Archive for April, 2014

Loveship, Hateship

Not sure how many Ethiopians use the term “Where I come from” as a “crutch”. I do, or so says Troy, every time I come across: somebody complaining they don’t have a washer/drier in their unit/when I gotta throw away a box of expired eggs/a carton of sour milk or when I, once again, mistake 5 am for 11 am [11 am for 5 am]. I laugh and explain how “where i come from” the day begins at 6:00 am, not midnight, and how I still am in an “Addis State of Mind”.

The speaker, who has thus far probably assumed I was another angry black woman from the deep south, would usually end up asking “So where is home?”

I say Ethiopia. East Africa. Next to Kenya, yes. Then we discuss what great athletes they have before the question of how long I have lived here, why I hardly seem to have any accent and how I found America ensues.

What I haven’t done, atleast conciously, is ask myself that very same question. Where home, my home, really was. Then came my N-400 Naturalization application, with it’s demand to “Renounce or give up citizenship in or allegiance to all other countries” if given a chance to become an American. That day I asked the question [So where is home, really].

I still haven’t found a satisfactory answer for it.

Is home the place where you grow up being told by all those that pass by that [since] you do not look like us. [That] You weren’t one of us. [Thus] You may not belong with us?!

Is home the place you were born in?
That country you fled from?
That land where you were mentally and/or physically abused and emotionally drained?

Is home that particular place [you look back at nostalgically]?
That particular person [who gave you this vision of who you could become]?
That song [which still sends a ripple among your insides]?

Or is home some place else?

The following won’t help you answer that question, it didn’t [help] me! But it has brought back all the rage and pain I used to feel; rage and pain that still induces the desire to throw up every time I came across most abesha men [and avoid the company of a certain type of abesha woman – beteskiyan sami.. tswami.. tselai]. Visit 800 Days in Ethiopia to read more, or apologize to the writer on all our behalf.

On Being Hated

As our end of service approaches, and we get nearer and nearer to home and questions and Ethiopian storytime, I think it’s an appropriate time for some gritty honesty, for my own sake. Lately I’ve limited myself to hints, but the problem has become all-encompassing, comparable to the sorts of sun-blocking storm clouds that hang over Mt. Soloda in our rainy season, and I know I should share before coming home—I guess so that, well, you believe me, and do so while it’s happening. So that you know it has never been hyperbole.

“I’ve never felt so disrespected in my life” is a line I know I’ve heard before, fielded and responded to before, in conversations with family and friends. Something happens at work, at the store, in a board meeting, and you can’t forget it. This isolated moment hangs there in your mind and your heart, for weeks, maybe months, and you try to set it loose to be forgotten and overcome.

I want you to know what it looks like to be a foreigner and a woman, to be a target for unceasing ostracism and contempt. To be a foreigner and a woman living in Ethiopia.

At least twice a week I go through a bout of misery. A deep hopelessness resulting in bitter anger. That statement—I’ve never felt so disrespected in my life—is not an isolated, once-in-a-blue-moon moment for us female volunteers. It has become our state of being. Every other day, at the very least, for the past 21 months, I have been sexually harassed. Men have licked their lips, kissed the air, stared at my breasts, invited me alone to their homes (we’ve been told that in Ethiopian culture, if a single man invites a woman alone to his home, it means the likes of Come sleep with me), asked about my sex life, professed their love for me, gawked at me for half hours like I’m a poster, described my features in inappropriate detail, called me sexy, etc. And I come home feeling like a used object on a broken shelf.

The male volunteers will never quite understand this. They support us dearly, and listen well—and they sometimes see it happen—but they’ll never fully feel it as their own. It will rarely ever be directed towards them. They’ll always be the supporters, not the ones needing the support and not wanting to ask for it.

What this means is: when, weekly, I vent and cry to Daniel about the particular sexual harassment I’ve been given that week, I end up feeling relieved in the moment—for having told him, and for how he soothes and encourages me, lifts me up—but gradually, gradually I end up feeling like an awful individual. I struggle with the questions: Am I an awful volunteer? Am I becoming a horrible person? Am I so full of hate—and how is he not? Am I so weak, so thin-skinned? Could I be exaggerating this somehow? Is it even a problem, or is it only in my head? Shouldn’t I be over it by now? Will I be like this when we go home, too? (more…)

April 27, 2014 at 4:38 am 10 comments


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The blogger tries to think outside the box, or wonder why she sometimes can't.

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"I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint." - Antonio Salieri, from the movie "Amadeus"

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