The birth of URBAMORPHOSIS

Two African photographers, one Ethiopian and the other Congolese, embarked on a project to document the immense changes taking place in the new flower, a birth city for one and a city that the other has come to love as his own – Addis.

For those of you who’ve been following this blog, you know I’m the Ethiopian. The one who was birthed in what is referred to as the capital of Africa. Addis Ababa is not only the city of my birth, it’s the city I grew up in, left and came back to 14 years later. It’s a city I’m relearning and getting acquainted with. It’s the city that has safeguarded the remains of my ancestors, but sometimes also thrown them up whole to make way for ‘development’. It’s a city that accommodates both old and new – although much of the old seems to be giving way to the new.

I’ve wanted to put on a photo exhibition for a long time – it’s been one of those items on my bucket list I wasn’t ever sure I would cross off. Then John comes along and pushes this idea of capturing the skeletons of Addis. Why not? If I had to start somewhere, it should be by paying tribute to the city that birthed and raised me. So there you have it – the birth of URBAMORPHOSIS!

As we took these images, we journeyed through Addis, conscious and witness to its past, its present and its looming future. The Addis we knew, or even know today is not the same Addis that will be tomorrow. The only constant being change.

This project forced me to see the city differently. Everywhere I looked, I could see the cityscape dominated by new high rises, even the most iconic of Addis’ treasures was framed by construction – and destruction.

This project aims to capture some of the rapid transformation taking place in this city. For both of us, it is a tribute to the people who are constantly negotiating their place in this new flower and to the city which is forever trying to outpace its name.

URBAMORPHOSIS kicks off a week from today on Thursday, May 11th, 2017 at Dinq Art Gallery in Addis Ababa. We hope you’ll come out and experience for yourself.

Flyer - URBAMORPHOSIS

Harar

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Living museum of a
World upside down
We’ll just get lost
Amidst more than
368 narrow streets
82 mosques

We’ll find ourselves
Between the five gates
Of the walled city,
On the street of reconciliation
Megera wa weger
And make up

There’s no black & white in this city
Colors, in all hues and textures
Decorate walls, homes, baskets & clothes
And proceed to pour out into markets and streets

Lucid 112 year old
Exemplifies power of
Persuasion and persistence
Breaking spontaneously into prayer and song

Understanding (her)story
Female Emirs
Tadin binti Maya
Dil Wambara
Running an autonomous empire
Before it was fashionable to do so

Posing in hareri attire
Feeding friends of the city;
hyenas & falcons
Hilbet merekh

Addis

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I’m nostalgic for a city
I know in my thoughts
As though my absence for over a decade
Has meant nothing
As though the characters that populate my memories
Are as I left them
Although many are long gone

The city of now is no longer as was
The present has left little to imagine of its past
Whole neighborhoods created and destroyed
Homes, his/her stories crumble with bulldozers
Giving rise to high rises

Our meetings, though frequent, are fleeting
I am yet to acquaint myself with what you’ve become
To relearn who you were
And who I was with you

I fear feeling unhome at home
Of feeling more comfort in places that are not

Is it possible to be outside one’s own world?
Or perhaps it was never mine to claim?
Perhaps notions of home and world wax and wane and take on meanings of their own?

New flower, I wonder if I will grow old with you…or if you will age with me

Stupid ?’s

I’m told there is no such thing as a stupid question-only inquisitive idiots. But I’d rather call a question stupid than an idiot inquisitive. Just playing. But really, as hard as it is, I think it’s important to differentiate between the person and the action. So let’s call the question, rather than the questioner stupid.

Being naturally inquisitive myself, I understand the urge to and value of incessantly asking questions-and I think there’s nothing wrong with that. That is how we learn and grow. And sometimes it’s the questions that no-one is comfortable asking that needs to be asked & answered. Sometimes, however, the nature of the questions can only be classified in that category previously mentioned (I’m suddenly feeling shy about using the term, but really truth is truth so let’s call it what it is: S-T-U-P-I-D! Am I being too harsh?)

So in my short and humble life, I’ve come across many stupid questions. Here are a few-feel free to add your own.

  1. What’s the difference between Jamaica & Africa?  Umm….where do I start??
  2. You’re not really African, are you? I know this doesn’t sound so bad, but this is after the questioner knows I’m from Ethiopia. It’s not a question of whether I consider myself or not, it is what it is. Last I checked, Ethiopia was securely within the confines of what we ‘consider’ to be Africa.
  3. Do you consider yourself black? Again, It’s not a question of what I consider myself, I am what I am.
  4. How come you’re not starving? I suppose as an Ethiopian, I am not licensed not to starve.
  5. Do you travel to school on the back of a lion? I wish.
  6. Did you swim across the Atlantic to get here? That is how I got from Africa to the Americas.
  7. Are you Muslim? Again, this might not seem silly. But I proudly wear Islam on my head. ie. I wear a hijab (head scarf…). And if I excuse this from non-Muslims I come across, what of my fellow Muslims?? Really?!

