Time away from Home
Diverging North through the Yabelo-Mega is a long, smooth road that takes me to my maternal homestead. Filled with relics of deeply rooted Christianity, the enormous church halls that one would mistake for a Mosque, eye catching as ladies in white natalla’s -like heavens preserved angels- roam around the church in silence lowering their gaze to their shadows.
For anyone visiting Yabelo, it has to be for more than one reason. If you are not a traveler, the wildlife sanctuary would be of no attraction to your eyes, better stay staring at the unwavering beauty of the lasses.
Impeccably attractive as it was, it drew me into an aleph and took me years before I was born, to the story of Mukhtar and Khadija, a Kenyan Somali and an Ethiopian immigrant respectively. Years later they would be my parents.
The undying urge brought them together, mum run away from a harsh life in Ethiopia under the reign of Mengistu Haile Mariam and came to seek refuge in the peaceful Kenya, then she was just a teenager with a dream. Kenya was the paradise in East Africa. They all heard nothing but good news, it was known as the land of milk and honey.
History took over, Mukhtar and Tuney (later renamed Khadija) married and started a life in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. For years the capital has been my home, the melting point of Kenya’s Tom, Dick and Harry became the point of confusion for a child that was seeking to know his core, the epitome to his existence.
This journey to Ethiopia is a personal attempt to understand my own family, my pilgrimage of sort. Where discussions long forgotten come to find a second rise, where promises made resurface and wounds slowly fade to grey like all those broken promises my parents made.
I spent the majority of my life in Kenya, where I was born. This is where my dreams and aspirations were molded into what it is, although Kenya has this idyllic atmosphere, where you can be what you want to be, however, it also comes with prescriptions, limitations of do’s and dont’s. For many of those who grew up in the slums, the only ray of hope you hold for a day will see you through another day and that's what has kept most of us going.
Guns and drugs, were and still are like toys, available to anyone with a heart and a mind to pursue that kind of life, a wretched hovel, a space where its young one’s are born a crime, police and criminals all alike would salivate for your life, for your pocket, those with deep pockets would be lucky to see their brothers or fathers released out of a jail made up of corrugated tin roof. This is where your existence becomes a burden to your own soul.
That was not me, I wanted to find my life, to figure out my own self, but it could be me, that could be my daily routine.
Growing with parents from two worlds created the desire for a journey of discovery, that every time whenever I visit, Ethiopia or my paternal relatives in Moyale, I have to seek understanding. Observe my grandmother as she talks, her actions and mannerism that depicts the place of a woman in this society.
Ethiopia is sincerely a beautiful country, it’s southern part stretches itself out as a dozen and one hills unfolds. The charisma of the people is without doubt unprecedented.
The tarmacked road is part of a free country. A country that outsiders like me and a million of others would romanticize until a day passes and you cannot access internet or cannot just go anywhere you want because someone is watching you. I chose to travel by road for so many reason, first to get a sense of the country’s landscape, its people, from the different zones ruled along tribal and language lines to this exceptionally well designed not by any architecture but instead by the cultural outfits put on every makeshift shopping stalls around Megataram, the beautiful small town, where travelers make a stop over for lunch and snacks, it serves anyone going to Yabelo and all the way to Addis ababa.
My aunt Shawaye, is an orthodox christian, the first time I saw her, I was excited to see my aunts and uncles whom I had never seen before, then I harbored the excitement of a three year old, this time it was different. I needed to understand them, to fathom my life, where I am coming from.
The cross tattoo on her face, the pictures of virgin Mary and Jesus Christ on the wall, the silent hymns and the pilgrimage they make to the Auxim cathedral, I wanted to understand that life but more so, I wanted to understand their existence, the life of my family. I am born and raised a Muslim, my father was a madrasa teacher at some point in his life.
Growing under a religious family, I have been wondering how comes part of me is on the other side, this, in many occasions has made me avoid religious debates, confrontations over who is right or who is wrong. My Muslim family upbringing is not emblematic of the norm with my maternal relatives.
I had ceased to be a spectator and instead was fighting to be in the arena, to live and feel the aura and adrenaline felt living life in this part of the world. I assured myself I cant be bound to the traditions or the social life.
Drinking borde - alcoholic drink made of fermented malt- or engaging in religious rituals that would include extreme invocation of a religious figure, but would live the social life, would go to the market and the a thousand and one coffee shops in Yabelo, which is often used as a meeting place, where people share stories, past experiences and travel escapades. I wanted in, for the feeling, the memories that would save me in times of loneliness, in those times that I would require a sense of assurance and this feelings sink in too deep that only loneliness will recapitulate them.