Somewhere between 17-19 years old, I fell into the Ethiopia Rabbit Hole. To echo a seminal figure of my time Mindy Kaling
“Questions I ask When I Want to Talk About Myself”
Why am I the diaspora’s resident Ethiopian?
According to the scholars, consciousness is a sign of heightened mental activity. In 2017, it is also ostracizing. Ironic because being insatiably curious about Ethiopia, transnationalism, and identity construction has come at the expense of my diaspora girlfriend pool. They get dafter in age. I am by no means an “Ethiopian Purist”. To the contrary, I am acculturated to the U.S.- this is my home. I think my attempt to contribute positively to the “socialized aspirations of the Ethiopian diaspora” (rant about stuff) is because I have;
- Imbibed the best qualities of America
- Gained competing perspectives from my own family on Ethiopian identity
As a first generation American, I get to observe the U.S. from East to West and inverse. American values incl. focus on progress, individual expression and ideals of equality inspire me. In that same breath, the inequality accounted by the unforgiving eye of history and the untempered societal greed instills a sense of individual moral fiber. Moreover, the documented successful efforts for social change gave me practical lessons in civil discourse.
More subtle and nefarious is my family’s contribution to this unwarranted consciousness. Throughout my childhood, I was under the joint care of my maternal grandparents and my father. My father, the only man I will ever love unconditionally pitted against my grandmother, the don matriarch, who showered my motherless-self with attention and love.The feud was not in this continuum. As a matter of fact, my father and grandmother were sincerely cordial. It was me who subconsciously directed their battles.
As individuals they were both always in demand in their respective circles – “burdened” by an effervescent glow that chained them to endless cycles of mahbers/club meetings and buna/coffee rounds. I can’t even find a girl to goto brunch with me. My grandmother took charge of my socialization. I tailed along to most of her societal engagements. To the contrary, when my father was hosting he would whisk me off to bed. In the morning, I would survey the grounds for trace of their evening, leftover Heineken bottle caps. Emamye/grandma was a women of high society; with wealth and a Gojame pedigree to boot. She spent most of her idle time at engagements with a subgroup of women that can only be conflated to the “Lady Granthm’s of Addis.” At these grand houses, my sister and I would soar through their rose gardens- taking great care to investigate each insect we came across. Eventually the house staff’s kids would be lured out from their vantage point to take part in the debauched games we concocted. Before long a maid would gingerly haul us to the main house for an afternoon snack of hot tea and biscuits.
More often than not, these call-in’s served as an expose. “Tadelish/To your fortune”, they would quip to my grandma, “they dont look like the fathers people at all”. My grandmother would toast her coffee in gratitude. I was never shocked in the slightest. It just was what it was.
My father is Kembata/Hadiyaa, a peoples inhabiting Southern Ethiopia. Unlike my mother’s family who occupy the mainstream Ethiopian space, my father was a spectator. In the rare moments I caught his friends/my informal uncles throw jabs at his background, my dad would jubilantly strike his chest declaring “Kocho ena Gomen”, [Southern Ethiopia’s indigenous food: fermented false banana roots and spinich] Then to the delight of the jeering crowd, he pointed at the scrawniest and blackest Habesha uncle in the group “teff ena shiro- manew yetogdaw/ Injera and shiro- so who was without?” The laughter was deafening.
Only as an adult, did I start detecting inflections of repressed emotions. In a post-Menelik Ethiopia the inter-generational memory of displacement has profoundly shaped each line of my fathers family. As a testament to my fathers good nature, he always directed us to look forward for the sake of all of Ethiopia.