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

January 4, 2010

Who Am I?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 11:11 am
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Figure 1

Whether you call it Hookah, Shisha, waterpipe, or whatever it’s a trend that has taken over the country.  I remember how a friend once told me how years ago he almost got arrested for having one because his roommate thought he was doing drugs.  He had to show his roommate and the cops online documentation to prove it was a tobacco smoking device.  This was hilarious because he is the last person on this earth who would ever touch illegal drugs.  The Habesh community has been familiar with this device for many years, though.  As ingrained as it is in parts of our culture – you can imagine it is not the healthiest activity.  Here is a piece written by my friend Lewholum Apothecarian, a person in advanced studies to enter the health care field, on the effects of Shisha smoking:

Well I go by many names: shisha, hookah, nargile, narguileh or ghalyun but just refer to me as a tobacco waterpiping system that is the most efficient – cost effect, time effect, and potent- way to obtain nicotine in the world! It is human nature to look for the biggest bang for a buck, so for all you tobacco smokers -think about your friendly waterpipe! Well, why am I so good? I am able to us my amazing waterpiping technology to provide you with about 100 to 200 times of inhalable smoke than any cigarette may provide (1). So what does that really mean? Well I can assure to give you about 2.96 mg of nicotine (only 1.74 mg in a cigarette), 145 mg carbon monoxide (only 17.3 mg in a cigarette), and 802 mg of “tar” (only 22.3 mg in cigarette) as research at Virginia Commonwealth University have conducted (2). No wonder I am referred to as a “social activity,” I provide you so much you might as well share (3).

              So how do I work? You put the tobacco product on my head (Figure 1) then cover with aluminum, than add ignited charcoal onto of the aluminum. (You might find that there are “herbal shisha” with no tobacco nor nicotine but it is highly unlikely you will encounter these products in your local stores). With your inhalation, the pressure depletion will lead to the triple layer interaction of the charcoal, aluminum, and tobacco; which will lead in the metallic tasting product of carbon monoxide and other cancer causing chemicals to be drawn towards you. But no worries, as this metallic taste can be masked with a wide variety of flavorings (2). I have found the mint flavor goes well with the carbon monoxide and recommend the apple flavor to take care of the metallic taste.

              See, the key to my proficiency is the natural water at the bottom of the waterpipe. It has been set forth that our bodies can only handle a certain amount of nicotine before we feel nauseated thus restricting the amount of cigarettes that we inhale. See my magnificent set up reduces the concentration of nicotine in the inhaled smoke thus enabling us to inhale so much more of the “triple layer (2).”

              I just want to leave you with the thought that research has not linked any respiratory or cardiovascular problems with me compared to the many other alternative tobacco products. Although little research has been conducted on me, I assure you that with my providing 36 times the tar and 8.4 times the carbon monoxide at one sitting, you will not be on the good side of the data curve in future scientific case studies. I cannot let you light me up, if I do not recommend the use of an individual mouthpiece to reduce sexually transmitted disease. Then again, it is worth noting that no proof has directly shown me as a cooperate in any sexually transmitted disease circulating in society.

In conclusion, please review all the links I have provided to you and make your own decision if I am the best way to consume tobacco products for you.

1                    World Health Organization Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation, “Waterpipe Tobacco Smoking: Health Effects, Research Needs and Recommended Actions by Regulators”, World Health Organization, 2005,

2                    Shihadeh & Saleh (2005) Food & Chemical Toxicology Vol. 43(5).


Additional Reading and videos


September 1, 2009

Looking for “Home”: Experienced By More Than the Habesha Diaspora (Part 2)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 4:38 pm
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Reply to:
Subject: A split mentally
Date: Tue, 4 Mar 2003 21:11:28 -0500

As your sister I find it extremely easy for me to relate to your situation…
I moved to Georgia the same time you did, but for some reason my experience in high school caused me to think greatly in the direction that you are as well. When I lived in Miami, I feel like I was in the prime of my life, not because I was young, and had a blast, but just as a person. I was ignorant to the problems of the world and the issues of culture mixing. You know what they say it is sooooo much better to be ignorant. But I feel this ignorance brought me peace and clarity. While living in Miami, I am sure you can attest to this, we fit in. I never thought about how well we fit in until I didn’t fit-in in Georgia. We were all just from Miami and we all shared similar cultures. We all kissed each other to great one another no matter where you were from, and everyone understood us when we would talk about our families, or how we would celebrate our holidays (we spend new years with our family).

