16 April, 2010 | 23 comments | Category: Africa, I.dentity, i.mmigration, nation & ethnicity, nostalgia.personal, Senduq - E!
It is now 12:07 AM. I just had a brief conversation with tsepeaces and another Berkye SenduQawit. I managed to get out of the conversation in time for me to wash the dishes my friend and I used. Poor fellow had to eat a vegan dinner because I am fasting. I know I am not supposed to brag about lent, especially not announce it on a BLOG that is getting hot by the minute. UMMM but opportunities like this arise very rarely in my side of town. May be my deacon friend will actually make note of the fact that I am fasting and inform Abba (of course with out my consent) and may be, Abba will reduce my segdet from 75 to 45 for the coming Fasika and the next few Fasikas I will actually spend in this town.
I have a vague suspicion that I am a hot commodity in the virtual world, because everyone wants to hear my stories from home. After all, what is better than a friend who just arrived from Addis Ababa? Of course it’s a bonus, if the friend came with teff injera and she updates you about so and so’s wedding while you take a huge gorsha of teff ingera with WZO X’s ebed yale key wet? Errre I should not have such HODE-related ideas in the first week of tsome (My deacon friend decrees such thoughts at this time of the year).
It has also become Ye Addebabye Mistere that I have very weak resistance le addis ababa goremsoch…and hence (I assume that she assumed) my three weeks stay would be full of drama. Well, Not Really. Mr. S has done un-repairable damage to my dating appetite. And besides, STD rates are on the rise eytebale yeweral. Of course, the person who gave me this info is a major ye’addis ababa dureye and he even challenged me to disprove this hypothesis. He said, “as an aspiring scientist you should do a practical hypothesis testing”. Imagine my surprise when I heard this from Elem yale dureye negAde ….what y’know about hypothesis testing and scientific research? The hypothesis still remains untested…anyways we should move on, after all this is a well-respected blog. There are still some who constantly mistake ME for chewa & anget defi so let me not ruin their presumption.
I wanted to go home desperately because I wanted to confirm that home still exists. As much as I love and appreciate my life here, I feel as if something is missing (May be something or someone is actually missing but that by itself calls for another entry). I have this nagging feeling of emptiness. I constantly reminded my self that my life here is temporary, I should not get too comfortable here because this is not home. Ethiopia is home. Or is it not? I had three weeks to find out.
When I arrived at the Bole International airport my mom was the first person I saw, she was holding a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. She did not see me until I was steps away from her. The expression on her face when she saw me was priceless. I realized how much I have missed my mom when I saw her with flowers in her hands, lost in deep thought. My mother looked so much darker than I remembered, it has been two years since I last saw her, but within those two years, my mother has aged rapidly. She still looks very young for her age, but she has changed considerably.
The three weeks went by so fast and we were once again at the Bole international airport, this time at the departure section. I managed to send my luggage and I went to the airport café where my parents and brother were waiting. We sat in the café for a while until my brother finally rose from his chair and announced that it was time. It was past mid night and both my parents looked very exhausted. I knew another Goodbye was imminent. I gave each one of them a hug, and watched my father and brother escort my mom who was sobbing quietly.
I arrived at the airport in my city on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I quickly collected my luggage, and left the arrival section. There was no one waiting for me at the airport. There were no flowers, kisses or hugs, not even a handshake. My heart sunk a bit lower with this realization, but I was nonetheless happy to be “home”. My apartment looked much bigger, sunnier and cleaner than I remembered. I realized how much I have missed its coziness, quietness and spaciousness. I went out and bought a calling card to tell my parents that I have arrived safely. I called a few friends to let them know that I am in town. I unpacked, took a hot long bath and then went out on my balcony and drew in a lung full of crisp winter air….euffoy and oddly enough it felt good to be back.
I was not able to permanently address this “empty” feeling, that I always had since I set a foot in North America. But I was able to understand why I constantly have that feeling. This “empty” feeling is due to lack of genuine love, attention and laughter I took for granted in Ethiopia. Over the seven years I have been here, besides a few good friends I have been all-alone. It is a dangerous realization but with all honesty, very few people would notice if I went missing or dead. So, this “constant feeling of emptiness” is also known to many as “loneliness”.
