Living under the Mercy of Identitarian Elites.

By: Goytom Teklu and Rihana Nesrudin.

          After yet another flash point, in another wave of state violence, riots and ethno-communal conflicts, Ethiopians have lost hundreds of lives (by official government accounts). Thousands more have suffered various levels of injuries to their bodies and minds by both state security apparatus and a violent mob. Many have lost their homes, businesses and places of worship. Internet shutdowns, banning of government opposing media networks and arrests of various well-known opposition figures have followed the violence. There is a serious tension of conflict and war between the federal government and regional states, as well as between regional states. If we were not witnessing everything unfold in front of our eyes, it would have been easy to dismiss all this as a nightmare we will soon wake up from.

           It is imperative we assess the factors that have led us to where we are now. One such factor which needs to be properly analyzed is the role contemporary elites play in shaping the ideals and notions both people in power and the masses uphold. Are our contemporary elites helping the nation move forward to achieve a better life for the people they all claim to love or have they been embarrassing colossal failures, who should be held partly responsible for the current state we find ourselves in? 

        A century or so ago, before our current ruling political elites – from the Prime Minister to regional presidents to talking heads of various enclave political and media elites with bad hairlines, a shrill voice that makes Gigi Kiya & Yoni magna sound like the Dalai Lama, and access to some sort of doctorate or post graduate degree – took national stage, a steady stream of Ethiopians left their country to study abroad. During the reign of Emperor Menilik, a number of bright young men (some dumb and old were likely in the mix) traveled around the world to study with the king’s personal encouragement. These young men left their country, studied and came back equipped with knowledge and skills from America and Europe, and laid the foundations for the political philosophy of the country. These intellectuals, while critical of the government they served, wrote important and pioneering entries on political economy, literature, and social issues.

            The influence of these early reformists endured in various ways for decades to come; Emperor Haile Selassie, during his second stint, rebuilt his administration with support of these intellectuals. Their influence further endured to greatly shape the ‘revolutionary’ intellectuals of the 1960s and 1970s, the young men and women who changed the face of the country forever. The radicalized students of the 60s, characterized by the ascendancy of a marxism-leninism ideology and consistent demonstrations, broached key questions and issues that have remained in people’s consciousness for the following 50 years. The questions of class, land ownership, education rights, women’s rights and the “national question” were brought to the forefront of the political movement. When EPRDF, led by Tigrai ethno-nationalists, took power it continued to attempt to address these same questions, most notably it  attempted to address the “national question” (at least in codifying it into the constitution). 

          The “educated few” who became “elites” over a century ago and the revolutionaries of the 60s have greatly shaped the ideologies and major national questions our society and government are grappling with today. But the contemporary highly “educated few” that influence public opinion and power today, are noticeably less political than the previous generation (also not really few). And those that are in the political arena are very much siloed along identitarian lines (mainly ethnic ones). On Average, today’s elites haven’t shown the “progressive” tendencies their predecessors showed. They are less likely to be found dissecting the real issues the majority of our people face and, more likely to be found giving justifications or a pseudo-intellectual cover to some tribal, authoritarian political project, with a cherry picked history or advocating for heinous Chicago school neo-liberal economic “reforms.” 

Contemporary identitarian “elites:”

        It is hard to decipher the role of contemporary elites in Ethiopian politics. Sometimes one can’t help but wonder if it would make a difference whether Ethiopian politics isn’t better off being led by local dureyes rather than the current PhD holders whose only end goal seems to be power – for power’s own sake. At least our dureyes know how to engage in a healthy dose of self deprecation, comprehend concessions when settling fights, have a sense of communitarianism and don’t leave you wanting to shoot yourself due to their torturous level of banality. In one form or another, it seems most only want to be the kings of their tribes or lords of their own tiny skull-sized kingdoms. It isn’t very difficult to demonstrate this point. Note the recent unfortunate nightmare we find ourselves in and the interactions taking place between Ethiopianists and ethno-nationalist on social media and elsewhere. The predictability of their response to current political events leaves one wondering if they have reconsidered their take on much of the issues they opine on since their enthusiastic university freshman days. 

           For instance, the (usually Western educated) modern Oromo-nationalist argues, supposedly on behalf of his people, against the oppression of the Oromo looking at history almost exclusively within a colonial framework. He equates “Neftegna” with “whiteness” and talks about decolonizing supremacist feudal views and attempts to fight “systemic oppression” that’s stifling his people. The average Ethiopianist, whose chauvinism he finds difficult to conceal, instead of arguing against the premise of such arguably weak and lazy characterization of Ethiopian history, will scream (mind numbingly predictably) “inferiority complex,” “hate” or “extremist” and walks away feeling morally superior, having won nothing but a long tedious race to the bottom.   

            The Slovenian Marxist Philosopher and a noted street food decimator Slavoj Zizek’s slightly revised quote about a jealous husband’s need of a cheating wife, taken from the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s work, “Four Discourses,” demonstrates our current elites quite well. Zizek writes; “recall Lacan’s outrageous statement that even if what a jealous husband claims about his wife, that she sleeps around with other men is true, his jealousy is still pathological.” 

           Along the same lines one could say that some of the claims made by the “Ethiopianists” and “ethno-nationalists” about each other is true. For instance, the accusations of chauvinism, cherry picked history, irrational love of monarch’s history by ethno-nationalists levied towards Ethiopian nationalist (Amhara nationalists) has some merit. The accusation levied by (Ethiopian nationalists) that Oromo and Tigray nationalist as being narrow nationalists or harboring secessionist tendencies has some merit as well. But their hysteria about each other is still pathological because it represses the true reason why an ethno-nationalist of a Tigrai, Oromo etc. needs an Ethiopian nationalist (or Amhara nationalist) as enemy to sustain his ideological position. 

           The same way a jealous husband uses his unfaithful wife as an excuse for his own failures either in sexual or other ways, the ethno-nationalists need the group of elites they call “Neftegna” or “Derg remnants” (who probably deserve those labelings in some cases) in order to maintain his status as a defender of his “own people,” protecting them from a second coming of Derg or Minilik. The “Ethiopianist” or “Amhara nationalist,” for his part, also needs these “backward nativists” “secessionists” and “traitorous ‘bandawoch’” who are working day and night to destroy the romantic myths and idea of a harmoniously functioning cultural order of the nation that his ancestors built and want to return to. Without these enemies to yammer about and rile up the base, maybe one would be forced to examine how he participates in the strengthening of his ethno-nationalist opponents by acting exactly as his opponent portrays him to be to his base. The same applies for the other types of ethno-nationalists who are reinforcing their “opponents.” 

