It’s been two years since I’ve been to Ethiopia. Those two years have felt more like 10. I can’t explain exactly why it does, but I can say that the experiences that I’ve had in those two years have challenged me to connect all the things that matter to me. And by “things,” I really mean my identity; linking my Ethiopian and American identities together. If you’re interested in hearing more about this check out my recent article in the Seattle Globalist about understanding identity and the labels that follow. At this point in my life I understand that I subscribe to no one, other than myself, to define who I am. But in these uncharted waters of self-discovery, I feel as though when I am in America and return to Ethiopia, or vice versa, there is a period of catch up and reassurance of who I am that needs to be done.
This past week, since I have arrived in Addis Ababa (capital of Ethiopia), has been filled with family gatherings, city outings, reunions with old friends, and walks on Bole (a main street in Addis). Throughout all these encounters my broken Amharic has shined the brightest. I know I’m not terrible at speaking, but each time I return to Ethiopia it’s like I’m starting from the same place with only incremental improvements. But I’m not ashamed for not speaking Amharic fluently and I find it funny when people mention that my broken Amharic tastes sweet to them (an Ethiopian expression). I know I’ll get better with time and practice. And when people correct my Amharic, I only focus on getting the words right the next time because there is no shame in learning a new language and practicing it at whatever stage or pace you’re at. One thing that never gets old every time I come to Ethiopia, is that I am always reminded that I am a “ferenge” (means foreigner in Amharic). While I was casually walking the streets of Addis, several young men selling books kept greeting me with “Hallo sista” while trying to hand me a book titled “Amharic for Visitors.” All I could think was “how the hell can they tell I’m a foreigner?” Honestly, I felt like I was wearing a scarlet “F” or something that just gave me away. I don’t take it to heart but it’s funny that no matter where I travel to, I still feel like I’m never fully accepted. But I think that’s the point.
I’ve learned that the acceptance of who you are or where you come from is not determined by the people that surround you. If it were, we’d go crazy trying to satisfy the subjective mentalities that are constantly in our path. It’s the internal acceptance of who you are that determines your identity. All I can do is smile when someone tries to hand me that book again. And I’ll politely decline, in my broken Amharic.
I’ll be posting as frequently as I can with updates on my whereabouts, insights, and exciting new projects that I look forward to share with you all! For now enjoy some photos of my first few days!
melkam ken! (means have a good day in Amharic)