Excerpts from Meskel

Excerpts from Meskel
By Mellina & Lukas Fanouris

P145
I didn’t want to lose that miraculous moment when the sun set the sea aflame and the black night descended to quench it.

P153
Topped with half a dozen mounds of wat in varying colors, our plates took on the appearance of artists’ palettes. An expert had certainly been at work in the preparation of the food.

P177
As it always happened in the rainy season, the heavy storms of the previous three months had left the tarmac roads in a state of total disrepair, their surfaces pitted with huge potholes and the edges crumbling away. Everywhere repair gangs were disrupting the flow of traffic, as they performed cosmetic surgery on the highways…

P192
‘Considering that, although the people of Ethiopia look in good faith upon the Crown, which has persisted for a long period in Ethiopian history as a symbol of unity, Haile Selassie I, who has ruled the country for more than fifty years ever since he assumed power as Crown Prince, has not only left this country in its present crisis by abusing at various times the high and dignified authority conferred on him by the Ethiopian people but also, being over 82 years of age and due to the consequent physical and mental exhaustion, is no more able to shoulder the high responsibilities of leadership. It is hereby proclaimed that Haile Selassie I is hereby deposed as of today, September 12, 1974.’

The staff at the United Nations were stunned by the news. Their compassion was not for the Emperor they had seen the previous night, feeding his pets while his people died, but for a ruler who once had the respect of the world.

P193
A crowd of students who had lined the road began shouting, leba, leba. ..the Emperor stooped forward and asked the driver what were the people saying? ‘They’re shouting ‘thief’ your majesty,’ …without hesitating, the Emperor replied, ‘What do you expect them to call you, when you’ve robbed them of a King!’

P194
In one instance it was reported that Colonel Mengistu had asked the Emperor for his view on the changes that had taken place in Ethiopia. The Emperor had replied, ‘When the people of Ethiopia who have been indoctrinated and deceived by the words of Hebresebawinet (Socialism) have fully understood the true meaning—they and only they will give you their views. Not you, not even Mussolini nor his compatriots ever managed to change or damage our history and heritage.’

P197
A new era of Keyshibir, Red Terror, began. Anyone opposing the new government would be deemed a Reactionary and would be executed, it was proclaimed. The enemies of the regime were to be wiped out, destroyed without mercy. Bodies began appearing in the streets—young and old, men, women and children, left sprawling in the gutters where they had been gunned down the previous night for their anti-revolutionary activities. Students were the main target: Amnesty International later estimated five thousand young people were put to death in a three-month period. Torture was commonplace. People were burned in oil, toe and finger nails were ripped out; suspects were beaten and suspended by wires; women and girls were raped. To add insult to injury, bullet money had to be paid to reclaim bodies.

P201
Even under Haile Selassie, prosecutions normally ran into years, it was not unknown for them to run from one generation to the next, while the detainees rotted in dank prison cells. There was no reason to believe that military tribunals would be any different, if—in fact—they took place at all.

P263
Life was eternal and love was immortal and death was only a horizon.

P326
‘What made things worse was that, with the first slap, my false teeth fell out of my mouth. Without them, there was no way I could make any sense. No one could understand what I was saying. The more I mumbled, the more they beat me.’

P348
‘We’re in a situation which is dragging on and on—like gangrene. It’s eating us up, killing all our hopes and aspirations, leaving only rotten feelings inside.’

P350
Greeks said, I tan i epi tas. Better dead in freedom than alive in captivity.

P366
‘The soul never dies. Anna Maria has just crossed over to the other side.’

P370
‘Not everyone who looks like a gentleman is one.’

P399
‘Useless bit of junk, a car is, without the precious liquid.’

P401
‘My Mellina would never go do anything like that. She’s molded from good paste.’

P422
The smoky blue shadows of daybreak leisurely unfolded to expose the first blushes of sunrise. Dawn came with dramatic African suddenness—a silent explosion of red and gold with ribbons of apricot fanning out across the curve of the eastern horizon.

P434
After he had gone, in an age-old tradition, she fetched a jug of water and poured it where the car had been standing, to wish him a smooth journey. “We’d better pour a whole a whole bucketful this time,” I said trying to make light of the situation….She didn’t fail to comply!