I have been back from my trip for over a month. I have now made peace with “loneliness” and we have made unwritten convention that it will occupy a small corner in my life. It will NOT take over completely; make me move to another city or date un-dateable guys. I will NOT deny its existence. “Loneliness” and me shook hands and sealed the deal, with out shemagelas, eyewitnesses or lawyers. I looked at a framed picture of my parents for approval. They smiled, so I guessed they also approve.
My trip has given me an opportunity to re-connect with family and friends. I especially had a fabulous time with my cousin with whom I shared great childhood memories. He was drifting away from my life and it felt righteous to place him back in my life (and this time permanently). It was also nice to see how some of my friends have become so successful and dedicated to their careers. Since most people do not work for more than a few hours a day, it was refreshing to see such commitment and persistence. I had an opportunity to go to ANde Yemengist mesribete to get some paper work done and we had to go multiple times during office hours to get very simple and basic service. There are lots of incompetent and lazy people and they demand loads of patience.
I closed my eyes and thought about my mother deep in thought, holding the beautiful bouquet. Another thought came, my parents, brother and I at the airport café. Sandwiched between the two, I had unbelievably beautiful time. It was a fabulous vacation and it made me realize that I am lonely but also happy here. I can handle loneliness. Surely, I have developed a thick skin over the course of seven years – I have lived alone after all. I also love the life I have created for myself here; I am in a setting that challenges me intellectually and emotionally. I have chosen this life for me and I must live it unapologetically. But yes, Ethiopia also has a room for me and I can go back to it whenever I am ready. For now though, “loneliness” and I will coexist.
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23 comments to “When I’m Back”
a lovely testament
Very illuminating! Wreaks of maturity and growth. Being lonely can be hard, but also essential for reflection and growth. I think too often people fail to embrace the quiet times.
AmeleworQ, April 20th, 2010 at 7:47 am:
Beautiful narration. I very much relate to the ‘ nagging feeling of loneliness’ and the constant reminder that life abroad is temporary. But I would be happy if you elaborate more on ‘Ethiopia also has a room for me and I can go back to it whenever I am ready.’ What does it mean to be ready? Emotionally ready?
tsedey, April 20th, 2010 at 5:24 pm:
nice and candid realization. enjoyed reading it.
I am glad y’all enjoyed reading it…
AmeleworQ: What I meant was I could see myself living in Ethiopia and loving it. At the moment though I am neither mentally nor financially (career wise) ready. Many pp focus on being financially ready for the big Exodus. I believe that being mentally prepared is as important. When we live abroad for so long, we have consciously or subconsciously adopted to the values and thought-processes of the west. Thus, we might be tempted to judge ‘home’ by the western values and standards. And also we might be out of touch from the reality of ‘home’. SO, I think familiarizing ourselves with the realities of back home is important and makes the move very smooth….
This is a great article E! i love your writing style….it draws you in as it goes….
you know that – being ok with the negatives thing is soo powerful – the more we grow up I guess the more you can realize that each place has its own positives but also it’s negatives…no scenario can be a pure utopia land ….not even ethiopia hehehe
about the going back – i agree with you i think the more you stay in any one place even if it’s moving between cities in the west the more you get acclimated to that specific place…and since ethiopia is changing and you are changing its all such a fluid situation….it’s really hard to give up the comforts and opportunities and options…of the west and the more you come to accept the loneliness the less you remember or even feel the need for the great gift of community in ethiopia…
Did going home make you want to move there?
tsepeaces: I have always wanted to go back, but I was not sure if i can fit. This trip helped me realize that as long as I adjust my expectations, it is possible to move back. I expect that it is going to be difficult to give up the comfort of the west… in my case: i live alone and do everything according to my own needs and wants. Back home things are different, I have to synchronize my rhythm with everybody else’s which is going to be real hard.. and there are so many little things we take for granted here (including good water pressure) but will have to b sacrificed… and also home brings so many little blessings that I have long forgotten existed. SO its a trade of…. and one has to see beyond the little things….
AmeleworQ, April 21st, 2010 at 8:05 pm:
Yes, sometimes the emotional readiness is more pertinent than the financial. For me, what I anticipate the most is being an adult where I have only been a kid before.
If you allow me to give the discussion a twist , you mentioned in your article that it is comforting for you to know that Ethiopia will always have a place for you whenever you feel ready to go back. That is indeed consoling thought. However, how come so many of us consider Ethiopia as, 1) an escape ( and I don’t mean this in a necessarily negative way) from our busy, occupying comfortable western lives 2) as a romanticized entity, our back up plan, or our retreat when we have finished reaping all the benefits or enjoying all the opportunities the west has to offer. I wonder, if many of us educated young people living abroad are waiting to be ready, and telling ourselves Ethiopia will always have a room for us whenever we are, ready, then will we have a wonderful Ethiopia to go back to?
