Wednesday, August 19, 2015

hager lij : child of the country

The market, the minibus, the diesel fumes and museums, too, the dusty roads and gums green with ch’at, the women’s braids and the peasant boys’ gallop, the coffee cups being cleaned… The construction sites and the edge of each town, the shapes in the land and the shades of brown and green, the city slickers, the country leisure… The men wrapped in gabis with their walking staffs, the crack of the whip and the smell of sheep, the winding roads and breathtaking cliffs, the motor accidents abandoned to the shoulder… Monks on the street in Arat Kilo and colorful country mosques behind false banana on the road to Jimma… the butchered limbs of beggars, nightclubs in Addis, “mastika? soft?”… the honk-honking and blaring of wedding processions, the roads being built, the little girl in the souk – scarf resting on her head, chin on her hand.

This is the place I will miss.

Or the way, when you ask the bajaj drivers in Dire Dawa the cost of the fare, they always say: chigger yellum. no problem.

Or the way, driving into Jimma at night, in the darkness of the countryside – passing houses with open doors, the shapes of bodies framed in the doorway against the red glow of hearths – through the darkness of the countryside – the occasional souk lit by a single electric bulb – the darkness of the countryside, people walking by the side of the road, the stars starting to glow in the sky, above, the night looking blue-black as it spreads on all sides – and then driving into Jimma at night, the sudden burst of light and buildings and bodies, the way Jimma is a city, the excitement and the thrill…

Or even being detained at immigration when returning to Addis on a domestic flight with no passport. The way I cried – the heart of things – the feat of belonging and bureaucracy --- “Baby, it’s OK… Let me talk to… I know…” B tells me --- and resisting. The way the immigration officials just sat and talked with me, occasional crowds arriving, pouring in, passing through, leaving, me still sitting there, waiting, the way they said it is OK, offered me shay? buna?, walked me to the bathroom to wet my face, the way they said goodbye a few hours later when my uncle arrived with my passport…

This is the place I will miss.

Monday, August 17, 2015

operation aborted - or, a eulogy

-for B.

I do not often find myself for lack of words. But perhaps because this experience has cut so deep, I bled them all out. Now bare, I place myself upon the page – as rain in Addis, or the eastern heat. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

"No Title"

Learning a language is often fraught with humor. Either humor or shame. And it seems to me it leans not to the latter but the former when learning in the company of friends. And for this knowledge, I am blessed.

yanchi fiqregña konjo newo? T asks me at work one day, is your sweetheart handsome?

Friday, July 24, 2015

“Work in Progress…”: parts i & ii

part i

In the light of this summer (the massacre of nine black people in a church in Charleston, the burning of more black churches, Sandra Bland now wrongly arrested and found hanged in her cell, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book), and at my father’s urging, I want to reflect on my months of respite from American race politics: I came to this place to recover myself.

black folk always be leavin the segregated states of amerikkka – to free themselves, find themselves.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Gestures of Piety

“kefitfitu fitu.”

Which translates roughly into: “Rather than the fitfit, the face.”

In transmitting this proverbial gem, my Amharic teacher sets an everyday scene, so familiar to the fabric of life in Ethiopia: a plate of firfir, or any food, and an invitation to eat.

yekremt git’im : poem of the rains

Rain in Addis arrives like poems.

Without warning words arrive,
channeled from the deep.
Intuition swells, bursts:



On Signs and Dogma

There is a small sign on the side of the road that leads to the compound where my aunt’s house is located. It is nondescript, and easy to miss. But since it has caught my eye, I have been unable to get it out of my mind. I suppose it has caught my mind, too, as a consonant on a vowel, or thread on a hook.

Friday, July 03, 2015

asunder, a city

Today, as with any other day, having paused in the afternoon bustle of Piassa to browse the book titles laid out for purchase, two young men passing by –

faranj nech.

ay, habesha nech.

they argue with one another, peering back over their shoulders at me as they walk on. If not used to it, at least no longer surprised, I just shake my head and laugh to myself in reply.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ihud be’iger, Sunday by foot

qas be’qas inqulal be’igru yeheydal… little by little, an egg goes by foot…


After unpacking and showering, I slept most of Day 1.

Above activity was repeated on Day 3.

Accordingly, my Uncle was able to remark gently, complimenting my display of fortitude on Day 2 as our car first inched through the traffic jam of Piassa, and then snaked through the dusty throngs of stuff-hawkers, stuff-shoppers and the occasional donkey or sheep crowding the streets of Merkato --- “You have to be crazy to go to Merkato on your second day in Addis.”


Day 4, Sunday, I took to the streets – be’iger, by foot

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Good Apples, Big Apples, Rotten Apples… and New Flowers

The blogosphere is as different nine years later as Addis Ababa is.

The both have seen tremendous “development” – or growth – or, simply, change.

The Day of the Downfall of the Derg

I arrived in Addis around six o’clock on the morning of Thursday, May 28, 2015 -- or, twelve o’clock by Ethiopian time, which (rather sanely) is oriented to sunrise and sunset (even if somewhat metaphorically).

And while I don’t know the date by the Ethiopian calendar rather than Gregorian, I do know that the day that I arrived was --- The Day of the Downfall of the Derg.

All the banks were closed for the national holiday. I couldn’t exchange any of that cash that I carried close on my person to the other side of the world.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015


To You, Friends of the Diaspora,

Below are two stories providing a brief background as to why I grew motivated to return to Addis Abeba… and am writing from there now – “as we speak”.