         In an alternative universe, an “Ethiopianist” who is interested in the project of building a robust nation tackles its’ existential problems head-on collectively, instead of yelling consistently at his enemies or moaning endlessly about a star on a flag (or any other identitarian BS). He pauses long enough to attempt to articulate why an Ethiopia with a dialed down ethno-nationalism is preferable to an ethnically siloed one will be beneficial to each individual and all groups, in a way that recognizes the complexity of history, culture and biases of different nations or groups. When he critiques ethno-centrism, he does so in an empathic and nonjudgemental way that recognizes and understands that countless ordinary folks grew up with their ethnicities as the center of who they are and still have that inclination. Ethiopianism is preached in a language and way of engagement that is understandable and palatable to the audience it is addressing, instead of a declaration of an almost all out culture war, that itself is ironically ethnocentrically essentialist. He entertains the possibility that maybe a destroyed statue of a historical figure he adores in London doesn’t necessarily mean a destroyed Ethiopia, that there are bigger fish to fry. He remembers that it is sort of an established fact that at this point in time monarchies in general suck and being an apologist for it in 2020 is a bit weird. He of course, also, wakes up to the reality that cultural wars waged by waving a tri-colored flag, worshiping Teddy Afro and shrieking “one-Ethiopia!” can only take him so far and is never helpful for anyone advocating a non ethno-centric approach for the country.

            In this same alternative universe, the other type of ethno-nationalist, well for one, has stopped being an ethno-nationalist (it is supposed to be a different universe). But at least, for his part, he accepts that the former elites of his tribe also engaged in killings and oppressions and that they benefited substantially from the formation of modern Ethiopia. He acknowledges that the historical trauma he claims his people faced wasn’t exclusive to his people but was faced by the overwhelming majority of his countrymen/women. He has the wisdom to realize that his outrage will produce multiplicatively more results if it was less towards “a Neftegna” or a fellow PhD across his computer screen who seems to be talking down at him, and more towards the overflowing of the literal shit in streets and villages. Those who argue that ethno-centrism is not the end goal but a necessary tactical concession to address historical mistakes and existing limitations in society, do the impossible task of articulating how exactly they will achieve a common socio-economic union through an ethnocentrism that’s generally a mess. Alas, this is not the universe we currently occupy. 

        For all their bloviating about how much they love whatever region or country they claim to represent or fight for, none of these elites ever, with few exceptions, show their wrath on issues they should righteously be angry about such as the IMF-WB prescribed economic “reforms” that the government is implementing. Privatization of state owned enterprises, liberalizing currency exchange rate etc… which will create exchange rate volatility, imported inflation, macro instability, cronyism, corruption, huge debt pressure, sizable macro imbalances, static export, and increasing inequality that mostly lands its impact on the poorest segment of the population, is almost completely ignored by our elites. Maybe the disregard of these issues is not too surprising given to address them, one is require to care enough to spend some brain power on global and local economic and political systems and study how those systems interact and affect society. Maybe, it’s also because elites won’t necessarily be affected much by these reforms given the class positions they occupy. By simply looking at their actions and rhetoric, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the goal of most of our elites, ultimately, is to hold power and bring themselves and their circle to the ruling class using a large number of frustrated youth and whatever flavor of identitarian/nationalist agenda.

            It is not easy to get out of the predicaments of the identitarian authoritarianism hell we are in. Many of the same questions that were raised in the 60s, which have been attempted to be answered in the decades that followed, still need to be answered in a meaningful manner today. One way Ethiopia can answer these questions – a way never brought up by our current elites given it requires resolve and some brain cells –  is building a ground-up non-essentialist political project that is cognizant of historical baggages and challenges on the ground powered by multi-ethnic movements directly involving the masses. With all its serious drawbacks and mistakes, the movement of the 60s has at least shown us, it is possible to construct a multi-ethnic mass movement. 

          Of course the fact of the matter is that we do not have the popularly based, institutionalized, mass political movement that is multi-ethnic and independently powerful enough to force political concessions. We need to realize any kind of progress or the strive for a better Ethiopia can’t be constructed or achieved overnight. Such a movement can’t be spurred by symbolic flag humping events, fleecing diaspora for tribal media enterprises or sobbing on Facebook Live. It can only be constructed by linking large numbers of Ethiopian workers, farmers, students, the surplus population, the urban poor around a political agenda that speaks directly to their demands and aspirations. This, like all organizing is meticulous, laborious, challenging and sadly that may even be something that requires great personal sacrifice. And there is no assurance of a final victory, let alone short-term success. But, to quote Adolph Reed, “there are no alternatives other than fraud, pretense or certain failure.”  

Of Class and Addis.

43289ac62ce583bc3e6f407cd37fcffeAhun yerso tera dersual, she says with a genuine smile looking in my direction.

Eshi, eshi …” I quicken my steps afraid they’ll cancel the appointment unless I do exactly as I’m told. My dear childhood friend had informed me it took her some serious sweet-talking, softly hinted promises and ye’emeye mariam intervention to make this appointment happen in such short notice. 

My friend, who’s an advocate of avocado face-masks, perfect looking toenails and 60 birr macchiatos drove me to the location herself. “Minem atasebi, betam gobezoch nachew, teru yinkebakebushal,” she says, since the condition of my hair and nails is what keeps me awake at night. After parking her perfectly air conditioned car, which has miraculously managed to stay dust free under the Addis sun and abuara, she gets out and heads towards a mid-sized modern styled building which looks like it was designed by a newly minted millionaire whose idea of luxury is gulping down a 4000 birr bottle of whiskey along with the soul of a 20 year old girl on Thursday nights. My friend leads us into the building, walking with so much ease and confidence I wonder for a second if she has some shares in the establishment. 

“Hi yene konjo,” she says to an oval faced receptionist with an almost-fashion-model look who has been disappointed one too many times by the “industry” and is now forced to smile at women who spend the same amount on 60 minute massages that she earns in a month. Afer yiblu. 

“Hi, tena yistelegn,” the receptionist smiles at us politely. 

“Dagi, Dagi yetale?” my friend quickly inquires. 

Before she has a chance to continue her sentence, Dagi has already arrived, “hi, enkuan dehna metachu!” he almost yells and gives my friend a hug. Dagi is a good looking young man who you can tell feels like he is too good even for this establishment. The kind of man who watches Senselet on Youtube to prepare himself for his inevitable departure to his true home. But based on his smile and general enthusiasm, he seemed to be tolerating his current existence, which included flattering upper class women and overexaggerating the mundane, well.  

After some kisses and pleasantries are exchanged. My friend says, “Dagiye, esua nat guadegnaye, n’gereh neber aydel? beka full service endet’setuat new yemifelegew.” She says with a hint of both authority and sweetness in her voice. 

“Wow, echin konjo keyet yizeshelegn metash?” Dagi shakes my hand and then pulls me in for a kiss on both cheeks. 

“Selam selam” I stuttered with an awkward smile, uncertain of my role in the conversation. 

