The Ethiopian Diaspora and consciousness. By Yilma Bekele

September 18th, 2014 Print Print Email Email

The Bay Area that currently is home away from home for thousands of Ethiopians is nothing like any other place that I have known. I was born in a small village on the southern part of Ethiopia and have resided in Addis Abeba, Oregon and Seattle Washington before moving here. The Bay Area is unique. I thank the Gods and celebrate my luck whenever I have a chance.

The place where I originated from is not known for such movement of people from one location to another. As much as I remember the majority of the people I know were born, grew up and die within a few miles of their home. A trip to the next town a few miles away was talked about days from departure. My journey to America was definitely a mind boggling experience and by any stretch of the imagination not an understandable act by most of my family and neighbors for the period I came to America.

The same thing cannot be said today. As I drive to go to work every day the sight of elderly Ethiopian mothers and grandmothers walking down Telegraph avenue, gray haired grandfathers sitting outside Pete’s coffee, taxi drivers silent greetings from the next lane is always a welcome sight to start the day. It looks like no one is left at home. They are all here. They make me feel at home.

Of all the places I have lived it is the Bay Area that gives me a sense of belonging and the absence of that feeling of being stranger in a new land. This is so because this corner of the world is where the world comes to prove that American concept of ‘the melting pot’ phenomena. No one asks you ‘where are you from?’ in the Bay Area. There is a restaurant for every food type, a worship place for any religion, a market for all ethnic product and court appointed translator for any language of your choice.

If you have a relative coming to the US from the remotest corner of Ethiopia, please send them to the Bay Area where they can be made to feel at home In no time. Chances are he/she will find someone from the same village to welcome them and remove that feeling of fear and anxiety as they say in a ‘New York minute’ and that is faster than a blink of an eye.

This experience probably can be said of most metropolitan areas where we congregate due to abundance of jobs and that sense of comfort we get when we are with each other. This situation of finding ourselves in a faraway place although not out of choice has also got a silver lining where good can be harvested from the bad situation. Our elderly parents get to spend the last days of their life with their children and grandchildren and experience a dignified living. We have a choice of schools to go to and there is no limitations on what we want to achieve in life. From what I can see it is fair to conclude we are one hard working people that excel in the professions we choose.

Is it fair to ask what else do we learn during our stay in this land? We definitely learn the value of hard work and honest living. We also notice the wonderful way the different cultures manage to live in peace and harmony without sacrificing their uniqueness. Respect for others and show of empathy to those that find themselves in challenging situation is a lesson we cannot avoid. Any time there is a natural catastrophe anywhere in the world we see people giving what they could, being stressed to no end and going out of the way to help. Most of the time they don’t even know where the heck the location is but that does not stop them from wanting to help.

The news that has been in the headlines the last few days is the trouble two football players are in for a behavior not appreciated in this time and age. One was caught hitting his fiancé and another was charged for disciplining his young son in a harsh manner. How the incidents were dealt with by society is what I want to focus on. It looks like folks were not happy to witness such behavior from individuals that have attained success in the field they choose. The damage to the victims in my opinion does not seem long lasting but what bothered people was the fact that it took place. Both victimizers took responsibility for their transgressions and by the time the news came out they have made peace with their prey.

What I noticed was the civilized way the ugly situation was dealt with society in general. Some wanted harsh punishment to be administered but it was not the general consensus. The overwhelming desire was to use the occasion as a teachable moment and shine a bright light on domestic violence and the issue of discipline and the role it plays in raising our children. The discussion that is ongoing at the moment is doing great service that could help avoid such behavior to be acceptable and that would not be tolerated in the future. The fiancé and the little boy were the immediate victims but society reacted as if the crime was committed against all. They showed empathy and identified with the hurt feeling of the two victims.

Today there are calls for the two teams to punish the football players. There is also a consorted move to force their corporate sponsors to disassociate themselves from the two clubs until appropriate action is taken. The commissioner of the football federation is hanging by his finger nails and there is a strong possibility he might lose his job. Politicians such as the Governor of the State and Senate representative are calling for suspension. As you can clearly see it is all about taking responsibility for one’s action and paying the price when one comes short of expectations. That is why I said earlier every cloud has a silver lining. Out of this ugly situation something good is being born in front of our eyes.

I brought this up because it is a perfect example for us Ethiopians to learn the concept of ‘I am my brother’s keeper’ and that it is my business to protect those that get hurt due to circumstances beyond their control. It is not considered meddling in people’s affair but shielding the weak and the poor from the rich and strong. Tell me my Ethiopian brethren do you see a situation where such injustice occurs on a daily basis in our old country? Can you tell me the reaction of those that are in a position to right that which is wrong but washed their hands like Pontius Pilate?

