I am finally coming to terms with accepting the many challenges and blessings of being an Ethiopian-American diaspora living in Addis. A few weeks ago, I woke up to breaking news headlines stating, “Ethiopia has declared a State of Emergency.” Instantly, I felt like I should be frightened and panicking. For some reason, I felt the complete opposite. In fact I feel more safe living here in the event of a state of emergency than how I sometimes feel living in America as a young black woman. As there was a lot going through my head at that time, I experienced an awakening. Perhaps living in Addis I felt safe, sheltered and protected unlike other regions of the country. Maybe because I carried a blue US passport and I knew I could get up and leave at any second I felt threatened. These thoughts soon turned into guilt and confusion. Why is it that many people are terrified and feel in danger, and my life was normal? I couldn’t get over that reality. I’m not convinced if this is the right word that captures exactly what I am experiencing, but I felt privileged and I didn’t like it.
The fact that I consider myself a proud Ethiopian and consider Ethiopia as my country, but then I get a pass when things get hectic and dangerous in the country, didn’t sit right with me. This notion of feeling privileged became more clear and upsetting when I spent the weekend at my aunt’s home. We were drinking coffee and the topic of the hour was, of course, politics. The State of Emergency had just been declared, protests were expanding, people had been dying and it was all over the news. My aunt started to tell me that I needed to be prepared to leave Ethiopia soon and that I can’t risk staying just incase anything happens. I told her that I was ok and wanted to remain in my country and complete my fellowship and not just abandon it. She laughed at me and said, no you have to go back to America so you are safe, and I responded by saying, “How about you? I’m not going to leave my family and the fellowship. I chose to be here and I have to face and accept the realities of what’s going on.” With another smirk, she replied, “This is our country here. Plus, even if we wanted to leave we couldn’t so whether we like it or not you are an American and you have the ability to get in and out as you please.
That’s when it hit me that I was indeed privileged and I was angry that I had that right and the opportunity that many people don’t have – I felt and still feel like a traitor. I felt as if the validity of my Ethiopian identity was being challenged because I was also an American and being American is being privileged in this country.
The interesting thing throughout all of this was that we found out a lot about what was going on from family and friends abroad. I had internet at my place of work so I was able to connect with some people from the US and it ] they knew about what just happened in Ethiopia before some of Addis knew. We live in Ethiopia, but often times have no idea what just happened in the outskirts of the city. We have been so disconnected from the media and the news network that we miss out on what was happening. Some days, we thought that things were back to normal and there was peace. We never expected the country to declare a SOE at all and we then find out there has been so much more going on than we knew. On top of no internet connectivity, applications like Viber, What’sApp, Facebook, Twitter etc. are all difficult for us to access. Despite these small challenges, everything else has been normal in my daily life living in Addis. As far as going to work, playing with the neighborhood kids, hanging out with family and friends.
Bottom line is that being an Ethiopian-American diaspora during a SOE in Ethiopia has really got me questioning a lot about my identity and where I stand morally. If I would have left and returned to the States when people in my home country are going through difficult times, does that really make me a true Ethiopian? It gave me a taste of what privilege feels like. In America, I am considered a double minority (a woman and African American), but here in Ethiopia, I was “American” so anything was possible for me. That blue passport is a ticket to safety, a ticket to opportunities and a ticket to travel with freedom. It is something me and the other fellows discuss almost on a daily basis when we get home from work. Recently, we went to a cafe to grab some coffee and spent over 2 hours discussing the issues in Ethiopia and the experiences we’re going through being diaspora. There was a moment where one of the girls said, “Wait, you guys, do you realise we are becoming like our fathers?” We were sitting down drinking coffee and discussing politics just like typical fathers do in their free time. It was another aha moment. We got a glimpse of the passion and concern behind our fathers conversations about politics. We had come to a stage where we felt as if our input was important to the issues in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is becoming ours now and anything that threatens that ownership doesn’t sit right with us. It was unconsciously a part of our daily attitudes and thoughts. This is because we feel we are now entitled to speak on the state of country.
We identify as Ethiopian and American but then there are the challenges that come with it. There is the privilege piece that comes with being American, but then our parents sacrificed for our benefits – – so does this make it a positive thing? I’m not certain yet but it has been an ongoing discussion we revisit often, and is interesting to see how far we have come since we first arrived. There’s just so much to absorb and articulate, but I love it because it means I am growing.
I am growing and understanding a lot about my country and myself.