Today, 14th of February 2021, it is exactly 1 year ago since I moved to Addis Abeba, Ethiopia for work. As is the case for everyone, it has been quite a year. A year full of surprises, challenges, accomplishments and personal development.
About 10 years prior to my move to Ethiopia I moved countries for the first time. I was 15 years old and my parents told me that we would be moving to Stockholm, Sweden. I was angry, scared and shocked. I could have never foreseen, imagined or even dreamt how this move would turn my life completely upside-down. Within a few months, Stockholm became the best place I ever lived in, school became the best school I had ever gone to and my future seemed brighter than ever. I had discovered this amazing international world in which I fit in better than I had ever fit in anywhere else. Of course, this move wasn’t always easy and I definitely struggled with many challenges, but the immense privilege it gave me is still priceless until today.
The moment I stepped foot outside the airport of Addis Ababa I felt like I had come home. Never had I even visited Ethiopia, and now I would start a life here. Never had I really considered to move here. Yet, the warm breeze and typical smell that met me as I went out felt familiar. My driver brought me to my friend’s house where I would be staying until I would find my own place. I slept a little and then immediately got thrown in the deep as I had to go to a workshop that my new team was giving in a hotel in town. Slightly disoriented and exhausted I found my way there and met many new people. It was an intense first day in a new country, but it was fun and exciting. Weeks later I would find my own home, a beautiful apartment right in the city with a view that still stuns me every day.
When you move to a new country with a different culture, you always experience challenges. Some of my funniest stories today derive from me being super clumsy and trying to adapt. In my office for example I shouldn’t be throwing toilet paper in the toilet… Trust me, this is a challenge when you’ve been doing it all your life. Eating the incredibly tasty Ethiopian food with my hands still sometimes presents a challenge.
There have also been other challenges that we have experienced in Addis in this past year. The first big test for me was probably in July when Hachalu got killed and unrest broke out in the city. The violence came very close to me but not so close as to every single Ethiopian I know. People back home were scared for me, while I was devastated for the country and my friends. It is this weird dynamic where I am not really in danger because the violence is not towards foreigners. Yet, it is impossible to explain the true reality to my family and friends back home, with a lack of internet making it even more difficult. This brings me to another mayor challenge, due to the violence internet was shut down for 3 weeks. This meant that while being in an extremely stressful situation, there was not much distraction. At the same time, it meant that my neighbors and I all grew super close. We had dinners together, game nights, workout sessions, anything to distract and entertain us. Meanwhile, I tried to stay aware of the immense privilege we all had of getting through this period like this, when there are people just outside the gate of my building suffering and there is nothing I can do.
This feeling of being powerless will always be one of the biggest challenges for me. I am unable to help the people who I see sleeping on the streets, I would not even know what would help them. I am unable to fully understand my Ethiopian friends and colleagues, especially when it comes down to the current dynamics in the country. Moreover, due to the COVID19 crisis there is an even stronger feeling of powerlessness. I feel powerless in my integration, where I wish I had integrated a lot more, but due to restrictions this has become very difficult. I thus try to cling on to the things I can influence, I try to learn from what I see, what I hear and what I read. I try to keep my eyes open and to be attentive, to be approachable. Most importantly, I try to enjoy the beauty of this country, because there is plenty!
I have gotten to travel around and see the astonishing beauty this country has to offer. Beauty in the nature, high mountain peaks and the lowest of valleys. Waterfalls and hot-water springs, crater-lakes and hills made out of dried up lava. I have gotten to know the gentleness and friendliness of Ethiopians and their charmingly authentic culture. I have gotten to see special animals and many monkeys. Rain-forest like structures even within the city. I have gotten to make special friendships. Within a year, I met the most inspiring, striking people who teach me new things every single day. Who show me how to enjoy life and help me through my challenges. I cannot wait for another year in this impressive place, with these incredible people and all the new adventures this will bring.
Amesegenalahua to everyone who has so far been part of this adventure, I cherish every single moment of getting to live here.
Author: Veronique Sprenger