That is what the Roman governor of Judea did when they brought Jesus to face justice. He did not want to crucify Jesus thus it is said that he washed his hands in front of the mob and declared ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood, it is your responsibility.’ Sounds and looks familiar don’t it? How so you might ask?
I will go over it slowly. There is no rule of law in our land. The government currently in power uses coercion to stay in power. There are no democratically elected officials anywhere in our country. All affairs of the government is run by a few individuals recruited from a single ethnic group. Simply put the system can be defined .my way or the highway.’ Thus logically any decision taken by the few with gun is always meant to help perpetuate the group’s self-interest. Anybody working closely, associated with such organization accepts the dictates and rules set by those in power.

Today the regime that is misgoverning our country collects money from the Diaspora we mentioned earlier by peddling illegally acquired products. It is not only luxury items that are being exported to collect dollars but basic necessities that are crucial for the survival and well-being of our people. We their children that have managed to escape from this misery are the consumers of such products. When we purchase Teff that is stolen from our people’s mouth, when we drink Beer that is exported to get dollars when we fly Ethiopian Airlines that is the personal bank of TPLF we are making a choice like Pontius Pilate. One can wash ones hand but it is not easy to wash ones conscious.

Why do you think these Americans went up in arms due to a conflict between individuals in a family setting? Simply put unlike us they do not place bad deed on a scale to balance one evil with another. Evil is judged all by itself for the damage it does to one or many. The average person does not require a cue from others to respond. They seem to have acquired this ability to make up their own mind without checking with their neighbors and friends.

That is why we do not meet someone making excuse for the transgressor. That is why they do not come up with such pathetic line like 1) If I don’t go to the game the venders will be laid off 2) If I boycott my team will suffer 3) If I don’t buy ticket my home team will go bankrupt etc. etc. That is called abdicating responsibility to challenge evil where ever it rears its ugly head.

That is why it is absolutely baffling to see those that escaped from prison helping the evil warden to keep their family and friend back behind bars. We came over here to experience life to the fullest by living in peace, raising a family and live without fear. We acquire knowledge and pick new habits from our generous hosts. Do you notice a number of us fail to absorb that beautiful quality called empathy, which simply means the presence of mind to care for others that are not fortunate like us.

It does not mean there is smoothing terribly wrong with us. There are many explanations for our failure to care. It could be lack of education, may be the result of tumultuous upbringing we went thru during the dread Derg period and the backward culture that is hindering our thinking process. Those are all excuses and do not absolve us of our indifference to the plight of our people.

As we witness the American public is using different means to force change in the behavior of the team, the individuals and society in general. They are forcing the politicians to intervene, pressuring the sponsors to lean on the football league and the teams to do what is right if they want their money and love. All are paying attention. That is the power of the people in all its glory.

I hope this is a teachable moment for us Ethiopians regarding the use of our economic power to bring change to our beautiful land and people. It is the responsibility of each one of us to teach by example. It is our duty to patiently explain to our friends and family the importance of personal responsibility and the satisfaction of doing something good. I will come back to this subject over and over again. It is too important not to be done. I have no vested interest more than any one of you but I thought may be if I act as your conscious sooner or later you will pay attention and do the right thing. I know you are capable of that my beautiful cousin. Our country and people are waiting for you to act.

  1. Dawi
    | #1

    Yelma said:

    [[..What I noticed was the civilized way the ugly situation was dealt with society in general…]]

    As Aristotle pointed out, only a wealthy society with few citizens living in poverty can look at “ugly situation” you are taking about in a “civilized way”. We don’t have the luxury for such neo-liberal wishful thinking at this juncture in our country.

    Ethiopia’s situation is different; it is the opposite of where you reside. Given the group inequality and social insatiability we are in circumstances similar to natural disaster areas that require rapid decision making ability with most likely less liberty. “Democracy” may not even be viable in the disastrous situation we find ourselves in.

    Under such conditions speedy economic development is the only game we can play. The economic development unites everyone as proved by the Asian Tigers. Such “developmental states” won’t tolerate foolish squabbles of hundreds of parties that prevent the country from fighting the big enemy poverty.

