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.

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.

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.

Lessons Learnt.

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

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

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

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

Until next time, Tena Yistelegn.

A thousand miles…

      I’m an individual with too many thoughts going through my head in most of the hours i am awake and breathing. I think about my family, my friends, my country. I think about food, coffee, love and sex. I think about poverty, human rights, education, politics, philosophy. I think about depression, happiness, human character, simplicity, randomness…

     I’ve decided to constantly share these thoughts with you via this blog, mainly to initiate discussions about topics that concern most of us as residents of this planet, but also topics that make us laugh, cry and make us go ‘wey tarik!‘. This is the first of hopefully many entries to come.

     Hopefully these short paragraphs are enough for a quick introduction. Until next time, beselam yagenagnen.