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.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Technical Difficulties"

Like all other Bloogers, Samra G! has been unable to post from Ethiopia due the man-made "technical difficulties" in accessing from Ethiopia. Most observers believe the Ethiopian government (with the help of the Chinese) has been blocking since most Ethiopian Bloogers are pro-opposition forces and anti-government. Samra will be back in the U.S. soon and will update her posting. In the meantime I am posting a speech she gave at her 8th grade graduation to keep her readers entertained. Like her teacher who spoke after her said, I wouldn't want to be the one speaking after her at any forum!

The proud papa G!

Ladies and Gentlemen, My Fellow Classmates:
Good Morning. We are gathered here today to celebrate a rite of passage, to acknowledge the end of the beginning of our long journey. Parents, do you remember just yesterday when your child was still waddling through the house with bulging diapers and a blankie in tow? Well, today, the Head-Royce 8th grade class of 2003 stands before you, no longer enthusiastically singing along with Barney and friends or practicing their best Power Rangers moves, but closing a door to our days of innocence and sneaking out of the window to high school. Although we have not yet stepped into the ripe age of adulthood, an exclusive land of dorm rooms and multiple cups of coffee to help with an all-nighter, leading into years of wisdom and dignified gray hairs, this promotion certainly does bring us one stride closer.
Over the past three tumultuous years of middle school we have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly. Developmental issues such as raging hormones and physical insecurities make middle school chaotic enough. When you add the agonizing search for true identity and the quest for a little bit of privacy, made harder by parents who are reluctant to give up their babies to independence and freedom, it is a universal fact that middle school can feel torturous and alienating.
Furthermore, middle school is filled with the unexpected, a sheer shock from the easy life of elementary school, for we did not just receive a couple of scoops of ice cream; we were served a full sundae with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry to top it off. We were suddenly being faced with the responsibility of making our own choices and decisions, such as how to manage our time, especially for long-term projects, a task I have yet to conquer. We learned how to do last minute cramming when we just remembered about “the big test tomorrow”, and have often been greeted to Spanish class with a pop quiz. But moreover, we dealt with surprises such as September 11th and the ensuing war, catastrophically hitting us on a national level. As well, we suffered the tragic loss of the late Charlotte Frey, which continued slamming us to the ground.
But when someone is suffering and you see them with pain, it washes off on everyone, so each struggle we faced, we faced as a community; we comforted one another in our times of need, only making us that much stronger, because without the pain we would not have reaped the benefits of true friendship and a strong community.
Kahlil Gibran, a poet, philosopher, and artist born in Lebanon in 1883, wrote in his book The Prophet, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
So, since the joy is appended with the sorrow, every day of middle school has not been disastrous. As a result, our class has been blessed by true characters such as Ryan Sullivan who applied for Middle School Head as a 6th grader when Mr. Aime departed. Also, we danced the nights away last year at the countless bar and bat mitvahs, many of us girls nearly breaking our ankles in our new high heels. More recently, the majority of the middle school, led by classmates Daniel Blake, Lisie Rosenberg, Alia Syed, and Will Roberts, twice displayed our support against the war by marching up Lincoln Avenue.

Finally, a wonderful trip to beautiful Catalina Island perfectly ended our middle school experience. Friendships were made and strengthened by all, whether in trail groups, free time, or a fantastic afternoon on the beach. But each gender also had their own particular ways of bonding. For the boys it was done over endless games of dominoes and rap battles, and for the girls it consisted of swapping clothes and staying up talking until two in the morning. To conclude our trip in Catalina, we happily drenched each other in a guys vs. girls water fight, which, of course, the ladies won. Fortunately, our class has had many fun times together, and has snapshots of fond memories to forever keep in the photo album of our minds.

Although we will always be able to reminisce about the events and happenings of middle school, we will also remember actual school life. I am sure that both parents and students remember the continuous battle over the quantity of homework last year, which caused quite a stir and much heated vocal discourse. The schoolwork continued to be strenuous this year with the myriad of long-term projects, particularly our various writing assignments in history and English. But our projects and assignments challenged us to become better learners and scholars, and we determinedly rose to the occasion, proving that we all have the ability to catch a shooting star and achieve our goals. The fine arts department in the middle school is filled with many gifted students, ranging from dedicated musicians in the band, to artists and actors, to vocalists who participated in the wonderful chorus last year. Everyone has graced us with fantastic performances and concerts. Lastly, sports play a significant role in middle school life at Head-Royce. There are many amazing athletes in our class, as is evident by the championships won by both our varsity boys and girls basketball teams, the varsity girls soccer team, and the boys baseball team. Way to go Jayhawks!