P453
Even as thousands of cases of whisky were being imported for the celebrations, another catastrophic famine—worse than the one which brought down Haile Selassie—was already threatening the lives of millions in Wollo, Eritrea and Tigray. The government did eventually appeal for western aid but before the world took notice, the famine had claimed nearly three million lives.

P460
‘Haile Selassie never harmed youngsters,’ said one parent. ‘He would warn the disloyal but never kill them. This tyrant is unrestrained by laws or religion. He snatches our children from our arms without conscience or compassion.’

Excerpts from Sweetness in the Belly

Excerpts from Sweetness in the Belly (Camilla Gibb)

P149 But each of us is guilty in someone else’s eyes. If you are an Amhara you are guilty of supporting a brutal dictatorship; if you are Oromo you are guilty of counter-revolutionary sentiment; if you are Hareri you are guilty of harbouring wealth and exploiting peasants. If you are a refugee you are guilty of the worst crimes of all: deserting your homeland and abandoning those you love. In every case. It’s a matter of perception: in the last case, self-perception, the most damning of all.

P164 Its not simply what one remembers, but why. There are sites of amputation where the past is severed from the body of the present. Remembering only encourages the growth of phantom limbs. And it is not simply what one remembers, or why, but what to do with what one remembers, which of the scattered pieces to carry forward, what to protect and preserve, what to leave behind.

P227 …I’d been discovering that nothing was quite as it first appeared. But the, this is where we begin in every new world: first we read the manual. We practice the laws as they are laid out, and it is only when we become literate through living them that we find the contradictions, the subtext, the spaces in between.

P228 You don’t want to stay on the tree for too long..Eventually you will lose your grip, drop to the ground, splatter, go rotten. No one wants to eat the fruit that has fallen—that is for the beggars and the birds. They will only want to step on you.

P267 How is it that disappointment arrives as soon as what you have desired for so long steps over the threshold? It’s like finding the end of your wedding train dragging behind the mud.

P296 Without marriage, a father would not recognize children as his own. Because paternity…was everything. Your liberation, your death sentence, your legitimacy or lack thereof in the world.

P314 I think true discipline comes through exercising moderation. I see the rules as simply guidelines for those times when we lack the strength or wisdom to decide for ourselves…but that must take such courage…It is harder in many ways to live in the middle than at the edges. Much harder to interpret as you see fit, because then you have no assurance you are doing right in the eyes of God, no confidence you will be rewarded in the afterlife. There’s something uncharitable about having your own plate, something wrong about stabbing your food with a piece of metal. Food tastes right from the hand.

P347 Believing that all has been ordained by God can lead to fatalism, but fatalism is not the same thing as belief. It’s a cheat: an abdication of responsibility. Believers take action…

YOU HAVE REACHED THE WOMEN

This peace was originally written by 3 women, Agazit, Cassandra, & myself but we opened it up, and asked other woman to also speak their peace. The result was a metamorphis, and a compilation of voices of women from all walks of life: students, teachers, poets, activists, mentors, voices reppin Algeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Mexico, the US and Zimbabwe… if any of you would still like to speak your peace, you’re most welcome to do so….

I’m proud to be a fellow woman-let me now leave you to hear these phenomenal women speaking their peace!!

YOU HAVE REACHED THE WOMEN
-Phenomenal women from all walks of life

You have reached the woman
Who keeps her eyes wide open
Her pain closed tight against pessimistic winds
So she can release them in Remembrance deep in the night….
You have reached the woman
Who was never told why she was brought up in North America
Instead of North Africa
Why she could be not be African nor Arab nor American
But every one by different ones…
You have reached the woman
Who asks too many questions
For her own good
Got too educated
And too career-ed
And too into her own dreams
Which are sunflower bright ones.
You have reached Mouna

You have reached the woman
Who believes life is good no matter what
Because we have to create our own peace & happiness
You have reached the woman
Who does not ask GOD for things she would like to have
But thanks GOD for all that she has at this specific time in her life
With complete understanding
That what’s here today may be gone tomorrow
You have reached Mariana

You have reached the woman
Who is a mother trying to raise a woman
Who will stand up for justice and truth
Even if it’s against herself.
Against her loved ones, her community, her nation.
Even if it’s her against the entire world,
She will stand up for what’s right.
Who will be successful not by
Making millions at the cost of others
But by being capable, confident, content
Ambitious and determined.
Who will fix things wrong with this world
Whether she does so with her voice or hands.
Who will find her passions and create.
Pray, love, dance, live, believe.
Laugh, breath, swim, write, sing.
Hope, wish, and achieve.
You have reached the woman who
wishes her daughter will be the change
She wishes to see in the world.
Who will mend the wounds of those who cry
And sew the holes of society.
You have reached Sumaya

