My Horn of Africa

{via FES }

Name: Feleg T.

Country of Origin: Ethiopia

When I was in elementary school, I would ask my parents all kinds of questions about how our family made it to the quiet suburbs of Littleton, Colorado from northern Ethiopia. They gave me bits and pieces of their life stories but their belief was that I concern myself with the present (and my grades) than their past.

I was the first generation of my family born in the US and growing up with two cultures wasn’t easy. My first language was Tigrigna, spoken in the Tigray province of Ethiopia, thanks to my grandmother who came from Ethiopia to help raise me as my parents began their quest to assimilate. I don’t remember much from that age but when I started going to preschool, I noticed that I was different from the other toddlers. The other children had already had exposure to English and I had none which set me back a little. Every day I went to school in America during the day and went home to Ethiopia for the evening.

Soon after my grandmother left while I was still in preschool, I began to forget my native tongue. I picked up new words (including the bad ones) from the kids at school and practiced them at home so that I could make friends and communicate with my peers. My parents noticed my familiarity with our language fading and as much as they tried, it never fully came back. After my younger sister was born, they tried to teach her the language but her fate was the same as mine. After that my parents realized that we probably needed to strike a new balance with American culture.

My mother had a saying “Take the good from here but leave the bad” and they went to great lengths to shield me from the bad and instill only the good. I wasn’t allowed to go out with friends whose parents they didn’t know well, I had to wash all the dishes by hand even though we had a dishwasher, I wasn’t allowed to watch TV on the weekdays (they were so serious about this that our TV was on a mobile cart that they would wheel into a room and lock until the weekends) We were very involved in the Ethiopian community in Denver and even though my mastery of the language had suffered, I could still eskista at our dances like the best of them. I was still in elementary school at this point and while I attended the Ethiopian events in our area with my family, my heritage didn’t really hit me until we went to Ethiopia after I finished the fifth grade.

Without going into too many details, suffice it to say it was a life changing experience. I became fully conscious of my dual cultural citizenship and realized I owed a debt to the family members that were influential in giving me the opportunities I had.

Since then it’s been my dream to start a tech business in Ethiopia to help generate gainful employment. I don’t believe in aid and charity in the way that it’s been given to Africa for decades. Africa can sustain itself but it’s going to take more than throwing money at problems and hoping it sticks to a solution. It’s up to those with the opportunities to level the playing field and I realize that’s where my purpose lies. Don’t get me wrong, I love America but home is where the heart is and my heart is in the horn.

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2 Responses to My Horn of Africa

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention My Horn of Africa « That African Girl -- Topsy.com

  2. Lauri says:

    This is so insightful. Especially loved the part about going to America at school and coming home to Ethiopia at night. And you are spot on with your comments about aid. Congratulations for what you’re doing and good luck!

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