But the continuous academic, artistic, and athletic success of our class would not be possible without the constant support of our middle school head, Mr. Andy Jones-Wilkins. A remarkable man and a great middle school head, Mr. Jones-Wilkins consistently allows us to voice our opinions and stand up for our beliefs, whether it was resisting the backpack ban in the hallway last year or hosting rallies up Lincoln Avenue this year. He is strong, caring, and an inspirational speaker, and while dashing around making announcements in the mornings, he is almost always seen with a smile. Plus, Mr. Jones-Wilkins is even cooler because he can balance a chair on his chin! And how can we forget Francine Peters, officially the middle school administrative assistant, but basically the woman who keeps the middle school running. Of course she is scary when she yells at us to get to class, but she is an amazing person that nurses us when we suddenly have a stomachache, spoils us with phone calls home when we forget something, and serenades us from her desk throughout the day. Thank you so much Francine and Mr. Jones-Wilkins, we give you our everlasting gratitude.

Now that we have completed middle school, we embark upon our journey through high school, and many of us are filled with mixed emotions. A prevalent feeling is fear, whether it is of the upperclassmen, more challenging academics, or the transition in general. Greatly differing, there is passionate anxiety to get out of middle school and move towards something bigger and more thrilling. We are nervous yet calm, excited yet frightened, happy yet sad. Several students are leaving Head-Royce for high school, and we will surely miss each one of them, for we have shared one, two, or three years with them. But Kahlil Gibran also wrote, “When you part from your friend, you grieve not; for that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.” So, good luck to everyone graduating today as we begin our journey, and I hope you will always remember these five things: 1) dare to be different; 2) do not be afraid to tell your friends and family that you love them, because tomorrow you might not be able to; 3) listen to your parents, because sometimes, just sometimes, they might be right; 4) no matter how bad it gets, keep your head up, because the joy does come with the sorrow; and lastly, 5) nothing can stop you from catching your shooting star.
Parents, let’s take another walk down memory lane: do you remember your child’s first day of middle school? Their apprehension or exhilaration? Maybe they were a little bit pudgier back then, or a little bit shyer. Well, today is your child’s last day of middle school, and after three eventful years, each graduate has grown and blossomed into young men and women and developed into unique individuals. This is the end of the beginning of our long journey, and we stand at a threshold of a new chapter of our lives. Thank you all, family, friends, and teachers, for coming today and sharing this moment as we dive into the deep end. Your presence is greatly appreciated. Congratulations you guys; we made it! Thank you.

oXo oXo
o SaMrA o

Sunday, May 07, 2006


I have always wanted to spend a year abroad, but in my mind I was undoubtedly going to Spain. When my parents suggested Ethiopia instead, during my freshman year, I wholeheartedly rejected it. I believe that in the eyes of the Western world, Africa is infected and tainted, riddled with disease, poverty, and corruption. Sadly my 14-year-old mind was biased with this viewpoint even though I had visited Ethiopia twice before and seen what it has to offer. Yes it’s true that Africa spends everyday combating AIDS and starvation while dishonest governments bask in luxury and wealth. But as I have learned, it also has much to offer. Even amidst the immense poverty there is a heart-wrenching kindness and hospitality among the people.

I see this every day in Ethiopia. There are many unspoken rules governing society and behavior, I guess they’re just supposed to be self-evident. If you have food, you have to share; if you see someone you know, you have to see hello, even if there are 20 people; NEVER talk back to an adult. Among these rules, there is one about these invisible threads that connect everyone to everyone, and I mean everyone, creating the complex tapestry of community. For example, I don’t remember a single day driving through Addis with Abiy when a friend of his hasn’t beeped hello from his parked taxi. Today as we were driving home Abiy honked his horn as he sped up the road, I had thought in order to warn a young man idly wandering into the middle of the street. He had his back to the oncoming traffic and was chatting with someone on the sidewalk, but as Abiy continued to honk, the young man spun around. He saw the little blue taxi sweep past, smiled, and waved. “My wife’s friend’s younger brother,” Abiy said as he waved back.

It’s interesting. I learn more about Ethiopian and “become more Ethiopian” everyday. And that’s good, I mean, isn’t that the main point of me being here? And I have grown to love Ethiopia, the herds of sheep crossing intersections with cars, the masses of people dressed in netela on their way to church, the chaos created on the road by the taxis and minibuses. Although separation from my family and my world has been hard, now my world has grown so much, and it has allowed me the chance to reflect upon and redefine my ideas of things like identity and home. If you have kept up with my blogs, you know that I have come to the conclusion that although I can proudly claim to be habesha now, and Ethiopia will always be a part of me, Oakland will always be my home. In her essay “Going to Japan,” Barbara Kingsolver writes: “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.” Sadly, or not sadly depending on how you look at things, I think that this is true. As much as we may try to create perfect harmony and understanding between countries, as much as I may want to be able to find a perfect balance between being raised as an American, but biologically half Ethiopian… I just don’t think that it’s possible.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Driving to school on Tuesday I realized that I leave Ethiopia in exactly two months. Driving to school on Wednesday instead of being frustrated by the traffic caused by the continually branching lanes of cars, I just laughed and felt good.