One last point, instead of waiting to be emotionally ready for for the low water pressure or the highly polluted air or the every other day electricity, how about we return and work to make the electricity more reliable, the air much fresher and the water pressure normal?
Thank You E!
I think a number of us identify with your testament
To give you my two cents AmeleworQ (I like the direction you’re taking this discussion …)
1) Ethiopia for me is not an escape it’s Home, many of us grew up in Ethiopia, that’s where I have all my childhood memories, great friends and family. Life here is comfortable in a way, but I would argue things are more convenient even more comfortable in Ethiopia, it depends on your perspective, what you’re looking for and at what stage of your life you are.
2) We tend to get used to life here and so going back may seem like climbing a mountain, one step at a time, I think it’s really not that hard. We do tend to romanticize things a bit, partly because as we miss things we tend to idealize everything. Which is why trips like E!’s are important to keep things in perspective. Ethiopia is a great country (for me at least), but with significant failures, if not I wouldn’t have left it in the first place. I don’t see Ethiopia as a ‘back-up-plan’, so I really can’t answer that question. I hope to go back once I have acquired the necessary tools I need which is still a few years from now, not so I can retire comfortably. It is an important question that must be asked. I can’t answer for all people, but we do have to realize that we all have one life to live, and people’s choices vary, not everyone wants to go back. If we are speaking of contributing for a better Ethiopia, there million ways that one can contribute, without having to move back permanently. So setting our mindset to doing things only when we move back may be a bit foolhardy. Now’s as good a time as ever , I think.
Ethwubit, April 22nd, 2010 at 4:00 am:
I wish it were an entire novel and not just a blog…I want more! E, I loved it, you effectively reflected the emotions that are playing out in your heart and in the hearts of so many of us in the same situation. I love your writing style and your honesty in conveying our reality.
Thank you, Ethwubit. For sure there will b more
@ AmelewerQ: I am at the same stage as Nani. Ethiopia IS NOT the back up plan. Moving to Ethiopia is the plan. And I am not planning to retire there or anything. I want to build my career there.
The reason I left Ethiopia is to get a great higher education, a bit of international work experience, a bit of life experience… Once i have accomplished that I plan to go back.
But the problem is, life does not always happen the way we planned it…so the adventure continues and hopefully it will lead us back to Ethiopia.
AmeleworQ, April 22nd, 2010 at 6:39 pm:
Nani and E!, that is very nice. To hear that Ethiopia IS your plan as you have very nicely put it.
… I sorta feel that this is an important topic, and that we shouldn’t abandon it just bacause we agree …
I think we’ve all met quite a few people who have sworn they would never go back to Ethiopia, some would even call her names, ‘that’ country or something worse. and some of these same people talk of how much they miss Ethiopia, how they can’t wait to go back …but of course, just to have fun, not to do any serious work. I always ask myself where this mentality came from. But it’s the same people I’ve known for years. Am I simply too idealistic, or have they given up too quickly, and given up what?
After encountering a few of these people, I’ve given them the name ‘imposed-immigrants’. that may not describe them adequately, but it does explain their situation to me. Most are not even immigrants in the traditional sense of the word. They were never fleeing political prosecution, nor were they really that poor comparatively. Some just ended up in the West because they had family here. But I’m continually amazed at the stories they make up (forgive the generalization, and what might seem like me pointing fingers, I won’t name names don’t worry) … it’s almost as if, if the same story is told over and over, perhaps it will be believed, and eventually become true, and so imposed-immigrants have made themselves into victims, and never victors, ‘that’ country has done this and that to them and so they don’t owe her anything. How did we get here? In my parents generation, going abroad was looked down on, my mom went to two different European countries for her studies, but flew home right after finishing school. Same for my dad. Now I can’t say the same for all of my siblings, or cousins and others who are in the same situation. How did we get here?