My friend is what you might call a total-boss and both Dagi and I understood this fact. Which is why he quickly turns his face back to her to ask how she likes her recently dyed hair. It is clear she is the real customer and I, the temporary friend. “Dagiye, atayegnim model asmeselehegn,” she pushes her hair to the side, go-back style. They both laugh. 

After conveying detailed instructions about what it is that I need – a Moroccan bath, a deep tissue massage, hair treatment, hair straightening, a manicure, a pedicure and a constant eshuru’ru throughout the many hours this will take – my friend bids us all adieu and leaves. 

Dagi takes me down golden, swirling flight of stairs that seem to lead straight to heaven, if heaven was down a staircase. Soft music is playing in the background – the kind they play in movie-heaven. We leave behind the natural light that lit the upper section of the building and enter into a space where dimmed and elegant lights have given it a kind of ambiance where you feel, not just relaxed but somehow automatically important. I almost start wondering for a second where the slaves were to carry me down these golden stairs.

Dagi hands me white towels, slippers and two bottles of cold water. 

“Hode, beka libseshin awelalki’na relax adregi. Aster meta tewesdeshalech.” 

“Eshi, eshi Dagi,” I oblige.

Dagi rushes away to cater to the next customer and leaves me be. 

I sit on one side of a big, elegant, semi-circle sofa that can fit 15 fashion models or 10 wives of state ministers. As I sit, I politely smile at two noticeably beautiful women sitting and chatting on the opposite side of the sofa drinking avocado juice, the fruit that apparently nurtures your whole body to not only prep you for a nice date but for the coming of the messiah himself. They continue their conversation without giving me much notice, which was good and well by me since I was about to carry out Dagi’s instructions and strip.  

After having slipped into the towel that barely covered my thighs, I sit on the couch and keep an eye out for Aster. It didn’t take long for Aster to come get me. “Ye’erso tera dersual” she says with a genuine and charming smile looking in my direction. It looks like I’m an erso while in skimpy towels. 

Aster, I came to later find out, was a thirty something year-old mother of two, who has been trained as a masseuse and who enjoys her job, even if she has recently been struggling with varicose veins and a greedy old landlord who seems to be adamant on making her family homeless through incremental monthly price increases. I automatically liked Aster: she had a no-nonsense attitude, was good at her job and could crack a good joke while rubbing you down with overpriced goo and butter.

We walk into the room where I’d spend an hour being scrubbed with what looks like Kaldi’s goat poo, followed by a lavender scented soup-rub to wash off said poo – three rounds. Thankfully, to then be finished off with a lathering session with oil that smelled so divine, you’d think it should have been exclusively reserved for Etege Tayitu herself. Maybe heaven really is down a flight of stairs. 

It didn’t take Aster and I too long to become intimate. There really isn’t much reservation left between two people after one has responded to the other with an obedient eshi, as the other instructs them to take off their underwear to ease the process of body rubbing. After the second round of Kaldi’s goat poo rub, Aster was no longer calling me antu and was comfortably passing on gossip about her other customers. 

The two women who were on the sofa earlier, she tells me, have rich boyfriends who lavish them with love and presents, including trips to Paris, Dubai and Thailand. One of them had brought Aster a beautiful silk top during one of her trips – “yesua bale’ma siwedat, besmea’b” she tells me “gen bale’tidar new alu. Bale siltan sayhon aykerem – be’tilik mekina new yemitmetaw… endet teru lij nat meselesh.” She also tells me about the professional women – mostly UN, ECA and other various NGO employees – who have their weekly massage schedules and never miss their appointments – “enesu keld ayakum, beza lay arif tip yadergalu. Gen cheb’et yalu nachew… yetemare sew neger…” She giggles. 

Asters and I cover topics ranging from massage parlors that provide happy endings to her worry about the rising cost of living in the city to a personalized weekly regimen for my hair that she finds worryingly dry. I listened attentively, especially to the hair treatment recommendation – a dry scalp and hair is a serious matter. As soon as she finishes slathering Etege Taitu’s oil all over my now baby-soft skin, she takes me to the massage room and spends the following 30 minutes cracking my bones and tearing apart my muscles along with my first world problems – total relaxation. I thought, this must be the state of mind our policy makers must be in when they pass policies – free of all discernable thought.

By the time I land at Dagi’s chair for hair straightening – after having gone through a wash and blow-dry for my hair, a pedicure and  manicure for my nails and 2 cups of double macchiato for my soul – I am surprisingly ready for his enthusiastic chatter. I was right, Dagi loves his job. He starts me off with a scalp massage describing the science behind why it was so essential. He demands he trim my hair to get rid of my split ends and then insists I allow him to pick a hairstyle for me, which I graciously grant. By the time I am finished, I have transformed from a tired and average diaspora into a macchiato-sipping, 200 birr avocado-toast munching, designer heels-wearing Addisababian who’d prefer you don’t look directly at her. Where are my slaves!?

As they say all good things must come to an end and it was finally time for me to ascend to the space of natural lights and unsuccessful models. I walk to the register to ask for my bill, which I anticipate is enough to install a decent toilet in the valleys of Birginet. The receptionist informs me that my friend has already covered all my expenses and that I am free to go. This leaves me with plenty of money to pretend to be a mini-millionaire with the free mental space to agonize about the state of her toenails. I tip everyone generously. 

As I step outside back into the Addis sun onto the bustling street filled with weyalas yelling, elderly mothers carrying overweight shopping bags and 10 year olds selling tissue paper and gum, I couldn’t help but be perplexed and saddened by the nature of my beloved city. How have we come to accept such a state of affairs, where we’re able to design artificial heavens for a few while we consistently fail to design basic dignified survival for the millions?… If heaven does exist, I certainly hope its stairway is neither golden nor exclusive. 

I quicken my steps and decide to hail down a lada taxi, old school style.

“Hode, wede Piassa tiyedaleh?”


Sips of Coffee and Pain.




Here is another day that I have to survive, I thought, as I pushed the gabi off my legs and left the bed. 

A deep breath… I whisper. That should help ease the tension in my shoulders…

Coffee, coffee, coffee. Yes, coffee.

It can be tiring – this life – can’t it? The tiring could, maybe, even be bearable, if only we could find meaning in our pain. But sometimes the ridiculousness of existence becomes the only thing that’s clear enough to understand. Sometimes the meaning you were working to articulate disappears like a mirage when you’re just about to grab it. The utter absurdity of it all… you plan so impeccably well, you work hard, you do the right thing… yet still wake up some mornings with that hollow emptiness that eats at your soul. Every “right thing” you’ve done hasn’t filled the void. It hasn’t clarified the 3:00am confusions, cured your hidden longings or calmed your anxieties…

A deep breath… coffee cup in hand, I open the door to the backyard… A sudden cold fall breeze hits my face. I could feel goosebumps all over my body, all at once… Oh God, when did it become fall?