I wrote an email to my friend about my very cliché mixed feelings about leaving Ethiopia. I’m torn, my heart is in two places, I wish I could bounce back and forth between the two countries at my will. On the one hand I can’t wait to go home. On my bad days I’m counting down the minutes until I leave. While I’ve found a home in Addis, I will always be from Oakland. Even though I don’t like baseball, I’ll always be a fan of the A’s. And more than that, my family is there. Sure I have blood relatives in
Ethiopia, but there are so many people in Oakland who love me to death, know me inside and out, and are truly there for me. I have friends in Ethiopia, but they’re not the same as my friends of six years and more. But on the other hand, I want to stay in Ethiopia, and leaving will be so hard. I will miss the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings. I will miss the ridiculous morning traffic.

I stop to think about it all. Why will it be hard for me to leave? What exactly is it that this country has given me? Why do I feel bigger, stronger, wiser? What have I done here except live life? Wake up, dress, eat breakfast, go to school, sports, come home, shower, eat dinner, do homework, go to bed. What have I seen that makes me feel so different? Buses and taxis and streets of black faces looking back at me; starving babies at their mothers’ breast as she sits begging on the sidewalk; excited young faces running up to my window asking for a donation for their soccer team; sheep and donkeys languidly strolling along the road with cars zooming past (I hear a “what is Ethiopia” coming up… I suppose that will be my last blog… in 2 months...). But what makes those things special? Ok, so they’re definitely not things I saw everyday growing up, but they’re nothing extraordinary and life-changing. Is it just part of growing up, this feeling of a deeper understanding and intimacy with something more than yourself? Because that’s what this is: I laugh at the absurdities of Ethiopia, and I suffer from its misfortunes, yet I still see its undemanding beauty. I see it for what it is, I hate it for what it is, I love it for what it is. I will always be more American than Ethiopian, more white than black, more me than anyone else. So I suppose I will never truly be habesha in the sense of looking, acting, and speaking like a true habesha. But whatever it is that I have gleamed from this country, I will have forever. I will always remember my version of Ethiopia.

As someone just commented on a previous blog: here’s to finding and redefining ourselves.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Saturday, March 25, 2006

It’s funny how we find wonderful people in the most random places. I know that my family has grown so much during my time in Ethiopia. Maybe I met them at some foggy point in the past, or I’ve always been related to them, however distantly, but we’d never met, or I never even knew they existed, but somehow we have stumbled upon each other, and now here we are. Love means so much more than blood.

One of these people is our contract taxi driver, Abiy. Strikingly handsome, incredibly caring, and only usually punctual, he is a beautiful soul. When he was younger he was a potter, actor, and dancer, but in order to support his wife he bought a taxi. He now has a baby boy that is turning 1 in April. But Abiy still carries around a photo album, tucked in the back of his glove compartment. It’s filled with pictures of him dancing in costume and in the studio with clay smudged on his cheeks. They are souvenirs, wistful memories, dreams stifled and silenced by responsibility. My mind is constantly chattering with fantastic ideas, goals, aspirations… one day will they be barely audible? Simply whispers amidst my wrinkles and gray hairs?

Anyway, last night my grade had an “old skool” movie night at school, with “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Cool Runnings.” It was quite the success, a lot of people came and we made almost 2,000 birr. I had asked my friend beforehand if she could give me a ride home afterwards and she sweetly and enthusiastically responded, “Yeah, of course Samriye!” But with 15 minutes left in the movie, at about 9:45 p.m., she told me that she couldn’t give me a ride. The movie had gone later than expected, her mom was calling and telling her to come home that instant, she was really sorry. Excuse me, but SHIT. I was screwed. It’s not so easy to get around in Ethiopia. I don’t have a driver, I can’t drive here, my mom doesn’t drive… We have Abiy, but I didn’t want to put him through the hassle of coming all the way back to ICS to pick me up when he had already picked up Sally and my mom. I talked to a couple of people, hinted that I need a ride home, but they don’t live by me. I was even more screwed. There wasn’t really anyone I feel close enough to to have asked for a ride home. Since most people only live about 5 minutes from school, they make a big deal of going to CMC, even though at night it’s only about 20 minutes from ICS. I was only even going to my aunt’s house, maybe 5 minutes closer from CMC depending on your travel route, but that would still be too much to ask.

I called Abiy. His wife picked up, told me that Abiy was asleep, and my voice was quavering as I said goodnight. Maybe I get worked up over small things, maybe this wasn’t something to cry about, but as a 17-year-old girl I don’t want to be stranded on the other side of Addis at 10:30 at night with no way to get home except taking a random taxi. Which I absolutely was not about to do. I hate my lack of ability here, my dependence on others to get things done… driving, shopping, even talking and communicating.

But I guess I’m lucky or I’ve done enough good in the world, because Abiy called me back a few minutes later. His wife had woken him up and told him I’d called. He was at ICS 30 minutes later, and I was one of the last three people there. He groggily smiled and told me that he had rushed out of bed to come get me; he even still had his pajamas on beneath a shirt and a jacket. He said that he is my telick wendim, my big brother, and besides, he promised my dad that he would get me, whenever, wherever, regardless. I apologized and thanked him numerous times, told him what had happened, and he shook his head and sighed, “She is not a good girl, I do not like her.” We arrived home and one last time I said, “Betam amesegenalehu, betam yekerta. Thank you so much, I’m so sorry.” He said, “Of course, it’s no problem. Dehna derri.” “Dehna derr.” Goodnight.

