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?

Ethiopia’s Ethnic-Federalism: The chickens are coming home to roost.



“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” – John F. kennedy


If you’re following news from Ethiopia or scrolling down any of your social media feeds, you know that various uprisings resulting from political and economic dissatisfactions are taking place mainly in the Amhara and Oromia regions of Ethiopia. If you’re well versed on the political and economic history of Ethiopia, this piece will only serve as a quick evening read, but if you’re confused as to what’s going on or are more likely to skip any news regarding Ethiopian politics because it just confuses you, then this will serve as a helpful, and hopefully fun, read about our political history (or at least provide enough info to make you sound smart next time you’re at a party making small talk about the topic).

Ethiopia and our Ethnicities.

Ethiopia is one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world, with about 80 ethnic groups calling it home. Here is the breakdown:

Oromo – 34.4%

Amhara – 27%

Somali – 6.2%

Tigray – 6.1%

Sidama – 4%

Gurage – 2.5%

Others – 19.8%

(2007 Census)

As you might imagine, governing a nation with such diverse groups of people can be quite challenging. How does a nation accommodate and address the cultural, political and economic needs of a people that may not necessarily see things eye to eye, especially when those people have had complicated relationships with one another? This is a question that has been tackled for decades in Ethiopia and it was a key question that needed to be addressed in 1991 when the current ruling party (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) headed by the Tigrayan People Liberation Front (TPLF)) came into power after ousting the socialist Derg regime.

Historically, federalism is used as a system of governance in nations with vast and diverse people. In such nations, power is shared between a central government and regional governments. Federalism is used as a way to keep a nation united under one flag, while at the same time upholding democracy for all groups of people. Thus, the idea that federalism would/should be implemented in Ethiopia was a no-brainer. The surprise came when it was decided that Ethiopia would function under ethnic-based federalism. This decision, in my opinion, is akin to buying a newly renovated house with ‘termite issues’ you neglected to address. It looks great and functional on the outside, but it’s only a matter of time before it all comes slowly crashing down.

According to the 1995 constitution, the nation was to be divided into 9 regional states or kililoch based on ethnic territoriality. The constitution highlighted the equality of nations and nationalities, for example by giving all states a right to use their language. Member states were entitled to adopt their own constitution, flags and anthems. More importantly if the need/want arises, all states were given the right to secede. Centralized rule under a single ethnic group was viewed as the source of abuse and discrimination, thus federalism was to deliver us justice and prosperity.

Why Ethnic Federalism?

We need to do a little history-101 if we want to understand the ‘why’ of the matter. Ethiopia is a multi ethnic nation (a fact worth repeating to highlight the complexity and challenge of the situation), with one group having always dominated the other. Historically the Amhara ethnic group has enjoyed the privileges that come with power. You do not really need to open history books to be aware of the political, economic and cultural power this group has enjoyed over centuries of our history. For example, the simple fact that I’m multi-ethnic, but only speak Amharic fluently (I’m not Amhara, no doubt I have the blood somewhere in me) and wear ‘hager libs’ (notice the term itself) to represent Ethiopia and identify doro wet as the traditional Ethiopian meal (which no doubt should be hulbet meregh btw!) says enough about the cultural hegemony the Amhara ethnic group has enjoyed in our nation.

As you might imagine, for one group to dominate, there needs to be others to dominate over, thus come all the lands and people that have been ruled over by the Amharas. For centuries, various ethnic groups have felt ostracized and abused by the powers that be. Most obviously the Oromo (the most populous ethnic group of the nation) have been a people that have felt marginalized economically, culturally and politically. Other ethnic groups have felt similarly over the years, including the Tigrayans and much of the people of the South. Remember, when a community’s culture and language is disregarded, it very much robes them of respect and dignity, which are basic human rights. When that identity is not recognized, there is a good chance their political rights will also not be recognized. Thus, it should not be surprising that various ethnic based resentments exist in our history and persist to this day.

So, it was to resolve such grievances and address the lack of human rights that ethnic federalism was set up by the EPRDF. When the 1995 constitution was being drafted, the idea was that ethnic groups would be given the right to rule themselves, thus no longer feel marginalized or abused. If this sounds pretty fair and square to you, get ready to have your bubble blown. The problem with all of this is that while it sounds logical in theory, it almost never works in reality. I won’t bore with examples of nations that demonstrate why (if interested, Google Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia…). While ethnic federalism has the potential to protect the rights of all, it also has the potential to make people start to strongly identify with their specific ethnicity more than the identity of the collective (for example feeling more Gurage or Oromo than Ethiopian), easily creating an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ There are many who argue that TPLF purposefully used this system of governance to divide and rule the nation while holding on to the real power. Looking at events today, this theory may have some merit, but I’m not one to delve into guessing of intentions, so I’ll leave that for you to decide.