Oh the pain, the anxiety, the absurdity… but then, there’s this perfect fall breeze that so gently kisses your neck, whispering to you – you are alive! It wakes you up with a kind of authority you unknowingly crave. It wakes you up to the ease within the struggle… 

Like that first sip of coffee soothing your throat along with your pain… with every sip, your body relaxing, expanding, preparing you to take on your day. As your lips touch the cup, you remember kisses exist. Sweet, long, tender kisses that send shivers down your spine, even this breeze can never manage to do… Then you remember the first time he touched you and seeing yourself melt like the butter your mother sinks into the hot shiro she so brilliantly makes. You blush. 

Thoughts bring up more thoughts…

There were the long cold kiremt Sundays, where you laid around lazily with your gabi, coffee and some buna kurse, where not much mattered but the bliss of presence.

That doro wot you can’t stop eating, with snot coming out of your nose because your aunt decided the measure of a true habesha is their tolerance of good ol berbere..

There’s Aster Awake’s voice telling you Ayzoh in the exact moment you needed to hear it most.

There was that time you laid down next to a woman, caressed the soft skin between her thighs along with her soul… hiding within her embrace, baring your whole soul to her – the weak, the beautiful, the ugly – and felt rebirthed.

…And language exists. Letters, words, sentences… forget the wisdom, knowledge and lessons that they have carried to us. Think – you read me and I can read you. We exist, not so separate.

Oh and then there’s love. You have felt it – deeply. You’ve looked at another human and your heart made you leap to hold them. To just be – with them. You have felt their pain as if it was your very own, you have delighted in their joy. You can love… with no logic, reason or explanation… You are capable of loving, possessing the very key that opens the gates out of hell… 

There’s poetry – words so perfectly intertwined speaking to your spirit and allowing your spirit to speak to the universe…  

There’s laughter… You have laughed … tears running down your cheeks, stomach curled, snorts and all. You have laughed at others, at yourself, at life itself… you are capable of laughter even in the abyss. 

So am I. 

I finish my coffee and walk back in. The existential panic will have to wait for another day. Today, I am alive – fully. 


Within the absurdity, there lays so much beauty to be found in the small things – a sip, a touch, a smile…

” I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is mostly about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that’s it, an always within never.” – Muriel Barbery. 

So if I were to say a little prayer for you and me this morning for the upcoming New Year, it would be… if what you’re anticipating is joy, may you be given the wisdom to savor every moment. If it’s anguish your heart is preparing itself for, may your heart awaken to the tenacity that it possesses. If you’re anticipating success, may you be given humility and if it is failures that you dread, may you reap lessons from it. But most of all, I pray that you rid yourself of anticipation itself. I pray that you live life fully today, given tomorrow is abstract, full of both good and bad possibilities. I pray that you stop cooperating with uncertainty. Today is the only thing you own – certainly – so live it. I will too. 

Melkam Addis Amet.


This is how you make a friend.


“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
Mark Twain

Have you ever wondered why you find some people interesting and are drawn towards them while you find others a bit too “normal” and ordinary? Or wondered why you form and remain in friendships with individuals who are inconveniently placed in a faraway land, while you neglect to initiate a conversation or a friendship with someone you share an office, a classroom, or a city with? I was contemplating this idea this morning, so I attempted to come up with a list of tangible skills interesting people have (if it is in fact a skill we can learn and adapt into our lives) to help us all have interesting and lively lives. I tried to think of all the individuals I’ve had the pleasure and fortune to meet and break bread with, some of whom I now consider friends. I also thought of all the times I avoided coffee dates with fancy PhDs and “professionals” but loved sitting down with seemingly average individuals who share zero of all my modern sensibilities. What is it about some individuals that draws and intrigues us? I’ve managed to come up with a list of four skills including a few ending thoughts.

What interesting people do:

They project a sense of authenticity: When interesting people talk, it is them talking. They’re not there with an agenda (a conscious or an unconscious one). They’re not there trying to show you how woke, smart, successful, rich, virtues, kind and oh-just-fabulous they are. If they are any of these things, you’ll naturally see it without much effort. If they choose to tell you about themselves, they’ll not be telling you about some idealized version of who they imagine themselves to be. They are attuned to who they are, including their flaws, their uncertainties, and humanness and they will choose to share it. This authenticity you’ll find yourself loving, this authenticity you’ll automatically want to emulate.

They know how to listen: These individuals are not egomaniacs that are in love with their own thoughts, ideas and lives. They value what the other person has to say and take their time to listen – actively. They’re aware that whoever they’re talking to may know something that they don’t, so they listen attentively. They also don’t fidget constantly or check their phones incessantly. They comfortably maintain eye contact and let you know they are there – with you.

They hold no assumptions about you: Forming assumptions about other people before we’ve gotten to know them is a natural, almost instinctive, human behavior. This can be very limiting when we’re trying to form relationships. As Thomas Cooley said, “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.” If you notice your thinking process often enough, you’ll learn that when you’re talking to other people, part of what you do is act and talk with the goal of confirming an assumption you think they have about you. Interesting people minimize the assumptions they have about you and give you the freedom to be yourself, whoever that self is. Whether someone is rich or poor, “educated” or not, black or white, male or female, a coffee lover or a tasteless dimwit, it matters not to them. They give people a chance to be themselves and not cage them in boxes of stereotypes.

They don’t talk much about trivial things: Interesting people don’t talk for too long about the weather or the inconvenience of their daily commute or the brand of shoes they’re wearing. They may raise such topics to initiate a conversation and make another person comfortable, but you won’t find them analyzing the quality of the leather of your shoes an hour after you meet them. They do small-talk-with-a-purpose, then move on. When I say they don’t talk about trivial things, I don’t mean that what they do talk about are things that are deemed “important” or intellectual in any way. One does not need to be able to discuss big ideas about politics, economics, philosophy, psychology… to be interesting (of course such knowledge definitely helps). What they are is asteway (deep reflectors?) of things they already know about, be it about themselves or the world and are willing and able to openly share it with you.

So there you go, I’ve just solved all your friendship problems. While this is not an exhaustive list, gaining at least three of the four listed skills will at least make this gal be willing to sit down and sip coffee with you.

Given I’m also a practical gal who attempts to recognize reality for what it is, I want to remind you of a few realities. While we can all try to learn these skills and potentially achieve them, there are some things that may not be teachable. Some individuals are born with a kind of confidence in themselves that you can’t help but be captivated by every word they utter, and so much charm that all you want to do is please them. Some have a kind of smile that you can’t help but stare at and the kind of eyes that seems to see deep, right, through you. Some manage to have a sense of humor that make you laugh and giggle like a 12-year-old girl and a warmth that makes you feel at home. These things you can not learn… Some, you may even feel, you’ve known in another dimension of existence, in a far away world where your souls knew and cared for each other… These are the types of people we all love, the types we all want to be, the types that make us feel less alone, more alive. The types that if your good fortune brings to your path, you’d be well advised not to let go.

