For every kid that’s born and raised in the diaspora community, we never truly get a sense of belonging where ever we are.
As children, we’re told by our parents that, although, we may be born in the U.S., we will always be from our native countries, first. We’re told stories of why our families immigrated and left their loved ones behind for a better life. We’re taught our language, culture, and beliefs from a very young age to the point that by the time we are school age, it’s drilled in our head and whenever asked where we’re from, we respond Eritrean-Ethiopian American. That’s my story, at least!
I struggled with my identity when I spent summers in Addis or Asmara; I was told by family and friends that we were American. We spoke a different language and were treated differently (like guests) when all the while our parents said this was home. I think my biggest shock came at eight years old, when my family up and moved from Maryland, USA to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was enrolled in the American School, better known as ICS, and told to learn French instead of Amharic because I was a foreigner. So, if I wasn’t American as my parents repetitively told me and I wasn’t Ethiopian or Eritrean as it clearly showed, then what the heck was I?
It’s during the four years that we lived in Ethiopia and spent all our extra time in Eritrea that I learned exactly who and what I was. I grew a real love for my countries, for my people and our rich culture. It’s also during this time that we became immersed fully in our culture, and the title of guest changed to local.
Fast forward to today, as a mother of three 2nd generation Americans, I want to give my children the same gift of living in our homeland that my parents gave me. Summer of 2019 was meant to be the beginning of a great journey for us. We wanted the kids to get a feel of life in Ethiopia andEritrea, and experience the same bond Bini and I feel.
I’ve already shared what it feels like to be home in Eritrea with the family. Here’s what it was being Home in Ethiopia and sharing it with the kids.
We arrived on some not so good terms, the kids were sick, and the first stop we made once we landed in Addis was to Nordic Hospital. They were beyond professional and helped us get to the bottom of Novu’s illness. Within a few days, she was feeling better, and within a week, she was back to normal with no fever.
I wanted the kids to experience life here and not just feel on vacation. I started working days after Novu got better and the kids were left to entertain themselves and have fun with family like they would do back in the States.
My days off were spent showing them the beauty of Addis.We visited multiple museums, went for walks/runs, ate the local food (injera), spent time with family, and practiced Amharic words as often as we could. We even managed to take them to different cities in Ethiopia and teach them about their history.
The kids loved the restaurants, especially La Novella, Sosha, and of course, Pizza Hut. I loved taking them to places I knew as a child and seeing their eyes light up as Bini, and I told them stories of our childhood. I also loved seeing Novena try everything from the spicy doro wot (chicken stew) to any kind of meat with Bini.
The biggest joy I got this summer was taking my children to visit my father at Holy Trinity Church and educate them on all the fantastic things he did for his country. To be able to share his story with them while showing them his work at the same time was priceless.
We’ve been in Ethiopia for roughly five weeks now and although it’s nowhere near the time I need to get the kids accustomed to our beautiful culture, it’s still an amazing start to an incredible journey. This is only the beginning, and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us. If you ask my kids today whether they’d be willing to move here, they’d definitely tell you NO. They can’t wait to go back to their friends, school and their American life, and that’s fine with me, I remember being the same way when my family starting bringing me. I know they will appreciate this trip much later in life. I am happy knowing that we have at least given them a foundation and opened them up to the idea of living in Africa, and slowly but surely, I’m sure they will embrace who they are as I did.
We brought the kids to Eritrea and Ethiopia so that they can learn more about their native countries and love it as much as we do. In the process though, I fell in love with the city I once tried so hard to forget all about. It’s been years since I’ve seen Addis Ababa as home and embraced it fully. Being here with Bini and the kids and having all our family around us has been such a blessing and it’s taught me more about myself then I thought it ever would.
I’m no longer that confused little girl but instead a proud Eritrean/Ethiopian- American woman who feels empowered enough by her life lessons to stand tall and share it with the world. It’s only when we talk and share our stories that we can break the chain and protect the upcoming generation from feeling the same confusion we in the diaspora community felt growing up.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts below.