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.