Of Tailored Suits and Life:

I used to have a certain kind of distaste for men in perfectly tailored suits. The well positioned cufflinks, the perfectly angled tie, the shiny shoes. All of it.  Whenever I’d be around such men, I’d notice myself changing. I stiffen up. If I happen to be out having coffee with one of them, I start saying things like, “may I be excused, I need to use the lavatory to powder my nose” and “what pleasant weather.” I, all of a sudden, become  a character from Mad Men. I may even occasionally stop to notice and check if I’m playing my newly appointed part well, that of the sophisticated modern gal. I’d manage it, maybe for 30 minutes. After which point, I’d have to bid adieu.

I could never really articulate why I felt this way. Was I intimidated by well dressed and competent men? (Why would I assume they were competent?) Did I somehow feel inferior in their presence? Why so much prejudice? I mean, I, myself, have worn suits. I might have even enjoyed doing it a time or two. 


In early 2018, I vowed to fully embrace authenticity, to become more honest with myself and those around me. This meant, I needed to first acknowledge that I do a lot of bullshitting on the daily – much less than average it turned out – but a lot of bullshitting nonetheless. And something funny happens when you decide to completely stop bullshitting, you start seeing how much of it happens around you all the time – the pretense, the white lies, the lies through omission… It’s everywhere. But, Interestingly enough, being hyper aware of this reality didn’t make me disheartened or judgmental of others or myself in any way. It somehow made me more understanding, even compassionate, dare I say.

You see, there’s a certain level of delusion that one must possess in order to go through life reasonably intact. A certain level of forgetfulness is of paramount importance. You sprinkle in denial, then you’ve achieved success. We’ve turned bullshitting ourselves and others daily, into an art… “I don’t need a man” you think, as your heart bleeds dreaming of his touch. “I’ve done my best” you say, as you click “next” on the episode. “How selfish could she be?” you mutter, as you see past her questioning gaze… The thing is these small and “insignificant” lies serve a purpose. They free us from potential failure, from responsibility, from facing the Goliath within our souls. These lies are also relatively easy  and seemingly inconsequential – never have I been struck by lightening for sweeping my shit under the rug or burying my head under the sand. But of course the repercussions remain: the nagging anxiety, the resentment, the un-articulated anger… these things will slowly and continuously chip at your soul – one word, one gesture, one act at a time, someday render you completely and utterly lost.

Then. Then, there are the ideas we’ve collectively constructed: the identities, cultures and ideologies we so fervently hold on to. These ideas, we so desperately need to give our lives meaning and significance. These ideas inform us, quite subtly, of who we are, what we should value, what we should achieve. I mean, who am I, if not the strong independent woman I, so perfectly, picture in my mind? If not the athlete I fancy myself to be? Have I really lived well at all If I haven’t ticked every box – the money, the career, the house, the car, the husband, and the 2.5 kids? Do I even really matter lest others know of my name and speak often of my worth? … Weirdly enough, these ideas, I respect. These ideas have helped us build families, communities and nations. They have provided us structure, security and purpose. These ideas are what get us out of bed each morning, drive us to achieve the impossible and keep us hopeful in our quest to achieve that ever illusory thing called happiness. But, – there’s always a but, – how *real* are they really?

… I do not know.

Some days I wonder if what we’ve done is construct a beautiful, awe inspiring, lie. Some days I think of how we’ve somehow ended up in this world having never provided consent and will leave it as such. But, now that we’re already here, with a perplexing innate need to remain here – and to do so with some level of sanity – what choice do we have but to delude, forget and deny? How else could we face the reality we were born into? “The real world is simply too terrible to admit” writes Ernest Becker, “it tells man that he is a small trembling animal who will someday decay and die…” What other choice did we have but to construct this alternative reality, a reason for our existence, a thing to get us through the day and back? Becker continues, “Culture changes all of this, makes man seem important, vital to the universe. Immortal in some ways…” 


Thus, my distaste of tailored suits. It was never really the men, the men I found beautiful, even alluring. It was the lie the suit represented that I wanted to run away from. The suit brought up in my head what Soren Kierkegaard termed the “automatic cultural man” a man confined by culture, a slave to it. Concerning himself of only achieving the goals which were designed by the constructed world, constantly hiding within it… because stepping out, risks too much. It risks anxiety and depression, even insanity. It’s only the courageous that look outside the construct *knowing* there’s something deeper, more *real*, out there. Trusting their gut that *this* can’t be all there is. And I, so desperately, wanted to be of the courageous… I wanted to be of those who found true freedom while existing within this limited world, even thriving in it. I wanted to be of those who prioritized Truth over security. I, so desperately, wanted to be of those rare, beautiful and delightful spirits who walk to the beat of their own souls and not the chant of the masses. 