Ethiopian Feminism, A Critique

Part 1

Attempting to provide counter arguments against any idea of mainstream feminism, let alone an actual critique, quickly gets one labeled as ignorant and intellectually backward. So to avoid such knee jerk reactions, I’ll start by stating that I strongly believe in the equality of the sexes and in the necessity of providing equal opportunities for both men and women. My professional life revolves around improving the knowledge and health outcomes of vulnerable women. I’ve spent years in liberal institutions living among women who live and breathe women’s rights and I have lived it right there next to them.

In this article I want to address Ethiopian feminism in particular. Social media, that place where we all ‘speak,’ vent, and scream for thousands to hear, is where I started learning more about feminism as it is practiced in Addis Ababa. I constantly hear about how tough “feministing in Addis” can be. Living in such a “sexist society,” it seems, is taking its toll on the women trying to get their message of equality out there to the community that needs to hear and understand it the most. One source of the frustration revolves around the misunderstanding of the term feminism itself. I read somewhere coming from a particularly frustrated woman, “Do you believe in the equality of men and women? Then you are a FEMINIST!” underlying the fact that everyone should embrace feminism instead of hating, or worse, ignoring it. While I understood the frustration, my reaction was – “well… not quite.” This is my attempt to try to work/think through the why of this matter.

I grew up in Addis in a family where women’s issues was constantly a point of discussion – the lack of educational, economic and political opportunities for women were abysmal, to say the least and we were acutely aware. While we were never told to go out there and save our fellow women, there was an understanding that the minimum thing expected from us, girls, was to at least save ourselves and stand on our own two feet. Generally, it was understood that economics was the key – poverty was choking our whole nation to death, and it seemed to be choking women in particularly harsh ways. ‘Ay ye Ethiopia set’ my uncle used to say, ‘sentun chela?’

While these issues and their discussions still persist today, there seems to be a slight shift in focus. Maybe it’s not a shift, maybe it’s a broadening of the idea of women’s rights itself. I’m not quite sure. What I’m sure of, and what has been the source of slight frustration for me, is the change in vocabulary, thus discussion and focus around women’s rights. I see real issues being wrestled with, discussed and addressed constantly (real issues broadly being defined here as creating educational, economic and political opportunities for women who have been deprived of it). But at the same time, some ideas from western feminism have seeped into this same discourse without the necessary depth of analysis that is required when attempting to take and implant an idea from one particular society to another. This is the source of my concern, this is what leaves me fearful. If the discourse doesn’t change to fit our particular society, feminism in Addis will start to be viewed as not only out of touch but potentially dangerous.

To help us navigate through this discussion, I want to quickly glance through some ideas of western feminism. Western-feminism, in the US particularly, began with what is called ‘first-wave feminism,’ where the movement focused on attaining equal political and legal rights for women. Female suffrage was its principal goal (American women were granted the right to vote in 1920). In the early 1960s, what is termed as ‘second wave feminism’ began, going beyond achieving political emancipation and concerning itself with the economic and social rights of women. Increasing number of women were joining the workforce and rejecting traditional gender roles both in their homes and workplace. This was also a time when the sexual revolution of the 1960s took place, marking a time that involved a rejection of traditional sexual norms. Today’s western feminism charges even further and attempts to question and redefine ideas and words that are viewed as limiting to women. For example, gender roles (viewed as a social construct i.e. our ideas of gender are not biological but socially influenced), femininity, masculinity, sexuality, and male privilege (the thinking that men are benefiting from a patriarchal system that is victimizing and harming women) are some of the ideas that are constantly at the center of dialogue among feminists.

Western feminism has greatly influenced the way women’s rights, thus feminism, is practiced in the rest of the world, including Ethiopia. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Ideas travel. If that wasn’t the case, it would have been only the Athenians practicing democracy today. Nevertheless, it is a necessity that we exhaust – through deep study, reflection and dialogue, which ideas are well grounded, thus worth inheriting, and which are weak, thus in need of disregard. We should not and cannot accept an idea simply because it’s part of a general ideology we are attracted to. There is no need for Ethiopian feminism to fully align with western feminism, we can take what works within our societies and make sure we leave behind what doesn’t.  

It’s no secret that Ethiopia is a socially conservative nation with deep religious and cultural beliefs dictating daily living. Some of our traditions have been dangerous and harmful, and we’ve collectively agreed and have worked/are still working towards eliminating them. Female genital mutilation, abduction or telefa and rape being good examples. The women rights activists I watched growing up took on these issues head on, fought to change laws and policies, organized to increase educational opportunities for girls and provided them that rare sweet opportunity of choice. They attempted to create economic opportunities so that women can work outside of their homes to contribute to their families’ income, increasing the general well-being of families. These goals, most logical men and women, religious/traditional or otherwise, could get behind, since the argument for protecting and bettering the wellbeing of the family, thus the community, is relatively an easy one to make.

Today in Addis Ababa, the dialogue seems to have broadened. Now, relatively recent concepts of western feminism such as male privilege and mansplaining (men condescendingly explaining to women about something they have incomplete knowledge of, assuming they know better) have started to be discussed alongside issues of rape and women’s lack of educational opportunities. The lack of women in high positions of power and the trampling of the proverbial glass ceiling is discussed with a higher fervor than one might expect given the fact that it’s a handful of middle and upper class women that are facing this issue. Now, feminists view the world exclusively through the ‘feminist lens’ to such an extent that at times we forget that everything in society is not about power structures between the seemingly privileged (men) and the victim (women).

Prioritizing the discussion of male privilege, for example, in a nation where men have their own set of sufferings – abhorrent levels of unemployment, poverty, literacy, and life expectancy – is akin to discussing the down side of munching on Kitfo with a beggar on the street. It’s a potentially useful information, but you have to keep in mind she/he’s currently more focused on finding some kolo to tame the grumbling stomach. When discussing male privilege, if we’re thinking about matters such as, why it’s only women who do the cooking and child rearing and not men and why it’s men who have “better” careers (legitimate concerns), then maybe we’d first want to reflect on why we imagine there to be an inherent good in working outside of the home and an inherent bad in cooking in the kitchen. Before starting to accuse men with an opinion as mansplainers, maybe we should stop to consider that the identity of her womanhood is not the first thing a man sees when talking to a woman.