(For background on the background, see after the stories.)

May these stories find and leave you well! Cheers,

sämra r.g.

The Voyage, The Journey, The Quest

How do I start? Where do we begin?

ze’teyn amet bohala, ze’teyn amet befeet,
ena, iziga neyn…

nine years later, nine years before,
and, here i am…

And, it’s a good place to be. So, why don’t we take it from…

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Dear Diaspora,

I'm heading home.

Back to the fatherland. For nearly three months. After nine years.

Time for these shadows to be resurrected.

So, dear blogosphere, I hope that you'll join me for the ride... or at least one or two adventures along the way?

For the Source,
Sämra G.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Broken Bridges: A Memoir

So, this is a sort-of memoir that I wrote last year, my senior year at Head Royce, for my second semester English elective. The layout can be a bit confusing at first, so I recommend a couple of go-overs. I hope you enjoy it. A special thanks to a reader of my blog for my final line.

Broken Bridges
Samra Girma

“To stomp about the world ignoring cultural differences is arrogant, to be sure, but perhaps there is another kind of arrogance in the presumption that we may ever really build a faultless bridge from one shore to another, or even know where the mist has ceded to landfall.” – Barbara Kingsolver


My father did not want to come to America.
They killed his leader,
Burned his transcripts,
Held his brother at gunpoint.
When they visited Addis Ababa University,
Machine guns rained bullets upon the students.
Mothers sifted through piles of
Corpses stacked in the streets,
Covered in red slogans.
Paint or blood?
He ran.


I am two.
My father teaches me Amharic.
I begin to stutter.
He stops. I never learn.
There have been so many
Ethiopian New Year’s,
Ethiopian weddings.
Ethiopians love to celebrate,
Dance, eat, talk.
I always sit next to my mom,
But I face her back.
She chats with a neighbor.
I sit quietly,
Watching indolently.
Others dance,
Their shoulders bouncing
Up and down with the rhythm.
I cannot Iskiste.
My fingers do not know
How to wrap injera around lentils.
It becomes soggy and crumbles.
I hear Amharic all around me,
But it sounds harsh and strange.
I do not understand this foreign language.


Kids laugh when they hear “Djibouti.”
Boys make crude jokes and
Girls huddle over maps with glittering eyes.

It never crossed my mind to laugh at “Djibouti.”
He ran to Djibouti, hidden in the trunk of a car.
He spent four days at the border,
Penned in a four by four cell.
In a dehydrated delirium he anticipated death
And used his belt buckle
To scrape a goodbye on the walls.
One day a woman’s hand descended over a wall
Offering a bowl of milk.

He was transferred to a prison.
For a month he was caged
With criminals and other refugees.
Food was communally shared in a large cauldron,
Soggy rice with bits of the butcher’s meat scraps.
Men would ravenously thrust their arms into the pot,
Their dirty hands swimming through the slush
In search of the rough bits of meat,
And smear the slop on their tongues.
He would not, could not.
Luckily, each morning they served
A piece of bread and a cup of tea.

By a miracle, he was released
And made his way to the capital.
He slept under cardboard on the streets
Until his mother sent him money to rent a shack.
A year later he left for America.

He does not remember laughing once while there,
But kids laugh when they hear “Djibouti.”
Boys make crude jokes and
Girls huddle over maps with glittering eyes.


When she was younger,
My white mom discoed to soul and Motown.
She dated the president of the BSU at UC Berkeley,
Ignoring patronizing stares and death threats.
She ran around Lake Merritt at night,
Bathing in the silence of the semi-darkness,
Passing the Black Panthers practicing their self-defense.

When I was younger,
I would pick up barbeque with my mom.
Clinging to my mom’s wrist,
I would glance warily at the black men in line.
Later I would lick my fingers,
Barbeque sauce smeared around my mouth,
And declare:
“I love barbeque,
But those black men scare me.”
My mom would laugh at me.


My parents met at a bar,
The Graduate on College Ave.
My mom wore big glasses and short skirts.
My father had an afro and a thick accent.

Now my mom is hypothyroid
And takes blood pressure medicine.
Now my father has high cholesterol
And sprinkles his Amharic with English.


My inflection is confusing.
Isn’t she black?
My mocha skin is deceiving.
Her mom is white.
I am more than one check mark on your standardized exam.

My parents tell me that I am beautiful,
But in America
I want her thin hips,
And I covet her golden hair,

And so in the past I ran from defining myself:
Black, Mixed, Ethiopian-American.
Instead I fancied myself a woman of the world.


My father writes:
“We are a generation
that was forced to leave our homeland under very difficult circumstances
and to raise our kids in all corners of the globe.
We are also a traumatized generation
that dreams of the day when our homeland will know peace instead of war.
We dream of the day when our leaders will have the wisdom
to lead with dignity and honor as their forefathers did,
instead of perpetuating a cycle of hate and disaster.
In the meantime, we yearn to share with,
and maybe pass on to our children,
a piece of this special place where we grew up
that most of us still call home.”


I always wanted to spend a year abroad.

During my freshman year my parents suggested I go to Ethiopia.
I wholeheartedly rejected their idea.
In the eyes of the Western world,
Africa is infected and tainted,
Riddled with disease, poverty, and corruption.
Africa spends every day combating AIDS and starvation
While venal governments bask in luxury and wealth.