How I wish.


The Personal Vs The Political.

It’s 2018 and the world is ending.

As I turn on the evening news, scroll through my social media feeds or visit my local bookstore, politics is all I see. Ten years ago, this would have left me thrilled and invigorated. Today it leaves me a wee bit excited, a lot more cautious and a tad bit tired.

On the excited days, I think to myself – this world needs to change, we need to implement democracy, rights need to be respected, justice needs to be upheld, poverty needs to be eliminated, we need to overcome, I need to help usher in change!

On the more cautious days I remind myself, I don’t even do my dishes properly.

On the tired days, I drink coffee.

Political engagement is our civic duty. As the saying goes, the penalty for not participating in politics is being doomed to be ruled by fools. But in today’s world where everything seems to have become political, where we’ve all divided up into various tribes fighting for the rights of *our* group, believing the source of our discontents to be *them* and *the system,* it might be time for some reassessments, an attempt to draw a line between the personal and the political. To draw the line not necessarily to separate the two, but to fully grasp the idea that the actions and thoughts that take place in our private spaces are what will bring about the change we seek. In other words, I’m more likely to affect the world positively if I do my dishes properly, promptly and gracefully than I am screaming through twitter, pointing out your idiocy. Allow me to explain.

Political engagement today has moved beyond making our voices heard through our polling stations. Now we feel obligated to become “agents of social change,” activists in our own right. Because we live in the 21st century with access to technology that allows us to reach potentially millions of people (or 2 friends at minimum), our computers have become our podiums from which we pronounce our convictions and denounce injustice and all things we deem ill in society. Our voices get louder with every ‘like’ and attitudes stauncher with every comment. All of it feels so real, so consequential. And it might be, who knows. But there’s a little part in the back of my brain that nags incessantly, calling it all much of it bullshit.

As someone who loves politics and engaging discussions, my fingers are having a hard time putting these paragraphs together. Because, in the spectrum of political engagement, from running for office to a being an apathetic viewer, I might come off as leaning towards the apathetic viewer, which is quite unfortunate, if I may say so myself. But I have my reasons. Political discussions have almost completely ceased to be informative or productive. We’ve turned what is supposed to be a discussion to reach some sort of consensus of ideas, into a sports match where the point is to defeat our opponent at any cost. We no longer simply disagree with the ideas of our opponents, we question their moral standing, their humanity. Just the other day, there was news about a certain individual with a certain political view that was given a high position in the current Ethiopian government administration. The response to the news, from some, wasn’t about how they disagreed with the decision because of some policy this person supported, that would be too easy apparently. It was a direct attack on the man himself. He was not only viewed as wrong or ill informed on his opinions and beliefs, but as deeply immoral, almost evil.

We have simply ceased to engage, we rage. We are so caught up in our superiority, of both intellect and morality, that all we do is preach and lecture. We speak not in an attempt to articulate an idea so that it will help us move forward in finding some sort of truth, but merely to hear our own voices. We listen not in the hopes of learning something new or broadening our perspectives, but to weaponize words and attack. What most of us seek is not answers or truth, we’re seeking information to reinforce our formerly held ideas. We have an agenda to pursue and anything that doesn’t fit into our narrative is discarded as biased and flawed. We’ve rid ourselves of nuance and paint the world as black and white. Someone is either good or evil, privileged or victim, with us or against us. We think, If only our political party won, if only our side held power, if only they listened to us, if only they weren’t corrupt, then we’d be free and prosper, then we could finally rest. We, so confidently, place ourselves on the side of David fighting Goliath, unaware we might be Goliath himself.

Our political engagement has become an exercise in futility. It’s like we’re running on a treadmill all day and thinking we’re reaching our destination. We ain’t.

