Neither Here Nor There: Perspectives on Identity by the Young Eritrean and Ethiopian Diaspora in America

December 22, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 3:18 pm

I once heard a theory supposedly based in rocket science about what exactly we are; ‘we’ as in this earth, all which inhabits and surrounds it. Everything can be measured in units of energy. Here is the kicker. The source of this energy is not disconnected from the entities around it. Everything that exists is just an extension of this huge energy ball; you, me, the trees outside, the pen and paper on your desk and the stars in the sky. Now I am no rocket scientist, but I understand the gist of this theory says that we are all one. Our tools of perception may make it appear as we are separated. Our two eyes can only see the skin and bones of our brothers and sisters. Our single nose and tongue only tastes and smells the meal we will soon consume. Our skin only touches those things around us which are tangible, and our ears only hear vibrations of air. But we all have that sixth sense, don’t we? Sometimes we feel a connection between us that we can not explain; déjà vu, goose bumps, electricity between and you and a loved one. Am I the only one who wonders how many more senses are possibly out there that we just weren’t born with? Dogs, for instance, can sense fear. We say they “smell fear” because we do not come with the parts which allow us to pick up on an emotion such as this. How many cat owners get creeped out when their feline companions stare at some invisible object moving about the room?

Energy. Energy attracts us and repels us. Unites us and separates us. Teddy Fikre, a man dedicated to spreading positive energy in this world, recently wrote a blog expressing his frustration at our disconnectedness as a people. ( This blog made me think long and hard. We are both involved in various projects dedicated to doing our part in changing our community for the better; here in the States and back home. One thing we have in common is our surprise at the amount of effort it takes to galvanize a response out of each other. He says, “out of 10,000 people, do you know how many people donated to Artists for Charity?… Let me give you the answer, try closer to 0—that would be ZERO”. I write a similar blog on my own site.

My sister and I are compiling written submissions from the community about what it means to be Ethiopian and/or Eritrean in the US. This is an opportunity to have your voice heard and to break boundaries and stereotypes about what this world thinks Ethiopian or Eritrean means. Further, a portion of the proceeds will go to building a resource center for a grade-school in Kutaber, Ethiopia. We are still taking submissions of pros, poetry, artwork, essays, and random musings about life as an Ethiopian/Eritrean in the US until the end of the month here ( In my blog, I say, “My question for you is: why haven’t I heard your voice? I see the number of hits to this page, but we’ve only heard from a handful of you”. ( Eerie coincidence? Perhaps and perhaps not. My first emotional reaction to Teddy’s blog is conviction because I am one of the 10,000 that he directly confronts. I have not donated a cent to this respectable cause and I have absolutely no valid reason as to why. Then I realize that Teddy still hasn’t sent our book project an updated submission.

Obviously, the lack of action we both note and partially contribute to in some way is not an indication of our lack of passion or unwillingness to act. Perhaps it indicates just how insidious and cunning this disconnectedness is in our community. Recognizing the true scope of the beast Teddy and I and hundreds and thousands of others in our community are trying to tackle is an opportunity to get closer to a real solution. There are a million opportunities to make changes in our community. And I am sure each of us has done something to help this cause. I commend us all for this effort. When my uncle was shot and killed in Atlanta by the Washington D.C. snipers as they made their way north, the community rushed to our doorstep and helped us send him back home for an honorable burial. As I run for Miss Africa USA as Miss Ethiopia, online voting counts 10% of judging ( I have garnered over 9,000 votes by supporters who diligently go to the website daily and do their part to help me make a difference back home.

So what is the key element missing that Teddy and I have uncovered here? Honestly, I do not know. I do, however, know that the big picture easily eludes each of us in our daily grind. How easy is it to get caught up in working your fingers to the bone that you forget to stop? Only then do you have the energy it requires to see it, the big ball of energy which is not just our connection but our essence. Whether we choose to accept it or neglect it, love it or hate it, we are one. This oneness is a springboard, a huge natural advantage we can take advantage of to manipulate the events of the future into something positive, hopeful, and effective. Here is the catch; it’s still hard as hell to tap into this energy as we try to keep up with each of our daily responsibilities. I know I must sacrifice, overcome frustration with patience, learn to hope despite rejection, and continue to believe in the face of failure. So I sacrifice my own personal goals for a greater good. I refuse to become frustrated but will, instead, try to understand that the greatest facilitators of change do not live to see the change they live and often die for. I will hope that others will join my quest to see the bigger picture as often as possible. And I will take each failed attempt as an opportunity to better my path towards the vision I have for our community instead of giving-up. Right now,

I am going to contribute to Artists for Charity. I don’t have much, but I realize how inspired I am with each vote and submission I receive and how each vote and submission inspires others to do the same. I choose to be that which others are for me. In this act, I tap into the oneness which will help us change this world. Today, I see the bigger picture. Do you?


December 15, 2009

A Father Braiding Daughter’s Hair A Labor Of Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 4:40 pm
Tags: , , ,

In a recent post I discussed the negative feedback the Jolie-Pitts were getting about how they were taking care of Zahara’s hair.  Here is an email sent to me about someone else who seems to be doing a good job (All words and pictures are from the email). 🙂

Originally from Ethiopia , Miriam Tigist Green, 4, was adopted by Emory professor Clifton Green and his wife in 2005. This is her hair unbraided, before her father applies his weekly loving touch. His care and attention to detail show mastery of a task few white men ever contemplate.  Dad Clifton and mom Jennifer initially were uncertain what to do with Miriam’s hair after bringing her home.  


