Ethiopia: How Can You Not Belong

Growing up in the cities of Punjab, when our Pathan friends used to tell us that you cannot go into the ‘tribal areas’ of Khyber Pakhtunkhua without a friend or an accomplice, we thought that it was because there was so much violence and crime there, that you would get kidnapped the moment you step into the area. Which is probably why they came to be called ‘ilaqa-ghair’ (the other land) in the national Pakistani mindset.

It’s the same in Ethiopia. Anybody you meet, literally anybody, will ask you the same questions: Where are you from? Why are you here? And (most importantly) who you are with?

The answer that you are by yourself just doesn’t make sense. “You don’t know anybody in Harar? What are you going to do then?! How are you going to find your way?! I mean what the even, Sohail!!”

And after you make an effort at explaining that you will get by, that you are used to this, that it’s going to be alright, they will still tell you: don’t tell this to anybody when you get there, tell them you have a friend, tell them you that you know the place, tell them you belong to someone.

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