Thus, the utility of washing your dishes – properly, promptly and with grace.


I must have been 14 at the time, I was at the main gate of Black Lion Hospital, Addis Abeba, with my uncle (a second father to me) waiting to enter the facility. Unfortunately for us, we had arrived outside of visiting hours, so the hospital guard would not let us enter. Being familiar with the policies of the hospital (both formal and inform), I simply looked at my uncle waiting for him to follow the informal policy and slip the guard 5 birr (the going rate at the time) so he’d let us in. To my utter shock and disappointment, my uncle simply informed me that we shall wait (in the burning Addis sun) until it was time to legally enter the facility. My attempts at arguments (it was only 5 birr!) did not work. There would be no bribing that day, not from him anyways.

This incident has been etched into my memory more deeply than anything else I can imagine. I’ve told the story countless times as a kid to demonstrate how *crazy* he was and laugh. I tell it now to demonstrate that it is only through the integrity and humility of the individual that societies flourish. My uncle stood up for his principles when it seemingly did not matter much. For him, It mattered not that the system was already corrupt, that no one would really know and praise him for his actions or that in the grand scheme of things, his actions were single clean drops in a diluted ocean. What mattered was simple: do the right thing – every single, clean drop counts because that is what makes up the ocean. After that day, every time I paid trivial bribes to guards, every time I told my white lies, every time I weaseled my way through projects giving the bare minimum, I thought of him and felt a little shame – every time.

We rage against the corruption that’s so rampant in government, while everyday we pay off the police to get out of a ticket. We seethe about the lies that we’re being fed by the media, but on a daily basis we ‘white-lie’ to our friends and family to avoid confrontation and criticism. We complain of the sub-par work of every government institution, but we can’t even keep our sinks clean. If we are to believe that our personal lives are microcosms of our wider society (which it is), how exactly have we carried our personal responsibilities? If our inner thoughts and private actions were to be broadcast-ed on the 8 O’clock news, how exactly would we feel? Would we really be out here calling out every perceived wrong or would we cower in shame of our ignorance and arrogance?

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people, until they change what is in themselves.” (Quran, 13:11)

This is not an argument against political engagement, it’s not even an argument against seemingly silly online spats (even those can have value if done the right way) – it’s through engaging with one another, however uncomfortable, that we can move forward in our thinking and actions. What this is, is an argument against self righteousness, willful blindness to our flaws and arrogance of the worse kind – the kind that makes us feel that *we* have all the answers – if only *they* would just open their minds, if only *they* were not so ignorant, if only *they* were on the side of good, then we could surely usher in our utopia.

It’s 2018 and the world is doing alright. It can even do better, if only we can wash our dishes right – properly, promptly and with grace.

On Love.


 “If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” Celine, Before Sunrise


It was as if someone was squeezing my gut and refused to let go. I felt nauseous and weak. The feeling was especially painful at night, as most pains are. It was the daunting realization that I may never see this person again. I wondered if this was love. The love they sing and make movies about. The love I was told to find if I had any hopes of ever being fulfilled, complete.

Countless times, I’ve attempted to define romantic love. How do we meet strangers and soon find ourselves enthralled by their existence, depending on them as if they were the very air we breathe? Why do we crave the entwining of our minds, bodies and souls with one another? Is such kind of romantic love real or even necessary? Have Disney, Hollywood, and Jane Austen duped us into believing the unreal as something to dream about and strive for?

Such love is the “love of the adolescent.” As adults we tend to dismiss it as unreal and unnecessary, especially once we have made a public declaration transforming our love-based relationship into a marriage, breathing commitment into it. We now have more important things to think about; 8-hour workdays have to be lived through, bills have to be paid, and the Joneses have to be kept up with. Once we decide that kids are a necessity then of course, the kids have to be fed, clothed and sheltered. Hours of our days are sacrificed screaming and instructing these small creatures to brush their teeth, to finish their vegetables, to practice their reading and to, for the last time, GO TO SLEEP! The everyday mundane existence of the adult mind doesn’t have the luxury of fantasizing  about intangible ideas of love and fulfillment of the soul. At least, not until you’re dozing off to sleep tired from your long day and wondering if this is all there is. Luckily, these moments are few and far between, since, of course, you have to focus and plan to wake up the next day and adult all over again.

