Holidays in Exile By Hilina Da Costa

Editor’s note: The writer of this small piece, Hilina Gomez, was born in Havana, Cuba and is currently a high school student in Southern Africa.

ethiopian_christmas_card

I stare aimlessly out the window, not paying much attention to the wilting trees nor the singing red-breasted robins. I can smell my grandmother’s cooking from the kitchen. It smells of lamb cooked in a spicy broth and slightly undercooked beef soaked in butter. It was not made often.

I had always been told that this day, as well as a few others throughout the year, was a day of celebration and joy for the people living in the country I am supposed to call my home. I have never been there, and in all honesty.

I hear joyful chatter as some of the guests have arrived early to help prepare the meal. They do this every year, and they never come empty handed. I stay in my bedroom, seated at my desk. Everyone that I hear, lingering about the dining room and the kitchen, all share a common culture to which I have failed to adapt. I wear denim trousers and a purple sweatshirt. I feel it is quite practical as the wind blows gently past my cheeks. I know the other women and girls are wearing something completely different something white, white and pure. It is not that I do not own such attire. It is that I feel a fraud to put it on.

This place they have come to celebrate is not where I grew up nor is it my place of birth. They say it is in my blood, but all my blood contains is numerous microscopic cells carrying nutrients and oxygen throughout my body.

I finally leave my bedroom, paint a smile on my face and greet all the guests. I can see the happiness on everyone’s face and it makes me glad. So I ignore my own melancholy, settle into my seat in the dining room and eat with my family and their friends.

Everyone is sharing stories from back home. On this day we are to look merrily at the past. These stories erupt into moments of heavy laughter, words of remembrance, and from me, a light smile as I listen to all the outstanding events everyone had experienced in a land to which I am nothing more than a stranger.

Of course the country had been described to me several times and I have been show a countless number of pictures and videos but that is not enough.

My grandmother is playing a song on the old tape player we keep around for days like this. People are dancing. I was taught how to do the dance so I join in. As I dance around the people dearest to me and my family, I realise just how much their culture means to them. It is respected and treasured.

I try to respect it too. It is not as easy for me as it is for them. I feel like the odd one out and I am frustrated by my indifference. Despite how much I am shown or told, how can I be expected to love this part of me, if I have not been truly able to experience it for myself?

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Posted by on January 7, 2014. Filed under NEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

7 Responses to Holidays in Exile By Hilina Da Costa

  1. Stuart Reply

    January 8, 2014 at 3:28 PM

    Very well done Hilina,
    We are all proud of you! X

    Through the acceptance of truth,
    we begin to expose that which is,
    as yet,
    the unknown.

  2. Temhert Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    So so proud of you Hilina. Well done !!!!!

  3. Loyce Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 6:51 PM

    እ I wanted to carry on reading ..well written well done Helina!!!loyceዋ

  4. Gifti Reply

    January 10, 2014 at 2:06 PM

    Thank you for sharing your thought Hilinaye. This is one of your cousins you have yet to meet reading your beautiful piece. Nothing like hearing about the life experiences and questions of identity of children born to exiled parents from the grown children themselves. Though those of us born back home in Ethiopia but find ourselves now living in the Diaspora can not relate to your experience of never having to visit your ancestral home, we can identify with much of your struggle to understand and own your identity much more than you think we do. Be true to yourself, observe what is around you and what you are being taught, and as you grow older and find your place in the world, where ever that might be, all the piece of the puzzle start fitting more and more and you find yourself being more and more comfortable in your skin at peace with all your given and assumed identities. We will love you through it all as you figure it all out, and please do share your thoughts and experiences in any form you can to also give us insight what your journey is life. Sending you all our love and support :-).

  5. Gifti Reply

    January 10, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    (Edited version, please post this one)
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Hilinaye. This is one of your cousins you have yet to meet in person reading your beautiful piece. Nothing like hearing about the life experiences and questions of identity of children born in the Diaspora to exiled parents from the grown children themselves. Though those of us born back home in Ethiopia but find ourselves now living in the Diaspora can not relate to your experience of never having to visit your ancestral home, we can identify with much of your struggle to understand and own your identity much more than you think we do. Be true to yourself, observe what is around you and what you are being taught, and as you grow older and find your place in the world, where ever that might be, all the pieces of the puzzle start fitting more and more and you will find yourself being more and more comfortable in your skin and at peace with all your given and assumed identities. We will love you through it all as you figure it all out, and please do share your thoughts and experiences in any form you can to also give us insights in what your journey in life is like. Sending you all our love and support :-).

  6. meklit Reply

    February 3, 2014 at 5:45 AM

    Hlinaye ! what a wonderful article. My heart was brocken as i read it. Your mum must be very proud of you. Hope to see yon one day & hear from you more. May God bless you.
    With all my love,
    Mami`s friend

  7. Rufaro Reply

    March 12, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    Well done Hilina! It is so well written that I wanted it to carry on! So proud of you girl!

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