The thing I’ve always liked about foreigners is the way they seem to go anywhere and be comfortably at home. We Ethiopians usually don’t have that quality. We always regard something that isn’t technically ours distantly and with caution. I like how foreigners will be careful around our cities but they don’t hold back on how much they get to kick back and enjoy themselves.
I’m about to tell you a story of a time it went a little too far.
About a month ago, my aunt and I were feeling fancy so we went to the Spa inside Harmony Hotel. It was a foggy day, I was late on my day’s schedule for a late-night event so I was a bit agitated (more than usual).
I spotted the woman as I was paying before entering the Spa. She was a short, stout, light skinned black woman in a white one piece swim suit, dragging her flipflops on the floors as she walked. At first glance, she just looked like someone’s mother from the swimming pool downstairs. You couldn’t tell that she wasn’t a native.
I’d imagine she was supposed to wait for the Cashier to finish with me to ask for her thing but she just stood there gesturing, waving her hands at the cashier.
“መዋኛው በዚህ በኩል ወደታች ነው”, the cashier behind the desk points to the woman thinking that she’d lost her way to the swimming pool.
The woman in the swim suit catches everyone off guard. In a thick African accent that in better days I find super sexy, she says rudely to the cashier, “Towel. Towel. I don’t speak de language. Give me ea towel.” She held out her hand expectantly with half her body turned towards the stairs. It looked like she was ready to just blast towards the stairs the moment a towel touched her hand.
The cashier was startled by the woman’s tone but she quickly composed herself and asked in fluent English, “May I see your receipt?”
“I’m in room. Room.” the woman yells and gestures again. I move a step away so she doesn’t take out an eye.
The cashier calls for someone to get the woman a towel.
She grabs her towel and flip flops away muttering profanities that got everyone looking at each other in alarm.
At that moment I’m thinking, “Oh the poor woman is completely misunderstood because she looks so much like us and no one can tell that she doesn’t know Amharic. It must have irritated the hell out of her.”
I was thinking that but the truth is there were several nicer ways to ask the cashier to speak to her in English. Minutes later an Asian woman asked for the exact same services with such courtesy and even attempted “amesegenalehu” to everyone’s delight.
So, my aunt and I finish making our payments and we enter the relatively full Spa. Almost all the recliners were taken but a staff member promised us that people were leaving so more would be free soon. She finds us two recliners by a corner and tells us we can switch to more preferable ones later. On the recliners she put two signs that, in large bold letters read, “RESERVED” so that if new people came in while we were going about, they would know the beds were taken and refrain from putting their things on it. This seems trivial but it’s really important. Trust me.
So my aunt and I settle in.
About half an hour goes by with me having a good time because I’d somehow caught up to my schedule for the day. Until I came out of the Sauna to see the rude African woman from earlier sitting on my recliner. I look at my aunt’s recliner next to mine and it still had the reserved sign. In fact it had two.
I compose myself, walk over and say to the woman in English, “Excuse me my dear. This bed was reserved. It had a sign on top of it.”
By now some women had left and others had come in but there was just one unoccupied recliner right next to ours.
“So?” The woman says.
“So you need to move to another one. This one is mine.”
She ignores me and takes a luxurious sip of water from her glass. I didn’t know what to do so I waited….and waited as she took that sip.
“Ma’am. You should ask the staff member over there to reserve one for you. My aunt and I have this one.”
“Where de the aunt?”
“She’s in the shower. She’ll be right out. Wasn’t there a reserved sign over here on this recliner?”
“Did you move it?”
“Yes I did you stupid mother*beep* Just leave me you stupid *beep* and *beep* with *beep* and *beep* *beeeeeeeeeeep*”
(Yes I’m beeping out her curse words in writing because I don’t remember the exact ones and because that’s what I do now. I beep out curse words in writing like a moron)
I laughed. I was irritated all afternoon because I was behind schedule but receiving insults laced in beautifully thick African accent from a half naked fat stranger in a spa made me laugh and laugh and laugh. Let’s me be honest. I’m a confrontational person. I am sometimes violent. Don’t let my size fool you. Rage is a good friend of mine. It often gets me into all types of trouble but I don’t control it. That’s why I’m more werewolf than vampire.
This however, this day is one that I am proud of. Because I tried something different. Diplomacy. I called one of the spa workers and asked her to get the woman a recliner even with the insults still echoing on and on in the back ground. But one look at the woman and the spa worker panicked like she’d seen the woman before. She asked me to excuse her and she hurried away.
By now I had an audience of the other women in the Spa. None trying to help. Just silently watching.
I can’t stress enough on how new this territory was to me but I found the whole thing so very bold and amusing. I could have just left the bed for her and taken the empty one beside it but there was the matter of principle. This woman had moved my reserved sign with complete disrespect and occupied a space that I’d paid for. She had flat out insulted me for reasons I couldn’t properly rationalize at that moment. I still had a schedule to keep.
So, I sat there on the next recliner and I started talking to her.
I was no longer trying to be polite but I didn’t resort to profanities and insults either. My mind started to question what in the hell this was. It felt like someone had come to my house to spit on me and take my John Green books. My mind went to places like, “This woman has a mental illness.” “Oh my God, Is this racism?!” “You could take her if you were wearing anything more than a towel.”
The foreigner kept the insults coming and very VERY slowly sipping her glass of water now and then. I started talking over her. “You could have just asked for a bed, you know. And I saw you earlier being super rude to the cashier out there. Where in the hell are you from?”
“Dat is non of yu beznes.”
“Okay. True. But something is definitely wrong with you. What is it that has irritated you this much? What is so wrong in your life? What have you been through? What is it?”
“Shut op! Shut op! *beep*”
I hope you’ve gotten my gist by now.
“No, I’m actually not going to shut up until you get off my fucking recliner. What is it? Was it your husband? Is he a dick? Is it work? Is work driving you crazy? Do you work?”
There were several facial huffing and puffing motions before her glass of water, that in this moment I would learn also had lemon in it, went flying into my face. The lemon burned my eyes.
I was still laughing.
She strutted out still yelling profanities, so very angrily. But I had won. I had talked the woman off my recliner! I was being so childish about it, I was basically giving her a raspberry.
Here one of the guests who’s been standing around watching asked me, “Did she hit you?” The Staff member from earlier came followed by the manager who apologized in such a professional manner it overwhelmed me. My aunt also finally came out of the shower, “What happened? What happened to you? Did you get in a fight again?”
I swear I have never been so angry yet so entertained by anything in my life ever.
I know nothing about what that African woman could have been going through. I don’t know what kind of day or life she must have had in order to justify how she gets to act the way she did. But after she had left, so many of the women started talking about how this foreigner came to our country and disrespected us the way she did.
The Asian Woman from earlier came in and took the one empty recliner beside the one I had just won back. The staff members smiled at her and offered her towels.
I lay back on my recliner and wondered what Atse Yohannes IV and Atse Tewodros and Atse Menelik would have made of me.