But even without the weight of adult existence, the intensity of the adolescent love seems to wither with time. The man who had once declared to worship the very ground his angel walked on, now looks at her with a certain kind of disdain, he can’t fathom that his once beloved beauty is this overbearing and nagging woman who seems to be overly concerned about his choice of attire and the cleanliness of the toilet seat. The woman who had once looked at her lover and marveled at her lucky stars for delivering such a brilliant and caring man into her existence is baffled with the careless, somewhat un-affectionate man looking back at her across the dinner table. What happened?!

So, in a way we know that the adolescent love doesn’t necessarily translate into adult love, it dissipates. Our inability, for some of us at least, to believe in such love and our haste to dismiss it as mere infatuation lays in this very nature of the adolescent love – its inability to last. If it passes, was it ever real?


Yes. Yes, it was and is real. (Please excuse me while my logical, younger self goes and vomits).

Ok, I’m back.

The adolescent love, whether experienced at 15 or 50, is real, practical and mind-mindbogglingly fantastic. Its transient nature should never be seen as a reason to disbelief in the realness and beauty of it. Things do not need to last for us to label them real. Picturesque sunsets last mere minutes, beautiful movies – just hours, houseflies – weeks, all four seasons – months, and our bodies’ – just years. These things do not need to remain permanent for us to be awed by them or to be convinced of their realness.

The adolescent love is awe inspiring; two separate beings immersed in bliss together – mind, body and soul, giving both a rare chance to experience the “eternal now.” When they are together, they cease to think about the past with all its regrets or the future with all its anxieties. They are just there, indifferent to the world outside, experiencing a kind of peace that comes when one no longer feels that natural nagging of loneliness.

So yes, the adolescent love is real and beautiful and if you’ve been fortunate enough to experience it, count yourself very lucky.

But, (you have to have known a but was coming), while such love is real, it would be amiss for me to not reflect on a slightly deeper level as to why it dissipates. It dissipates because, as weak and fallible humans, we expect too much out of our relationships. We demand the love and our beloved to provide more than they can bear. We tend to deify our lovers; we want them to be our heroes and saviors, we want them to complete us. We forget that they are mere humans that can neither save us or themselves. As Ernest Becker said, “no human relationship can bear the burden of Godhood.” So, once their humanness becomes too apparent, that infatuation subsides, they, all of a sudden, become too real and we find ourselves awake to a “reality” we never signed up for.


This is why adult love is necessary. This love understands reality with all its hardships. It accepts commitments and sacrifices. It recognizes the humanness of the lover and yet attempts to stick around continuing to be compassionate and understanding. The adult love also requires a kind of vulnerability that the ego finds unbearable. When we decide to love someone in such a manner we’re open to seeing the worse of who they are and still be willing to stick around and continue to love them, without judgment. We have to put an immense amount of faith in them as well. That, once they see our worse side – as we all have that side – once they see our weakness, our ugly flaws, smelled our morning breathe, they will look at us not in dismay, but will see our full humanness in our failings and, maybe, potentially, unimaginably even love us more for it. The adult love is complicated and is not for the faint of heart, which is why half the time it fails.


Thus, while adolescent love is beautiful and real, we still have to be willing to also adultify it at some point. As much as we want to remain with our hearts in the clouds, we live in a temporary world that’s constantly and harshly reminding us of its transient nature at every corner. We need not be dismayed by our practical lives that don’t necessarily involve love poems or red roses. We need to be grounded enough to understand that even mundane everyday realities of our lives serve their own purpose, can even be viewed as sacred for the simple fact that we are alive to experience them.

But if your lucky stars align and you get a chance to experience the adolescent love, I hope you indulge, swim and dance in it – not all people are so fortunate. Just make sure you take it for what it is. Nothing more. Nothing less. The magic is not in its ability to last forever; it’s in your ability to live fully in the moment, connected.

Tena Yistelegn.


2017 Resolution: Strength

Invictus By William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

#powerofthewrittenword #mindblown


Tena Yistelegn.

Truths no one tells you about life.


