More than Just a Number
By Eden Mesfin
It’s hard to describe my connection with Ethiopia as a Diaspora. I was raised to love my Ethiopian culture, history, and heritage since the day I was born. Yet, my only memory and my first trip to Ethiopia was five years ago – when I went to bury my mother. My tie to Ethiopia was embedded in my mother’s passing. However, I found that although returning to Ethiopia would be painful, it was something I desperately wanted and needed. Coming to Ethiopia would begin a new chapter of my identity as an Ethiopian.
In so many ways, being here in Ethiopia feels like home. Arat Kilo, Shola, Bole. Everywhere I go in Addis, I see people that look just like me, they walk like me, and have the same mannerisms as me. The simple act of interacting with individuals who look as though they could be my aunt, cousin, or sibling on a daily basis has been… liberating. When I first landed in Addis Ababa, and saw the “Welcome Home” sign at Bole Airport I wondered how “home” I would feel here. Surprisingly, I’ve found that within the past few weeks, each day is a journey in understanding my identity in relation to my country, the people, and life as a whole. I ask myself, “How American am I? How Ethiopian am I?”
“I ask myself, ‘How American am I? How Ethiopian am I?'”
What has surprised me the is how welcoming people have been, and how I don’t stand out as much as I imagined I would. Each individual I speak with seems to think that I frequent Addis every year, or left the country as a young child. Although, I communicate in Amharic on a daily basis, I understand that I have an obvious accent. Amazingly, it’s something I’ve just accepted as part of my natural evolution and development while here. Just the other day, I boarded a taxi near Bole Dildi, and was shocked when a young girl asked how much I normally pay for a ride to Arat Kilo. Imagine my surprise. I’m supposed to be the Diaspora who doesn’t know anything. She’s asking me?
Last week, I gathered the strength to visit the church where my mother is buried in Debre Libanos. The trip to Debre Libanos, was a difficult journey. It was a holiday, Teklehaimanot, which made traffic treacherous. People parked cars any which way along the highway in order to walk for miles to the church. The difficult part was that the roads were blocked off, and so it took us four hours to get there. Despite the time it took, it was a beautiful experience. It was deeply profound to see my mom’s finished grave five years later. Even more so, it was truly life changing to meet the Abba, and listen to him as he recounted my family history. He knew exactly who I was, who my family was, for generations back. It’s truly powerful to know that you’re not simply a number in Ethiopia, but that you have an identity, a history, and your roots.
“It’s truly powerful to know that you’re not simply a number in Ethiopia, but that you have an identity and history.”
I’m living everyday and watching as my narrative of Ethiopia has begun to transform. Many times, those of us in the Diaspora identify return trips to Ethiopia for the purpose of a funeral or wedding. For me, I’m beginning to redefine my relationship to Ethiopia. Ethiopia is much more to me now. It is a return home. It is a home where I can eat lunch with my grandmother. It is the place where I can see where my parents frequented as children. I can – and I am – building new memories of Ethiopia for myself.