During my sophomore year I realized race.
I watched the white girls get invited to prom by the older boys again,
Saw movies like “Bamboozled” and “Hotel Rwanda,”
Read books like Beloved and Reservation Blues,
And began to more fully understand
Racism, Hate, Ignorance, and History.
My future seemed impossibly stuck and predetermined.

During my junior year I left for Addis Ababa.
I left for buses and taxis and streets of black faces looking back at me.
I left for old men with wise wrinkles chewing chat outside of tiny souks.
I left for crusty-eyed children mobbed by flies selling Soft tissue paper at stoplights.
I left for the priests’ Ge’ez incantations gliding on the still morning air.
I left for the warm smell and hazy smoke of fresh-roasted coffee beans.
Some would say I went home.


He needs his fix.

Like the alcoholic in the smoky bar
Or the drug addict at the crack house,
He slinks off to the restaurants.
Birbire still stuck under his fingernails
He comes home drunk off of the flavors,
High and dizzy with memories.
When he kisses me goodnight
His clothes reek of spices.

He is forever addicted to Ethiopia.


Half a year has passed,
It is the last day of classes before the Winter Holiday.
My face is beaming, I am ecstatic.
I incessantly chirp,
“I’m going home tonight!”
An Ethiopian friend grins,
Looks at me hard, and says,
“Home? This is your home,”
He fervently jabs a finger at the ground.
I cannot tell whether or not he is kidding.
“Ethiopia is your home.”
He says this with passion.
And people are only ever half-joking.
I tell him that I am only half Ethiopian,
I have attended the same school for the past five years,
I have lived my entire life in Oakland, California.
I have only been in Addis for the past five months.
He does not say anything.


My father’s name “Haile” means power.
In America people butcher it:
Haley, Hail, Halle.
But it does not matter,
Because in Ethiopia his name recalls
His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, a great leader,
Haile Gebreselassie, one of the best track runners of all time.


Ethiopia gives me confidence and understanding:
I am three special bracelets that I wear on my left wrist everyday.
I am soft, smooth, arms that I love that other people love.
I am short, curly hair, a funny ear, stretch marks on my hips, and a weird lisp.
I am a fine food aficionado and a shopping addict.
I am music, movement, and knowledge.
I am loving too hard and suffering from the backlash.
I am bright colors that often feel dark.


I was intimate with Ethiopia:
I laughed at its absurdities
And suffered from its misfortunes,
Yet I still saw its undemanding beauty.
I saw it for what it is, I hated it for what it is, I loved it for what it is.

Now Addis seems so far away.
Ethiopia and California are two completely different worlds,
Separated not only by mountains and oceans and other peoples’ lives,
But by a distance that lives in my heart and my mind,
A knowledge that consumes that my body.
In Oakland, Ethiopia doesn’t seem real,
Simply another silly dream.
It’s funny how this happens,
How the past rusts and fades in my memories.
Or rather, it becomes faint whispers of something that has happened,
Maybe only something that could have happened.
When I reach out to grab them…
Well, whispers are fairly hard to catch.

And my father?
My father did not want to come to America.
Sometimes, late at night, I get up for a glass of water.
Walking past his nook, I see him sitting there,
Leaning on his desk, completely engrossed.
The lights are off, but the computer screen glows blue around him.
He devours pages of Ethiopian newspapers online,
But he especially loves the blogs:
Political blogs and personal journals,
Blogs by Ethiopian expats and European foreigners.
He craves those words,
Yearns for the images they tease into his mind
Of a past, of a home.
He searches them for hope of one day being able to return.
Silently suspended in his blue world,
Ethiopia haunts him.

But the other Ethiopian men sit together at Starbucks.
My father makes his cappuccinos at home.
His mornings are slow and lazy.
He yawns as he descends the stairs to the kitchen.
His house is modern, angular, glass,
And the morning mist recedes from the hills,
Exposing his million-dollar view.
He lounges in his bathrobe next to my mom.
They sip their cappuccinos and chat
Clients, family, dinner.
A kiss goodbye.
He showers, dresses, and drives off to work.
He will never return to Ethiopia.


Here’s to finding and redefining ourselves.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Father's Perspective

During the last year, this Blog has helped us follow Samra’s sojourn as a young Ethiopian-American spending a year in Ethiopia. Family, friends and almost 600 other individuals have read her reflections. Some have left their blessings, words of encouragement, admiration, and well wishes. As her father, I thank you all for your kind words.

I wanted to write this entry primarily to share my perspective with other Ethiopian parents in the Diaspora. My purpose is simply to tell how our family decided to send our daughter on this sojourn and what the year meant to us. It is neither to advocate nor discourage others from doing the same. We all have different challenges and circumstances in life and have to chart our own way on how to get things done.

We are a generation that was forced to leave our homeland under very difficult circumstances and to raise our kids in all corners of the globe. We are also a traumatized generation that dream of the day when our homeland will know peace instead of war. We dream of the day when our leaders will have the wisdom to lead with dignity and honor as their forefathers did, instead of perpetuating a cycle of hate and disaster. In the meantime, we yearn to share with, and maybe pass on to our children, a piece of this special place where we grew up that most of us still call home.

