Change Yourself…Change The World.

Being a ferenje in Ethiopia
August 5, 2010, 8:09 am
Filed under: Ethiopia, Pictures Post

Hi friends,

Sorry I’m a little back-logged– internet in hard to come by in Ethiopia!

Tuesday was such a fantastic day. One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to just go to a village and hang out with the locals, and that’s exactly what Yoseph and I did.

To give a bit of a background story- as stated before, all of my travels in Ethiopia have been thanks to Rick Wandoff, an amazing individual who has been to Ethiopia many times, and encouraged me to go. He arranged for me to stay with his good friend Yoseph, who has taken me all around Addis Ababa and other areas of Ethiopia. Rick has been brimming with ideas for different places for me to go and visit. Many thanks again, Rick and Yoseph!

So to get back to our story, Rick and his wife Katie both adopted a daughter from Ethiopia, Sophia, about five years ago, from the Leku Shebedino Village, about an hour drive from Awassa. Sophia’s birth mother died of typhoid, and her birth father died of malaria, leaving behind five children. Rick and Katie adopted Sophia when she was a few months old. Today Yoseph and I went to the village to visit Sophia’s brothers and sister- Asamenew, age 12, Mekebeb, age 10, Abatu, age 9, and Mescrach, age 6. They live with their Aunt and Uncle, Mesfin and Mulu, who have two daughters (Netsanet, age 15, and Selam, age 4).

As soon as we got to the village, the whole family popped out and gave me big awkward hugs, welcoming me to their house. Yoseph led me into a dimly lit room and we all introduced each other. Then we sat there, in a sort of strained silence, trying to figure out what we should say to each other. I had come there to meet Sophia’s family, and to understand more about the locals and village life in Ethiopia, but I also wanted to take pictures of them for Ricks’ family, and as a memento for the village to have. I didn’t want to suddenly whip out my expensive camera and shove it in their faces when they didn’t even know me. What kind of impression would I be giving them as a foreigner, coming into their village, introducing myself, and suddenly turning their lives into a photo shoot? I knew in order for them to feel comfortable around me, some kind of barrier had to be crossed. I wanted to learn more about their lives, and for them to know about mine.

And so, I reverted to automatic mode: acting like a child myself.

‘You play soccer?’ I asked them, Yoseph translating for me.
Smiles crept over the boys’ faces. They nodded.
‘Well, let’s go!’ I said, standing up. Taken off guard a bit, the boys hastened to grab a soccer ball from the shed, which was a gift from Yoseph.

The family and I walked up the village center and near the school- suddenly throngs of Ethiopian boys and girls came hurrying up, giggling behind their hands at the strange ferenje (foreigner) in Thai pants and a sports t-shirt. I waved at all of them and invited that they join. We swiftly divided into teams- Yoseph, Mesfin, Mekebeb, and Abatu, versus Asamenew, me, and two other locals from the village. I handed off my camera to Netsonet and gave a quick tutorial, who held my D5000 like it was an eggshell, and carefully snapped pictures of our game. Suffice to say, we schooled the other team. Three times. It was all thanks to Asamenew, who is Sophia’s eldest brother and a killer soccer player. He should play for the National Team!

After soccer, everyone had sufficiently warmed up to the ferenje, and we all started playing various games. The girls taught me Azureny Atazureny, a sort of singing game where you spin each other in a circle and then let go. I taught them Duck Duck Goose- I know, pretty lame game, but I couldn’t think of anything else. I wish ‘Spud’ had popped into my head- I used to play that all the time as a kid. Asamenew, Mekebeb, and Abatu all got up and sang (I videotaped!), did handstands, and raced each other.

Afterwards, we headed back over to the house, where the family all wrote Rick notes and I snapped pictures of each of them in ‘cool’ poses (I totally prompted this, which resulted in a lot of pictures of them striking silly stances and laughing all over the place). It was a wonderful day that can only be encapsulated by the pictures I took– which you can find below!

My absolute favorite thing to do is to cross boundaries with another culture in this way. I think that it’s equally scary for a foreigner and a local village to feel very shy around one another, which makes them unsure how to interact. I always revert to being silly, playing games, and winning the hearts over of the kids to dissolve this apprehension. I really hope that my Peace Corps experience consists of me being the ferenje in a village like this- playing with the kids every day and sharing our different cultures with one another.

Pictures here:

Our pick-up soccer game- photo credits to Mesfin and Netsanet.

The boys in the yellow and green soccer T-shirts are all Sophia’s brothers. This is Asamenew, the oldest (and best soccer player!)

Mesfin’s close save

The girls teaching me an Ethiopian spinning game, Azureny Atazureny

I’m not quite sure what these two brothers are doing here, but I have a video of them walking like some sort of weird insect

The brothers show off their athletic abilities

Racing time

Netasnet, Abatu, Asamenew, Mekebeb, and Mescrach (Sophia’s family), preparing to race

Some didn’t quite make it back

Another race

One of the youngest kids wanted to join in

Number 1 soccer team in all of  Leku Shebedino

The gallant losers

Mesfin with his daughter, Netsanet

Mesfin’s immediate family

The whole family

Sophia’s siblings

This is where I start telling the kids to strike ‘cool’ poses

Asamenew couldn’t keep it together!

This is definitely not an Americanized pose

Neither is this one


The village kids got jealous and wanted me to take pictures of them

This is what a great day looks like in Ethiopia. Come visit!

Hope you enjoyed!

Much love,


5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great pictures, Brittany! So glad you got to spend time with Sophia’s family. Fun to see how much they’ve changed and grown in the two years since we last saw them. Thank you for making that a part of your trip! It sounds like you’re having an amazing time. All the best to you as you continue on your adventures.

Comment by Katie Wandoff

Thanks for the opportunity Katie! I had such a fantastic time with the kids and the whole village. All thanks to Rick and you! I definitely hope to meet when I get back to the US this November : )

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

Hey miss Ferenje:)Thank you for sharing your experience back at home. You reminded me a lot of my childhood.I used to say “Ferenge” when tourists pass by looool.. I didn’t knew they still do that… So, they have inherited as a traditional culture.

Nice pictures too. I read u had great time. I hope u will go back some time in the future and highlight us you experience.

Thank you again

Comment by Solomon

Thanks for the compliments Solomon! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog post 🙂

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

Hi. I am a Canadian and I saw a story on CBC last night about Ric and Katie Wandoff helping to sponsor a blind Syrian man in coming to Canada

Are you the couple that the story mentioned? What a beautiful story

I hope so. This is a shout out to all your friends and the great , loving people in America to help me with my sponsorship of my 4th Syrian Family. Any help financially or spreading the word would be greatly appreciated. The charity website ( tax receipts for Canadians only) is

Comment by Paul McCaethy

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