Coffee talk in Addis

The other day I was in the Piazza neighborhood of Addis Ababa having coffee with my friend Meskerem. Meskerem just finished her degree in tourism, and will be taking an exam next weekend for tour guide certification.

As we sipped our machiattoes (I’m completely addicted by the way), our conversation turned to cultural differences between Americans and Ethiopians.

I shared a story with Meskerem about a car accident I witnessed a few days before I left Seattle in July. As I was driving home from the grocery store, a car crossed three lanes of traffic and struck the front passenger’s side of another car. The car flipped in the air, its air bags deploying, leaving the family inside in shock. I pulled my car over to the side and got out of the car, helping the family to get out of their car and move safely away from its smoking engine. And then I called 911.

Thank goodness everyone was okay and was able to walk away from the accident.

The thing that surprised me most during this event were the hundreds of people who passed by and not only didn’t stop, but honked their horns because their travel was delayed.

When I told this story to Meskerem, she said that this kind of thing would never happen in Ethiopia. She said if an accident like that would happen, more people than you would expect (or need) would come to help, and everyone would be taken care of, even before the police came.

This got me thinking about the way Americans show care or empathy for other people. Is it easier (and more common) for Americans to give money rather than time? Is empathy shown in dollar sign instead of hugs? I have no answers but it is something my conversation with Meskerem get me thinking about…

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