While we may believe that some of our cultures or religions have held women back in various ways, we still may want to recognize that not all things religious or traditional are negative. We may want to recognize that there are wisdoms in these teachings (which at times have been backed by strong historical and scientific evidence) that modern educated liberals have not fully grasped or refuse to accept. Mainstream feminism, as it’s practiced in the west today, has moved so much to the left of the political spectrum that, while 85% of American women believe in women’s rights, only 18% identify as feminists. Feminism is not the simple idea that men and women are equal. This might have been the definition in 1920, it is not the definition today. Feminism is an ideology with a history and a belief system that, at times, directly contradicts with the basic cultural and religious value systems that have served and benefited our societies for millennia. If we hope to better the circumstances of Ethiopian women and girls that are currently trapped by poverty and lack of opportunity, we’d need to carefully listen to the heartbeat of own nation, not the remnant heartbeat of others.

Tena Yistelegn.

Ethiopian Air: Insights from Above the Clouds.


By: Jemila Abdulai, A great and inspiring Ghanian blogger. Make sure you check her out at

A great thing about traveling is the people you meet. Not just the people you end up sharing a street, apartment, class, work space with, but also the people you share an aisle with on the train or plane. For the most part, I have shared my travel space with nice, interesting people – persons who are either non-hostile or extremely pleasant, with the former occurring just once. On my way back to Ghana for the Christmas holidays – my first in seven years! – I sat next to an elderly Ethiopian man who, for lack of a better description, had eyes that twinkled. He was friendly right from the moment he smiled and asked “19L?” when I tried to put my hand luggage in the overhead cabin. “Yes, that’s me,” I responded, before heading over to the window seat. He explained that he was trying to find an aisle seat since it’s easier to move about considering his age – he seemed to be at least 70 years. I have always preferred the window seats I’ve typically been assigned, and never actually thought about the implications of seating for the elderly or even sick.
The whole while we waited for take off, I felt an urge to ask him what it felt like to be sitting in a national airline. This was my first time traveling with Ethiopian Airlines – and transiting through Addis Ababa – and although the plane was yet to set off, I was already impressed. It made me wonder what it would have felt like to sit on a Ghana Airways flight during its glory days. Would I have felt proud that my country was offering this opportunity from people from all over? I opted for politeness instead and asked nothing of my seat mate. That is, until he started offering suggestions to flight attendants on how best to pack the cabin luggage. He must know a bit or two about flying, I thought to myself. My curiosity returned, and I finally asked my question: “What does it feel like to be flying with your national airline”? I asked? His response in two words: It’s great and I feel proud.
That question led to an entire conversation – one of those where you can literally feel pearls of wisdom dropping down into your lap. My conversation partner had worked with Ethiopian Airlines for about 30 years in their finance department, and he had watched the airline grow from strength to strength. “In those days, we put the airline first; the airline first and then our individual aspirations. It’s not the same today,” he said. From the way he spoke, it was obvious that he loved what he did, so putting the airline first was not a far cry from putting his own passion first. It made me even more convinced about the importance of doing the thing you love, making it your life’s work. Anyway, the man traveled frequently on Ethiopian Air business and once went on a tour “around the world” – basically hitting every continent on our dear planet. Wow, I thought, so cool!
Beyond Ethiopian Air, he’d also been contracted by countries like Malawi to help restructure their airlines. “Well, Ghana should have reached out to you as well,” I quibbed. “Maybe Ghana Airlines would still exist today.” He turned, looked at me and said, “Sadly, it wouldn’t. Even Malawi Air couldn’t take in what we were trying to teach them.” I was confused. He went on to explain that despite how well-trained he and his colleagues were, their Malawian counterparts couldn’t or rather wouldn’t accept what they had to say or teach. They just weren’t willing to accept pointers from another black man. “You see, sub-Saharan Africa’s experience of colonization is its undoing today. For the average African the ‘white man’ is still supreme. If a fellow African doesn’t look or sound like a white man, chances are, your ideas, suggestions or expertise will not be accepted,” he said. He was right. I’d written about similar some years back in an article I entitled “Psychological Effects of Colonization”, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this dynamic at play. That said, I believe it is changing, bit by bit, a mind at a time. In order to truly embody regional cooperation though, more needs to be done.
How come Ethiopian Air was flourishing and recently bought two of the latest Boeing Airlines? Because they were never colonized, my seat mate responded. “We never had to answer to anyone, or to match our standards by someone else’s. We set the rules, the goals, and so we had the flexibility to change course as necessary. It’s okay for us to take risks, to take a chance on ourselves.” Basically, they are real masters of their destiny. Could we say the same for our leaders, governments or business people? Or does the creepy psychological remnant of colonization scare us into submission anytime we dare to try?
Another thing my friend pointed to was the fact that in many African nations, there is no national feeling. True, our social fabric is traditionally based on group allegiances, but in most cases, these group or ethnic allegiances override that of the nation. What makes one an Ethiopian? What makes one a Ghanaian? What identifies us as Africans? The latest edition of Dust Magazine talks about the need for country branding and I think the old man hit it right on the head. Without a sense of national identity, it would be hard to brand an African country as one thing or another.
“So, what’s your story?” He asked me. “Where are you headed?” I responded that I was returning home to Accra, Ghana to undertake research for my final capstone project. “That’s great. And afterwards, what do you see yourself doing? Will you be returning to the continent?” Ah, the almighty question. I responded in the affirmative. Ultimately, I see myself living and working in an African country, whether Ghana or elsewhere. My friend seemed satisfied. “That’s good. All of my children live in the U.S. and I still choose to live in Ethiopia. I go to the States to visit them or for medical check ups, but that’s it.” Not surprisingly, we got to talking about brain drain and the current wave of brain reversal, and that’s when this old man with twinkling eyes made the statement about working in Africa that has stayed with me till today. “Money in your neighbor’s pocket is money in your pocket. Why would you export that money elsewhere when your own country and economy needs it?”
He was talking economics, yes. But he was also talking the fundamental truth of cause and effect and of the connection between all of us. I might not set out to embark on charity work in Ghana, but the very fact that I am present and engage in business transactions, means that I’m feeding my country’s economy and ultimately helping oil the engines of development. Most policy documents refer to the private sector as the engine of development, and this man put it in very simple terms. To take it a step further, I guess we could say the informal private sector is the engine of development in most African countries.
We eventually got to talking about China and Africa relations. We shared similar sentiments – a skepticism about China’s influence on Africa beyond being a donor or business partner, and most importantly, an uncertainty about whether our leaders and governments can or will act in our respective countries’ best interests. Hearing that the Chinese are swarming African countries is one thing, seeing it for yourself is another. While waiting to board my connecting flight to Accra, I’d thought that a good number of the Chinese in the waiting lounge would board the flights to Lagos and Kenya. Oh how wrong I was. They all ended up on the Accra flight, and as a result, over 50% of the passengers were Chinese, with a smattering of Indians. What’s more, many of these passengers looked to be teenagers or in their early 20s at best.
This is where my concern comes in. For many Chinese, Africa is a gold rush – an opportunity to hit a goldmine in their chosen field and make it. But for most African countries, China’s engagement is helping keep them from hand to mouth livelihoods. Quite unbalanced, wouldn’t you say? Unless our governments put in place the right regulatory frameworks to guide China-Africa relations, we could be setting ourselves up for some serious trouble, while the Chinese can hop onto the next goldmine if the current one proves unprofitable. They are looking out for their interests. The question is, are we?
Anyway, my flight mate eventually found his aisle seat and moved. But for the while that we sat together, I had quite an insightful conversation. Which just goes to prove another thing about traveling: sometimes the real journey is not to a place or location, but inside another person’s mind. So, take a chance, ask questions. You never know what new lands you might encounter.