   They considered just letting it go, as a sign of freedom. They wanted others to accept her, regardless of her looks.  The couple believed that Miriam’s hair was a strong link to her African roots, so they ultimately chose to neaten it the way they saw in many African-American families.




 Here, Brother Nathaniel tries to get in on the braiding action.  Clifton Green researched the best products to keep Miriam’s hair from drying and breaking. He noticed and copied styles he saw on other kids. With practice, he became skilled. “I had learned to braid rope necklaces in junior high,” he says. “But this is hair, not string.”

At one point, Clifton Green stopped trying new styles on Miriam before church, because haste led to bad hairdos. “We wanted her to know her hair isn’t a burden, but something really wonderful, something beautiful to be celebrated,” her mother says.


 In learning how to take care of Miriam’s hair, the Greens learned that what was at stake was far more than hygiene or looks. Her hair was a litmus test of their parenting.  



Here, half an hour into the braiding process, Miriam lets out a yawn.  “By and large, most whites are oblivious to the cultural minefield young black girls are born into, just by virtue of having hair that doesn’t bounce and behave,” one journalist wrote last year.




This is the drawer in the Greens’ living room that holds all the tools Dad uses to care for Miriam’s hair.




  Miriam had short, patchy hair when Green snapped this photo of her in an Ethiopian orphanage in March 2005.   

 Hair like Miriam’s takes a lot of time and the process of caring for it is also a way for father and daughter to bond. When Clifton Green was little, his own father “made me feel like I had hung the moon,” he says. That’s what Green has always wanted to give his kids.


It’s a little gift he gives her, the little joy of feeling nice and getting good vibes from other people,” Green’s wife, Jennifer, says.

Now there’s a MAN!  White, Black, Green, or Orange , the time and dedications speaks volumes as does all the hair!!!



December 10, 2009

I am Ethiopia

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 11:30 am

I understand that look of your eyes

The nod of your head

The suck of your breath

As you say yes.

The wrinkles in your lips

The curl of your hair

The angle of your neck

As you greet the world.

Your essence is that of

Milk and honey

Swirling cyclone

On my edges

Rugged elegance

Enduring splinters of

Untamed wood

In broken fires

Your hands tell stories

That piece together

Mankind’s telling

And untelling

Your trenches

Contain secrets that

Would unravel

Our feeble mind

From your womb

Was birthed the best

And worst of

God’s creatures

Let your horn sound

For the world to hear

The music

Of eternity


December 1, 2009

Merging My Many Worlds

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 11:41 am
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Musician Kenny Allen who has lived in Ethiopia for 2 years

There is no better glimpse into my culturally mixed life than by opening the cabinets in my kitchen. You will find left over poffertjes (my parents brought this for me from the Dutch grocery store on their recent trip – it was a childhood favorite of mine) in the fridge next to some kibe made in Ethiopia (my roomate’s uncle brought us this a while back.) In the freezer there is some berbere and mitmita. Open the cabinet above the stove and you will find a box of sprinkles that I bought a couple years ago in Wageningen that I eat in small rations to ensure it lasts as long as possible. All of these things are then surrounded by staples of Americana – several boxes of Frosted Mini Wheats and Cinnamon Toast Crunch (there was a sale recently…), a bottle of pancake syrup (that my roommate uses on the Dutch crepes I make for breakfast sometimes), gallon bottles of milk (is America the only place that sells milk in gallon size?), Worchester sauce, Philadelphia cream cheese, and on and on.

I live a mixed up life and I absolutely a-d-o-r-e it. What a gift to have seen so much of the world and to get a chance to pick out the best of each nook to make a part of my daily existence? Food isn’t the only place you catch the different dimensions of my past experience. My jewelry is a mix of silver and gold meskeloch, small silver intricate pieces from Holland, and gaudy over the top costume jewelry that I’ve picked up at Target. My clothing includes good ole sweats and basketball shorts, next to personally tailored Habesha kemisotch, scarfs and boots bought in Germany, and intricately hand embroidered shirts I bought during my short time in Sri Lanka. Decorations in my home include a hand sculpted wood statue from Ethiopia, small mesoboch, and Ethiopian artwork surrounding my Ikea furnishings. Even my speech is frequently a mix of English and Amarigna. Spanish and English mixers have Spanglish and my friends and I have dubbed our speech Englharic.

However, most of the time these mixed combination of objects from different worlds are not used in their traditional intended sense. My Habesha libs or Sri Lankan tops frequently get worn with jeans for a different look. You can wear meskel jewelry anywhere and can instantly be identified as someone from our part of the world. (I always do a double take when I see a non-Habesh wearing meskel jewelry and wonder how they got connected to our world.) I’ve found berbere is actually a pretty good addition to most foods, especially traditional American pasta sauce. Put a bit of Kibe in your scrambled eggs and it adds a whole other level of richness – especially when you eat it on injera with a side of mitmita (but most of you probably knew that one already.) Sometimes when in a hurry I will mix berbere and yogurt and eat it with injera or bread as a quick snack. In speaking to others I found I am not the only one who does this. One of my friends was introduced to the use of sour cream in place of ergo or yogurt with wot. My friend Nolawi not only makes wot in a wok but he has also begun creating hybrid dishes like his westernized twist on Ethiopian meatballs. You can find his recipe here.  It turns out even famous chef Marcus Samuelsson mixes the traditions of different points of his life.  Here he describes what a Thanksgiving meal looks like in his home.  Why this initially surprised me I don’t know.  I should know better by now.

What about you? How do you mix your worlds and experiences? Share your story even if you are not Habesha or are not mixing Habesha things.

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