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

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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