Addis Perceptions

It was a Thursday. I woke up to the sounds of neighborhood roosters (my new alarm clock), gathered my things, and proceeded to my morning stroll through our top view neighborhood to catch a ride to work. All the while, ignoring stares at my fire red rain boots and smiling to myself because I couldn’t believe I was really back in Ethiopia.

In a span of thirty minutes my smile disappeared, I had accidentally stepped in a big puddle of chika (mud), and gotten into a “friendly” argument with my taxi driver. He couldn’t understand why I left America for Ethiopia – apparently saying I wanted to serve my country was not a fitting answer. Then, I slipped on the front steps of my office building with everyone around me reaching out and yelling “ayezosh!”

“It was only 9:30 AM. Not the day I was expecting.”

I entered our building’s elevator wet, cold, and frustrated. I walked, or rather ran, straight to my cubicle, opened up notes on my laptop and journaled my frustrations out before my co-workers could catch a whiff of my sour attitude.

As I was typing, I came across a quote I had previously recorded in my personal journal months ago:

“The brother or sister you think is being regressive could be being progressive in a way you can’t yet understand…” – Toure, author of Who’s Afraid of Post Blackness?: What it Means to be Black Now

In that very moment my entire mood had changed. Something clicked. Why? I realized that this is Ethiopia in a nutshell, and if I was going to make it these next couple of months I would need patience and some serious understanding.

My first week here I suppressed trying to understand or question how things operate in Ethiopia, in hopes of blending in and not seeming too foreign. I didn’t want to be the girl asking why this and why that – I wanted to feel as if I was in touch with everything. I subconsciously thought that if I didn’t open my mouth, I could get by without seeming like a privileged American. Instead, doing this led me to my boiling point, aka Thursday morning with Yonas (the taxi driver who was just not buying my answer about why I was in Ethiopia).

That particular day taught me a lesson. I learned it was okay to ask, to examine, to disagree, to feel – because while Ethiopia is mine, it isn’t mine at the same time. The only way I can really get to know this country is to take the time to understand, and broaden my thinking on how my brothers and sisters, who I may assume are regressive, are progressive in a way I can’t understand.

“I learned it was okay to ask, to examine, to disagree, to feel – because while Ethiopia is mine, it isn’t mine at the same time.”

It’s only been two weeks.

Cheers to understanding.

Astu Mengesha



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