For years I dreamt of spending a year in Ethiopia, so my kids could experience what it really meant to grow up there. I wanted them to experience what I experienced. I wanted them to experience what it meant to grow up in a place where everyone looked like you. I wanted them to experience what it meant to grow up in a place where children are celebrated and considered the utmost gift from God. Most of all, I wanted them to experience the beauty and diversity of Ethiopia. Although we have visited Ethiopia a few times starting in 1995, I did not feel they really appreciated all the things that gave meaning to the essence of Ethiopia. In order for that to happen, I felt they needed to experience going to school there, having friends there, and living a day-to-day life surrounded by the sounds and sights of life in Ethiopia.

I had hoped one of my associates would manage my business in California, while I spent a year with my family in Addis. Unfortunately, that did not work out. I had almost given up when a friend’s wife who had moved back from Los Angeles about seven years ago was visiting in early 2004 and suggested that Samra should come stay with them for a year. Their oldest son had just moved back to LA to finish high school and their daughter, who is Samra’s age, would love for Samra to come and spend the year with them. That was a tough decision. I had not envisioned my kids in Ethiopia without me. They would be leaving us soon enough to go to college, and a precious year away at this age seemed unbearable. However, as they say, timing is everything. Samra was at a stage in her life where issues like identity were paramount in her life. She wanted to take the opportunity. She wanted to go. How could we say no?

We took her to Ethiopia in mid-August and helped her settle down with our friends while we stayed at my cousin’s house. My cousin is an educator on the East Coast and uses her house mostly during the Christmas and summer break. The house came with a caretaker who also happens to be a great cook. Samra’s first day of school was tough, though. As adults we sometimes forget how much a teenager’s identity is wrapped up with who their friends are. Samra has always been a social girl with lots of friends. However, that first day of school she did not know a soul at ICS except her cousin Sally, whom she had just met. I still have the visual of her standing alone in the assembly between all the kissing and hugging of kids who had not seen each other all summer long. Watching her watch the kids, I thought maybe this was a mistake. That evening I was sure it was a mistake. It was one of the worst days of my life. Samra came home in tears. I called Sally and told her it’s her job to have lunch with Samra every day and to take her under her wing. I called the school counselor at home and asked what else I could do. Does he have any words of wisdom? He said it’s not just the new kids who have a hard time at the beginning of school; even his daughter has been crying all night because her best friend has moved back to Europe. He also said from his experience this will all be history in a week. He was right. By the end of the week Samra was flapping her wings and flying into the horizon. We stayed in Addis until mid-September to make sure she was doing ok, but she wasn’t very interested in our being there. We then left and came home.

I have to admit the first few months were not easy on me. We typically called Samra a couple of times a week. There were a couple phone conversations where I wondered what the $#@^ did I do leaving my baby girl thousands of miles away. I almost got on a plane a few times after talking to her on a day when she was particularly having a hard time. That is when Marsha and I decided one of us would have to spend quit a bit of time there. We decided it would be easier on us as a family for Marsha to go. We also decided that she would keep going back periodically as long as Samra needed us there. I really…really missed my little girl during those first few months. I couldn’t wait for her to come home for Christmas.

Marsha actually ended up spending another three and half months in Ethiopia. She went back in November and came back home with Samra for Christmas. She went back again from mid-March to mid-April and also from mid-May to mid-June. This actually ended up being a blessing for Marsha as well. In the past, she had seen Ethiopia through my eyes. During her stay, she learned to appreciate Ethiopia through her own experience and interactions. She was also able to do some volunteer work at ICS giving her a chance to interact with the expatriate and Ethiopian professional community as well.

Life got a lot easier for all of us after the Christmas break. As you can read in her blogs, Samra’s mantra that home is Oakland, California, USA …...somewhat changed around then. She was making friends and having a lot of fun in Addis. She was able to navigate through the chaos that is Addis and she felt she belonged. She learned to take a regular taxi, negotiate the price in Amharic and go get her hair done or simply hang out with friends from ICS. Knowing that she was having a good time made my life a lot easier.

Although the year was not always easy, we are very happy that Samra had the opportunity to spend the entire school year in Ethiopia. You can read her blog entries about her self-discovery during the year. She truly is a different person. Some of the obvious benefits included:

1. She has learned enough Amharic to get by. She took formal lessons twice a week for most of the school year. The nice thing about the formal lessons is that she can read and write as well.
2. Spending a year at ICS with kids from more than sixty nations has made her appreciate that she is unique as an individual and is not just a check mark next to her ethnicity on some census form.
3. They say that you need to know where you came from to know where you are going. Samra has always been confident and strong. However, I think this year has made her even stronger and more confident.
4. She really gets Ethiopia! All the stuff I mentioned above plus some more.

I hope you will find this perspective helpful if your family decides to take this sojourn for your child.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

My Version of Addis...

Ethiopia… I miss it. It’s true, it’s finally just so clear to me. Nearly seven weeks later I have realized it. I have finally cried. The pain has suddenly slapped me across the face, and my cheek stings red.

