It’s a cloudless, cool morning in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Strapping my nine-month-old on my back in the style of Ethiopian mothers, I leave our fifth floor apartment and descend down into the hustle and bustle of pedestrian traffic: shawled women carrying heavy loads of groceries, groups of uniformed school kids on their way to class, traveling salesmen hawking their brooms, mops, and other wares, and blue and white taxis weaving and blasting syncopated rhythms. I attempt nonchalance as I pass shade-standing onlookers who call out “Ferenj (foreigner), Hello!” and then elbow their friends and chuckle at my accented Amharic greeting.
There is no way to be cool, to fit in. I feel the eyes staring.
I am a stranger.
I duck into a shadowy shop selling aromatic produce along with all manner of convenience items. This shop will become a near-daily stop for my back-riding baby and me— for phone cards, for toilet paper, for powdered milk—but I do not know this yet.
At this point, I have only been in the country for a few weeks, and this is my first solo shopping trip. Such a simple task, yet I am nearly paralyzed with fear.
“Can I help you?” asks a teenage clerk…
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