Being a diaspora is respected in this country. A person living abroad, especially in Western civilized countries, is highly respected. I’m not sure if it’s because we perceive those people to be wealthy or because we consider them to be civilized, but for some reason, people in this country have a positive attitude towards the diaspora. I remember as a child when my aunts visited from Europe, how we used to be in awe of their material possessions and their foreign accents. I admired every little possession they had, from their shoes, clothes, toothpaste, lotions, to the napkins they kept in their bags. My sister and I found all their little possessions quite admirable.
I used to dream so much about traveling to Europe or the US and experiencing what my aunts experienced. I believe this is a common aspiration that many Ethiopian youths have, even today when the media provides good exposure to the outside world compared to our times.
I bet the diaspora appreciate the level of attention and admiration they receive from locals when they come back home for a while. But is being a diaspora always something to look up to?
Yes, life in the Western world can be more comfortable in terms of material possessions. The diaspora get to live in clean places with all necessary infrastructure functioning well and well maintained. Yes, they do not have to face the hurdles that Ethiopians face in their daily lives when living in their own country. Unnecessary bureaucracies, bad governance, corruption, and deprivation of basic needs are not common in the Western world. Their children get to receive proper education in schools that are well equipped with both human and material resources. Poverty is not a daily sight. Life can indeed be comfortable in the material sense when living in Western countries.
I have never wanted to live abroad, and I still do not wish to, even if the country in question is among the wealthiest nations of our world. I would say yes to an offer to visit, get an education, attend conferences, etc., in these countries. But living there permanently? No.
Why, you may ask? This might not matter to many, but I do not take simple questions such as “Where are you from originally?” or “When will you go back to your country?” easily.
Recently, I came across an article about a woman from Eastern Europe who wrote about how she found these seemingly simple questions quite hurtful. Implicit in these questions is a reminder that the person being questioned does not belong in the country they relocated to, and that the person asking the question would like them to go back to their country of origin.
While these questions may seem trivial to many, for people like me and the lady who wrote the article, they are deeply hurtful as they serve as a reminder that we are, at the end of the day, guests.
In addition to these seemingly “normal questions,” there are even more hurtful inquiries that revolve around the poverty and conflict in our beloved nation. Questions like, “How is Ethiopia now? Has the conflict situation improved?” or “How is Ethiopia doing economically?” are the ones that sting the most.
They constantly remind us that, despite our belief in being a proud, un-colonized nation with an ancient civilization, the world views us solely as a poverty and conflict-stricken country. How can these questions not be painful for the diaspora living in the Western world, where economic and political standards are incomparably better?
Personally, I am deeply wounded by these questions. I feel a personal responsibility for whatever challenges our country is facing.
So, I can’t help but wonder, do our leaders feel the same way when they visit wealthy nations? Do they experience the shame and guilt that comes with being the leader of a nation plagued by poverty and conflict?