Once in bed my mom told me that when Abiy had picked her up he was very happy. Sally ended up getting a ride home with her dad, so Abiy didn’t have to take her all the way to CMC in the evening traffic. He hadn’t been able to eat lunch and had been working since 6 a.m., so all he had to do was drop off my mom (he lives in the same neighborhood as us), and then he could go home, eat, and go to bed. The way I see it, either Abiy’s just an incredible person and takes his work very seriously to have picked me up at 11, or my dad threatened some pretty scary things if the whole “whenever, wherever, regardless” thing didn’t happen. Just because my dad’s on the other side of the world doesn’t mean he doesn’t have connections in Ethiopia… Haha, but seriously, Abiy is a wonderful person, and it’s not just that he takes his work seriously, it’s that he really cares.

It’s funny how we find wonderful people in the most random places. Even a little blue and white taxi, just one among thousands, on the streets of Addis. My family has grown so much during my time in Ethiopia; someone I never even knew existed is now my telick wendim. Love means so much more than blood.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Soccer and God

My mom has returned to Ethiopia! Before she arrived I had been playing soccer at CMC a lot. For the longest time I had wanted to play with the boys at CMC but was too scared to ask, too scared of their rejection, too scared of not being good enough. But one day when we had no school we informally started playing and I proved myself to them. I was playing with boys of all ages, from 9 to 14 and then from 18 to 22. From then on I was always welcome to play with them, and after school I would put on my cleats as quickly as possible and rush out to the field.

Skinny brown legs grayed by the dust can always be seen kicking around a soccer ball here in Addis. Young boys will push and shove each other along the rocky, unpaved residential streets, a ball at their feet. Big empty fields of dust and stones are filled with young Ethiopian men or women sprinting back and forth; they gracefully maneuver the ball with experience and ease, their feet moving it so gently and effortlessly. It is impossible to drive five minutes in Addis without seeing a group of people playing soccer. After God, food, and family, soccer is probably the most revered thing among Ethiopians.

But playing with the boys in CMC was a lot of fun, and in the week that I was playing with them I actually improved quite a bit, both at soccer and Amharic. Even though most of them can at least speak a bit of English, it is only ever spoken to translate for me. When beginning a game at least half of us will quickly sit down exasperated, and pick at the grass or see how far we can throw pebbles; it’s always hard to begin playing because the little boys always find something to argue about. At times these explode into real fights, and their small arms will swing through the air, their dirty nails will cut into each others’ skin, they will run and do a karate jump. Their anger so convinces them, and that they are able to throw such hard, straight punches, their arms slice through the air with great precision. Belo, belo, belo! Fight, fight, fight! The other boys will tauntingly yell in attempts to further provoke the fight. Finally someone will pull the boys apart, enechawot, let’s play! And the game will begin. We run up and down, side-to-side, wary of obstacles like rocks, random plants, the swings and slides, and little babies excitedly waddling into our game. Izhiyga, wust! Here, inside! Some days we play until we are too tired. Some days we play until we’ve decided that more time is spent fighting than playing. Some days we play until it is so dark that it is impossible to score, and people are just solid objects moving in the night. Now I miss playing with them. And I miss them. Yeah, sometimes they were annoying, they’re little boys. But that’s what a brother’s like. One Sunday afternoon they actually came to my house and called me out to play with them. Maybe it’s childish, maybe it’s that human need for acceptance, but it meant a lot to me.

Unfortunately for me, one of the days that I was playing with them, I ended up spraining my left ankle pretty badly. My right ankle was already sprained so bad that I had to wear a cast for a month in 7th grade. I can’t help but feel that I’m falling apart. And on top of that, what bad timing! Soccer season at school is just about to start, and I’m soooo excited. Couldn’t I have hurt myself during basketball season… For those of you who don’t know, I don’t play basketball. Anyway, it’s been 2 weeks since I hurt it. I went 1 _ weeks without doing anything aerobic, but I can’t handle that immobility, I’m not ready to walk with a cane yet. So the other day I decided to go up to the track and walk a few laps. After walking 6 laps I decided to be daring, and I began to “jog” 3. After 3 laps of my hobble-limp-jog around the track my ankle hurt too much for “daring” to be appealing any longer. And I felt like an old woman. And completely NOT in the words of any wrinkly, gray, incapable old person: that sucked. Call me immature or superficial, I don’t care, but I went home and cried.

Our maid, Zeritu, was very troubled by my crying. She’s honestly one of the sweetest people alive. Her eyebrows instantly furrowed in worry, and her face instantly morphed into wrinkles of concern. She got cocoa butter and began massaging out my ankle. Wi, wi, wi… ahun igerish dehna newo? Ay yay yay, now how is your foot? She would constantly ask. Then she would say something along the lines of either “your pain is my pain” or “let me have your pain.”