What is Addis Abeba, Ethiopia? Haha, in only one paragraph… Addis is waking up with the dawn when the priests’ Ge’ez incantations glide on the still morning air. It is old gray buildings, brown dirt roads, not much green. It’s large piles of bloodied beg carcasses on the side of the road on holidays. Addis is old men with wise wrinkles and placid eyes sitting on crates outside of tiny souks chewing chaat. It is contrast and contradiction. It’s the land of stick-shift and old cars. Addis is beggars who use their stub-limbs to stab your heart with guilt. It’s wooden scaffolding. It is the warm smell of fresh-roasted coffee beans and their hazy smoke that lazily drifts out through open doors and windows. It’s modern glass buildings being erected on every block. Addis is boys in tattered brown clothing laughing and running down the street. It is birbire always stuck under your fingernails. It is Haile Selassie, Meles Zenawi, Bob Marley, Colonel Mengi Haile Mariam, and Ala Mudi. It’s loaded donkeys and herds of sheep blocking the road. Addis is air heavy with diesel fumes. Addis is smiles exposing tattooed gums. It is hills of tin roofs. It’s swimming at the Sheraton at night when it’s beautiful and all lit up, and it’s silent but for the lapping of the water, and there are only old men who shouldn’t be wearing Speedos but are. Addis is blue and white taxis whizzing through the streets and the whining drone of “Bole, Bole, Bole” or their respective destinations being yelled out of the window. It is “sambusa” instead of “samosa.” It’s high foreheads and long noses. It is wealth in the hands of few. Addis knows stray dogs but is just beginning to fully understand dogs as pets. It is red and orange anbesa buses that are red and orange because they are sponsored by Kodak. It’s hilarious Ethiopian accents when speaking English. Addis is crusty-eyed children mobbed by flies, wooden crosses hung delicately around their necks, selling Soft tissue paper at stoplights. It is attending your mother’s sister-in-law’s daughter’s fiance’s cousin’s wedding. It is customs, propriety, and saving face. Addis is learning our tolerance and and partying on weekends with ICS, Sandford, Greek School, Lycee, and St. Joe’s. It is TV in Arabic. Addis is kindness, hospitality, and generosity. It is ancient like love. It is love.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Many Days Have Passed...

Many days have passed. I have hardly held on to them. I let them briskly brush past me. Then I watch them disappear around the corner.

Many days have passed, and on most I awoke with the hopes of writing a new blog. I obviously haven’t done that until now, more than a month after I’ve returned. I think that it has been intentional… I’ve built a vast wall inside of me separating my East Africa from my West Coast, and I don’t dare peek over it. I don’t want to think about Ethiopia, I’ve blocked myself off from it, which probably isn’t that healthy. And that’s the tricky thing now that I’m home: How do I find the balance? How do I hold on to Ethiopia and keep it a part of me? How do I live here in a completely separate reality without forgetting about Addis…?

Maybe I make things more complicated than they have to be, and moving on in life doesn’t have to be as difficult as I make it. Some people might tell me to stop whining and move on, what’s done is done. But I just can’t see it as that simple… bahhhh, I don’t know, my thoughts on this are still so scrambled, I can’t cohesively string my thoughts together yet… and I still need a “What is Ethiopia?” blog as well.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Well, I'm finally home, and after a few days of rest, errands, and cleaning, I'm up and running again. I was unable to post for a couple of reasons. For one thing, as my dad mentioned, I was unable to access blogger from Ethiopia. Also, unfortunately while in Ethiopia my computer contracted a virus (or actually over 11,000... and it never even went online!), and it crashed. Thus, all of my blogs were inaccessible, and it wasn't until I was leaving that I brilliantly realized that I could actually handwrite entries! Anyway, here are nine (i think) new blogs that are actually beginning to get quite old as the days keep ticking by, finally up and posted for your pleasure. Enjoy, and there will probably be two more in the next few days.

En Route

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sitting on the airplane, people are still boarding. Even though it was ridiculously humid and hot as we walked through the passage-tunnel thing connecting the airplane to the airport, it’s beginning to rain. Raindrops splatter against the window. Some remain stationary. Others tumble down the window like tears.

We’re seated in the very last row, and I’m nestled into the right corner. I like sitting next to the window. I like observing, and I like watching things go by.

My observation for today is that even though I’ve left Ethiopia I haven’t actually left it. True, as soon as I stepped off of the plane and made it through customs, I saw hordes of clean white people, a shocking sight to my eyes. True, an hour later I went on a shopping spree for fake food, sugary, artery-clogging goodness; I got a cinnabon cinnamon roll, venti Starbucks raspberry mocha frappuccino, and garlic fries swimming in an ocean of oil. But I got “real” food as well: Panda Express.

Now, those are absolutely NOT Ethiopia. But here’s the thing: we hiked all the way to Panda Express, and it happens to be right in front of the Ethiopian Airline gate. And there happened to be a flight boarding heading back to Addis. My ears devoured the sound of Amharic being spoken all around me, and my eyes relaxed at the sight of many Ethiopians, the familiar faces of strangers. We even saw someone who we recognized from Addis! Ethiopia is truly inescapable.

…Although, I suppose that now that I actually am back in the States my blogs will soon come to an end. Shame, I’ve enjoyed myself.

Abiy Again (but this time for good)

Monday, June 19, 2006

In Washington Dulles airport, getting ready to board flight to San Francisco. Am I really only a 5-hour flight from home?

The 17-or-so-hour flight, direct from Addis to Washington, actually wasn’t hell! I guess that I’ve gotten used to waiting. Mom and I spent the last few days just kind of wasting away the time, waiting until our flight. We just didn’t have much left to do. And we were ready to come back home.

Before we left Abiy came by. He gave me his advice, said his thank yous, and finally said goodbye. His eyes started tearing, and so he kept avoiding our eyes, staring interestedly at the ceiling, and glancing at the TV. After playing Stevie Wonder for a few minutes, he finally met our eyes, smiled weakly, and rubbed away the tears. Abiy had to leave to pick up another client, but he called again later for a last goodbye. And that was that.

