Salambo discovering Ethiopia
Back into my golden cage after a temporary escape to NYC. Hard to come back after two weeks of freedom. To my surprise, what I enjoyed the most there wasn’t the endless shopping or the abundance of art galleries and museums, it was the rediscovered freedom of being able to walk around the city by myself (and my girls). No driver to follow every single of my steps, no complicated domestic issue or relationship to manage, just freedom and oxygen!
Having said that, I wasn’t able to completely escape Ethiopia. On one of the evenings, I was invited to the graduation party of one of my Ethiopian friend’s nephews. He stayed with his aunt while studying in New York. For a moment, I got confused not knowing where I was anymore! At the party, held in a church hall in the Chelsea district, we had injera with the full range of fasting and non-fasting dishes just like in Addis. Seen from the US, Ethiopia feels far away. I could begin to understand the feeling of displacement people from any diaspora can sometimes experience. They have to adapt and merge into their new daily reality in the host country, but they still keep their country of origin inside their mind and heart. However, the picture they have is somewhat distorted by the workings of memory and becomes gradually more removed from the contemporary reality.
The largest Ethiopian diaspora is not in NYC but Washington DC, as I was able to see a few days later. The figures are relatively vague, ranging between 100,000 and 250,000 residents for Washington alone, compared to around 20,000 for NYC. America is the prime destination for Ethiopians who want to go abroad to live or to study. The wealthy Ethiopians in Addis tend to spend a few months a year in the USA. In one of the episodes, the Simpson family famously end up in an Ethiopian restaurant in Washington, having no idea how to eat injera! Even without looking at the statistics, the Ethiopian presence in DC is quite obvious, particularly in jobs such as cab drivers, bar attendants or waiters. Both waiters in one the National Gallery’s cafés were Ethiopian; they were quite shocked when I said thank you in Amharic to them. They face immediately lit up, they couldn’t stop chatting, asking us about Addis, and sending regards to the whole city! It reminded me that more than anything Ethiopia is about its people.