You have reached the woman
Who believes in the importance of family and friendship.
Whose experiences have helped define her existence
Without regrets of what was and without fear of what will….
You’ve reached the woman
Who refuses to fit the mold,
Refuses to give in to the expectations
Of the person she’s supposed to be
Instead of being the person she desires to be…
You’ve reached the woman,
Who is outraged by the constant exploitation and killings
Of our people and our land in the name of liberation….
You’ve reached a woman
Whom passion drives her…
Compassion humbles her…
And faith solidifies her….
You have reached Wala

You have reached the woman
Whose words are not buried beneath her tongues,
Who crafts metaphors & similes like
She tends to the garments of her inner untouched souls:
That place she can call her own
You have reached the woman
Who has dared to stop and take stock
And realise the images in the broken mirror are not hers
You have reached Batsirai

You have reached the woman
Who understands that happiness
Cannot be bought, travelled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed
Who defines happiness as the spiritual experience of living every minute
With love, kindness, grace and gratitude
You’ve reached the woman
Who follows her dreams and travels the road less taken;
Who is always reaching for the stars and beyond;
Like a tree growing and rising upward while firmly rooted to the ground.
You’ve reached the woman
Who inspires and empowers
Who models herself after the movers and shakers and money-makers;
Plus, the trophy-takers, truth-seekers, and peace-makers,
But never the fakers and heart-breakers.
You’ve reached the woman
Who is soft-spoken yet outspoken.
The one who has often fallen yet never once broken.
You have reached Nasim

You have reached the woman
Who is full of contradictions:
Who has everything,
But fears missing out on everything else she doesn’t have;
Who fears commitment,
But also fears a broken promise,
Who wants to be held tight,
But doesn’t want to be held back;
You have reached the woman
Who knows that her abilities are endless; limits do not exist in her world,
Outside of the limits she places around herself.
Who hates being told NO.
Who resents being told to “never mind,”
Because, little do you know,
You have reached the woman
Who would rather die trying than give up
Who is trying to become the kind of woman she would take seriously
A woman who makes her arms strong,
And provides portions for all in her household;
A woman who has the vision and dedication to create & grow;
A woman who one day hopes to fear nothing but God,
As she grows in wisdom, and kindness, and Love.
You have reached Samar

You have reached the woman who
Who is first and foremost
Muslim, African, Ethiopian, Hareri
You have reached the woman who
Hates the sound of unused running water
The sight of an empty lit room
Seeing food turned into trash
You have reached the woman who
Can reach for the stars
And still keep her feet on the ground
You have reached Nebila

You have reached the woman
Who loves to learn but is still counting the days till summer
The woman who longs for peace but finds truth in Fanon
Who breathes in colors,
Dreams in life, dwells in languages
You have reached the woman
Who writes backwards and walks forwards
You have reached Agazit

You have reached the woman
Who speaks English, Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili
Whose native tongue is Poetrese
Who is as Berkeley as she can be
Runs wild in the global streets
Believes in transformative action
Non violent social change
Who dwells outside of boxes
And cuts up the plastic ringlets on six packs so that wild life does not die
You have reached the woman
Whose country is the earth
Whose favorite book is her passport
You have reached Cassandra

You have reached the women
Who will keep rising
Who will stand tall
Regardless of how many times they fall
Who embrace their fathers, their brothers, their sons
As they do their mothers, their sisters, their daughters

You have reached the women
Who will not ask you—
Who are you to be brilliant, talented, gorgeous, handsome or fabulous?
Rather you have reached the women who will ask you who are you not to be
You have reached the women
Who share the belief that
“Impossible is nothing,
Nothing but a big word thrown around by small men
Who find it easier to live in a world they’ve been given
Than to explore the power they have to change it”

You have reached the women who remind you of Audre Lorde:
“Poetry is not a Luxury, but a necessity
And your silence will not protect you”
The women who after years in academia can still comfortably stand up and say
No, we wont put ourselves in your shoes,
We don’t wear the same size/we don’t have the same style

You have reached the women
Who genuflect to the power of language
Whose swords are ballpoint, felt tip and fountain
Who believe that revolutions don’t get televised
They get poeticized, ripped, & spit at open mics
So let us now leave you
To desilence yourselves & perform floetically
In the language of your truth
Translating if you choose

So please, speak your peace
After the beep

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