In this interview series we let our members take the spotlight! Today, we are introducing Cynthia, an Australian expatriate who moved to Addis Ababa earlier this year. She blogs about her African adventure on New Flower Ethopia.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Ethiopia, etc.
I’m Cynthia, I’m 26 years old, and I come from Australia. I travelled to Ethiopia in January 2013 with my boyfriend Ari, who is starting an export business in Ethiopia, exporting by-products of animals to India and China for medicinal purposes. I’m currently working part-time as a marketing consultant/trainer at a promotions company.
I also volunteer at a school in Addis, called The School of St Yared, for the NGO Hope for Children Australia. Although my professional skills and experience lie in business marketing & management through co-founding a wholesale/retail fashion empire in Australia, my passions are issues like women’s empowerment, fighting sex trafficking, family planning, and tribal culture. I wish to begin a socio-cultural anthropology degree in the near future via Open University.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging on my experience here because I thought my photos were worth 1,000 words and I wanted to share pictures and stories with my friends, family and anyone else who was interested.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My favorite blog entry would have to be my post on the bull jumping ceremony.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Ethiopia differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I have volunteered in India and been to many third-world countries before, so I can’t exactly say that Addis Ababa was shocking in any way. Ethiopia is full of culture, diversity and warm, loving people – despite the in-your-face poverty. I believe that the heart of the world beats here in Africa, and unlike some countries on the continent, Ethiopia is a perfect example of this.
Anything from weddings in the street, invitations by random people to come and share a meal with them, beautiful scenery, ancient tribes, locally grown produce, and so much more can be encountered in this magnificent country. I found Australia (although it offers an easy life) to be incredibly monotonous. Ethiopia still surprises me every day, and I love the time I have spent here so far.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Ethiopia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I think I was fully prepared for Ethiopia.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
The ‘Ethiopian gasp’ springs to mind. This gasp the locals do on a regular basis is a sign of acknowledgment. In Western culture, it’s the quick intake of breath when you are suddenly frightened for some reason. But here it occurs in almost every conversation. It took me about three weeks to get used to this gasp. The first time I heard it was in a taxi.
“So how long are you here for in Addis?”
“Maybe two years, not exactly sure yet… do you have a family?”
“What?!” I thought the car was about to crash or something!
Another time happened in the supermarket.
“That will be 650 Birr.”
“Did you say 650 Birr?”
“What? What’s wrong?”
It was very funny…
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Ethiopia?
• Bring good quality and comfortable gumboots for the rainy season. You’ll thank yourself.
• Bring US dollars and make sure your international bank account doesn’t charge you an exorbitant withdrawal fee (the maximum ATM withdrawal is approximately US$220).
• Take weekend trips out of Addis to explore. There is so much to see and do here at any time of the year.
How is the expat community in Ethiopia? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
To be honest, I haven’t really gone out much here with Ari, and when we do, we tend to keep to ourselves and people don’t really approach us. Apart from a few expats I have met at the gym and in coffee stores, as well as the locals I work with, I don’t really have any other friends here. However, I’m certain that if you were to go out alone in Addis, it would not be difficult to find a friend or two within the first five minutes of arriving!
How would you summarize your expat life in Ethiopia in a single, catchy sentence?
The general liveliness and day-to-day business in Addis never cease to amaze me.
(Photo credits: 1) Cynthia F. 2) Habesha Women Performing a Dance by Wikimedia Commons user Middayexpress 3) Ethopian Snack by Wikimedia Commons user Rama)
Very interesting how you perceived the gasp!