          I was one of those annoying know-it-all people. You couldn’t tell me sh** I already hadn’t formed an opinion on. While I was a bit more ‘woke’ than the average youngster, there were concepts I couldn’t wrap my head around even if my life depended on it, if for nothing else, for the simple fact that some things you have to experience to truly understand. So here’s a list of some realities of life people don’t usually talk about, realities I wish someone had force-fed me to spare many tears and heartbreaks.

You’re welcome.

You are not special.

This is a tough one to swallow since everyone told you how beautiful/handsome/smart/kind/hardworking and oh-just-so-special you are when you were growing up. Yeah, not really. There’s always someone that’s better looking/smarter/kinder/more hard working. There will be times in your life when you’ll be ignored, dismissed, sometimes treated as if you’re less than. You’ll realize you’re replaceable at your job and someone will stumble all over your heart and break it. That’s life. But here’s the thing, you can become special, it’s just that you’ll have to work actively at it. What will make you special are things like your ability to persevere gracefully through difficulty, your ability to care for another human being just like you want others to care for you and your capacity to love others even when they least deserve it. Now, if you’re able to do such things, then maybe you might be up for the trophy.

Money is important.

Allow me to quote Kanye West here, “having money isn’t everything, not having it is.” Modern society has constructed a reality where we’ve made money so important that without it, it’s almost impossible to be happy. ‘Almost’ being the key word here. The actual truth is that it is possible to be happy without money. In fact, the happiest people I know don’t have a lot of it. The source of who they are has nothing to do with it. But you and I are not these people. We neither have the strength or the consciousness to understand that once our basic needs are met, money doesn’t add to our level of happiness. We are products of our societies, so we’ll want that house, this car, those fancy outfits, that vacation, the retirement fund… the list goes on. While my conscious self will tell you to spend more time cultivating, say your relationship with your creator and his creations, my other self that’s grounded in the reality that we’ve collectively constructed, the part that understands how weak our egos are, how easily we’re influenced by our environment and how dead-brained we walk around most days of the week, will tell you that you need money to be happy. While it shouldn’t be your driving force, having it will give you the free time and mental space to sit around and contemplate the vastness of the universe and your relative insignificance in it. Haha, just kidding, the more money you acquire, the busier you’ll get trying to get even more of it.

You will fail, a lot.

Life is freakishly hard. So hard you’ll have many days where you won’t want to leave your bed and face it. You will pour your heart out towards a personal/career/spiritual goal and you will fail. You will meet the perfect woman but learn soon after that she can never be yours or worse yet, you marry her and face a severe disappointment when you realize she’s only human, with flaws and all, not the idealized version of perfection you pictured in your head. You’ll invest your hard earned money and lose it in a heartbeat. You’ll sweat hours at the gym and quit 3 month later when you realize you’ve gained 5 pounds. From your “serious” goals to the superficial ones, you will experience failures. Sometimes your failures will be because of circumstances that are completely out of your control, in which case you’ll have to learn to live with it. Other times it will be because you were not good enough or you didn’t try hard enough, so you’ll have to learn to wallow in your misery for sometime then learn to dust it all off and try again. The fact is that such things will happen and you’ll have to find ways to deal with it (how easy it is to type these words, how difficult it is to live it).

Looks do matter.

We all like to think that it’s what is on the inside that matters, which of course is a fundamental truth. But since when has truth managed to dictate our actions? People will make judgments about you based on how you look. People who are deemed good looking are generally treated better. We smile more at cuter babies, we view overweight people as lazy and good looking people on average are more successful. While the only thing this proves is how pathetic we are as a species, the fact still remains – your looks is part of what you’ll be judged on.

There are times where no one will be there for you.

There will be times in your life where you will feel utterly alone. This may be because you don’t have anyone to share your problem with or the people that are there just don’t quite understand. Or you might find yourself in situations where you will be incapable, unwilling or too afraid to share the pain and the dark spaces in your mind with another human being. Whatever the reason maybe, in these situations, you’ll be forced to find your own way out of the darkness, the difficulty, the pain. No one can love or support you out of your darkness; you’ll have to do it on your own. The good news here is, you are very much capable.

Love is not enough.