I went to bed, and about an hour later I hear Zeritu, “Samra, tenyash?” Samra, are you asleep? I was asleep. But she came into the room, switched on the light, and again, “Tenyash?” I groaned in response. She walked over to the bed and pulled the covers off of me. In her hand was a large, old tin can filled with water. “Weddeh christiane bet heydooh. I went to church,” she said happily. I’m pretty sure that she goes nearly every night right now because it’s fasting time, but it turns out she had brought back holy water for me. She dipped her hand into it, and splashed it on my ankle while murmuring, “Beh Egziabheir leSamra yemarech… God please heal Samra…” and went on along the lines of that. For all the Ethiopians reading this, sorry for my broken Amharic. After a minute or two of this she put the covers back on, said goodnight, and turned off the light.

I turned over onto my stomach and delicately placed my ankle on the mattress, trying to twist it as little as possible. Even though I’m not religious, I really hoped that I would wake up the next morning and be completely healed. Something about the intensely zealous trust and faith that Ethiopians put in God’s power is infiltrating my own not-quite-cemented beliefs. It’s slight, nearly undetectable, but I am increasingly aware of this enigmatic, mysteriously powerful man, divinity, whatever you want to call Him. It’s not that I’m suddenly religious and want to devote myself to God’s will, but I can’t help but wonder What if…? I woke up the next morning with a stiff ankle, still sore and rolling as I walked around. It hurt a little less, but who will ever know if I just fabricated that in my mind out of my yearning to be better? That afternoon I went to the clinic to get it looked at.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Look Both Ways Before Crossing the Street

Ahhhh, I can’t believe it’s been a month since I posted! Why do I suck at this??? Anyway, this one I thought I had posted on February 13, but apparently I only saved it as a draft… enjoy, and check back Monday or Tuesday for a new one…

We were on our way to school. Slow Ethiopian instrumental ballads serenaded us from the radio, but it was a more silent drive than usual. Sally and I were both staring out of our windows, lost in our thoughts, our minds racing along with the cars around us. Ironically, I was thinking about driving in Ethiopia, wondering if my mom would get a license when she returned, feeling confident that, after having been driven around for months and observing the way things work, I could even hold my own behind the wheel on the streets of Addis.

We came upon a narrow road that was heavily backed up with traffic. My eyes remained fixed outside of my window, but I wasn’t absorbing anything that I was seeing as we slowly glided forward and stopped, glided forward and stopped, glided forward and stopped our way up the hill.

I don’t know what it was that made me turn my head, Abiy nervously stammering, “shit, shit,” under his breath, or the drawn-out, high-pitched screech that resounded through the air. I turned my head and saw the silver bumper of the old VW bug gleaming menacingly in the early-morning sun, the young woman awkwardly sprawled on the ground beneath it, the wood that she must have been carrying scattered around her, lying like broken bones and broken dreams. And I didn’t know if the screech that I had heard was the squealing of the car tires as the man driving slammed on his brakes, or the scream of the girl as she tried to force her feet to move faster, terror, regret, and anxiety surely burning in both their eyes.

A woman ran up and tried to lift the young lady, but she lay limp and motionless in her arms; her head tilted back on her neck, and slowly rolled back and forth like a door being swung open and shut by a draft of wind; her arms fell slack at her side, and her face was empty, her eyelids gently closed. A trickle of by-standers began to dam up around the girl until the crowd was so thick that she was no longer visible. As we drove on, Abiy told a police officer that was conducting traffic what had happened.

It was a more silent drive than usual. But the dead silence in the little blue taxi was now heavy and inundated with our screaming thoughts. We simply stared out of our windows.

It's Never Too Late

February 6, 2006

These past few weeks have been really important to me. A lot has happened. For one thing, despite how daunting my overwhelming workload appeared after my return from the States, I didn’t let it weigh me down, I didn’t give up. I diligently worked through it all, sacrificing my weekends and the always-occurring parties. Granted, I do still have both an anthropology presentation and an English presentation (both of which are causing me great grief), but my hard work paid off for everything else: I’ve aced all of my tests and projects so far. It actually feels really nice. And, as scary as it is, I’m really beginning to feel like an adult: accountable, hard-working, striving towards a goal. I still did my fair share of procrastination, but… I did it responsibly I guess J.

As for a fun side of life, this week is spirit week! Today was crazy day, and it’s been really fun so far. My class in incredible, they’re just so spirited, and it’s nice to know that they resemble HRS in that respect. We totally blew the other grades out of the water. Each class does skits every day at lunch, and ours was HILAAARIOUS. And I had a great little part, and thus tied for best girl of the day! It made me so happy, especially because you get money!!! Tomorrow’s student-teacher swap day, Wednesday’s gender swap day, Thursday’s class theme day, and Friday’s class color day. I’m going to dress up as Ms. Aida, the beautiful Ethiopian French teacher, who is also my soccer coach. Basically I just have to look sophisticated and elegant. Gender swap day I’m going alllll out! I’m wearing the white air forces, an XXL white tee, baggy jeans, a NICE RocaWear jacket, and Betty’s going to cornrow my hair. Oh, and I’m gonna have my bling bling: I’m borrowing a chain and some earrings… It basically rocks. Our class theme is “bring the dead back to life” and I’m Angela Davis. Basically all that I’m doing is brushing out my hair into a HUUUGE afro, wearing a lot of my mom’s old jewelry from the 60’s and 70’s, jeans, and my hot hippie halter… The thing about spirit week is that I actually need to have the clothing for my outfit within my wardrobe. It’s times like these that I miss my mom and dad’s closet. And finally, our class color is blue. I think it’s going to be a fun week.

