I am not an immigrant.

It is only very recently that I accepted the fact that I live in Atlanta, GA. I can’t even believe I’m typing these words -I live in the United States. Oh God, that feels so foreign to me. Back in college, it was simple really, I would confidently declare that “I live in Addis Ababa, I’m just in MA for college ,” just like someone from New York or Ohio would say where they were from if you met them while studying in TX. Besides I had somehow miraculously managed to go back four times during those four years, so it wasn’t like I was faking. I was still an Addis resident. I still had a valid drivers license.

Things are quite different now, I can’t claim to be a resident of Addis Ababa, because i’m not (what an aha moment!). I can’t claim to know the new hot spot that just opened or give you the best direction to get to yegna sefer Kaldi’s, or tell you the best newspaper to read. I haven’t heard gossip from beautiful hostesoch at the hairdresser’s, watched meto’haya, drank coffee from a cini, eaten croissant from Parissean, drank mango juice from London Cafe, taken pictures at sharp photo bet, taken a walk sefer west, watched ETV, taken a blue taxi or listened to live music at Habesha – in 27 months. Yet it was only last week I admitted to myself or anyone else, that I no longer am an Addisababian. It was like I was addicted to the city, my home, and I haven’t been able to recover from the withdrawal. I’m not looking to recover from the addiction because i’ll be moving there soon, like I was doing 2 years ago, like i might be doing 10 years from now.

If there’s one thing I dread more than not living in Addis, it’s living some place else – as an immigrant. I have never viewed myself as an immigrant simply because I wasn’t, I am not, nor will I ever be…? When does one cross the line from being abroad for a purpose to being abroad as an immigrant? I’m not necessarily talking about being an immigrant on paper, but being one in your mind, heart and soul. I don’t think I’ve passed that bridge, and i wonder if i ever will, if i’d ever want to, if i’d ever be able to. When does one just give up on the idea of eventually going back? Doesn’t every immigrant dream of that day, the day when he’ll be home? Or are there those who completely adopt to the new country and claim it as home? (If such lucky souls exist, I’m sorry to say, I do not relate).

There are two chains, you see, that suffocate the immigrant – the ability, a right almost, to romanticize home or utterly understate, diminish it.  If you are the former, as soon as something goes wrong, as soon as you’re treated by others as if you don’t belong, as soon as your light deems, you see that other road, the greener road – you remember home. All of a sudden you view the people you left behind as more friendly, the air fresher, the buna tastier. Weyne Agere! you declare, you forget why you even left in the first place. Maybe if you had stayed you’d have gotten that other job, maybe your business idea might have become a reality, maybe you’d have married that rich guy. But no, you got fooled by all the Hollywood movies you watched, fooled by the bottled-water-drinking, backpack-carrying, shorts-wearing diaspora you saw walking down Bole road, you got fooled fooled fooled. Like someone once said, hiwoten felega hiwot helelebet ager meteh kuch alk!

Or maybe you didn’t get fooled. Maybe you knew what you were getting into, you had a clear plan – you’d leave home, get all the best things out of Auropa weynem American ager and move back and live the life – arif business kefteh (weynes ante bale seltan new yemtehonew? or a professor at AAU?) habtam honeh, arif sefer arif bet serteh…? But somewhere life turned out to be alright. You could actually get use to *this.* You forgot why you left home in the first place. You got use to the clean streets, the mall, the movies. You got use to your credit card, your nice car, your yearly vacations. Why had you planned on going back there again? You ask yourself – Who wants to be living on dirty streets with all the abuara, with all the poverty staring at you in the face. I mean, you only read yesterday, just yesterday, that millions are starving, young people don’t have jobs, there is no personal freedom, and the country is under strict dictatorship! Life is so expensive that the only ones surviving are the fancy-car-driving, macchiato-sipping, stiletto-wearing, Sheraton-clubbing and kitfo-munching upper class’ers! – you think to yourself – those selfish bastards! Yet somewhere inside of you, you’re not so sure…the old craving of home resurfaces at times. But leaving is too much of a gamble, you tell yourself – I’ve got a good life here- what if things don’t work out according plan?…. no no no… those bastards!

Yes, the immigrant will either romanticize or diminish where he came from. Neither thought will free him from his bondage. The one who romanticizes will one day be harshly awakened. He will realize that not all of his people are as friendly and the buna will somehow taste a bit too strong. The fresh air he imagined will seem a bit polluted… home is just different. He’s been away too long…he’s home…yet a stranger? And the one with diminished, horrible almost, thoughts of home will also face his own dilemma. He’ll live denying any good his country has achieved. He’ll convince himself that he’s lucky to be away from the misery that is Africa, yet goes to bed some nights knowing in his heart of hearts that he still doesn’t belong. This is still not home.