You’ve imagined it a million times, the perfect relationship where you’ll love him with all your heart and he’ll do the same. You tell yourself as long as you have each other, you can handle anything that comes at you, you have love, what else could you possibly need? Haha, I don’t know if I want to laugh or cry writing this. Love is not enough. Go back and read that sentence again. While love is the foundation of any healthy relationship, it is not enough. Sex, money, compatibility, communication skills, life philosophies, values… have just as much weight. The importance of these things usually becomes apparent through time. Love might bring two people together, but it will not be the only thing that will sustain them.

We’re all wearing masks.

Most of us, most days of the week are walking around wearing masks. We may change the mask depending on who we’re interacting with – friends, family, lovers, bosses… We’re so use to wearing our masks that most times we’re not even aware of it. The most confident guy walking around in his fancy suit is probably attempting to cover up a constant anxiety of failure, the most assured of women might be exhausted trying to keep it all together. But all this, you’ll never know. This is one of the reasons we love and crave intimacy so much. We want to meet someone with whom we can take our masks off, someone who truly sees us. If you meet this person/people or you already have them in your life, consider yourself very lucky.

Everything we do is a distraction.

Here’s the last and most vital truth absolutly no one tells you about life – everything we do in this life – the career, the marriage, the kids, the cars, the house, the constant chase of this or that – is basically a distraction from the impossibly difficult condition of being a conscious, thinking soul on this earth while possessing a body which will someday decay and be eaten by worms. But hey, let’s make this one a conversation for another day. I don’t want to lose you as a reader just yet.

So yeah, here is your dose of reality for the day. Please don’t leave this page disheartened by some of the seemingly harsh realities I’ve shared here, because there is that other side of the coin I haven’t talked about. The side where love, courage, kindness and hope reside, where there’s built within us a strength that can overcome seemingly insurmountable pain and anguish, a strength that will allow you to even laugh while you’re at it all.


Tena Yistelegn.


Pleasures of human existence:


“Many of us pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that we hurry past it.” Kierkegaard.

1. Being in the middle of a book or movie so good that your real life fades away for a few hours

2. Putting cloth on straight out of the dryer

3. Getting an intense hug when you need it most, the kind where you hold so tight you almost want to melt into the other body

4. The goose bumps you get when listening to good music

5. Deeply understanding something for the first time (experiencing that aha moment)

6. Deep sleep

7. Connecting with another human being, where for a moment you are no longer alone

8. Getting into fresh clean bed sheets

9. Peeing after having to hold it in for so long

10. That feeling after an intense workout

11. Sexual gratification

12. Sunday mornings

13. Silence

14. A cup of tea on a cold day

15. Going down a waterslide

16. Long road trips

17. Driving with your windows down on a beautiful fall day

18. Seeing old friends after a long absence

19. Coming across a line in a book so profound, you shed a tear

20. Driving with a dangerously low gas tank but you still manage to get to the gas station

21. Taking off your bra after a long day

22. Cake

23. Reminiscing about old times with old friends

24. Taking off your hills after a night of dancing

25. A hot shower

26. Eating firfir with hot tea that your mother made for breakfast

27. Engaging in a conversation with someone and being understood, completely

28. Snuggling with a child

29. Laughing so hard you pee your pants a little

30. Looking in the mirror and liking what you see

31. The perfect haircut

32. The smell of a baby

33. Sleeping under a warm blanket on a chilly night

34. Getting a phone call from someone after a long absence

35. Seeing your child smile at you

36. The feeling of being somewhere with someone and knowing that there’s nowhere else you’d rather be

What would you add?

Of Love and Life.


Romantic Love.

It’s not the butterflies you feel in your gut.

It’s not the excitement of a first kiss.

It’s not the romantic dinners, fancy vacations, long walks on the beach.

It sure is not something you fall into.

Such love is the kind we mostly dream of and fantasize about. The kind we show off to our friends, the kind that takes over our Facebook news feed. This love feels sweet. This love feels exciting. This love, we let sweep us off our feet, into the heavens and get lost in dreams.

Surprisingly, this love is easy. If you’ve realized this, you’ve come a long way.

I’ve come a long way.

Real love is not something you fall into. It’s something you choose to practice. Day in and day out, not only through joy, laughter and bliss, but also through struggles, fears, and failures. It’s something you actively choose. The real, deep, genuine kind of Love is too deep, drenched in reality. The real kind of love requires so much struggle, so much awareness, so much strengths and commitment. The longer its life time, the stronger it becomes, the sweeter.

