Connecting the Dots
At the time of writing, I was sitting in the bar area of the Ramada Hotel, located in the popular Bole area of the city – the latest of many swanky new hotels in the ever-expanding capital of Addis Ababa. A lot has changed since I first visited Ethiopia 11 years ago – when dial-up internet was a luxury, beautiful palm trees were abundant, and most of Ethiopia’s roads were “koroconch,” (gravel-like, unpaved roads) that I strangely missed upon returning to the flat plains of the Midwest.
I could tell you about the warm-and-fuzzy (and extremely ambitious) thoughts I’ve had since I was a child about how I was going to help Ethiopia. I would be part of the movement to help develop Ethiopia to become the next America, or I would find a way for the country to host the Summer Olympic Games, or exploit opportunities here to become a successful businesswoman – the list goes on. Ethiopia has a funny way of encapsulating one into a romantic, yet dangerous train of “what-ifs.”
When I first visited Ethiopia at the age of 18, I instantly fell in love with the country my family originated from. The landscape, the people, and the culture were everything! After having visited Ethiopia a couple more times before this Fellowship, I always had a burning desire to repay the sacrifices that my parents (and many others) have made for us first-gen’ers to have the lives we have. It was not a feeling of obligation or guilt, but a desire to somehow ensure their sacrifices were worth it. To make them proud. To reassure them that through all their efforts, I would not forget everything they taught me about my family and homeland.
“But what am I really doing here?”
I knew that coming to Ethiopia through the fellowship and fully immersing myself into this experience would be the answer that I had been searching for. I would be surrounded by like-minded individuals, generating novel solutions and/or ideas that I felt would contribute to Ethiopia’s growth and success – not “save” it from its problems. But what am I really doing here?
“Where can I add the most value? What can I do?”
Just over two months into the fellowship, I admit that I’m still a bit lost. Having been heavily involved in the Ethiopian community back in the States, I continue to explore my identity as an Ethiopian, as a member of the Diaspora (which is also a continuous debate with locals), and opportunities to tie my experiences there and here together. To whom do I pledge allegiance – local Ethiopians or the Ethiopian Diaspora, or both? Where can I add the most value? What can I do?
The difference between this and my previous trips here is the flexibility I’ve been afforded to explore the rapidly-changing landscape of the country, interact and network with locals and an ever-growing diaspora community who share a similar passion and commitment to Ethiopia’s success. I’ve learned to adapt and build relationships with everyone from the other EDF fellows, to the founder of a start-up I met on my first day of the fellowship, to my “dembenyas” or regular contract taxi drivers. Hearing and experiencing so many perspectives on Ethiopia today continues to stir my mind and gives me hope that I will be able to better understand my homeland and my role in its development.
I am determined.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship the organization and the leadership.