Breaking Free From Expectations


“One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go.” – Sheila Murray Bethel

By: Anonymous.


As a young girl, I was limited by my expected gender roles. I was expected to be nurturing, dress a certain way, speak politely,  and often told to “stop acting like a boy” when engaged in sports or playing with toys considered “for boys.”

When I was asked as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “I want to be a writer”. My father looked at me in disbelief and told me, “No daughter of mine will be a writer!”

When I was a senior in high school, my uncle who was visiting Addis from the United states asked me what my future plans were. I, with confidence replied, “ I want to be a lawyer. I want to help women who are in abusive relationship and unfortunate situations.” His response, “why don’t you major in something “easy” for women like business. You are a woman. Do something that “fits” a woman. Till this day I struggle to figure out what he meant. What “fits” a woman?

Every woman, whether it comes from close family members or from society as a whole, struggles to find her “fit.” Now more than ever, women have many different choices, and with those choices come tough decisions and sacrifices. Especially for women who are in a relationship with a significant other. In these cases, women are more likely to give up their personal dreams more than men. Women are the ones who are expected to be patient and stay in unhealthy relationships. Women are the ones who push aside their own needs for the sake of their families, regardless of what that may mean for themselves. The expectations for women are endless!

Even with all these challenges facing women, I have had more encouragements to get married young, than I had for following my dreams. Due to this belief, I got married young and had a child within a year. I had the “it” life from other’s perspective. I had the nice house, the beautiful family, the “comfortable” life. It was when I started to question my former beliefs, questioning how I had put aside what I’ve always wanted to fit into the idea of what it is to be a good women, that a lot of thing started changingThe moment I decided not to have another child until I accomplished my own goals, I saw how rough it could really be for a woman trying to stick to her guns. From the rumors, to the constant questioning and smart comments, I had to fight it all, both internally and externally.

I was often asked (by the same people, every time they see me or people who didn’t know me that well) why I would not want to have another child. When I explain my dreams and my goals for myself before expanding my family, they look at me like I had lost my mind. They hit me with the Lij beLijinet bullshit and “you will regret it later” comments. What does that mean anyway? Is your twenties not Lij? How were they certain that I would regret it? Why would anyone regret wanting to fully grow into the person they feel they were meant to be before being strong enough to be a backbone for their family?

We live in a society that expects a woman to simply go for what is considered the norm: to get married young, have kids young, cater to her husband and support his goals, oh and his family too and pretend like her marriage is all peaches and cream. Or if she chooses to have her career and other things lined up, the expectation is to still to get married young, have kids young, cater to her husband and support his goals, oh and his family too and pretend like her marriage is all peaches and cream. Did I mention you have to have your hair and makeup intact, a spotless home and a smile on your face at all times?

I also find accepting challenges and facing them head on, is rarely encouraged, especially if you have what is considered to be a comfortable life. When I had a semester and a half left, to finish school I got a job offer that I didn’t want to turn down.  I knew it would be a challenge to go to school full-time, work forty-five plus hours a week and raise a child at the same time. Yet I accepted that challenge. With that I chose to kiss my social life good-bye and focus on my goals. This didn’t sit well with many people around me. I always got the, “isuan bilo degmo busy, hulum yimarina yisera yele indet? Birk honebat?” from people I didn’t attend their serg or lekso. I guess there are other women who work full-time and go to school and raise children and be super human? But for me, I had to stay true to myself. Working and going to school taking up an average of 16 hours of my day, I couldn’t understand how  I was supposed to play all the other roles I had to play to be deemed a good women.

Life can be very difficult especially when you have to consistently fight for what you want. Yes, while going through this tough time, I admit that I cried many nights praying that it would all be over soon. Yes, I went on like a zombie almost losing my mind. Yes, I considered “taking the easy way out”, quitting everything and staying home (which has it’s own challenges by the way no matter how people paint their lives to be as stay- at- home moms), but I chose not to, because that was not what I wanted. And Yes, I admit I chose to go through counseling to overcome depression. I am a better woman today for doing so.

I worked really hard to get to where I am today. As a twenty something year old woman who is educated, with a career that I love, and a daughter that constantly keeps me on check, here are the lessons I’ve learned along the way which I’ve decided to share with you.

Get to Know Yourself

While trying to fit into society, we seldom remember getting to know ourselves. In the movie, The Run Away Bride there is a scene where Julia Robert tries different kinds of eggs to figure out what she really likes. Because the type of egg she likes changes based on the man she is dating. I would tell my younger self, get to know YOU first and don’t change yourself for anyone. When you know who you are, you make the best decisions for your life.

Surround yourself with people who support you

Our lives are filled with ups and downs. Don’t be afraid to admit that you have flaws. Don’t be ashamed of your mistakes in life. The important thing is you learn from it. One of the challenges I have had was getting over judgmental friends. If your friends don’t support you like they should, they shouldn’t be in your life. Figure out what is holding you back in your life and change it. If it means ditching judgmental friends, so be it. You deserve people around you that support you and that you can be comfortable with.

 It’s Ok to Ask For Help

If you are having a problem, ask for help. Don’t burry your problems because you are scared of what others might think. Everyone has their own problems they are dealing with; there is nothing wrong with that. So ask for help when you need it. If talking to your friends or family doesn’t help seek professional help. Although I was raised to believe going to a “shrink” should not even be an option, I chose to do so and I am glad I did. I would not be where I am today if I had chosen to hide my problems.

 Follow Your Dreams

I was once told that my major was not “appropriate for habesha women”. Really? What major is exactly appropriate? It is sad to know that this is the kind of mentality that teaches us to be followers and not leaders. If you want a different path than what is expected of you, take it.  You do not need to justify your actions. It is your life! Own your unique qualities and reach your potential.

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

 It breaks my heart when people make comments like, “When you meet a man, don’t tell him your success because you will intimidate him” or “ Make sure you don’t tell him you make as much as you do, you will chase him away”. We constantly hear these comments and some take the advice. But I say celebrate what you worked so hard for. If a potential partner doesn’t want to take your accomplishments as a plus you need to find someone who does. Don’t be afraid to talk about your dreams and aspirations. Most of all, be proud of what you have accomplished so far and never be ashamed to have future goals that don’t necessarily fit into others’ expectations of you.