It’s easy to be in love when the road is easy. When the sacrifices revolve around letting her pick where to eat dinner or letting him control the TV remote. When apologies revolve around why she was late for a date or why he seemed to avoid dinner with her friends. For whatever reason, we have come to believe that this is love.

Inevitably, the everyday, banal and harsh realities of life will teach us that we are sourly mistaken. This love as sweet as it feels, is fleeting. It doesn’t like pains or struggles. When it faces them, it falls apart. But, If we’re lucky this love can be the foundation of the real kind of love to come. Most of us can fall in the easy kind of love, indeed, most of us have. But the real kind – you need the strength, the patience and the commitment to be deserving of it.

And the lesson begins when two people commit to each other, be it while amongst friends and family or amongst themselves and God. How easy it is to say the words… through sickness and health, through wealth or destitution, through fear and joy, through it all. How different it is to live it, how rare.

Love, I read somewhere, is about bottomless empathy. Love is when you truly identify with the struggles and joys of someone else as if they were your own. It’s choosing to realize the other person is as real, as needy, as sensitive as you, and at times, just as lost.

Love, I’ve recently learned, if done right, is one of the most powerful weapons that can help us go through this life, not as mere survivors, but as worthy humans. It’s what gives us the strength and the courage to go after our dreams, to not be shackled by our fears, reminding us we are only human, so insignificant, so weak, so needy, yet very much worthy.

When you love someone, in the real sense of the term, You not only find yourself saying you will constantly choose to be there, but you will find yourself actually doing it. You will find yourself doing it in the most trite, “unsexy,” yet so meaningful of ways. You will find yourself genuinely believing how beautiful she is when conventional wisdom, so unwisely, may say otherwise. You will find yourself letting him dump his anger and frustrations on you, because you realize he’s doing it because you’re his safe haven. You’ll find yourself making excuses after excuses when she behaves in the most irrational of ways. You’ll find yourself hurting by his pains. Her loss will feel like your loss. You will find yourselves sitting side by side, together, lost, confused, at times defeated, yet you will remain there, choosing the struggle.  And that’s when you’ll be a witness of the sweet and merciful side of life. You will be the witness for the knowledge that truly “with hardship, there will be ease.” Because you chose to love, you will experience the strengths and courage that comes with it, the ease within the struggle.

But I wonder how many of us will be able to experience such kind of love. I wonder how many of us still remain relatively unchanged by our current world of individualism, consumerism and narcissism. I wonder how many of us have the guts for such kind of love. The kind that requires bravery of the heart and acuteness of the mind. The kind that reminds us that you or I, as unfortunate as it sounds, are not the center of the universe, yet lets us know that is exactly how it should be.

I wonder.

Tena Yistelegn.

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!

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.

Lessons Learnt II

Life-lessonsI guess when you’re so consumed with life, it becomes increasingly difficult to write about it… and… thus my excuses begin. I can’t believe it has been this long since I last attempted to reach out and share my thoughts. Actually I can, who am I fooling, as usual I’ve lacked the commitment. I’ve continuously, consciously chosen everything else but to sit down and make sense out of the constant rumblings in my head. I guess maybe it’s true, I’ve really been consumed with life to have enough time to stop and make sense out of the whole thing. But i guess it is life, most days, it doesn’t really make much sense.

Life has been interesting, to say the least. It has been filled with joy, with hardship, with confusion, and as always with so many lessons. As random as I view this life to be, there’s something wired in me that always forces me to look at the lessons in all situations. I’ve found learning the lessons to be quite worth it. Like President George W. Bush once said, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Even though I’m not sipping whatever it is that he’s sipping, like Mr Bush, I try not to be fooled twice, especially by life. Even though there is no rehearsal to this life we can always view others’ life and our own past as a good source of wisdom. We just need to be awake enough to notice. So yeah, here are some life lessons I’ve taken to heart.

