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Expat Ethiopians reflect on the sounds and smells of home

The ties that bind expatriate Ethiopians to their home country dominated the Ethiopian blogosphere over the past few weeks.

Ethiopians living in the US, Europe and Asia came up with a series of emotional posts, exploring childhood memories, local food, music and the broader subject of national identity.

Tobian started by reflecting on The Namesake, a film about an American-born son of Indian immigrants to the US.

Tobian found many parallels with his own experience in the US which he set out in the post Namesake:

Sometimes I feel like I have multiple personalities. One that I have with Americans, another one that I have with immigrants in America and finally my personality with Ethiopians, the last one being the closest to the real me. I'm not deceiving nor fabricating, it's just that I know limitations of my interaction with these different groups, and that's OK by me. But sometimes I realize that my interactions almost seem like work, like I have to actively monitor my boundaries, I am acutely aware of what fits in their world views and not.

Yemi, the writer behind the blog Don't eat my Buchela is an Ethiopian woman living with her family in China. She described her efforts to get her baby son into traditional Ethiopian music in My Son, My Ethiopian Music, Myself:

Traditional Ethiopian music is an acquired taste.

If you didn't grow up with it, the first time you hear it, you are not going to say “wow, I gotta get me some of that!”

With that in mind, I am on a mission to ensure that Buchela acquires the taste for Ethiopian music through daily brainwashing sessions of videos via You Tube.

He loves sitting on my lap and watching the singers and dancers on my computer.

Today, I am putting up our current favorite “Alem Alemye”. There are days when this song puts knots in my stomach.

Bernos, another Ethiopian in America, talked about his deep attachment to sound of the Washint, a traditional wooden flute, in A Washint Melody!:

I love the Washint, because it reminds me the green mountainous pastured grounds of south western Ethiopia… The zema of the Washint, I have always associated with the highlands of Ethiopia, it’s a deep mystical soothing sound. It gives me the sensation of calmness; it reminds me of Ethiopia’s Arbegnoch. Now that I think about it, I think I must somehow have associated it as the background music of those old documentary videos I saw on ETV.

Bernos was back again, describing a moving encounter with a fellow countryman working in Zurich airport in A friend anywhere:

He was very sweet. He was so happy to see another Ethiopian and so proud. He told me about his wife and kids and how he's planning on moving back to Addis for good; how he used to be a runner and about life in Switzerland and the Ethiopian community there. After awhile he said he had to get back to work so he left me to finish my coffee and pointed out where I can use the internet. I sat there for awhile thinking about the kindness of our people and our culture. More often than not I make a note of how my culture conflicts with my lifestyle rather than what it adds to it.

Ethiopia Encyclopedia completed the circle by describing the feeling of returning to Ethiopia from the US in Good Morning Addis!:

I am finally here. Good morning Gunfo! Good morning Addis Ababa! Good morning the best tasting coffee in the world! Good morning the biggest baked bread in the world!

Ahhhhhh! I can finally exhale; and my breathe can mix with Addis Ababa's air. It was such a struggle, making the decision to move here for a personal informal education, school (MA in Ethiopian Studies at AAU) and work. The process of convincing my family and myself at times (a two year process) that the risk (of being robbed in Merkato, dying of Malaria, receiving a poor education, being arrested by the government, having my hand eaten off by a lion, etc.) was worth my time exhausted my eagerness to come. I was falling into indifference; and how dangerous is the feeling of indifference. It wasn't until my flight to Ethiopia that my spirit was renewed.

  • Mamitu

    Aye Andrew,

    You are home sick too, you have got to admit.

  • Bulgew1

    Two notes of personal experience to add. The first is that of an Ethiopian music and cultural festival in Richmond ( a district of London) on a beautiful summer day a few years back. A traditional Ethiopian band was performing on stage with the Washint leading the melody. I turned to one side to observe a fellow Ethiopian, deeply engrossed in his memories with his tears streaming down his cheeks.

    The second is that of my own trip back home for the first time after 30 years living in Europe. For some 6 months before my trip, I went through feelings of deep anxiety, fear, happiness, etc. When I landed at Bole and exchanged the first words with a baggage porter at the airport, I knew instantly that I was HOME! amongst my PEOPLE and wondered why I felt so anxious.

    Since that first trip in early 2003, I’ve been back to Ethiopia 8 times and longing to settle there for good.

  • I am habesha, born in Saudi, invited to America by my mother who is a serious coffee advocate. All I can think about is the quality time I would spend with her as she would recount her childhood days while she made Buna.

    Naturally I wrote about it in a song and that is the song that people gravitate to..”BUNA”

  • I have seriously considered repatriating and enjoy the LONG 24 hour days that we have.

  • i really enjoyed this. having spent the holidays in ethiopia, even i can attest to the wonderful, intoxicating smells of the country. and man i miss their coffee. the best by far.

  • Ez

    There is nothing like returning. I returned after 21 years in 2005 and then got the opportnity to return agian in 2007 as I was at a conference in Aruhsia. Both visits were wonderful and one is automatically at home. The diaspora is constantly subject to negative perspectives of the homeland. As an academician, I must say that “intelectuals” constantly use Ethiopia as an example of a case study of failure, hopelessnes etc. What these intelectuals publish and promote in their classrooms, tends to rub off on the diaspora. Every time, I have returned to Ethiopia, I realize how much this “intelectual junk”, Africanists, International relations experts, social scientists etc are doing injsutice to our people.

  • I have been returning back and forth for the last 5 years, and the more i see it the more I am convinced that I am wasting my precious life abroad feeling like an alien and rightly or wrongly not enjoying life. But how ever much i feel practically prepared, I am still unable to win the psychological war waged by the mostly negative Diasporas. sorry for being naive but I have to say most of the negative terror stories happens to be from friends who happen to have Eritrean origin or eritreans…any advice would be appreciated.

  • Pingback: Thoughts of some who returned to Ethiopia « International Adoption Reader()

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