation was getting out of hand!

We started walking to the bus stand and someone suddenly blurted out “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo”. That was absolutely the final straw. I looked at the crowd and yelled “why are you being so rude, why can’t you leave us alone?”

The crowd fell silent but Tigist was puzzled “why are you shouting at them sir?” I was upset but controlled myself and said “This has been happening all the time since we arrived. We know that foreigners are fair game but this is really too much”.  

Not Padma's Picture 
Tigist’s face broke into one of the most beautiful smile “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo is not making fun sir. They are complimenting your wife. The phrase means lady with long hair. They simply love your wife’s dark black hair”.

Padma at that time had very long and luscious hair that would at least be 4 - 4.5 feet long. For Ethiopians who are used to seeing short and curly hair, long black hair would have appeared lovely and exotic. Not understanding the language can lead to so many problems. So after that whenever someone yelled “bale rejim rejim tse’gurua setyo”, I would grin and laugh but Padma somehow could never get used to all that extra attention. 

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