Yes it was beautiful to live in ignorance. Now after living in Georgia for five year (I can’t believe it has been so long, I need to get out) and go back to Miami, I notice things that I had never noticed before; and this highly perturbs me. When I walked into (NAME’s) house this Christmas, the first thing I remember thinking, “her house is sooooo Mexican”. Why hadn’t I realized this before? Is it better that I notice now, and realize her cultural differences? or was it better that I never noticed and just said she was my friend that I would bike ride with?

I guess, unlike other places in the states, Miami has created its own culture, which tends to be quite lending and comfortable to Latinos. Allowing immigrants or first generation Americans claim a culture with out the need to stick to their own. The solid lines that are drawn in other places I think are due to ones comfort level with the mainstream culture. Latins feel comfortable (at home) in the mainstream culture in Miami. This also explains why so many of my “gringo” friends from palmetto have moved north of Miami to places such as Palm Beach… because they were not feeling comfortable in the mainstream culture.

This explanation can also be used to analyze relationships…

Although I feel that living in Georgia has corrupted my mind, I would never give this experience up. Why you ask? It is because I was placed out of my element… dropped into a situation with nothing comforting, nothing recognizable. And when I say nothing, I mean NOTHING. When you are challenge with differences, whether it be in culture, food, morals, political views, that is when you define yourself the most. When the most contrast if visible and you mold yourself to how you want to be or just simply make modifications. As a person you become stronger and more knowledgeable about why you think the way you think and the positives and negatives to how you are.

You are having yourself discovery period in nyc, while I have been having it in UGA. I have learned great things about myself and of others, and why these southerners are soooo weird. I say learn, learn as much as possible, bc not only does it widen your horizons but it makes you stronger.

Finally, to touch on the subject of relationships. Yes we do tend to flock to our own, and why? Because that is where we feel comfortable, that is where we feel home. Why do you think you feel so comfortable around people you can speak Spanglish to without thinking twice on if they are going to understand? Maybe bc that is what we speak at home. Why do you think I liked dating (Name)? it felt like home… so much like home sometimes I felt like I was turning in to mom…wanting to cook some gnocchi and take care of him. When you meet that special person, not always, but most of the time you will want to marry someone similar to you bc you tend to feel comfortable and homey in those situations. Don’t you want to feel like “home” when you start a family?
When it comes to learning about other cultures… living in the language community I see others doing this quite often. open minded Georgians fall in love with the Latin culture and completely immerse themselves in it. All these girls have all dated Latino men, and the only Latina, me, is the only one who hasn’t. funny, huh? I commend these girls, bc they are trying to broaden their world, but I truly feel they will never fully grasps the culture completely. They were not raised in the same situations, speaking Spanish, with the same morals, or culture. No matter how much you read about it or speak about it, they will never reach it. living it is completely different than learning it.

in conclusion… as your advice: learn, learn and become strong and confident in who “you” are, then don’t worry about the rest, bc you will know when your person comes along, no matter where he is from or what he looks like, just as long as you can see “home” with him.

hope it makes sense…

Looking for “Home”- Experienced by More Than the Habesha Diaspora (Part 1)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 4:27 pm
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Because the question around “who am I” have been my companions since leaving Ethiopia at age 4.  Since that point whether we were fighting or they were consoling me these questions have been my constant companions.  These are things I thought about often and when I found others who who related to this sense of homelessness it was a breath of fresh air. Recently I found such an interaction I had by email in 2003.  A friend who is half Italian and half Venezuelan (she was an undergrad college kid at the time) forwarded me an email between her and her older sister. Does this sound familiar to you at all? The first half was written by the older sister and the second half (which I will put in a follow up post) was written by my friend:

Subject: A split mentally
Date: Tue, 4 Mar 2003 21:11:28 -0500

Below is something I wrote…I was just thinking and decided to put my
thoughts on paper…I’m curious to know how all of you feel as well….

I overheard a friends saying that she went to South America and experienced something she has never experienced before. Mind you, I have been going to Venezuela ever since I was a baby, so I was quite interested to see what she would say. It’s ironic to have a servant do everything for you but very nice at the same time. I know it’s demeaning, but it was nice not having to make my bed, clean my clothes, or get a drink of water before bed time because there was always one waiting for me it was nice being served. I questioned myself and realized that I to had the same experience when I went to Venezuela but never suspected it was weird.