I’ve also learned a lot about being mature and acting sensibly. Nearly since my return to Addis I have not been on speaking terms with a friend of mine. I won’t go into detail as to why that is, but he had not honored his word to me, he conveniently forgot to tell me things that I would consider important regarding our relationship (they weren’t good things), and he ultimately just hurt me a lot. So, I decided if he wasn’t willing to really talk to me, then I wouldn’t bother talking to him. Or acknowledge him. At all. When he was ready to grow up and fess up to his wrongs I would be entirely open to discussion, but until then I would ignore him. All this while I was harboring anger, resentment, and hurt towards him and it just sat in me like stagnant water. It grew murkier, flies began to gather, and an odd stench emanated from it. It was the reek of pain, my own pain. By letting those bad feelings fester inside of me, my happiness and wholeness just rot away. Sure I was hurting him, but I was hurting myself more. And ignoring him and cutting him out of my life while maintaining a solid façade didn’t show my strength. I fooled myself into believing that I would “be strong” and simply forget about him. But I hadn’t forgotten about him, I was still hurting inside. I was really being weak. The strong thing to do was to forgive him, to talk to him, to rebuild some semblance of a relationship. I knew that all along, but the dominant part of my brain just seems to be stubborn and self-absorbed; this tends to displace most of my sanity and sensibility. After the voice of wisdom really got this point into my head, I forgave him. Not to his face, not out loud, but within myself I forgave him by releasing myself of all of my anger towards him. Even though we didn’t talk at school today, my energy towards him was markedly different: it was softer, calmer, lighter. It felt really nice. And then after school he approached me and apologized. The ability to forgive is great. It’s something we all need to truly embrace in our lives.

As my boy Michael Franti says: “It’s never too late to start the day over / it’s never too late to pick up the phone / it’s never too late to lay your head down on my shoulders / it’s never too late to come on home. Come on home.”

Friday, February 03, 2006

Stuck in Limbo

First of all, please excuse my last blog… I mainly used it to vent out all of my frustration and anxiety about schoolwork. And moving on…

I have gotten three letters from friends in the States in response to my “Winter Holiday” blog. Each of them was unique, but the beautiful thing was that they all were so completely honest and open. I felt that these three people really bared themselves to me, commiserated and sympathized with me in regards to my feelings, told me how that blog made them think and question things as well. It was incredibly touching and meant a lot to me, not only to see the power of my words, but also that these people felt comfortable enough to share those thoughts with me. You know who you are. Thank you.

Nonetheless, I do feel that I have some explaining to do. Granted, I received three very positive letters, but there are some people who I just have not heard from. People who mean a lot me. And I’m not sure if it’s because of what I wrote, or simply because between school and life, finding spare time to relax or write an email is a very rare luxury. I was very hesitant to post my “Winter Holiday” blog; I was worried about its repercussions, that it might hurt or offend people. So, to anyone that I may have upset, I’m very sorry. It was not targeted at anyone in particular. I just felt that I needed to somehow give an explanation to some people in regards to my “odd” behavior at times, but I don’t know, maybe it only made things worse. As my dad reminded me, this is a “public journal, not a private diary.”

But the thing is, it was something that I wanted to share. It was the truth. I want people to be able to understand and see how I’m changing, how Ethiopia is beginning to alter me. The East Bay/Oakland is still my favorite place in the world, I wouldn’t consider raising my children anywhere else. I still feel completely “at home” in the hallways of Head-Royce, I even think I can be more myself around my friends at home. Only more myself, not completely myself, because Ethiopia has changed me. I haven’t figured everything out yet, but I know that the time I’ve spent in Addis has given me a confidence that I didn’t have before. Sorry to get controversial again, but last year was a crucial time for me grow: between my American history class and my English class, from watching movies like “Bamboozled” and “Hotel Rwanda,” and reading books like Beloved and Reservation Blues, I finally realized race. I began to more fully understand the horrible things that have happened because of the color of one’s skin, and how that still thrives today. I have still yet to be directly confronted with racism, but there are certainly times where the world seems impossible. This only becomes more confusing because I’m half white, because why should things be any different based on the way we look, because race is actually socially constructed and has no biological basis. In Ethiopia I know that I can walk down the street with my head held high: I am just the same as everyone else, slightly qay, light-skinned, (in fact, people call me “white,” which is the weirdest thing for me) but abesha, Ethiopian. I can truly be beautiful and feel beautiful. Now, I think that the East Bay and Head-Royce should be applauded in their diversity and appreciation for it, but racism is too deeply ingrained in American society for it to be completely nonexistent within my community, however unconscious it may be. I believe that my friends and my parents’ friends are wonderful people, and they are our friends because race is not an issue. But simply being in the States changes everything. As much as I love Montclair, I can’t help but feel a little out of place as I’m crossing the street, a little on edge. The problem is that I don’t feel any more comfortable on E 14th.

