To the women who travelled lifetimes for home when home wasn’t enough, who knew to run without ever knowing what they were running towards. To the women who didn’t make it, ye’kirta yene fikir. To the women who knew sacrifice before they knew themselves, who left behind families, loves, languages, countries and everything and everything and absolutely everything for the promise of nothing – nothing but the hope of a new beginning.
To the women who became martyrs and mothers before everything they dreamed of, who carried their entire bloodline and still had enough life in them to bring another into this world. Courage would fall for mercy and surrenderits name at the sight of you.
You — spine and flesh and blood of generations.
You — inheritor of benevolent strength and all honour.
You — defiant, resilient, everlasting light.
My mother left Ethiopia before she was ever mother or woman or old enough to understand what it meant to be either and everything more. Over there, where life is both bliss and burden, you learnt too soon that to live is to leave and to leave is to go back never quite the same.
So years later, when asked what courage meant to her my mother answered ‘not to look back, to keep going’ and I realised then how courage could morph into fear and whole worlds forgotten just to save you from yourself, just to save itself from you, because sometimes even courage weeps at the weight of our burdens and what will save us then?
I have never known what it means to be courageous like this, such a bittersweet privilege — one indebted to the resilience of my mother and the heroic women of my lineage. Yet as much as I have learnt from witnessing a tireless, all-enduring courage I cannot accept it as my own.
Truthfully, courage is a feeling I am still learning to give language to and at times my words are concealed with the guilt of realising just how easy I have it here, but lately I’ve been questioning where ‘here’ really is and maybe it has less to do with country and more to do with heart and that is never an easy thing to give language to, especially in the heart of this country.
I struggle to write this because in doing so I must admit to what I am not ready for and my courage does not always reveal itself, sometimes it cowers and finds refuge in parts of myself that, at times, I would rather not look.
Yet, I have learnt enough about my courage to know that it is unravelling truth and leaning into the weight of genuine honesty. It is releasing with full acceptance what is not meant for me, even if it is a part of myself. It is stepping into the discomfort and the unknown, sometimes foolishly, but always trusting to discover a moment all the more worthwhile.
Sometimes my courage is everything I am not ready for, but that is reason enough to follow it because I know, by all my heart, that if my mother waited until she was ready then you and I would not meet and I would not be here in this heart, in this country…perhaps in the villages of Dire Dawa listening to the birds sing and peeling sugar cane while wistfully dreaming of a life like this.