July 4 2020
From Marsabet to the Mid-West by: Montu
It all started around 7:00 p.m. I was in Marsabet, Kenya, 10 km from Ethiopia/Somalia border. Hawa rushed into the chiqa buna bet and handed me a radio message from Addis Ababa.
In the evenings we used to cross the border to enjoy the electricity and the cozy atmosphere of this small business town. I would have my 2 bottled Kenyan beers and she, being a Somali, got her tea. Here we would unwind from the stress of a hard day's work in the sizzling Ogaden heat. Beautiful town. Beautiful girl.
Hawa was born and raised in Kebri Beyah, Hararge. She received her degree in Mogadishu University and later her Masters at the University of Baghdad in Iraq in Arabic literature. She considers herself more Somali than Ethiopian. She is an extremely kind, eloquent and intelligent lady.
Crossing the border into Kenya was not a problem for us. The young border patrols and Gumruk officials on the three sides of the river Dawa were our buddies. On the Ethiopian side, most of them were Merkato and Kazanchis dudes. I can relate to them. My job was to coordinate and provide basic assistance (food, medicine and water) to elderly, women and children refugees. A very demanding and exhausting work but it was extremely fulfilling. My life had purpose then. I saw the changes I made in people lives.
There were plenty of distraction and extra activities that made desert life interesting. We used to help city boys flee the Derg and cross the border to Kenya without too many hassles from our Teref Tebaqi buddies. Once, I was in the CHat smuggling business, making tons of money until I was issued a warning from the head office in Addis. I could easily have been a major player in the flourishing arms, cattle, and buna smuggling business and probably could have retired on one of the beautiful Indian Ocean islands now. The potential to make quick, big bucks was endless.
Life was like an action packed Hollywood movie. Besides the deaths we witnessed everyday in refugee camps, the physical harm/death we exposed ourselves to amazes me today. The worst and often occurring was trying to break a fight over some local bar girls (She'les) between my Hamsa and Meto Aleqa buddies. Unintentionally walking into a pride of Ogaden Lions or crossing the path of an adolescent lone bull elephant who lost a fight over a cow (this sucker destroys everything in its path) can be fatal. Scorpion/ebab bites were very common. We were also warned to avoid hyenas during their mating season.
Once I nearly faced a firing squad over an ideological contradiction with a local idealistic, ignorant, elementary school dropout shifta bandleader. To this trigger happy gangster, an AK-47, was the ultimate solution to all problems. You also had to worry about crossing the paths of well-known contraband gangs.
I had virtually stopped thinking about my future and was living day to day, consumed and absorbed by the action packed life of the Ogaden. I grew up in Addis but hated to go back there, not because I missed the desert life, but because my girl (the most beautiful girl God had created at the time) dumped me for a Dubai negade. We were together since 9th grade.
The radio message Hawa handed that evening read simply, "Come back to Addis in three days. You're going to Amerika".
I never really wanted to come to Amerika except for the times I missed my old Sainjo buddies. Life as I knew it then was good to me except my breakup with that sweet thing in Addis. My border buddies were happy for me that I was going to the 'sew beleaw ager and Marsabet instantly turned into an African fiesta, Brazilian style. Kenyans, Somalis and Habesh or Itoobiyans (as they call us) were shakin' and bakin' it together.
Hawa was devastated.
I came to Addis to pack my Qibé, beso and dirqosh for my trip to the ultimate destination of human migration. The final docking point of the many younguns that Hawa and I helped find their way to Kenyan refugee camps.
Rumor must have spread that I was to leave for the US. Sweet Thing called me. We spent my last days running my errands, passport, visa, foreign currency exchange ... etc. I failed to balance my time between my family and her.
The evening before my departure, she handed me a small box. Inside the box were two rings and a small note. As much as I wanted to take the ring and place it on her beautiful finger, I only took the note and left the ring. She just said, "I understand. Hawa?" Silence. She continued. "I know all about her the good deeds you two were doing in the south. Tiwedataleh?" I nodded yes but didn't have the guts to add, "Not as much as I love you". Boy do I regret not saying that to this very day! She told me that she had broken up with the Dubai negade three months ago and has been trying to reach me until she learned about Hawa and so kept her distance. We promised to keep in touch.