The Talk

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sometimes adults will look at me, not necessarily inquisitively, but out of a bored interest. They paste on a smile that doesn’t usually look happy, and they slightly cock their head to one side.

“So, Samra, you’re leaving soon, right?” Why do they ask me when they already know the answer?

“Yep…” I reply, my voice trailing into an awkward silence. We twiddle our thumbs for a moment until (lightbulb pops over their head!) they ask me, “So, are you excited to be going home?”

I think to myself, Ugh, not this question again, but out loud I say: “Yes and no,” I put on a half smile and tilt my head from side to side, “I mean… I’m happy to go home and see my friends again, but it’ll be really sad to leave Ethiopia.”

I don’t know if they’re now actually interested, or if they just have nothing better to do, so they ask, “So you’re happy that you came to Ethiopia? If you could do it all over again you would?”

“Of course, without a doubt,” I answer. They raise their eyebrows and nod their head. “Really?”

They are surprised.

“Really,” I say, nodding my head along with them.

“Well, that’s nice.” And they go back to sipping their drink, or looking about the room, or they begin chatting with someone else.

Trip Down Memory Lane

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I’m leaving tomorrow night. Already. I can’t believe it’s already over. I once wrote: “Each day might seem long, yet you look back and it dawns on you that you slept through it all.” Perhaps this time I wasn’t actually sleeping, but there are some things that I didn’t take advantage of, and now regret stings in my tears. For example, it was only within the last couple of weeks of school that I was really getting tight with and hanging out with kids in my own class. My closest friends throughout the year have been Sally and Veerle, both seniors. Finally at the end of the schoolyear I really started spending time with the kids in my grade, although I will admit that it was probably most out of necessity because the seniors were frequently gone. And it was then that I realized how much MORE fun I could have with so many MORE people. Alas, and so it goes.

Despite these regrets that I will carry with me, - few maybe forever, but most until I get too caught with life to care and remember – I’d say that overall it’s been a great year. On the very first day of school, that oh-so-memorable half-day, I got home and cried, and cried, and cried, until my eyes were red and swollen. Even my dad came in and started up a symphony of sobs with me, complete with sniffles, wailing, and sputtering incoherently about wanting to go home. My dad is a sensitive guy, but I can count the times I’ve seen him crying on one hand. But seeing his baby girl cry like that and mumble about how she hates his country, she hates ICS, she wants to go home… well, I’m sure that his tears not only stung with regret, but also pain, confusion, and worry. He was so excited for me to come to Ethiopia and learn the culture and the language, but on that first day of school I was so scared and lost and lonely. He gently rubbed my back and cradled me in his arms. He stopped crying, but his voice was still wavering as he told me that maybe this was a mistake… if I still wanted to come home in two weeks, I’d be on a flight.

That was August 17, 2005. Ten months later, and I’m leaving tomorrow. When I get home I will flop down on my bed. And I will cry, and cry, and cry, until my eyes are red and puffy.

Tick, Tick, Tick...

Tick, tick, tick… Every second that passes brings me closer to my final moments. Haha, it sounds like I’m talking about my death…which really isn’t that funny. But I suppose that in a way it is a sort of death of me. Although a new part of me has been born and I have been forever changed by this year, as it comes to an end, so a chapter of my life comes to a close. Slowly, qes beh qes, a part of me will die as I’m driving down Bole, entering the glass doors of the Addis airport, checking into my flight, sitting on an Ethiopian Airline plane.

This is life: you are born, you live, you die. To everything there is a beginning and an end. I will continue to say “hello” and “goodbye.” Another of my favorite singers, Brett Dennen, sings, “Nothing lasts forever/ not even the mountains/ some day they will be swept away and swallowed by the sea.” We keep moving forward, tumbling and tumbling towards a future that is unknown, but that has a definite end. It’s bittersweet.

As sad as I am that all of this has come to an end, I am so happy that I had the opportunity to experience it. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Hmmm, I still don’t agree with that statement. You see, I will most definitely smile because it happened. I’ll look back on it all, sigh and smile sadly, tenderly wrap it up, and store it in the warmth of my heart and soul. But I will also sob until I have no more tears to cry; my nose will be red and runny, and my eyes will be so swollen that I can hardly open them. I’m a sensitive girl, this is natural. Good memories and bad, it’s been a wonderful experience…

Excerpt from ICS Yearbook

Nice excerpt about Ethiopia from the ICS yearbook:

Emerging from the eastern horn of the African continent is one of the most misunderstood and stereotyped of Africa’s developing nations. It is narrowly portrayed by the western media as a sub-Saharan wasteland fraught with chronic drought, populated by starving children with distended stomachs and fly covered faces and burdened with economic hardship. But these images are only a small part of the reality of Ethiopia, an ancient civilization once called Abyssinia, which is the archaeological site of “Lucy” and perhaps the origin of man some three and a half million years ago.

This is Ethiopia… a country unique in all of Africa, a country that managed to retain its cultural heritage because of centuries of isolation, yet a country that is also a melting pot of Mediterranean, Arabic, and African influences. Perhaps most noticeable is the theocentric orientation of its 50 million people, assembling regularly for religious holidays to honor the different Patron Saints. Most remarkable is that peaceful co-existence prevails among the equal representations of Christian orthodoxy and Islam, unlike the clashes between fanatic religious factions characteristic of other parts of the world. Most Ethiopians express their gratitude to God or Allah in quiet devotion, without zealous fervor or proselytization.