  2. Andaregachew
    | #2

    Yilma, is Ethiopia Airlines is a personal bank of TPLF? We heard such type of false allegation and boycott campaign repetitively but on ground Ethiopian airlines is performing well in terms of profit and fleet expanstion. why?Because it is not Ethiopian people demand.EAL is a property of Ethiopia ppl under majesty,derge and current govt. .I do not know why Ginbot 7 hate EAL.

  3. Californian
    | #3

    The writer said “If you have a relative coming to the US from the remotest corner of Ethiopia, please send them to the Bay Area where they can be made to feel at home In no time.” I say they made feel at home if they are into sexual immorality or homeless living. I no longer don’t wish anyone to start life in America in the Bay Area. Currently Bay Area happen to have the most expensive cities to live in like San Francisco (3rd expensive City in US) and San Jose (4th expensive City in US). Even the other cheaper cities like Oakland are filled with crime and ghettos. The homeless epidemic and the income inequality is making the bay area hardest place while transitioning. Affording necessities is unbearable for most Ethiopians,not to mention the discrimination in race and sexuality they face in finding jobs. Sexual immorality is exercised openly in Bay Area. Many young people choose to become successful by practicing sexual immorality at work places and at charity places while transitioning to bay area. The The Ethiopian Community and Cultural Center (ECCC) is sending newly arrived DV winners to a church funded soup kitchens and homeless shelerrs if their sponsor decides to stop supporting them. If they are under certain age they might be placed in hostel type establishments that give dormitories. many young Ethiopians are suffering from cultural shock and identity crisis. More than a decade ago there was an Ethiopian Community center in San Francisco which houses Ethiopian immigrants but it closed down after the death of Mulugeta Degefa the manager at the Hilton Hotel and manager of San Francisco’s Ethiopian Community Center. For these reasons and more I disagree with the writer on suggesting people to come to the Bay Area. Even the Orthodox Church in Oakland is under scrutiny for allegations of being manipulated by the few wealthy Bay Area residents which funded the purchase of the new church building. The majority Orthodox followers are blaming the priests for only serving the rich and ignoring the poor for any issue that requires guidance of a religious leader. I went to one of the Ethiopian dance club owner person who donated to the purchasing fund of the church to ask him to advocate on my behalf to get family counciling from the priests, the club owner asked me “whose breed(Zer) I am from?”. I left his establishment and I did not return until his dance club closed down during the current recession.

    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Homeless-Outreach-Team-cuts-back-regroups-to-do-5754599.php

    http://www.businessinsider.com/the-jungle-largest-homeless-camp-in-us-2013-8?op=1

    http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/sf-spends-1657-million-on-homeless-but-its-still-not-enough/Content?oid=2730887

    http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/08/08/oakland-dreamcatcher-homeless-shelter-for-teenagers-slated-to-close-as-landlord-seeks-to-sell-property/

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/10-most-expensive-places-to-live-in-the-u-s–163648923.html

  4. Tesfaye
    | #4

    I agree with Californian on what he said regarding Bay Area being the last place anyone should wish to move to without a reliable financial and emotional security. It could be such a lonely and ugly life filled with uncertainity for most new comers. Very few Ethiopians purchase their home compared to any other parts of the US. Most people rent places for very expensive prices living pay check to pay check with no savings. The San Francisco Housing Authority stopped accepting applications since 2010. Most bay Area affordable housing buildings stopped accepting applications due to the overwhelming number of people that are on waiting list for decades not housed yet. Food stamp is not enough to afford the bay area price of food,work is scarce foreigners/black might have to work twice as much as the natives do just to get by.The only way some Ethiopians got to manage gas stations and parking lots or own clubs is buy denouncing their manhood and bending over to the San Francisco tycoons. Nowadays due to the high number of Ethiopians in the bay Area I don’t think turning homo makes an Ethiopian successful anymore . With all the homeless Ethiopians and the crazy panhandler Ethiopians roaming bay area we are not being seen any different than the Fergusson,missouri looters.