AmeleworQ, April 24th, 2010 at 12:53 pm:
Nani, thanks for starting the discussion again. And you brought out topics that are really close to my heart ! During Haile Selassie’s period, almost every other person who studied abroad returned,but now hardly anyone encourages you to go back. I have been away from Ethiopia for 5 years, but I have gone back 4 times. Two times for vacation, one time for an internship and the other to collect data for my research. And ofcourse my family and friends are delighted to see me but they always ask me, ‘ yehen memelales alabezashewem’. And when I express my interest to come back home upon graduation, the response I get from several people is ‘ Menew, ere ezaw yishaleshal.’, ‘ Min larg belesh new yemetemelshew?’ , ‘ don’t waste your skills, there is no opportunity for you here.’
I won’t say all, but the majority of the young people I know who live abroad do not want to return unless it is for fun. I understand to some extent why this is the case for our parent’s generation. My uncle, who has lived in the US for a while now told me that most of his age mates do not even want to think about Ethiopia, mostly because of the circumstances they left with, such as the red terror, where they lost many of their ‘ abroadeges’, brothers and sisters.
But this does not apply for our generation…so what is holding us back? What is making us indifferent? Is it the lack of opportunity at home? Is it the decreasing sense of social responsibility?
Indeed an interesting discussion..I also know a lot of people who left during the red-terror (derg) era don’t even go back to visit let alone move back. I guess the wounds could not heal for that generation.
… I believe that its lack of awareness about the possibilities in the country that is keeping our generation from moving back. I mean, there is so MUCH to be done,(in terms of business, investments and development) but I guess not that many people are looking hard…”Ethiopia is not for the short sighted” as one of my friends said….a lot of things are subtle in Ethiopia and one has to be a great observer to fully understand the situation in Ethiopia. A lot of us, go back home for a visit, go to the usual spots, cafes, night clubs, and the adventurous ones might do a road trip. BUT many of us don’t even grasp the current state the country is in. Many of us don’t even bother to sit for a minute and watch the local news, or read the local newspaper. So until we open our eyes to what Ethiopia has to offer, then moving back will not be feasible…
but I really find it refreshing to find that many of us are passionate about moving. And I also am so glad to know and have met so many people who have moved back and who are doing beautifully. So, hopefully as the number of people who have gone back and become successful increases, the number of people who want to move back will also increase.
Wow, I enjoyed reading this, thank you for sharing your experience E! I am finally going to Ethiopia after over 10 years to come in terms with the same feeling you expressed in the beginning of your writing and just the thought of the journey bring tears to my eyes …. this too shall pass
Sorry been meaning to comment for days … nuro be North America honena …
ameleworQ I too have heard a few of those sentiments. Most don’t even ask if I ever plan to go back, it’s a given, an unquestioned status-quo, that once you get a ticket out, you should never look back. But there are a few people who either expecting me to say no, or just hoping that I’ll be different from others, ask if I plan to come back. My answer has always been, ‘I hope so …’ because I’ve been faced from the very beginning with doubts, doubts of seeing people very close to me say with certainty that they will come back, but then a few years down the road it turns to, ‘yea, just in a few years…’ then ‘Maybe, if I do this and that then yea …’ … then ‘I’m not too sure …’ then ‘Of course not! Who in their right minds would ever go back?!’ I understand the frustration this might come with, that deep down I know most want to go back, but there are responsibilities, family, kids, … in general life happens, and makes it if not difficult close to impossible. Imagine the failure they must feel …
But then again if you go abroad you’re expected to do well. That is also another unquestioned expectation, although now a days I’m seeing more empathy on the part of Ethiopians in Ethiopia, that things don’t always work out.
Amazingly, I have a few friends that have vowed never to leave Ethiopia, though if they tried, they could. But I advise them to take the opportunity to get exposure as much as possible while they are young. Some might see that as being a hypocrite, but I do believe that whether or not people leave the country should be at their own will, and those of us who have the opportunity should take full advantage of it, but at the same time not forget our roots.
And E! you made some really good points!The last time I was there I did a short internship. There are some real opportunities in the country, we’re just not looking! I had lunch with a pretty successful lawyer who was amazed to hear that I wanted to come back and live in Ethiopia once I’m done with my school, after attacking all angles trying to make me see that going back was not in my own best interest, he said “well, it is true, almost all industries are still undeveloped, if you were to eventually make something of your profession, perhaps explore the private sector, you will have very little competition”. Not to advocate for a monopoly, I believe competition is essential, but what it really boils down to is, do we see it as an opportunity, or a burden? Do we see the glass half full or half empty?