It is all in the small things:

If there is a single realization that has completely transformed my life, this would be it. We are always told to dream big, to view only the sky as our limit. We are almost wired to appreciate the grand, the majestic, the achievement of the seemingly impossible. We celebrate college graduations, weddings, the start of new families, financial achievements. We celebrate breaking of world records and new discoveries . For sure, these are things worth celebrating, but in our constant craving of seeking happiness in these grand achievements, we’ve totally undervalued the grandness of seemingly small things, even though life is all about them. If most human emotional misery can be boiled down to one thing, it would be our inability to see greatness is small things, our inability to live in the moment and embrace it. We waste our lives dead, unconscious, chasing after everything else but the small miraculous moments.

Joy is in the cup of coffee you sip while talking to your dear friend, it’s in the contagious laughter of a toddler. It’s in the immersion of a novel, or watching someone like Merlyn Streep bring the novel to life. It’s in the embrace of a lover and the security that comes with it. It’s in watching Woody Allen’s fretful characters come to life on-screen. It’s in the sharing of secrets with friends, and knowing the love you share with your family. Life is rarely about big moments, it’s about our consciousness of small miracles.

Have the courage to be yourself:

Know who you are and be it. It’s so easy to live the life everyone else what’s you to live. It’s even more difficult to decipher between what we want and what other people expect. Most times we think what will make us happy is living up to the standards of the society we live in. The simple example would be this idea of getting married, especially for women. If i had a penny for every time girls i knew decided to get married to men they hardly knew because everyone was getting married. The pain and despair i feel for most of these girls… (this is a whole other post on its own.) The whole idea is know what you want, know what it is that makes you happy and at peace. It may not be some grand success that’s usually celebrated by the average person, but it will be you.

Also, know what your values are – This just makes making decision much easier. Whether it is in work or relationships, clearly knowing your values will help to distinguish between the bullshit you’re willing to put up with and the ones you’re not.

Don’t give up on what you want:

If you feel there’s something you want out of life don’t be afraid to go after it. There is no reason why you shouldn’t. The way i see it, aside from making yourself a good and decent human being, what else are you going to do with your life? We have 24 hours everyday, the time is going to pass anyway, and it’s up to you to decide what you want to do and do it.


I think the simplest ingredient to make life worth living is to love. Not only to love humanity from a distance, ( Wasn’t it Dostoevsky that said i hate individuals but i love humanity?) but to love individuals with all their NIFT and all. When you truly understand life, the only thing you can conclude is, what else can you possibly feel for a fellow human being but compassion? At the end of the day we all have the same beginning and the same end. And the only thing that makes the middle beautiful is love.

Life really is too short:

The earliest great lesson I’ve learned in life must be this – Shi amet ayinor. I’ve always been acutely aware of  mortality a lot earlier than i should have been. This must be why I’ve never been one to stress out more than what was necessary. It could all end in a minute. I heard or read somewhere that everything we do in life is to distract ourselves from death. No truer words have ever been spoken. This world would be so much different if we were always conscious of our mortality. How easy it would have been to love, to empathize, to be kind if only we kept this truth in front of our minds. But rather, now it’s so easy to hate, easy to hurt other people, so easy to be selfish and destructive to ourselves and this earth. In our attempt to deny death, we destroy life.

Don’t get fooled with all that glitters:

Don’t believe in most of the bullshit people show you and tell you about their lives. People lie. keep in mind they don’t do this intentionally, they simply don’t want to air their dirty laundry or be pitied by anyone. I guess we all gotta keep up appearance. People you think have it way better than you probably don’t, they just know how to edit their Facebook profile accordingly. They are more concerned about looking happy than actually being happy. Life is tough, It’s pretty fair that way. We all go through difficult times, and when you do, never think the grass is greener on the other side. Believe it when they tell you, If everyone threw their own problems in a bowl and you got to see it. You’d pick your problem back up and walk away happy.

Cut yourself some slack:

It really ain’t that serous, so don’t take yourself so seriously. Life has the potential to be beautiful, as long as we’re ready to see it, as long as we’re conscious and awake. Like they say life is a roller coaster, so when things seem to be down, know it’s not forever. Life is hard and it doesn’t discriminate. Things might not go your way once in a while, so what can you do? Try again, let it go or go take a nap.

Ok, I think that’s a good enough reminder for the day. I spend more days than i should oblivious to these realities. Hopefully now this will cement it in my head once and for all, and hopefully yours too.

Tena Yistelegn.