1984. My first trip to Ethiopia. My first time meeting relatives that are now my brothers and sisters…My first time meeting my maternal grandmother, who was and will always be my absolute heart. After years of only being able to talk for a few seconds whenever the phone lines in Ethiopia were up, I finally got to speak to my grandmother face-to-face and bond with her in person.
I was so confused and distraught by the environment as I pulled into the shanty-town like gates, yet by the time we drove off I didn’t want to leave because it felt like home and it was more full of life and love than any home in the United States. But how so? So much was missing…I remember thinking why does my grandmother live here? She needs to come back with me! What about the glorious rich stories I heard of the latter years? The photos I saw of these beautiful homes and everyone dressed impeccably? The streets paved and lined with beautiful cars? I was too young to understand the impact of the 1974 Red Terror on the country and on the spirit of the people…
I was so young and so innocent and had no clue what it meant to live in a 3rd World country… I remember feeling guilty… It lasted for days… How could we have all that we have back home while so many live without? While, from the looks of things even my blood lived without? I think I spent the first two weeks staring out of the window of my uncles car in disbelief… My mother, pregnant with my brother back home in Oakland, CA would check on me every day and I would smile Big enough for her to hear it so that she wouldn’t worry about me. My 9 year old heart was breaking… Not for my family because I quickly saw that they actually lived wonderfully and were happy and had all that they needed. But for the children I made eye contact with every second of the day while zooming through Addis Ababa staring out the window…
These children looked like me, looked like us… I actually remember one day staring at a woman who sat on the side of the road with two children who was clearly famished and homeless… She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. I even yelled out in the car… “Look!” I made my father and my uncle look out the window to look at her and I said… “Isn’t she beautiful? I can’t believe how pretty she is!” They smiled and said yes… But I could tell by the silence that they were all too familiar with this beauty mixed with sadness…
I mean had she been in New York City she would be a supermodel with millions of dollars, fame and a big beautiful home for her and her children. How could this be? How could it be that in one city this woman is homeless but in another city she could be a famous supermodel? What is wrong with our world?
I found out later that my family was a little worried about me because they could see in my eyes that I was lost in thought most of the trip…they saw that I was trying to process without really asking any questions. To this day I still observe and process the same way: no one knows what I’m actually thinking or experiencing until I’m able to alchemize my feelings and integrate them with my final thoughts. At that point I feel safe to share.
By the end of the trip my entire being was full of light and bliss… I was excited! I had a level of confidence I did not know I was missing. I was so proud to be from this country. The once frightening environment was now a dream land to me. So much freedom. So much joy and laughter, singing and dancing. People feeding each other left and right. The little things were everything to everyone. What a gift I received on this trip. I was humbled & uplifted simultaneously.
In the states I went to a private French school where absolutely no one looked like me and certainly no one’s homes mirrored mine. Up until that trip I felt so confused and sadly less-than at times. But by the time we packed up our suitcases and joined a caravan of cars full of family and music heading to the airport to send my father and I off…I realized my riches.
I will never forget the emotions I experienced that first day and the last. I am so grateful for all of it… I am who I am because of this trip and the trajectory that it set me on.
I remember listening to Nipsey Hussle talk about how his life changed on his first trip to Eritrea with his father and brother…I could see it in his face and I knew exactly what he was talking about and what he was feeling. There’s nothing like smelling and touching the land that your ancestors come from…
I will never forget the emotions I experienced that first day and my last. By the time we had to head back to the States, I knew exactly why my family and others chose to live in Addis Ababa. No longer did I see distressed homes and poverty … rather all I saw was God’s pure joy and gratitude in the faces and homes of everyone there.
This trip was and is the gift that keeps on giving…I am who I am because of it and because of the trajectory that it set me on.
Black History Month begins on the continent. We are all chosen ones that come from a lineage, a history of richness and royalty… my story belongs to all of us.
**The first photo was my last day in Ethiopia. Everyone came to the airport to see us off… We were a cool bunch The last photo was taken in Spring 2022 on my paternal Grandmother’s porch… Surrounded by love and memories I’ll never forget.