Almost a decade ago, I left my promising job in New York City to move to Ethiopia. Now I have a business, a husband and a daughter in a world that did not quite raise me.
Descending from Ethiopian roots and an upbringing overflowing with Habesha culture is a heavy crown I wear with prestige. However, being the first person in my family born and raised in the United States of America is a hat I wear with pride. Having the best of both worlds within me help me blossom into the woman I have become, I still feel like an outsider in both countries. Home is where the heart is, and right now my heart is in Ethiopia. But America is my home.
I remember planning and executing the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk — which grossed over $5.8 million in New York City — and feeling humbled to be a part of such a major operation. Every day commuting through Grand Central Station on 34th Street and walking to the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge on 32nd Street to clock in daily was surreal. Who would have thought I would be granted the opportunity to be working in the heart of the Big Apple?! This is where I grew up and now I am officially a part of corporate America.
My co-workers at the time were older and had been working there for years. I was the newcomer on the scene taking everything in like a little kid at the candy store. Strolling around with my official badge, getting clearance to areas in an incredible facility, managing logistics, and over 1200 constituents, while keeping in line with national directives to fundraise dollars for the Central Park walk. As exciting as this all was, it gave me a clear vision of my future: I can end up like the majority of people who live to work or I can apply a fundamental value my family instilled in me from a young age and work to live.
Indubitably, the crisp fallen leaves of Autumn would turn into white winter snow. Naturally, the excitement of fresh snow would turn into cold icky slush then reality starts creeping in. Was this the life I truly wanted?
God has always been my only best friend. I talk to Him all day, every day like I would any of my human friends. Needless to say, a few days later, during one of our many talks throughout the day I mentioned internally that if it’s really meant for me to go to Ethiopia then give me an obvious sign. I started looking at ticket prices again and to my surprise, I found the cheapest ticket to date. That to me was exactly what I needed to take a leap of faith. It was the eve of Thanksgiving, one large suitcase was packed and I intended to “escape the winter” as I convinced everyone, including myself.
Fast forward, I landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Thanksgiving 2014, which was on a Thursday, and ironically, by Monday, I already started working.
This was only my second time ever visiting but there was such immense progress since 2010 that it felt completely different. Everyone looks like me and speaks my native tongue of Amharic. At the time there was an indescribable overwhelming feeling of belonging here no matter your nationality. Little did I realize, my seasonal winter getaway with one suitcase would turn into four months shy of eight years with a husband and 20-month-old daughter.
Could it be that I am looking for a non-existent emotion? Yearning to fulfill an imaginary desire when really I should be grateful to have the privilege of being American on paper and the honor to be raised as an Orthodox Christian Ethiopian full of cultural traditions. I am blessed to claim two countries with rich history while living through historical political times from two different continents. What a time to be alive and live through stories we grew up learning about in school.
The United States of America sounds like a fairytale. Ethiopia is an independent East African country in the horn of Africa that has never been colonized. Each filled me with opulent pride yet I somehow barely belong. In Ethiopia, I am too American and in America, I am too foreign or exotic as scapegoat words for “you just do not belong here.” If I had to choose one or the other right now I would honestly be distraught.
Growing up, I loved being an American raised by Ethiopians because I was sheltered to believe the United States was the land of opportunity where you could fulfill your wildest dreams by working hard. I genuinely believed Ethiopia was a melting pot of love, peace, and happiness where everyone got along. In my mind, it was a huge community of people who treated each other with fairness. Ethiopians in my eyes are the most endearing. I never even realized there are over 90 ethnic groups and more than 80 languages. In my eyes, Ethiopians are one ethnicity and Americans are one race, which I am aware is a naive way of thinking.
Understandably, the term, “I do not see color,” is offensive. Innocently, my family raised me to believe in equality. Maturing into motherhood and having traveled the world to see different cultures, one thing we all have in common is that we are humans looking to love and be loved. I strive to see the good in all situations and aim for peace over happiness. Finding peace is a consistent state of contentment whereas happiness is a temporary feeling that can be lost within seconds.
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