Mekelle: 30 December 2023 (Tigray Herald)


By Haftu Hindeya

Today, I am intrigued and delighted by my friends whom I had a very good time with during my study abroad 10 years ago.

I was lucky to win the Erasmus Mundus scholarship, a prestigious one, in 2013. I studied in three countries: Austria, China, and Finland. It allowed me to visit many countries in Europe. I was blessed enough because the scholarship didn’t only allow me to upgrade my level of education but also build my intercultural competence. We were around 20 students from around 16 different countries and I was the only African in my cohort.

Though it was not my first experience visiting abroad at that time, it was a different environment for me to catch up with everything. It may not be surprising to feel such for a person who has a rural background

Luckily, it didn’t take me much time to integrate myself with all my classmates and with all those remarkable professors. We had two types of professors. The first group comes from the university where we are based. The second group comes from other countries. These are commonly called visiting professors. In one course, you may come across with more than three experienced professors. I still remember vividly my visiting professors from Cameron, Brazil, France, USA, China, Germany, Hungary, and the Netherlands, just to mention a few.

My classmates were unique in many ways. At first, I was frustrated because it was only one person who knew exactly where Ethiopia was located. He just remembered because his country’s former president was a friend of Ethiopia’s King Hailesillasie. Otherwise, no one knows where it is, and even many never knew if such a name exists at all. Many of them guessed I am from one of the countries in Latin America. I remember one of them who later became to be one of my best friends asked me to touch my hair. This much was our differences.

I was frustrated because I had the impression of typical ‘habesha’ behavior. When I know something, I assume it is known by everyone. The funniest thing is that I thought Ethiopia was known by many if not by all people. I Iater realized this was wrong, and I had to start from scratch to teach my friends about ‘my country’. Its calendar, culture, people, and all that I believe must be known by them were shared. I just did this passionately as I never thought my country would be so cruel to me and my people. When I think of the atrocities committed by Ethiopia in collaboration with Eritrea, Turkey, Iran, and many others in the past two years, I sometimes have difficulty calling as ‘my country’. I also question my citizenship. This is my honest feeling as some of you may feel uneasy with what I am saying.

As I mentioned to you in my previous posts, the past two years were the darkest moments of our lives for people residing in Tigrai. They were dark physically as well as mentally.

Physically, we were denied all essential services and we were daily bombarded by drones and jets. Though you may assume such are common in standard wars, ours was quite different as civilian residents were continuously bombed with no military use. We were deliberately put in 360-degree siege.

Mentally, we were unable to feed our kids as our salary was blocked. Our bank accounts were made to freeze. These coupled with the daily bombing made us weaken psychologically. More importantly, our kids were made out of schools for the past three years in a row. This has also brought incalculable psychological impact on our kids.

As I said the Erasmus Mundus scholarship helped me not only to see the world differently but also to see knowledge differently too.

Before joining the program, I had a master’s in Curriculum. I was so much more assertive on the issues I knew. Never felt short to explain my positions. But, later after passing through the program, I learned that knowledge is relative and my knowledge of the world is just scanty like the dot in an encyclopedia. I am meaning that what I know may be accepted or rejected by others. I have learned this not from the formal courses I was taking but from the hidden or informal curriculum. The hidden curriculum is what you develop from your friends, professors, or the general environment. It is just the side effect of your involvement in the formal curriculum.

Sometimes, this may have a greater impact on your life and your perspective on the world than the formal coursework you accomplished. For instance, a published professor, who wrote more than 50 books, an unknown number of articles and book chapters, and with a specialty in the curriculum may say  ‘Sorry I don’t know, or will come with it tomorrow’ when you ask him or her a very simple curriculum question. I have learned both humility and integrity from such professors. In many instances, our professors used the terms ‘maybe’, ‘am not sure but…’ etc. At first, I used to say how they can be unsure about issues they were trained for. But, later I learned that knowledge is relative.

In terms of culture, my friends were humble enough to share with me all that they had. We were teaching each other many things including how to cook our cultural dishes. I was known for cooking chicken-stew/ ‘tsebihi dorho/ doro wot’

With this background, let me share with you why I wanted to raise this issue after 10 solid years. It is because I am extremely humbled by my foreign friends’ humanity. Some of them heard about the senseless war we are going through. But, many of them didn’t. After the internet was partly reinstated, I reached out to some of them. I just shared published news articles on the atrocities and of course made them read my stories that I have reflected on and posted on my Facebook wall. We had nice discussions via messenger. Their responses were phenomenal.

In ‘my country’, when you share your worries and difficulties, people tend to criticize you in many cases. They tend to justify before even consoling you. I feel we have a culture that lionizes villains by degrading the victims. But, my friends whom I knew in the Erasmus program for two years were sad enough with what happened to us during the siege. They were very concerned about me and my family. Then after, they asked me how I was leading my daily life. If I can feed my kids, myself, etc. Then, asked me about the current situation. Even some of them asked me if I was committed enough to leave the country with my family so that they could help me out ways. I was humbled and sometimes felt to cry. During all those conversations, I was comparing their reactions with my friends sharing the same citizenship here in Ethiopia. I don’t want to tell you this in detail as you may ask me why I share the same citizenship. Not sure though if I have an immediate option at all.

For many of my friends who share the same passport, some called to confirm, and of course I also texted them that I am alive. Many of the reactions I got were contradictory to my foreign friends that I have told you earlier. In our conversations with many of my Ethiopian friends, they just do not take enough time to share my pain. They rather annoy me by asking senseless questions. They raise questions such as ‘Who do you think is accountable for all the damage?’ Why did you vote during the Tigrai election’, ‘Why did you move to Mekelle University when you could have made it to Addis or abroad?’ as if I am the only Tigrayan living in Tigrai, ‘You shouldn’t have cancelled your PhD scholarship in Norway”. Even some said that they were assuming what was happening in Tigrai was nearly fake. It was only after I wrote my stories that they were convinced it was true. Many of course attributed to the then media propaganda. This is just ridiculous! As a human, I believe we need to side with the victims first, and then raise what we believe are our countless million-dollar questions.

Whatever it may take I believe this shall pass too. But, I have learned the double faces of humanity. Of course, I have learned from my foreign friends that humanity has no boundaries. I just remembered one of my former professors. While he was giving us orientation on a program organized in Krems in 2013, in Austria, he underlined that the program was designed to make us culturally competent and become global citizens and leaders. My professor must have felt happy enough to see his former students from different corners of the world showing solidarity with their former classmates. Thank you my friends and professors for sharing the pains we have been through.

Humanity is a global thing indeed!

To my Ethiopian friends, of course not to all, you need to console victims first. Then, you can carry on shooting your WH questions!

I believe in countries like Ethiopia, sharing the same passport looks worthless. If sharing the same citizenship is going to have value, we need to voice for the people suffering around us. We must show them our solidarity. We must tell them that we are with them though we are incapable of changing their situation. This is the least we can do, I believe. Then after, I will proudly say it is worthwhile to share the burden of my citizenship with you.

Share my problems and I will share your one. If you were laughing at my pains, I don’t have a reason to cry for you. No more no less!

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