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.