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.