Yes, the immigrant, once having left his home will forever be stuck between two world. No matter where he is, he’ll forever wonder if the other place might have brought more happiness, more satisfaction, more success. And this, dear reader, is where my denial stems from. This is my fear. I am still not an immigrant, I’ve lived the past couple of years having completely and successfully convinced myself that I’m an Addisababian, just away temporarily, heading back soon. I know if I go back now it will be like I never left. But I feel I’m on the edge, on the tip of that line, to becoming an immigrant  – stuck between two worlds, unable to belong to either one.

The boy who cried ‘Wedding.’

A famous Ethiopian entertainer was once being interviewed on ETV when he was asked about his children, ahun yet dereja endederesu. The man, sitting up straight and proud, answered andu lige graduate adergo teru sera yizo eyesera new, lelagnaw demo Talian ager yedual. Eee, Talian ager….and?! Well, you see Talian ager mehed was a great accomplishment all on its own. No one asked what happened addisu ager ketegeba bewhala.

These days, after millions having left their country and having witnessed the harsh realities that can come with life as an immigrant, leaving is no longer viewed as an accomplishment, definitly a way to possible success, but not as success on its own. You know what seems to have replaced it, standing on its own as a great achievement without too much of handwork and labor? – Marriage! Yes, walking down the aisle, kulun tekula, mizew fezo, hayloga techefero…. the whole shir gud is given a rather superior status.

All this came to me a couple days ago when i got a call from a close friend telling me that he’ll be getting married in a couple weeks. I’ve received this call, from the same dear friend twice already, announcing the same news – the great wedding – the only thing different was the would be bride. The supportive friend that i am, I announced, once again, my excitement and joy to hear the news. Later that day, as i shared the news with others, i was reminded, by a witty friend, of the boy who cried wolf… in this case wedding.

This friend of mine is definitly not an exception, everyone these days seems to be getting engaged, married, planning on getting engaged or married, talking and obsessing about getting engaged or married! – that is according to Facebook and conversations i have with countless friends who are quite caught up with their relationship status. As a bit embarrassing as it is, relationships seem to dominate as the main topic of conversations… does this render us lifeless or has this been the norm for people in their 20s and 30s since decades ago?

When did marriage become a goal to achieve all on its own? Why has it become such an issue? Has this always been the case?People as young as 26 and 27 are actually worried about finding a husband/wife. I know i’m not the ideal person to discuss this issue given the fact that i am married. But, the irony is that when i did decide to get married, i thought of all my friends who were pursuing higher education or chasing after their dream jobs, while i chose to move to a state with less than ideal conditions for finding a job that i felt suited me, to be with the person i loved – i have to say, i felt a little less than. If i knew then what i know now, i would not have stressed so much about it.

Yes, being with the person you love is a beautiful thing, but it has to be because you want it, not because you feel like that’s what you’re suppose to want. Marriage is a freakishly difficult thing, being married is a lifelong road to travel through, not a destination to reach. Especially given the high rate of divorce that currently exists, please be dame certain that it’s what you want, that it’s he/she you want. Whatever the future holds, at least you’ll know it’s you and only you that made the choice . Hopefully however romantic your decision, you will have made a logical one also.

You see ‘the boy who cried wedding’ seems to be more intrigued about the idea of getting married rather than what’s to come after the marriage. He just wants to “settle down,” with whomever, however. I couldn’t blame him, since most of his friends where  getting engaged, married, planning on getting engaged or married, talking and obsessing about getting engaged or married!

If there’s one thing i’ll end with it would be – just be yourself, do what YOU want – you’re going to be stuck with yourself for quite a while.

Tena Yistelegn.

Decisions Decisions Decisions.

A cheese burger or a Salad, skinny jeans or regular, the rich guy or the funny guy, move to that city  or stay, it goes on and on, decisions decisions decisions. I wish we never had to make them. I wish we could automatically tell which will lead to doom and which to prosperity, to satisfaction. But sadly, we don’t. We use our logic, our belief, our hearts, to make from the most mundane of decisions to life changing ones, and keep our fingers crossed – Lord, let the salad keep me skinny, the jeans curvy, the rich guy satisfied, and the city on my toes.