  5. yilmab
    | #5

    Dear Ato Dawi I thank you for making yourself clear for a change. I also knew where you stood but this comment makes it very clear that your and your TPLF buddies are most certainly influenced by no other than George Orwell of Animal Farm. In that classical story Orwell used animals to satire the Stalinist philosophy of the time and wrote ‘All animals are created equal but some (pigs in his case) are created more equal than others.’ If we translate that to present day Ethiopia it will go “All Ethiopians are created equal. But some Ethiopians (Tigrai in this case) are more equal than others. Thus since we are poor and we ‘have no luxury for such neo-liberal wishful thinking at this juncture in our country.’ we will let the few decide for us and hope and pray. Not a valid point nor a good idea is it? Shouldn’t we all work together so we can transform our country to be like the ‘Asian Tigers’ u seem to be enamored with or you think this idea of involving everyone as equal is a messy proposal. As for your two other buddies that seem to blabber about something they do not seem to be equipped to give a testimony all I could say is it is your regular garden variety Woyane stupidity of throwing everything hoping it will confuse people and change the subject. Mr Californian you seem to have rudimentary understanding of America may I suggest you study a little bit more and find out how people choose where they live. I am sure every place have its problems but the Bay Area you are writing about may be exists in your imagination because I have lived here for a while and I have not even met one Ethiopian being sent to a soup kitchen. If your story is true I do not see any problem with that since we all fall on hard times and it is due to those people that work hard organizing places like that to help people stand on their two feet. There is no shame in that is there? As for morality shame on you trying to dictate to people how they live their life and being judgmental against those that have allowed your sorry ass to come over and explore the possibilities. leave that kind of negative behavior with your Woyane masters, over here tolerance, love and peaceful coexistence is celebrated and anger, finger pointing and rude does not have a place. Regarding Tesfaye my question is stiffen your back and aim higher. If you go to school, acquire a good profession and earn good salary you can buy a house anywhere. Of course you can purchase a trailer and move to Mississippi and save a lot of money but I am afraid you will miss on a lot of the good life that comes from living in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and San Jose. I sound like the chamber of commerce but show me any place with such celebrated universities like Berkeley, Stanford and University of San Francisco where leading edge research in all fields is carried out and they are open to all on merit basis not on ethnic origin or lineage. Leave you old worn out thinking behind your little village, stop telling lies and unfounded tall tales and best of all if you have nothing important to say silence is the best medicine. All I could say is why me? You are forcing me to reply to such idiotic and baseless rant, but I just cant such stupidity and ignorance go. With that kind of mentality and foul mouth I guarantee you the Bay Area is not a place for such close minded person. May I suggest a trip back to Dedebit.

  6. Dawi
    | #6

    [[Dear Ato Dawi I thank you for making yourself clear for a change. I also knew where you stood but this comment makes it very clear that your and your TPLF buddies are most certainly influenced by no other than George Orwell of Animal Farm. ..]]

    Dear Yelma,

    I don’t what you mean by “your TPLF buddies” because I don’t know them but my opinion is just based on my assessment of events.

    As I mentioned to you in the other thread, we know TPLF/EPRDF came to power by military conquest. In 2001 TPLF split took place and Meles became fully in charge then that is after the end of Ethio-Eritrea war; in 2005 a brutal crack down of the opposition took place; since then EPRDF started seriously implementing The “authoritarian” developmental state of Ethiopia in line with the “Asian Tigers”.

    Unlike you, I am not impressed by Looking at only who started with what. I think you’ are focusing too much on the little pie that “Tigreans” have rather than recognizing the country is huge and it is just beginning; the bigger pie is not touched yet.

    Majority and minority issue is important in my opinion but is not the only indicator of fairness. A good example is how majority South Africa started with “successful transition to democracy” on the other hand Rwanda started with a “a minority military dictatorship”. Who do you think is going in the right direction today? ……The same with Kenya Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria etc that go through the motion of “democracy” [All Ethiopia Tikdem type of democracy] but such rituals are just that.

    I call such “democracies” a Neo liberal crap with no substance to hold on to.

  7. Getaw
    | #7

    Abugida
    Why didn’t you post my response to Californian and Tesfaye? Is that because my response is rude? You do not see the rudeness of the two individuals when insulting the whole community as sexual worker. You felt mine ruder when I directed to two individuals. What kind of judgement is that? አዎ የግል ሲሆን ያንገበግባቹሃል:: የህብረተሰባችን በጠያፍ ስራ በጅምላ ያውም በሃስት ሲወነጀል እንደ ጥሩ ሃሳብ ትለጥፋላችሁ:: አይ ማመዛዘን!!

  8. jeelu
    | #8

    well, no doubt that Elias Kiflai will soon lose his mind. Why now? Why has he embarked on spreading Black propaganda when the struggle that has been waged by millions against the fascist woyanae is well carried out.

    Blackmailing and dirty propaganda the character and nature of Woyanae; so, why is Elias playing with dirt and mud like a little boy when he could seed help and support both finically and psychologically from public and citizens so that he can either take a break in Mexico or in a psychiatric hospital to appease the financial burden that he has been burdened by.

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