I don't know... maybe this comes off as more extreme than I mean for it to be... but the fact of the matter is that in Ethiopia I completely fit on, I'm a part of everyone and everyone is a part of me. We are Ethiopian Many people take for granted the feeling of truly belonging. It's very powerful.

…I’m tired now, perhaps more on this subject in the near future.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Yeney Addis Ababa


Well, I successfully survived my first week. More or less anyhow. Actually, in all honesty, last week wasn’t so bad. But then I realized just HOW much work I’m suddenly being completely inundated with. Let’s see, I had this ridiculous IB Math Project due on Monday, but she let us turn it in today, Tuesday. Tomorrow, Wednesday, I have a math quiz… lucky me, on a section in our book that I haven’t done yet! Friday I have an in-class essay on the book that we read. Next Monday I have a math test (maybe you can see the common trend of how RIDICULOUSLY RIDICULOUS my math class is… but I actually really do enjoy it, although my grade dropped from a nearly A+ to an A- over the course of the semester). Next Tuesday I have a biology test… on things that I haven’t learned, because my teacher just doesn’t teach… but he’s actually getting a lot better, it’s nice to see, and definitely heartening for me. Next Wednesday I have a history oral presentation, and for some reason I chose the most boring topic. The following Tuesday I have an anthropology oral presentation, and THIS I’m excited for! We get to be “creative,” and the topic is race and ethnicity, so I’m going to interview (hopefully I’ll get to videotape it) a few of my friends at school on what’s it’s like to be multiracial. Then that same day I also have an English oral presentation on a book that I’ve only just started… Yeah, life’s a bitch… so, as the saying goes, just fuck it… sorry to any of my PG readers. But actually, that’s just so not true, I can’t just say fuck it, I can’t blow this off, which kind of sucks, but you know, no, it really doesn’t. Sorry, my thoughts are rather scattered, I’m fairly tired. Oh yeah, that’s one funny thing: I adjusted to the time pretty much right away, and I don’t think it’s because the No-Jet-Lag pills worked wonders. I guess at this point my body is just so used to going back and forth (even though it was only my 3rd transition) that I didn’t have any problems. Also I just jumped right into life; I arrived in Addis at 3 a.m. Saturday morning and was up at 6 a.m. on Monday to go to school. Sooo, the whole point of this has been to say that I’m not going to school tomorrow. It feels rather nice to think about it, actually J. The jet-lag is kind of catching up with me… kind of… no, honestly, I am rather tired, everything’s been really busy recently. Moreover, I can have time to catch up a bit on my projects, which I desperately need. You can think “oh, she has the weekend for thaaat,” but come on now, since when has the weekend ever been sufficient time to take care of everything that you need to do? Never. Once you fall behind you just can’t catch up without taking time off. Which then makes you fall behind a bit more. But the idea is that when you take time off you’re able to make a bigger gain than what you’ll lose. Exactly. Yes, exactly.

So, besides all of that boring stuff, anything interesting going on in my life? Ahh, I’m getting MUCH better at Amharic! It’s actually fairly awesome, I can talk! Haha, it’s a great feeling. It does get really frustrating sometimes because people see me and expect me to be able to understand what they’re saying and respond, but more often than not, I just have absolutely no idea what they’re saying to me. But now, I’m getting sooo much better, and it’s just very fulfilling. What else? My brain just isn’t functioning properly right now. Betty and her mom are in Dubai for a week, so it’s been fairly quiet around here. Ahhh, next year is going to be SO much fun! So, there are these potters at school giving lessons, but they also make stuff while they’re there, and they have some absolutely GORGEOUS things! There are really nice plates, pots, etc., all for only around 30 birr… which is about 3 dollars… it’s ridiculous, they could be sold in the states for $30! It’s sooo sad, their work is beautiful, but in Ethiopia art isn’t really appreciated as something worthwhile. Honestly, there’s a huge niche in Ethiopian art. So many different things can be made fashionable: beautiful church paintings could be incredible wrapping paper, the things that the potters make could be used to decorate homes, and they could make Christmas tree decorations, the silver and gold jewelry could be HUGE, and they could turn it into picture frames with the crosses and specific decorations etched into them…. Ahhh, all of these are just very simple things, but it could be a very, very big market. Ethiopian clothing also: at least the fabrics can be used in modernized designs, not for traditional clothing, but for regular clothing that you’d just wear, or at least special occasion dresses, etc. SOMEONE can monopolize this, make a fortune for themselves, and then give it back to Ethiopia somehow. I swear, all I want is just to see a stronger, happier Ethiopia. There are so many problems ravaging it, and at least issues like poverty, starvation, and AIDS can be eased by a project like this, especially if it proved to be really lucrative. Ethiopia itself needs to just grow economically, suddenly find something it has that’s outrageously profitable in the world market, and just blossom. Addis Ababa means “New Flower,” but I don’t think it’s getting enough sun or water or something, because it just seems wilted to me. It’s pulsing with so much cultural diversity, it has so much to offer, but no one truly sees it and it’s just not getting anywhere. I want to help Ethiopia, I just feel like there’s so much room for it to grow and evolve and be strong. It’s frustrating, this feeling of helplessness. Well, I guess we’ll just wait to see what’s waiting in the future.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Winter Holiday