One of the major factors which makes decision making so dame difficult for most of us, actually i’m pretty confident that it is THE major factor, is that we’re making it in the 21st century. The amount of choices we, the fortunate yet doomed, are provided with today have doubled and quadrupled. Not only do i have to decide between a cheese burger and a salad, but ones i’ve made the painful decision of having the salad, i have to know if i want romaine or spinach, Italian dressing or ranch, blu cheese or feta – whatever happened to ordering salad and just getting SALAD!

As frustrating as not getting a simple salad can be, most of us can live with it, it’s the world we’ve been born into, having countless choices is the norm. If given the choice, we’ll choose having choices. It becomes a problem when the decision we’re making is a life changing one, where on road will lead to prosperity and the other despair. The process at times puts our psychological well being at risk. I believe it to be even worse for the young, where the decisions we make now have the potential to shape the rest of our lives. Dare i say it suffocates young women today more so than men, more so than women of the previous generations?

You see women of our mothers generation more or less had a  general idea of what they wanted, they wanted to finish school ( high school was enough) wanted to marry – a man who had a job, from a good family, a family man himself, they wanted kids. Chances are, that’s how they lived there lives – they didn’t have the “luxury of choice.” I ( probably including most of my peers), on the hand, have never really been sure of what i want. Actually let me rephrase that, I know what I want, the problem is I want it all. Yes, i want a handsome and devoted husband, 3 kids, a phd and look fabulous while i’m at it. And when i turn on the TV everyday, it’s telling me yes, you can have it all, and of course everyday i fall into the illusion – deeper and deeper.

The reality, as harsh as it sounds, is we can’t have it all – we of course don’t realize this, so when we don’t get it all we feel like we’ve failed, that we’re less than, we witness our self worth slowly diminishing. The process of such thinking leads us to stress, depression at its worse.

Thankfully most problems have potential solutions. It was when i was going through such thinking – questioning my self worth – that i run into a book which i felt  answered some of my questions on reducing stress in decision making. The Paradox of Choice by professor Barry Schwartz gives a wonderful insight on how having choices isn’t always beneficial. You see, more choices doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, in fact it seems the exact opposite is true. Having too many choices today has more of a debilitating effect than a liberating one.

This realization has had quite an effect on me – now when i go to the store, i pick up the same laundry detergent i started using years ago, after having randomly picked it – sick of going through all the brands. I don’t give myself a headache trying to decide whether i’ve picked the best one. I ask the women at the restaurant to pick whatever salad she feels is best. I’ve started understanding that i can’t have it all, at least, not all at the same time – i’ve learned to live with that and i believe i’m better off for it. Most importantly i’ve learned to realize that i need to make choices based on what I want and not be dictated by my surrounding.

Living in a capitalist world, our illusion of free choice will most likely continue. Most of us will keep being driven by what the current norm is when making decisions, we will keep putting our deep needs and desires on the side attempting to get it all. At the end of the day isn’t having a broad range of choices better than no choice at all? I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors – Fyodor Dostoyevsky ( Notes from the Underground)

“One’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice, however wild it may be, one’s own fancy worked up at times to frenzy — is that very “most advantageous advantage” which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and against which all systems and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice.”

Tena Yistelegn.

Lessons Learnt.

It has been a little over a year since i last scribbled down my thoughts. I don’t know why i’ve failed to do so – Fear, lack of commitment to this blog ( which i, one time or another, thought was quite a decent idea, lack of time ( i doubt it)… i’m not sure. But a year down the road – here i am, attempting to connect with you – my dear readers, can i call you that? Thanks, i promise, i’m still working on the commitment part.

Oh what a year does! In a year’s time I’ve become a wife, a mother, a football fanatic ( Yes, not soccer), a Lakers fan ( go ahead judge me, i judge myself too), thin, and recently, an admirer of jewelry. Of course some things never change – I still sleep too much, love reading, sweets and coffee, never call my friends and family often enough and still crack up watching FRIENDS.

From all that has been my life this past year, from all that has been said and done, one thing has stood out, one lesson learned, appreciated, loved – Simplicity. I’ve somehow managed to  keep my life ‘relaxed,’ my thoughts less complicated, and embraced the randomness that is life – and somehow, someway, there seem to be more smiles to my day.

Let’s also hope i’ve learnt to incorporate consistency in my life, i wouldn’t want to  lose the few( yet priceless) readers i have for good. I’m of course assuming i haven’t lost you already – the optimism remains :).

Until next time, Tena Yistelegn.