There's this place.
Your source place.
It brought you forth, raised you. A country that has woven the fibers of your identity, a city whose ins and outs you maneuver very well. Whose streets and scents you terribly miss, even the funky ones. For a while, it was the only place you knew.
So much about it you love and yet so much about it you loathe. You knew there was more to life and the world, much more than what this place could offer you. The sense of hopelessness you have accepted about it's future will never triumph over the constant nostalgia you are meant to endure for the rest of your life, wherever you go. There would never be any place like it, but you knew it would not be the only place you were meant to experience.
There's this other place you learned to call home. Growing up, you and almost everyone around you fantasized about this promised land overflowing with milk and honey. Prosperity, opportunity, freedom and quality of life were synonymous with it's powerful name. Every person knew of someone who lived there or was desperately trying to. For whoever made it there, a happy ending was a forgone conclusion. It seemed like a machine that took in weary lives and renewed them. Made them better for themselves, their families and even countries.
If it's not evident by now, this is a sentiment most immigrants living in the USA share. Some fled their birth countries out of a genuine fear for their lives, others just seeking a better one than what the odds where they came from would have guaranteed. Whatever the reason, America promised relief. It also seemed to want you too, offered you freedom and growth. Who wouldn't want that?
It didn't take me too long after moving before I faced my rude awakening. Just like I found out the media has the image of starving Ethiopian kids yanking on their mother's deflated breasts stuck in the world's psyche, I realized it had fooled me and my kind too. It would take years but one by one, I'd dismantle the bias about life in the USA. Of course celebrities don't roam the streets, what was I thinking?
Nor has the county's soul healed from a range of demons that affect it's people. Let me leave that to another article and say this. I found a cancerous lifestyle based on a constant mentality of 'more' and fixated on greed, one that favored a minority percentage of rich and famous while the rest of the multitude spent their lives spending money that isn't theirs in the hopes of someday grabbing the dangling gem of the American dream.
That said, I grew well into adulthood here, internalized the message of freedom and my right to pursuit happiness. In the process, I was allowed to make mistakes and still draw another card from the deck. Having come from a country where I was denied the right to vote the very fist year I became of age to cast it, I not only appreciated but marveled at the respect the system here showed my existence, my individuality. Soon, I'd also take for granted the ability to protest and stand on stages to speak my mind with no fear, just like I did the daily warm showers and power that stayed on. I allowed it's culture to sink in and my ever-curious soul flourished. Taboo was redefined to me as just another door that was ok, even worthy to knock on.
The more I refused to stay in the readily available immigrant bubble, the more I assimilated , the more it rewarded me for adapting. Through the good, bad and ugly, this country made me one hell of a better human.
Just like that, I realized I was more of this new place than the one I left behind.
I sealed my love affair by taking a leap and adopting a US citizenship. The reward came almost immediately.
Donald J trump.
My bewilderment, shock and later pure fear when it comes to his rise to power needed an antidote if any of it was to make sense. So I jumped on the task of finding one.
A country with a reputation to take in the "tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free," wasn't going to turn anti-immigrant because a rich egomaniac-reality-star-wanna-be from NYC brought the filth of hate to podiums all over the country, I thought. One of the world's most successful democratic governing systems with a level of narcissism that spelled out as 'do it our way' and touched every corner of the world will not be hijacked by a corrupt few with 'drain the swamp' of a fakery. Checks and balances baby!
Also, the people, I kept soothing myself, ingredients in a melting pot of immigrant uniqueness that takes pride in it's diversity yet strength because of it; they're not about to allow a menacing rhetoric of 'us and the other' spew it's toxins into the united shades of America casserole. They know better!
After all, what can one man do?
Not much, thankfully. I concluded.
I held firmly on to my bet on a grand civil system and the civility of the people it produced. All while America turned it's backs on it's allies while hinting being in bed with leaders whose ideologies could't be farther from it's own long held ones. All while trying to ignore what rather looks like a 'make America white and conservative christian again' movement entrusted to the last person you would vouch for as having christian values. All while that impulsive man with a concerning relationship with the truth declare war on and attack the media. Through every executive order reversing progress, every twitter rant that is slowly setting the tone for how people address one another, every scandal the nation looks past, every heart-wrenching comment section.
What can one man do? I insisted.
Life has a sense of humor and relief came asking for me.
Not from the US Congress or an independent investigative committee but from a country I had deemed hopeless and consecutively abandoned, at least on paper.
The EPRDF, a ruling party with absolute power monopoly for almost three decades and holding the people of Ethiopia shut with an iron fist- had elected a new chairman.
Dr Abiy, 41.
Armored with a shiny resume of impressive achievements in academia and selfless military service; a family man and an eloquent speaker with humility, spirituality and enlightenment enough to heal a nation who's been starved for such a leader. He stepped on podiums and the country kept quiet to listen. A man who emerged from a religious minority and a prosecuted tribe had a message of love, unity, equality, peace and progress. For all. Whoa!
But anyway, what can one man do? I reverted to my logic.
Abiy wasted no time after his election and appointment to be the nation's Prime Minister. He stirred the pot and it was quite a stir. To the disappointment of a dear friend of mine back in Ethiopia, every speech he gave that would make jaws drop was rather feeble in the face of my skepticism.
"See?" I would say to her.
"It's a rotten system from top to bottom, they won't let him do much." "Corruption rules, tribal favoritism has been the low-key rule of law. Most in power have their hands dirty and not just with money but the blood of innocent civilians, they won't sit around and watch him call them out on it, they're not even done sucking the country dry!
Also, the people! There's a long way to go to before mindsets are changed and civility becomes the norm. Most would take his words and twist them to pursuit vigilante justice against the tribe that produced the ruthless ruling party. Most are still fixated on regional grudges and flag design details instead of truly committing to Dr Abiys call for love, unity, self accountability, paradigm shift and forgiveness."
"He's one man, after all."
I held on to my logic. Firmly still.
All while Dr Abiy refused to take time off from taking his message forward. While political prisoners were freed by the thousands and as he rebuked those challenging him. "Domestic terrorism is not opposing the government," he said to them as they stared in amazement, "It's rather the act of torturing civilians in dark rooms because they did."
All while it was impossible to ignore the electrifying optimism and energy of unity pouring out on Ethiopian streets where I only remember seeing bloodshed when the people had the audacity to gather to exercise freedom of exprsssion. All while he extended a historic olive branch to end decades-long war with Eritrea in an emotional display of reunification as sister countries. Let me add it was no photo-op of a summit and he gloated about no commemorative coins.
I had it wrong.
A realization occurred that systems are made to be used and prone to be abused. Institutions designed to manage the lives of people, including the people themselves, can be hijacked by individuals with a range of agendas. (Politics and also religion come to mind)
Depending on the agenda, the timing of the rise and the tools available to a potent individual, change is attained. Change for the better, change for the worse.
An agent is a person or thing that takes an active role or produces a specified effect. I had looked past prominent historic examples of just how powerful agents are. Nelson Mandela and Adolf hitler, two individuals I find it hard to mention in the same sentence, have indeed used or/and abused a system to effect change they believed in. They both succeeded.
It's up to us to choose who we put on up high and allow whose effects to resound on generations to come. I choose to uplift Dr Abiy's light. One can only hope the rise of this timely revolutionary from the least of places expected, will remind the now morally weak and weary of the west. So they don't abandon the timeless values they once firmly stood for and indeed became examples worth envying.
Ethiopia, It's time to lead!