I was speaking to a friend of mine from Yemen about finding a companion. So I explain to him that there are certain qualities that I look for in a man. To my surprise he could not relate since back home he is not allowed to date, instead the perfect mate would be found for him by his family. This young man has had the opportunity to study in the United States, and he has had to mold his lifestyle to live like an American. He has changed the way he dresses, the way he speaks, and the way he lives he does not wear the clothing, he does not bow down and pray at the temple 5 times a day, and he speaks to women! Quite shocked, I learned that in Yemen men do not speak to other Muslim women (with exceptions-sisters and mothers). When I asked him if he would like to marry here or in Yemen, he said back home. But why?

We that live in the US live in a very diverse environment, surrounded by cultures and languages from around the world, gifted with the ability to learn firsthand about how life is elsewhere. But does this awareness separate us? Does it cause us to question ourselves, our morals, our teachings, whom we are and where we come from?

I am Venezuelan-Italian, born and raised in the United States, brought up in a Catholic Church with Catholic morals and teaching and yet with such definition, I still face uncertainty. Being able to travel and grow up in diverse societies, has allowed me to learn about my culture and the ones that surrounded me. But it has also caused me to question myself and my surroundings. The more I see and experience, the more I separate myself from what I was brought up to be. I am neither Venezuelan or Italian or American, I have lived differently, think differently, and have grown up differently therefore I am a mixture and then some! Exposure and knowledge has allowed me to live beyond my barriers and feel the separation that I live amongst.

I currently live in New York, the big apple, the city of the world where everywhere you turn there is a different language being spoken. But then you see groups, defined groups of culture, language, color and lifestyle- is it fear of experiencing something new or is it the fear of losing oneself?

As animals, we tend to be attracted to beings that are similar to ourselves, meaning we tend to be attracted to someone that was raised like us, same social level, and the same ethnic background it’s just a lot more simplistic, more comfortable, and less chance of being rejected from society. So, back to the previous question; is it fear of experiencing something new or is it the fear of losing oneself?

But wouldn’t it be great to learn something totally new, learn how others think, feel, and live? Wouldn’t it be nice to share ones uniqueness with another unique being, be totally intrigued about all the differences that both of you posses? It’s an adventure, a discovery of another soul, a learning experience, discovering a beauty in someone else totally different from you. We all have different ways of thinking, different ways of how life should be; which is influenced greatly by our surroundings. So wouldn’t it be a great challenge to learn about this difference and still be able to care and love someone totally opposite of you? But wouldn’t this also be very difficult to accomplish?

I was told that one never stops learning, and that is how I want it to be. Life should be a learning experience and what would be the best teaching is to understand someone else. We are complex animals; scientist cannot even figure us; therefore that would be the greatest challenge of them all. It’s good to try different foods, travel to new places, talk to different people and live an adventure.

So don’t you think that living in such a diverse environment has made it a lot more difficult for us to find people or that one person that suites us? Life just becomes confusing, do I stick with what I know or do I try something new?

I think the best solution in any kind of relationship is to love that person entirely, as a whole not only in pieces

PS: Please reply I would like to know what you think?

August 31, 2009

Sample Writing

Just for discussion, inspiration, etc. I thought people could share work they have done in the past. These are just for sharing and will not be considered for the book (those will need to be formally submitted.) Book submissions of course do not have to be exactly like pieces here:

Here is a piece written by my sister Liya:

ethio kids on stage


Habeshannete Kurate- on being Ethiopian
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 8:56pm

My colors bleed together
behind this distorted glass
a dimension of my self
stuffing towels into cracks
to fend off shinkurt, berbere
until it is time to feast on
“Erre”… “ewa!”
no licking fingers at this table
no singing at this table
no eating alone at this table
No one left behind
at this table
decorated in elaborate Meskeloch
a luxury woven into everyday
jewelry, hats, shirts, bedsheets, art
You musn’t forget Egzihaber Yimesgen
Until the cross burns a place in you
You see the cross at the road between
here and there pointing with all its fingers
Left and Right and Heaven and Hell
Egzihaber Yirdachu, Ye Hagere Lijoch
They will dance a place into eternity
Laugh and praise their way into history
Break bread
at a Crossed place

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