By: Bilen Muleta
Like everything else in my life, my trip to Ethiopia wasn’t planned. My sisters and I talked about going back, never thinking it would happen. But in April 2010, after 19 years, I revisited my birthplace.
When my sisters were busy planning the trip, I was in a daze. My sister would ask me for my input but my answers were usually, “Umm…yeah that’s fine, just plan it and let me know when to show up at the airport.” It wasn’t because I didn’t want to be involved in the most important trip of my life, or that I was too lazy to plan it (maybe a little lazy) but I was just so scared. I figured it was best for them to plan the trip or else, I felt that I wasn’t going to make it on the plane.
In order to understand my fears of going back to Ethiopia, you have to understand what leaving meant.
I had just turned eleven-years-old, I don’t remember when I was told we would be leaving, nor do I remember packing or getting ready for the trip. All I recall is the day we left our house.
The house was full of friends and family, everyone was crying as if there was a funeral. At one point, I remember my father whispering in my ear never to forget him. I didn’t understand why he was saying that. I knew he wasn’t coming with us but I will see him again, right? That’s a different story, so we’ll save it for some other time. I realized after, I don’t know how long, that day was the end of one life and the beginning of another.
Reopening A Chapter In My Life
Going back to Ethiopia after 19 years was reopening a chapter in my life that I have tried not to dwell on. That chapter had been stapled, glued, nailed shut, and placed in a fire safe vault. But now, I was going to have to reopen it.
I said my goodbyes here in the U.S. and boarded the Ethiopian Airlines plane to start my journey. A seventeen hour flight doesn’t make it easy not to think about things but luckily I was traveling with my sisters, my brother and cousins. There were six of us in total, three of us have been to Ethiopia before, and three have not. The entire time I was telling myself, Stop thinking about it, it’s not that serious. Get over it.
After the smooth landing in Addis Ababa, I stood up to look at the city lights when all of a sudden tears started to fall down my cheeks. I was confused. Why am I crying? Is it because I’m glad we landed safely or is it because of where we landed? My eyes were wide open, ready to take in every single detail.
After being cleared by customs and getting our luggage, we started to walk towards the waiting area. I wasn’t sure if I would recognize anyone but after surveying the crowd for less than a second I saw my family with tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces.
Automatically, I recognized every single one of them. My aunts, my parent’s friends, and extended family members, they were all there to welcome us. Again, tears started rolling down my cheeks, but this time I knew the reason why.
I was happy to see everyone, happy to have recognized them all. I realized at that moment that I wasn’t as out of touch as I thought I was.
We reached the parking lot and split into cars where we are then taken to the place we will call home for the next four weeks.
Going inside our old house and unlocking some of the old memories was hard, but not as hard as I had imagined. A couple of tear drops and some sniffles later, I was alright. My memory of the fantasy life I had in Ethiopia as a young girl wasn’t damaged. Even seeing the front porch where my father gave me a present the night before we left wasn’t as bad. It was nice and peaceful.
Memories shouldn’t be locked up in a fire safe vault. They should be kept in your heart and visited often.
Once we settled, we realized our family had made us dinner. Then, the arguments started between the women.
“We made dinner already so let’s eat,” my aunt said.
“No, WE made dinner too, so why don’t we go to my place and eat?” my mother’s friend replied.
Pure Love, that’s all I can think of when I listen to them. All of this, for us. They took time out of their busy schedule to get ready for us…and so more tears!
‘…if I don’t belong in Ethiopia and I don’t really belong in the U.S., then what is there for me?’
People have told me that it will take me at least two weeks to start enjoying the country. They also told me not to expect anything, that things are much different now than they were 19 years ago. I honestly didn’t think I would like being there, I just knew it was something that I had to do.
In the mornings we would wake up and drink fresh coffee and sit on the front porch. Since the house was gated, we had privacy. I forgot how nice it was to have a gate and Privacy! After coffee, we were ready to go to town. My first thought was, wow, I am amongst my people. But like I’ve been told before leaving the U.S., it really did take me two weeks to get used to the country. Not because of the reasons they gave me which included sights of poverty and horrendous traffic but because of my homesickness and issues I experienced with communicating to my own people… Continue