 One Size DOESN’T Fit All

Everyone’s life is different. Even people who choose to take the same path in life experience it differently. So choose what works for you best and don’t expect people to understand your choices. Your life doesn’t have to be the same or have the same outcome to be considered the “right” way. Don’t let people’s comments get to you. LIVE your life the way you want.

Final Thoughts

As an Ethiopian woman, I grew up with high expectations of how my life should unfold. Most of these expectations came from external influences.  It was a challenge to break free from those expectations. But once I broke out of these expectations, I became much more content with my life. I no longer live to please people. In that I have found peace.

So when my daughter proudly says she wants to be a firefighter when she grows up. I smile and reply, “Yene konjo, you can be whatever you want to be!”

Disclaimer: This post is by no means trying to prove a certain way of life is better than another. It is not a post about rebelling against the Ethiopian culture. It is a post that would hopefully encourage women to follow their dreams and break away from cultural barriers that hold them back from reaching their potential.

Addis – First Impressions.

This is the first of, hopefully, many articles that will be posted on the this blog from other contributing writers. The following piece was written by Feker Tadesse, a former DC resident, IV league’r, habesha gal who currently works as a consultant in our beloved city, Addis Abeba, thus making her our new “correspondent” from Addis. Enjoy.



By Feker Tadesse.


It’s been about a month and a half since I took the plunge and moved back home, to the confusion and chagrin of most people around me. I say most because there were equally supportive friends and family who saw this move as an exciting adventure. I shouldn’t paint myself as a hero since it remains to be seen whether I made a good or yeseytan joro aysmana, a bad decision.

The oddest thing about this move was that it was largely a practical decision, and not an emotional one as many would assume. I studied development and it just didn’t make sense to do it from a metropolitan city thousands of miles away from where all the action was happening. Having said that, there is a certain level of satisfaction about doing what I do here in Ethiopia. As one friend wrote, part of the reward is about ‘giving back to the place that made you who you are.’

Where should I begin about dear Addis? There is both an energetic and suffocating feel to the city. You see the youth involved in exciting projects or constantly hustling to get involved in some. Suffocating because there are just a LOT of people in the city. The icing on the cake is construction of roads happening all over the city, making it impossible for both pedestrians and drivers to safely navigate the city’s streets. Traffic has become a nightmare given that major roads have been closed due to a railway construction that is hoped to be unveiled in three years. In retrospect, I could have worked a little bit more on my timing.

I perhaps look at things a little more clearly, more critically and to some, I’m sure, I’ll sound annoyingly judgmental about our ways. Jarring comments about homosexuality being a sin and the utter disgust people express when speaking about Betty (wholeheartedly agree with this post HERE by the way), remind me about how conservative our society is or at least, pretends to be. Or getting berated by a family friend for suggesting her daughter look into PhD programs after undergrad. ‘Timirtu lay focus sitareg gizewa yihedal.’ Huh? Times like these is when I realize how removed I feel from the society.

Of course, there are moments when I feel like I’ve never stepped foot outside of home, such as the comfort I feel when I spend my Sunday mornings sipping coffee begabi tetekliye, chatting with my parents about the latest gossip, tv humming in the background, the room enveloped by the heavenly smoke that emanates from the Itan. I am reminded of the constant anxiousness I felt in the states and there is a certain level of peace I already feel. A taxi driver in DC once told a friend and myself that immigrants will always feel schizophrenic about their identities, much like Zadie Smith, in White Teeth, describes one of her characters, a second generation Pakistani residing in London, “ … stood schizophrenic, one foot in Bengal and one foot in Wellsden.” Perhaps I will always feel that way but it has ceased to bother me anymore. I don’t quite know how to explain it but I feel surrounded with love, which for now, more than makes up for all the line cutting, random power outages and abuse you suffer from random strangers. I just came back from lunch with colleagues where a stalker insulted a colleague, calling her ‘yenech ashker’ because she dared confront him about his stalkish qualities. Times like these I wish I had continued with my Taekwondo class so that I can karate chop anyone who dared speak to me like that. Ah well, what’re you gonna do?

Our city as always is a site of contrasts. For every drastic story you hear about someone getting laid off and struggling to make ends meet, in the next breath, you hear about destination weddings in Mauritius. It boggles my mind how such dramatically opposite lifestyles could exist side by side. And of course there’s the guilt you can’t help but feel, that comes and goes like those shooting pains you experience once in a while. They’re not so serious that you should seek professional help but nevertheless add a certain level of discomfort to your life. In the States, I never felt guilty for wishing to drive my favorite car (a fancy BMW, preferably a convertible on days when I feel like letting my hair down, ‘tsegurishin go back iyalsh’ as my uncle once described.) Here, I feel guilty for even coveting one because the difference is just so … striking. Living in the US, you can comfortably wish for the American dream complete with your 2.5 kids and a two garage, 5 bedroom house because for the most part (although that is debatable now more so than ever), you know that if anyone works hard, that life is attainable by all. Nothing special about you to make you flinch or think twice about it. No such formula here I’m afraid. Yes there are stories of the self-made man and woman who weathered all odds to make that dream come true, but these stories are few and far in between. There is also, of course, the urban poverty that makes you cringe every time you leave one of the many posh restaurants in Addis after having paid an average of 100-150 Br for lunch. Given time, the homeless blur and seem to blend in with the construction sites of Addis until you notice them no more. A friend was telling me that you need to give a homeless person at least 1.25Br, which is the price for a piece of bread nowadays. I wonder if our legash hands have kept up with the inflation …

All is not so grim, obviously. It IS home after all and Addis has a certain flavor that is uniquely comic. The other day, I was having dinner with a group of friends or rather, we had ordered and we were anxiously waiting for the food to arrive. Our wiater comes back after oh about 40 minutes, cocks his head so and announces, with a pitiful look on his face, ‘Yikirta, pasta alkual!’ To which we all burst out laughing, shocking even him in our reaction. Only in Addis eh? Or the time when a colleague went to her favorite breakfast joint and asked for ‘enkulal firfir’ to which the waiter adamantly stated that under no circumstances was he going to serve ‘firfir’ but she could have the ‘enkulal sandwhich’ instead. She had to call the chef and demand that if they had the eggs, why can’t he just ‘meferfer’ them?! The chef reluctantly acquiesced. The nerve! Or the time when a particularly witty weyala, having witnessed a couple kissing on bole road, shouted ‘diaspora mechem tegboal zendiro’.

I oscillate between feeling like a complete fraud, purporting to help the poor while enjoying the sort of lifestyle I lead in Addis and feeling useful and good about what I do. It’s like what E.B. White said, “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

Makes it hard indeed!