With too much on my mind and new life in the "Promised Land" ahead of me, I boarded the plane.
I was warned about the dangers my people faced in foreign lands. The dangers of riding the escalator and about not raising my arms whenever I saw building security officers (the Fitesha syndrome). But nada about ye'ferenj kiremt.
My first blatant encounter with racism was when German immigration officers took all the foreigners from our plane to their hotel and left about fifteen of us at the terminal. The worst was when two hours later, a lady from Ethiopian Airlines showed up, singled out all the Eritreans and took them to the hotel. We seven miskin Abeshas spent the night on a dereq wenber. We pleaded with the woman from the airlines to leave five of us and to at least take the two azawint to a hotel. It was a futile attempt.
Next morning I flew to New York.
Customs/INS Officer: "Sir, Last name first, first name last?"
After losing my luggage and myself at New York La Guardia airport and missing two flights to my final destination, I finally made it to my mid west college town. Igziyo birdu!!!
There was nobody to pick me from the airport. I didn't know how to catch a bus or taxi. Even if I wanted to, I was not sure if the spare change from the US $50 the Ethiopian government allowed me to exchange was enough. I was scared. I dared to step outside the terminal but it was too cold. I was hungry. Last time I swallowed something solid was a cold sandwich on the plane, which I thought was excellent cuisine.The headache from lack of sleep started to kick in.
I was sitting on a chair trying to figure out how to go back to my widitu agere where I was seen as a human being. Nothing could be worse than this. Someone tapped me on my shoulders. I turned around and saw a sophisticated-looking Ethiopian lady in her 40's handing me a coke and slice of pizza. She told me she'd been watching me and asked me where I was going. I couldn't speak because tears of happiness were choking me. She told me she was there to pick her husband and attend a conference. She was a speaker on a forum. They dropped me at my advisor's residence and loaned me $330.85.
I am forever indebted to them. Wonderful Ethiopians. I definitely would have gone back to my Ogaden had they not crossed my path. With their guidance, support and friendship I excelled in my studies, secured my Doctorate and a good job in the Environmental industry.
Surviving as the only Ethiopian and very few blacks within 100 miles of the University in the Mid-West was not an easy chore. The blatant racism, hunt for scholarships and jobs without a Green Card was frustrating. When I felt down, I took that note my pretty friend gave in Addis and read it.
Five years ago I received an invitation from Hawa to fly to Geneva. She introduced me to her two beautiful children, a daughter and a son. To my surprise her son's nickname was the name she used to call me back in the Ogaden, Fishaa. She is a consultant for the UNICEF. Together we performed a noble deed that I'm proud of 'tll this day. I sponsored a 4-year-old orphan Somali girl and she a 7-year-old Ethiopian boy through one of the reputed children relief organizations she consults. They are the children we were not meant to have.
Last year, I went back home after 14 years. You need you not ask whom I visited the next day. I will not say much but my heart was broken when I saw her. She had gone through so much. Throughout our correspondence she never mentioned that she had problems. She was always encouraging me and that I'll make it. Damn Ethiopian pride! I could have helped. I bought her a small suq. I doubt if I could have made it through had I not had the short inspirational quote from the Good Book that she gave me that memorable evening in Addis. This worn piece of paper has never nor will it ever leave my wallet.
These days I'm really confused. I have a very comfortable life here in the ye-seleTenew alem. But I was a hundred times happier in the Ogaden bereha, where there was not even electricity. My life had meaning and purpose there. My heart would jump with joy when we saved a child from malaria or saw a parent's expression when they saw their children eat nutritious foods. We received endless blessings when we pumped potable water.
Today my life is boring with numbers. Tax, SSN, DOB, DL#, Check#, Account#, Street#, House#, 401K, stock, target objective, client satisfaction rating gelemele.
I don't think I can take it anymore.