Well, it’s been such a long time that not only do I not know where to begin, I’m not sure that I even remember how to… so I guess I’ll just delve in… My first day back in Addis has been really nice. It was easy, relaxing, comfortable. It felt right. Unfortunately tomorrow will be completely spent doing math homework, blahhh. And so it goes. It’s funny, after being so excited to come back to Ethiopia and see everyone again and (surprisingly!) go to school, and just generally be occupied and busy and stimulated, now I don’t want to go to school. I’m sure that once I get there on Monday I’ll be happy…

Anyhow, I suppose I have a bit of backtracking to do. December 16, the day that school let out for the winter holiday, mom and I headed off to Bole Airport to return to California. All day I was blissfully counting down the hours, in the morning I even felt slightly defeated because the 18-hour wait until our 1 a.m. flight seemed impossibly long. Many can attest to my ecstatic and beaming face, way more intense and creepy than any Stepford wife, while incessantly chirping at random times throughout the day: “I’M GOING HOME TONIGHT!” At one point I said this to a couple of my guy friends who happen to be Ethiopian. One of them looked at me hard, yet I couldn’t tell whether or not he was actually trying to be serious because of his sleazy grin. However, he’s a fairly happy-go-lucky guy and enjoys hitting on girls, so that smile does seem to be permanently plastered on his face. Carrying on, he looked at me hard and said, “Home? This is your home,” he fervently jabbed a finger at the ground, “Ethiopia is your home.” He said this with passion. And people are only ever half-joking. I responded by telling him that I’m only half Ethiopian, I’ve attended the same school for the past five years, I’ve lived my entire life in Oakland, California. I’ve only been in Addis for the past five months. He didn’t say anything.

But something funny happened. I got back to California and I was excited and happy to be home, more than happy for a break. Driving down the freeway felt so right: I knew everything I saw, I knew exactly where we would turn, I was home. As soon as we got back to the house I took a shower in my parents’ bathroom, only to be greeted to the warm laughter of 15 of my friends at the front door as I was walking back to my room with only a towel wrapped around me. Needless to say, I tore across the hallway into my bedroom. I returned clothed to my “welcoming committee,” and felt nothing short of an extremely loved princess, receiving phone calls and cupcakes. Definitely an ego-boosting moment. Not to mention an incredibly nice memory. So the next week commenced beautifully, with some of my really good friends returning from vacationing, going shopping, eating food that I dearly missed, and just enjoying the comfort of my native soil. Then the paradise of the honeymoon wore off: I got bored and sad. I’m still sifting through this. I wasn’t exercising, which makes me feel sluggish; I missed schoolwork and mental stimulation; I kept thinking of Ethiopia; I felt out of place among my friends. I was already expecting to feel… not necessarily left out, but rather apart, yet that didn’t mean that I actually knew how that would feel. I don’t really know how to explain it, but it wasn’t nice. Someone asked me one day if I felt that people had changed. I hastily said “yes,” but after thinking about it for a moment, I said that most people hadn’t really changed, but I had, and that made all the difference. I no longer see things the same way, and thus there are some people that I can’t see the same way. I still dearly love them, but I don’t think that I can necessarily relate to them the way I used to. Oftentimes I found myself closing in, not talking much, desperately wanting to not be there. Everything, everything, was too much the same. What’s odd though, is that I don’t even really think that I’ve changed all that much… at first people said that I had bit of an accent, and many commented on my increased maturity and sophistication. I don’t feel much more mature or sophisticated, and despite feeling that I somehow have changed, I absolutely cannot declare that this is how I’ve changed and this is why. I’m still me, Samra G! Which is why I’m still sifting through all of this. All I know is that I just wanted to come back to Ethiopia, because after awhile I wasn’t really happy in Oakland anymore. Home is…

It’s funny, when I returned to California I couldn’t really think of anything to say. Everyone kept asking for stories, and I sadly failed on fulfilling that common request. The problem was, being here in Ethiopia is just life. I wake up, I go to school, I do something after school, I come home and do homework, I go to bed. What’s different is that there are other random things thrown in: a new environment, new people, various parties, tournaments in South Africa, political turmoil. But still, it’s my life, and only over a lifetime do you truly gather myriad attention-grabbing stories. If even. And besides, Ethiopia seemed 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 your heart and your mind, a knowledge that consumes that your body… I don’t know, but when I was in Oakland, Ethiopia just didn’t seem real, simply another one of my silly dreams. 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. So ultimately, I almost want someone to tell me what the point is.

I’m sifting and I’m drifting, surrounded by the sea, and the answers don’t lie here. Luckily I have no bricks to drown me. Hopefully I’m heading somewhere, but I don’t think that I’ll ever get all of the answers that I want. For now I need to get adjusted to the time… and it’s almost 2 a.m.