In Search Of Freedom


“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

Johann Wolfgang van Goethe, Elective Affinities.

I was 5 and Menge had just been ousted out of power. I don’t remember much, but one thing I clearly remember is hearing the word democracy everywhere. I didn’t have a clue what it meant. What I could gather from all that was being said was that democracy meant freedom – you can do whatever you want, nothing could or should hold you back. Let me tell you, that was music to my ears. I for one needed that freedom, cuz mine, dear reader, was none existent. I was forced to eat kurse, mesa, mekses AND erat and clean the plate tebetam sayker. This was painful given my non existent appetite. (my initial joy of attending school had nothing to do with education, it was for getting the opportunity to hand over my lunchbox to whoever was willing to take it). I couldn’t tear blank pages out of my notebook to make yewereket merkeb ena ayropilan. Where was I to get papers from? I could only attend school as long as my head was covered with an intricate shuruba. I wasn’t allowed to magnek the tip of my uniform shurab that so deliciously sat on my wrist, right next to my palm, so ready to be chewed out of existence. Most horrifying of it all, I couldn’t mekam any sikuar, which was apparently meant to be used for tea, and of course, you guessed it, i wasn’t allowed to drink tea. It was insane really, I couldn’t mekam even a teaspoon full – you know that teeny weeny teaspoon? So yeah, democracy couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The universe had conspired so brilliantly to deliver me my freedom at the moment I needed it most. Things were about to change, yehadig yemesgen. 

Sadly, it didn’t take long for my new-found world, with its sweet netsanet, to collapse. One day after school, after finishing yet another mekses, I decided I needed some sekuar to settle it down. After making sure no one was around the kitchen, my yelemede ej, went to get me some. But for some reason when I looked at the sekuar with the teeny weeny teaspoon in it, I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied. As I looked around I saw a shorba mankia sitting right next to the sink. No one has rejoiced for seeing a shorba mankia than I at that very moment. I picked it up, took a shorba mankia full of sugar and shoved it into my mouth. Satisfied, I quickly exited the kitchen. But, only a few minutes later I could hear weyneshet, the beautiful woman who helped raise my cousins and I, calling my name. I could feel my heart about to burst out of my body, but I was also a bit confused. Didn’t weyneye hear about our new-found democracy? She must be confused or maybe she really must not have heard since she’s always so busy. “Sikuar kameshal?”  she asked me. My initial thought was to deny it, since she looked so serious, but right then I saw what was sitting beside her on the kitchen counter. My brilliant self, feeling excited about the shorba mankia, had left it right in the sugar itself, all tangled up with the teeny weeny teaspoon. I looked at it, I looked at her, I decided it was time to inform weyneye, cuz denial wasn’t going to work. I scream DEMOCRACY, DEMOCRACY, DEMOCRACY  and run out of the kitchen as quickly as my legs could carry me. Alas, It was at that moment, looking at her face, that I knew nothing had changed, freedom hadn’t arrived yet.

Today, after having lived over two decades on this earth, the kind of freedom my 5-year-old self expected has still not arrived. My much more mature self tells me it never will. Because it seems like the freedom I was looking for does not exist within the nature of our world or within the human nature. Most of us view freedom to be an ability to do and be anything we want to do/be without any limitations,constraint or inhibition. “Free as a bird,” the expression goes, as if the bird was flying without purpose.The kind of freedom that truly matters has nothing to do with doing what we want, if it did most of us would live in misery or visit our graves too soon. Look at what happens when we do what we want – we eat whatever we want, we get fat and sick, we drink however much we want, we humiliate ourselves at best or drive off a cliff at worse. We say whatever we want, we hurt other people. We sleep with whomever we want and end up on the Maury show. This kind of freedom only leads to destruction.

Then there’s the kind of freedom we’re promised on TV, especially in commercials – the freedom money supposedly buys. Have you ever watched the Chase Freedom Credit card commercials? (Everyone time i watch those, i feel physical pain and despair) or the Nike Be Free commercial or any of the other countless ones which tell us how to achieve freedom through their products? Yeah, those, the ones we seem to accept wholeheartedly. So, we end up buying whatever car, whatever house, with whatever debt, whatever burden to achieve the American Dream. We try whatever diet, whatever day of the week to fit into those pants, that cute little black dress, and become the sexier, more beautiful version of our oh-so-average selves. We step on any petty individual that seems to not comprehend the concept of climbing that status ladder that will deliver us our prize. Of course we go out in the rain, heat or snow, or argue for countless hours whether to vote red or blue in the hopes of perpetuating that idea of freedom that is being beaten over our heads by the media – the media that tells us what to believe, what to think and what to buy.

All these things we chase only give us the illusions of having achieved freedom, when all we’ve achieved is a fleeting sense of satisfaction.  Because in reality, this kind of freedom does not exist in the world we live in, simply because it can not. Whether we like it or not we’re bound by rules, be it the rule of the land we live in, personal believes, our own conscious, even physical realities ( you can only drink so much before you say Adieu to your liver). What is happening is while we’re under a false sense of freedom, the real kind of freedom is being ripped away from us without us being conscious of the fact and we happily let it go. We don’t realize that the kind of freedom that matters doesn’t require so much PR, it doesn’t need to be drilled into our heads. What it needs is conciousness and awareness.

Freedom is not the absence of limitation or constraint. What it is, is the absence of dependency. We will only be free when we stop depending on external factors to make us happy or whole. It sounds so simple, but yet it’s so profound. To not be enslaved by money, beauty, love, status or whatever other external thing we seem to worship, we only need to stop letting them define who we are.Yes, it’s extremely difficult to detach ourselves from these thing since we’ve given them such a high status in our lives. But if we’re able to do it, if we’re able to not give in to every physical or emotional unending need or want we’re almost programed to require to make ourselves happy, if we’re able to understand that we can never buy freedom or go out to the streets and fight for it, we’ll truly be free. Because the only thing we need to do is look inside ourselves and realize that it has all along been inside of us, we’ve just let too much noise, too much “reality” blind us to it. All we need to do is just wake up.

I, myself, have spent much of my adult life trying to reeducate myself about this idea that we all hold so dear. I’m constantly struggling with it, and i have yet to learn so much more. But what i’ve learned so far can be boiled down to this – there was a reason i was told not to mekam all that sekuar, it was for my own good. I should be grateful for not being given that kind of freedom. But if i must, if my human nature compels me to get my fix, i should stick with my usual teeny weeny teaspoon.

Tena Yistelegn.

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