The dress, music, religious ceremonies, lingual intonation, and even facial characteristics display this beautiful and distinctive marriage of African and Arabian, Christian and Muslim. Ethiopians essentially interact in a spirit of unhurried cooperation – miraculous, considering the economic devastation and disadvantaged conditions most of them live with. Yet Ethiopians display not despair, but open affection, gentleness and quiet joy, many walking hand-in-hand, or arms about each other’s shoulders.

Geographically situated in the heart of Ethiopia is its capital Addis Ababa, literally “New Flower.” It is a bustling metropolis of contrasts, with modern architectural wonders set aside corrugated tin hovels; crammed buses and funky Fiat taxis compete on pot holed roads with heavily laden burros, sheep, goats, cows, and hundreds of thousands of pedestrians.

Advertised as having 13 months of sunshine, the climate is often ideal. Addis Ababa’s 8,000 foot elevation makes it dry and sunny throughout most of the year, with heavy rains during the months of July-September.

About 80 embassies exist in the capital, along with the continental headquarters for many Africa relief agencies. Both the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa are headquartered in Addis, making it uniquely international and the longtime home of many humanitarian-oriented epatriates.


Sunday, May 28, 2006 (European Calendar)
Sunday, May 20, 2006 (Ethiopian Calendar)

Zare ginbot haya newot. It marks 15 years since the downfall of the dergue. In 1978 Colonel Mengi Haile Mariam seized power in Ethiopia, assisted by the Soviet Union with $2 billion worth of arms, 20,000 Cuban troops, 300 tanks, and 3,000 technicians. Obviously it was a pretty violent time, and the dergue regime was not the most democratic. All day ETV’s been broadcasting scenes of people celebrating and dancing in commemoration of how lucky they are now that Ethiopia has become a “democratic” country and their votes and opinions count.

In other news, last night was the ICS prom. It was quite a success, with over 400 people present, the biggest prom in ICS history, and parents, family, and kids sufficiently buzzed. Funny thing: before coming to Ethiopia the closest I had gotten to anything Danish were the Danish pastries from Albertson’s that we sometimes ate for breakfast on the weekend; my date to prom was half Greek and (yep, you guessed it…) half Danish.

Now that prom has come and gone it truly seems as though the end is near. At the beginning of the year I wrote: “So… my family leaves today. In only a few hours. How has a month gone by already? Will an entire school year go by just as fast? In a blaze will it all be gone, over, swallowed by flames in an instant? Each day might seem long, yet you look back and it dawns on you that you slept through it all.” Well, now I know the answer: yes. This is life, you can’t change it. You have to accept it as it is, and that means that you have to try to savor every moment. It’s a lot easier said than done, but once I finish finals I truly will live up my last 2 ½ weeks in Addis.

I’ve just read over all of my blogs and recapped on the year. Haha, it’s interesting to hear the change in my tone, I’m actually beginning to sound really depressing… not good, but at the same time kind of inevitable. This year truly has taught me a lot and I’ve lived a different life (not draaastically different, but most definitely not the same). Yes I’ve fallen off my bike, pretty hard once or twice, and I have scars to prove it, but I wouldn’t trade this year for anything. I’m so happy that I made this decision. And now (yes, yes, cue the broken record…) I’m leaving.

It’s funny looking back at my first day of school: “I feel like such an outsider, it’s weird to be in a place where you really don’t have any friends. You feel very alone… I just can’t help but think ‘Oh @!^#, what the *$#% did I get myself into?!’ Sure I had the balls to say that I want to be here, and don’t get me wrong, it’s a great opportunity, but it’s really scary now.” In the end it all turned out better than ok… English award, scholarship award for academic achievement, student of the quarter of the 11th grade for the 3rd quarter, high honors each quarter, MVP in soccer and volleyball, athlete of year, awards during spirit week, and most importantly some friendships that I hope will last until I die. People tell me and write in my yearbook that I am such an amazing person, I’m always smiling and my positive energy is contagious, I’m inspiring and have helped them realize their potential, they’ve never seen a single person make such a profound impact on a school and community. A lot of people don’t actually seem sincere to me, it’s more that they just say it to say it. A lot of people tell me how much they’ll miss me, and again I don’t know how sincere they are, because at the end of the day we really didn’t spend that much time together, which I really regret in retrospect. But there are those people who have really, genuinely touched me and make me struggle to fight back the tears. I know that graduation on Tuesday is a lost battle and I will let my tears flow gracefully: in great, heaving sobs :-).

Three more weeks.

Windows to the Soul

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Driving and walking down the streets of Addis I often feel the pressure of eyes on me. Clean, healthy, comfortable. That’s me. I cross the street, or glance out of the window of a car as a big orange and red anbesa bus goes past. People crammed inside without room to move gaze at me intently, inquisitively, wondrously. I wonder what they’re thinking of me while they’re stuffed inside the stiflingly hot bus. Are the envious, curious, hateful? Am I just another person in the backdrop of their day? I know that I sound conceited and self-absorbed, but I never feel like people are simply indifferent when they see me. They observe me, but I don’t know why. Their eyes seem to be searching me, but I don’t know what for.