But, here we are today, 2016, and grievances are ripe as ever. While our constitution says that all ethnic groups are equal under the eyes of the law, reality seems to point to the opposite direction. The current regime, dominated by TPLF, is constantly being accused of human rights abuses, preferential treatment of its own people and stifling any dissent that may arise. What is taking place today is almost a natural progression of what happens when a people are made to claim their ethnicities as the core of who they are. If a goverment prioritizes a people’s ethnicity as their main identity, it should not come as a surprise when the people use that same identity to organize themselves and fight for what they believe in. When a people feel discriminated and abused because of their ethnic identity, it is natural for them to hold on to that identity when they attempt to regain what they perceive to be their constitutionally given rights and self respect.

Decades old ethnic based grievances coupled with crippling poverty of the masses are a dangerous combination for any nation to face. The staggering income inequality that currently exists will most likely worsen the situation. I do not have the insight or knowledge to predict what the future holds for our nation but I hope we all learn to have productive conversations, based on facts and some compassion, about these issues so that we can move forward and hopefully contribute to the prosperity of our nation.

Tena Yistelegn.

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.

Ethiopian Air: Insights from Above the Clouds.


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

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!

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.

Holier than thou.


I recently heard about Betty, the contestant on Big Brother Africa. I have never watched the show and I didn’t know we even had an Ethiopian contestant on it. I’m not even sure what the show is about, but what I do know is that Betty, our Ethiopian gal had sex with a fellow contestant while the camera was rolling. I watched the clip, but most importantly I read the comments made by my fellow Habeshas.

Asedabi,” “asafari,” “ehe ye’ethiopiawi sera aydelem,” “bahelachenen gedel ketetechew,” the impassioned  comments went on and on. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the whole situation. Of course my initial reaction, given I’m what you might call a typical Habesha with a bit of a conservative inclination on some matters, was that of embarrassment. Why would anyone do this knowing they were on camera? But then, I couldn’t help but think about how we, Habeshas, have become such hypocrites. Were we so outraged about her actions or that her actions were caught on camera? Because if it is her actions that is enraging us, then i call bullshit.

I don’t know how the people of the previous generation acted or conducted themselves. They might have been the chewa, sew akbari, egzihabeheren feri individuals that we were told to emulate growing up. But let me tell you, the men and women of my generation, may fantasize to be these things, but we are far from it. I’m only speaking here from personal experience, so feel free to correct me if you feel I’m mistaken, or if your experience has led you to a different conclusion.

Sex in our community has become nothing more than a simple source of physical pleasure. The things that are normally and traditionally attached to it – love, intimacy, commitment are rarely found within it. For instance, if you’re a guy living in Addis with some cash to spare, and you’re looking for a “good time,” that’s exactly what you’ll get. In fact you probably don’t have to do much to look for it. The  ladies in our modern age, it seems, put out easy. Today’s city dwelling women are not the women of your granny’s generation – meshkormem doesn’t work today. You don’t even have to see the nightlife in Addis to witness this, walking down Bole road shall suffice.

This is not only in regards to the single men and women out there. Some marriages have become a way to simply conform with “our tradition” because after the wedding, life sure enough, goes on. I’ll sadly say, I know more marriages that are dealing with the issue of infidelity, then those that are dealing with “communication issues” or whatever other issue we tell others we’re having.  The idea of weshema, a term I viewed to be ‘old,’ used only in writing, is so common now,even newly built condominiums are making some profit from the practice. The interesting part is no one seems to be shocked by this. In some circles it’s almost a source of laughter and amusement.

So why all the outrage? Do we really believe that this girl is not a true reflection of her community? Does she not represent the modern urban dweller of Ethiopia? Or are we pissed that she dared to do it in the open, going against the natural Ethiopian love of keeping everything a secret, behind closed doors?

Please keep in mind I’m not making any moral judgement here on people who view sex to be a casual form of entertainment, it definitely can be that – to each his own. But let’s not mefogager, let’s get rid of  this holier than thou mentality. Let us not be so quick to condemn, when we know in our heart of hearts we’re not as chewa, as egziabeheren feri as emaye wanted us to be. Whether it’s all The Sex and the City episodes us modern ladies watched, or the new-found money that seems to be in the pockets of the upper/middle-class or the liberal diaspora with their “liberated” selves, whatever the reason – let us at least acknowledge, we ain’t all that holy.

Tena Yistelegn.