Thank you for letting us have these discussions it’s great to know that there are at least a couple of people out there that understand you, in more ways than one!
… check out this article a lil while ago on tadias magazine … Thank you E! for passing it along The Ethiopian Dream …
E….i love this…it feels like my story. I too want to go home after grad school. I met two Ethiopian professors from Addis at a conference in Boston and i expressed my interest to work there…they had a very surprised response in their face
I think going back would be great…but it IS scary. I feel like those of us with the same interests should network and discuss about possible opportunities because just going back without a plan is not productive and inefficient. The american dream IS a blessing-i realized that when i met many kids my age without a job/hope of becoming something…we are very very lucky…living a dream in Ethiopia for most people our age is impossible…no need to romanticize it…so we need to clear a path to create opportunities for ourselves and to also open opportunity for others…we need to get organized because there is not a very strong structure to help us transition or to enable us to do/serve the way we can
AmeleworQ, May 5th, 2010 at 9:38 am:
I very much agree with you Nani, on the market opportunities in Ethiopia….so many unexplored industries, that the Diaspora should really consider in investing in the country. This is not only a profit promising venture but will also create more jobs. Please see this article about Tadiwos Belete, an impressive entrepreneur who went back to Ethiopia and invested. He is the owner of Boston Day Spa and Kuriftu resorts.
I am also very grateful for getting the opportunity to study abroad and get a quality education, like semhal said, we were the lucky few. But this has left me thinking, we should work towards creating conditions where our youth don’t necessarily have to go abroad to realize their dreams. Conditions where we are able to nurture and utilise our own skilled human resource.
I am finishing my graduate studies less than 3 weeks and I am returning back home… unfortunately without any concrete plans. I just bought a one way ticket, and it excites me and scares me at the same time. I know, in broader sense, what I want to do and towards which goals I want to work..but the details are still not defined. And yes, it might be unproductive and inefficient but it is hard to make this plans while so far away…Perhaps the urge to return right away comes from the fear of being entangled in other responsibilities here and become like many of our relatives and friends who say, ‘ few more years..’
As Semhal mentioned, I wish there was a structure or network that helps us in the transition or guide as into using our academic/professional background in the most productive and socially benefiting way. But even if these structures are missing, I think it is a learning process, so the structures not being there should not stop us from returning. ‘ Sewen meslo menor new’ tel neber enate…this makes it less scary
Kali, May 8th, 2010 at 9:01 pm:
This is a beautifully written piece. E you have put into words what many of us feel. Believe or not, being in North America, with my parents, I still feel that sense of emptiness. And I am loving the discussion. I to plan to go back home and frankly I want to try and change so many things when I get there … it seems a little unrealistic. But as AmeleworQ said we should make ways to let the youth live their dreams. We need to also create jobs, as many people end up jobless and end up leaving the country. This discussion is so re-assuring … one, I see that I am not alone (so I must not be crazy for wanting to move back – as everyone makes me believe) and two, Ethiopia has no idea what is about to his her. I don’t remember who stated this earlier, but yes, seeing people that have moved back and become successful and most importantly brought change, is a little heart warming really. I myself will be going in a couple weeks for 6 months, and right now I am not really sure what I will be doing but I am trying to find an internship. But honestly, my main reason is to see where I belong and to get a realisitc vision of what I am meant to be and do. As well as to also see what steps I need to take to get there.
We can do this guys. It will be a movement… wait… are we all girls? What do the men think? :S
acherwa, September 16th, 2010 at 2:42 pm:
Great article E! your writing style reminds me of (Eat, Pray, Love) have you thought of writing a book ?
In my 15 years living abroad I have visited twice, and each time I tell myself I am coming back next year. go through post-ethiotrip syndrome for a month and eventually drift into my routine here in America.
During my last trip I was exposed to more people who have made their trip back to Ethiopia and doing well. I think we are seeing a rise to Ethiopians returning and that by itself is encouraging.
Those of us interested in making the move should definitely reach out to those who have done so, use them as resources and definitely start a separate saving account
richard, April 7th, 2011 at 6:11 am:
Ethiopia is indeed a betam konjo ager, and igzeeabiher yimesgen for the time I got to spend there. I’m sorry I didn’t find this blog much earlier, it’s nearly and amet iske you wrote this.
Amisgenalehu for sharing your lovely, thought provoking reflections, and for stirring up memories of the best years of my life!