It’s frustrating to not always have answers, but I prefer not knowing the thoughts flickering behind those gazing strangers’ eyes than to understand the sadness their eyes sometimes fail to shield. There are times when a man will be selling something on the side of the road, puppies or beautiful wooden structures, which catch your eye. Your gaze lingers on his merchandise, and you can see him perk up, mentally straightening his tie, at the sight of a prospective customer. Heylo, heylo he calls to you as he waves his hands. How much does his little gadget probably cost, 20, 50, 100 birr? That’s nothing to you, but he lives day-to-day, and that 20, 50, 100 birr helps him get through today. Usually it’s just not worth it, you don’t have the time to take care of a puppy, you already have a dog, you’re leaving Ethiopia in a month, and so you just smile politely and shake your head no. You dismiss the item that caught your attention, and you will dismiss him as well, but as your eyes shift away from that man you catch a quick glimpse of the subtle transformation that sweeps across him. Most things are fairly hard to notice: his shoulders slump a bit as he sighs, he irritably kicks a stone, he fretfully clenches his jaw. It’s his eyes that are most telling, because now they fail to shield his sadness and disappointment. He longingly watches as you drive on down the bumpy road to your $15,000 a year school, and remains standing there on the side of the road with his merchandise in hand.

The End is Near

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower,
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day,
Nothing gold can stay.

-Robert Frost

Friday marked two weeks until the end of school. Prom is next Saturday the 27th at the Sheraton. The cafeteria that was supposed to open in January has finally opened and has had a successful first week. I had my first final exam, an English oral presentation, and received an A. I bought my yearbook and fought back the tears caused by memories dredged up by the pictures. Thursday the 18th marked the one-month countdown until I leave.

I know, I know, I’m a broken record, but I’m leaving. On June 18th I’m getting on a plane and leaving Ethiopia. I’m returning to Oakland.

I’m actually really excited to go back home. I miss driving, I miss grocery stores, I miss Mexican food (…and Chinese food, and smoothies, and real American sandwiches), I miss the view of the bay at night. Things are easy here in the sense that you don’t have to cook, clean, or wash anything, but I miss convenience in the sense of driving five minutes to Rite Aid to buy a bag of cotton balls for $2.00. I missed prom with my friends. I see their pictures, and everyone looked gorgeous, which I guess isn’t that hard, they’re 17. I hear them laughing in my head, imagine what it was like shopping for dresses, getting their hair done, at dinner. Yeah, our prom is this weekend, and the Sheraton will be beautiful… but people don’t even wear corsages here.

I’m actually ready to go home, I miss it. I’ve learned that at an international school, you are totally introduced to other cultures and your eyes are opened to so much more. I can recognize so many flags now. But what’s funny is that it also makes you that much more nationalistic. I have friends from all over the world, but I can commiserate with my American friends in a very different, much more personal way; we can talk about certain places, even restaurant chains like La Salsa and Baja Fresh, and things about American culture. As much as I hate American politics and how America stomps about the world, I have never been so proud to be American.

But I worry about what it will be like when I return home. Last year I wrote an essay about my anxiety over leaving for Ethiopia. In it I mentioned how scared I was to come home to too much change: “There is the possibility that home will become too much of something that it isn’t now, and I’ll no longer fit. I worry that while I’m gone life will go on too easily without me. I won’t be missed; I’ll be forgotten. After a year of absence and growth, my present friends and I will no longer know each other. I imagine returning home only to be the awkward girl that follows and clings on to people because she has no one. I am afraid of being left behind.” I do still have those fears; I know that it won’t be a simple, seamless transition, and that there will be an initial awkwardness with my friends. I can already see us sitting around and talking, when someone says, “Oh my god, remember last year when…”. This will happen, and this will be all that it takes to make me an outsider looking in on other peoples’ lives. But what if we change that quote around a little bit: “After a year of absence and growth, my home and I will no longer know each other.” I will never see things in the same way as I did before I left, and I blame this on Ethiopia; it has changed and shaded the way I view the world. But I will miss Ethiopia. The sad thing is, Ethiopia has taken my home as I once knew it away from me, and I can never get that back. And once I go back to that different home, the Ethiopia that I know, my version of Ethiopia, it will never exist. As excited as I am that I’ll be back here next January for my uncle’s wedding, I dread it as well, because it will be so different from my Ethiopia right now. Nothing gold can stay.

Leaving Ethiopia… leaving real injera, Amharic lessons, maids and drivers. Leaving ICS, swimming at the Sheraton, Abiy and his adorable baby. Leaving family, beggars, and unpaved roads. How many friends have I made that I’ll never see again? Do I write in their yearbooks ‘have a nice life!’??? Next year I can’t laugh with anyone while we speak broken English with heavy Ethiopian or West African accents. Everyone will have misconceptions about Africa and Ethiopia.

“We meet to part, and part to meet again.” – Anonymous bullshitter. This is life? A sequence of ‘hello’s and ‘goodbye’s and ‘have a nice life’s?

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Another anonymous-trying-to-make-the-best-out-of-nothing. We’re supposed to just look back fondly on memories, sigh and smile, and then pack up those memories, lose them in the dark, in the back of our hearts and minds, and just walk on forward. 30 years from now we’re supposed to be submissive, forget our dreams and principles and fight, forget the names of people we cry as we say goodbye to, forget they even existed. This is life?

Mr. Frost, you’re too right: nothing gold can stay. Give up, let go, start forgetting now. This is life.