As a young Ethiopian
You are promised
You can always return to Ethiopia
Whenever the world
Becomes too dark
We always had the sweet promise
Of Lalibela honey.
I find myself wanting to run
Unsure if it’s time to head to my destination
Knowing deep down
The clock has not yet struck
That it is my time.
It pains me
That I have felt so desperate
As to desire
To an African affair.
Where I’m From
I am from the land of the kind—
The ones with golden black faces
The ones who walk up mountains barefoot
Still without shoes as they win the races
The smell of smoke and diesel
Which people hate but I always like to say
I am from the land with the growth so drastic
You can smell it coming your way.
I am from the land of shaking shoulders
Dances borrowed by Beyoncé
I am from the land where the spices rule
From pepper to berbere
I am from the land of a rising city
But not so high it blocks the view
Of the mountains in the distance
Reminding the city of what it cut through
I am from the land of natural clocks
The morning one being the orthodox hymns
Waking up the entire city
With historic voices poking their limbs
I am from the land where you cannot resist
The urge for happiness to be redefined
A land where time slows from the Gregorian manner
And leaves you with a relaxed mind
I am from the land of honey wine!
That tastes richer than anyone could know
Until they come to the land of Ethiopia
A treasure of both yesterday and tomorrow
If it was our parents’ dreams to come to the states and educate us, what should our dreams be? Where does the heat, the drive go, once generational destinations have been arrived to? Does diaspora mean lost, or spread apart? I imagine it as the latter. I look around and wonder if it’s not our dream, but rather, our responsibility to return to where it all began. But what would that mean for our children? The children of the diaspora? How lost will they be if I’m still grappling with my roots, clutching one world in my left and another in my right. Can I plant both? Nurture both America and Ethiopia at once? Will those plants feed me once they grow? What if one takes more out of me than I can ever give? Was Atlas a volunteer?
In the same way I grapple with my identities, which trickle down to a dichotomy, I want to navigate an entity through two nations. My dreams can shift, I see. Because now, I see a life where I could spend a year strengthening the identity I understand less. One that has simply been less apparent in proximity. What if I could help a business cut through our dirty kingdom? I love this place. I know its value. But seeing the forgotten projects, the machines of false promises sitting out…I feel a deep sense of disappointment. A sense that I want to convert into one of responsibility.
I used to say I loved the smell of Addis. The smell of smoke and diesel—it was the marker of progress to me. The byproduct of construction that would elevate our home. But this time around, the smell made me carsick. I loved having the windows down, and being connected. But now, I’d do so with a scarf around my face, like I was in an Arab desert. The smell, as much as I loved it, wouldn’t let me adjust to it. I simply couldn’t sit comfortably in it. And that’s how I feel about much of Ethiopia. It’s beautiful. I feel its meaning to me with every fiber of my being. But I can’t accept it just as it is. There’s some things I refuse to stand. Whether it’s corruption, tribalism, or the economic bottlenecks, I do not know. But I hope I can do something about it. How could my destiny not be intertwined with Ethiopia’s?
Ethiopia is kind of a diaspora alignment. However you change, should you choose to return, there is something in you that will be alright. And the country returns your journey’s efforts to you in the form of mental amelioration. It flattens out whatever demons and ego you’ve acquired since you last came. The superficial parts of you will find no company here. You must simply be. You are made uncomfortable learning to do this, and return to find yourself at ease in your disaporic home.
Momo Reading Dreams From My Father
My little Ethiopian cousin reads a story of significance he does not know. He speaks 3 languages so his carefully-paced reading and skipped lines do not give me reason to reduce his praise. He does not stutter over the word Barack. In fact, he says is perfectly, in a way an everyday American would not.
Another Diaspora Day
Today, my diaspora looks like me on a domestic Ethiopian Airlines flight listening to Migos and reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography. We are visiting Lalibela, a religious pilgrimage site even mentioned in my medieval studies/Israel course this past semester. I don’t know exactly what to expect but I feel a sense of worldliness. Especially as I see the Korean man comfortably pick up an Eritrean woman’s baby to play, right off from her lap, then casually bump into the Ethiopian national soccer team, and fight through hellish airport security knowing good and well I am in Africa and no where else!
I used to say Ethiopia smelled like progress, but I’m starting to see I was wrong. My own sense of responsibility is creeping in on me, nudging me, asking me what my plans for this place are.
Lalibela is the Ethiopia you dream of. Addis Ababa is not who I thought she was but she still grows. Both her flaws and skyscrapers grow.
“Remember who you are”. I see the pieces of my path coming together. The past has been just as critical as the future will be. My father cries because he realizes he meets his relative for what could be the last time. I cry as I understand this as well. This trip, it’s like something has been lifted from him. He’s emboldened. More himself, free of whatever was weighing on him. And I have learned to appreciate our family’s history. I’m curious to know everyone’s story, and grateful they’re so willing to share them. It’s like a missing piece of a puzzle I didn’t know existed. It’s faded into my story. My story, as it’s tied to theirs.
Who governs these country people outside of Lalibela? I can’t imagine anyone does. Perhaps they are ruled by factors out of touch from them. Perhaps they are content. Uncorrupted like Addis, they are left to their traditional devices. Their Oxen plow the land, their children herd the animals, their wives bear their future. Happiness is as you make it. Fight for your world as it should be.
Lalibela drew us further in, like a graceful, strong current. She would not let us go before our time. In the face of the beauty she offers before us, a tray of flat-topped all-knowing trees, mountains overlapping one another in their magnificence, clouds of moats guarding her highest peaks. She is a giving nature.
I left Lalibela with an understanding between me and Mother Nature. I had to confess to her I knew she owed no one a thing. We came with two days of clothes, and I left having finished out a lengthier one of my menstrual periods. I watched the massive valley, resembling the Rift Valley but not quite as massive as I’ve heard, and saw her face. A force strong enough to tear the earth apart was not one I could ever expect to work in accordance with my will. I knew to bend like a tree, the knowing ones our ancestors gathered under, whatever she would throw my way from now on. I know not to fight it. Not to mock it. Just to trust in her charms—she knows best.
You pull your English out like an iPhone at a bar, with white men, sitting in the spot with the best view. You know your privilege and exercise it with a tinge of shame and awareness that without it, your face tells a story of less worth to some. Without your costume, your brands, you are no different.