It’s been about a year since I made the decision to live in Ethiopia…initially for only four months. Of course the reality is that I’ve stayed much longer than anticipated and it’s safe to say, I’ve left a lot of people wondering, “is she there forever…” When I arrived to Ethiopia, I didn’t have an exact end date in mind or even a clue as to what exactly I’d be doing, but I figured I’d stay until the rainy season began (Ethiopia’s rainy season is usually June-September). So June tops. Isn’t that how it goes though? You always have a plan but things change whether you want them to or not. If anything, you would think I’d be accustomed to this notion because knowing me and my habits, my path can unexpectedly lead me down in the most surprising ways. For example, this time last year I made the decision to move to Ethiopia, the year before during the same time, I was on my way to live in Oxford, Mississippi. Moral of the story is you just never know what I’m planning next! But seriously, this year honestly been one of the most fruitful, challenging and fulfilling years that I’ve experienced thus far. As you read on you’ll see the several ingredients that have culminated in the year that I’ve had.
To quickly recap, I started a new job at an amazing creative agency, I made a lot of new friends and have been rapidly assimilating to the Ethiopian culture (at least in Addis Ababa).
With my intentions in coming to Ethiopia, I was somewhat aware of what I was getting myself into. I knew that no matter how much I’d try, I wouldn’t fully blend in. And to be honest I had, and still do have, a tough time accepting this. I imagined that me being back in the land of my ancestors would be an entry point to a destination of acceptance. That my family, the friends I made, the people I crossed paths with would of course look at me differently and see the essences of my foreignness bestowed in their presence, but more importantly notice that I made the decision to make the journey back to my roots. To exercise my curiosity and patience. To not just visit, but live in Ethiopia. And perhaps this is the egoistic practices I’ve learned from America but I expected a bit more of approval for my moving to Ethiopia.
While I have experienced a lot of prideful reactions from the people I’ve encountered, the reality of being admired as much I anticipated fell short. Instead, more often than not, I’m lectured about the proud way of life in Ethiopia; the traditions, the celebration of all religions, the gender norms, and the proper annunciation of Amharic. Oh my Amharic. I’ll get to that later. In fact, this stay has showed me that I’m not always going to come off as the cool and interesting foreigner I thought I could be once I got here. Instead, I’m constantly getting schooled on Ethiopia and everything that has to do with it. I appreciate and am grateful for the immense pride that my fellow Ethiopians have expressed to me, however, I’ve hit constant obstacles trying to understand how my identity fits into a rich legacy of untouched traditions that have lasted for centuries.
While I was constantly faced with these thoughts, I somehow managed to land an amazing job at a creative agency working with some of the most amazing people I had ever met. But this challenged me, immensely. Not only was I required to take on the task of establishing a digital media department, but I was constantly, and I mean constantly, reminded of the fact that I was an outsider. These weren’t through hurtful encounters, it was simply a reminder that I had to get accustomed and acclimated to the industry with an Ethiopian context. I was relentlessly un-doing my perspective as a westerner and careful to not seem as though I am imposing those standards on the clients and the people I worked with. To be honest, I knew this would be an obstacle for me but as a (cultural) communications major I thought I had the skills to create a smooth transition. Of course up until this point, my degree was something I had studied not practiced. This humbled me, because even though I consider a portion of my identity as an Ethiopian, and while I pride myself on my “cultural” communication skills, I had to know that I couldn’t act as the entitled American that I sometimes, unknowingly, project to others. It’s a process that I am still experiencing but the trick has been to remain who I am and never compensate for that. That has been what has gotten me through. Funny enough, I really did think that the biggest challenge would be my Amharic skills.
On that note, I think my Amharic is quite good. I know some of the friends that I made out here must be reading this while laughing. But honestly, I really do see the improvements that I have made over this past year. However, as any person learning a new language would do, I think and construct most of my sentences in English. Of course it makes perfect sense to me when I hear it translated in Amharic, but when I speak to others they see me as a stand-up comedian. At first, I was extremely self-conscious when I started speaking, but honestly it’s ridiculous to act as though I speak perfectly when this was not my first language. And I’ve come to think of my Amharic as a great icebreaker upon meeting new people. Although I will say that I have developed a talent to mistakenly construct sentences or improperly say words that mean something completely different. I don’t know how I’ve accomplished this but at least I can rest easy knowing that at times I’m not speaking gibberish! (#win)
One of the other challenges that I did not expect was keeping in touch with the people that I most love in America. I don’t know exactly what has been the reason as to why I haven’t been as strong of a friend to them but I think it has to do with the reality that we’re living two completely different realities in completely different locations. That’s not an excuse but it’s an observation about myself that I’ve seen when I made a change of this magnitude. I promise to do better and I will but I think it’s a growing lesson that I’m experiencing and more importantly I have not let it go unnoticed.
The best part about living here I will say, are the incredible, beautiful, generous, and talented friends that I’ve made. This has been a constant gem that I experience each time I come to Ethiopia. But being here as long as I have, has helped my relationships grow and blossom. There is so much I am grateful for and so much that I have learned in Ethiopia thanks to the amazing people I’ve met. I feel embraced, loved, and cared for all the while that these amazing people teach me more of this beautiful country and culture. They play a big role in helping me to understand more of my identity and I think you all know how important that is to me. So thank you. Thank you to everyone who has made this year what it is, sad, happy, angry, elated, frustrated and honest. Thank you.
Here’s to another year full of adventure, more blog posts, more calls and emails to my friends and family across the world and a short video tribute of this crazy experience!
l.f.e. (live fully expressed)