My father used to say, “In Ethiopia, we’re royalty!” to which 6 year old me would promptly reply, “nuh uh! No way!”
In fact what I discovered was better than that.
Royalty is built on unearned, birth-right privilege. But in fact, our family was respected because of my grandfather, Karlo, who earned it. He was a strange man who let his girls go to school, hunted lions, brought home boar hides in the night, and treated his wife well. He had the respect of the lions, they said. Warwara is the only place where people don’t ask me what I am all the time, because they know. If a girl who looks foreign greets you in your own language, it must be Aman’s daughter, Aman who was Karlo’s son.
While I think about who I am and where I belong, those convictions come through clearly. We are strong, and resilient, and even strange–defying norms. The more I meet others whom I’m supposed to be similar to, the more I realize my mother is right. “We’re not normal,” she said to me once, “our family is interracial and you’re a female mechanical engineer. So, whatever depressing statistics you’ve been reading, just remember that. We don’t fit into those numbers, so you can just ignore them.”
Being different doesn’t have to be bad. I’m trying to remember that. I’m ignoring the numbers. I’m working hard for the future. I’m working for the family, for their water, for their education, for their lives. I’m drinking water and putting on sunscreen. I’m building things, and taking them apart. I’m leading people, and teaching children. I’m learning and making mistakes, and learning from the mistakes. I’m thinking. I’m writing.