30 Years, 30 Lessons


It was perhaps apt that the big 30 was ushered in on three continents. Celebrated simply but beautifully surrounded by loved ones.

Here are some lessons that I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to be goofy and have fun. If it’s pretending to be the tickle monster with a set of 4 year old twins or 8 year old munchkins, do it. Chase them, tickle them and savor their uncontained laughter that emenates deep from their bellies. You’ll find that soon you will also be echoing their laughter. Watch cartoons. Play. Unapologetically. These are the moments that make you younger and bring out the kid in you. Don’t be afraid to experience them.

2. Have a bucket list. Write down the things you think are even far fetched and impossible. You’ll be surprised how the universe conspires to make your intentions come to pass. Especially when you speak (and write) them loudly to the universe.

3. The best time is often now. Don’t leave things for later or tomorrow. There’s a Hareri saying which I’m sure is echoed elsewhere that says, ‘later is the brother of never’ or something along those lines…later or tomorrow either don’t happen or are consumed by 101 other things

4. Breathe Beauty. By this I mean that one must seek and appreciate beauty in ordinary spaces and moments. Beauty is not perfection. It simply is. We must be awake to it. It’s all around us. It’s the rays of the sun streaming into a room and resting on someone’s face…it’s the petals of a bright flower…it’s a full or partial moon that seems to light up the sky…it’s a pattern on a dress…or a colorful street…or laughter

5. I’ve realized how happy it makes me to see (teenage) kids who respect, love, appreciate and honor their parents. As parents, we must treat our kids as though they are responsible members of the family whose viewpoints are sought, heard and acknowledged. As children, we must never dismiss the difficulty of being a parent, making decisions that are unpopular and living every day for the betterment of family. Keep family ties – there’s nothing like family.

6. There are friendships that are so deep and pure and real that they turn into family. Don’t take them for granted. They don’t come along often. Treasure them and feed and care for them. They are often what keep you sane.

7. Learn to spend time alone. No matter what kind of person you are, whether ambivalent, introverted or extroverted – this is important. Learn to be ok with silence when there’s no loud company or loud music or chatter to distract you from listening to and getting to know and be at peace with yourself. If we’re uncomfortable with ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to be?

8. Go with your first instinct. Don’t second guess yourself. This is true even when the contradicting voice is external and not internal. You’ll be happy you weren’t easily swayed later on.

9. Similar to the previous one, don’t be afraid to counter the dominant or mainstream. Don’t necessarily rebel for the sake of being different but understand that being different, holding an opinion that doesn’t feature very prominently is ok. Don’t change who you are or what you think based on the crowd you happen to be or find yourself with.

10. Someone’s always watching. Your words, your actions are being recorded and observed. Even when you least expect it and by those you least anticipate to be watching. Sometimes by young kids whose thinking and values are being shaped. Act and speak in a way that you would stand by at any time. This goes for your digital footprint as well.

11. Be conscious. Whether you believe it or not, your existence on this earth has an effect. Whether that effect is on the environment, or on a community or a family. You matter. Make your existence count. Make sure that at the very least, you have left the world a bit better than you found it. That could be as simple as not throwing trash on the streets. Or trampling on plants. Or harassing animals. Make sure that if those streets, or plants or animals could tell tales about you, it’s that you walked and existed on this earth with respect. Karma is real.

12. Make time to spend time with the elderly. They were born in a very different generation and have rich stories for days. There’s so much his and her stories captured in their brains and etched in their memories that one can’t get from books. Or anywhere else for that matter.

13. Perhaps back to #1 and #12, spend time with kids. They come with a different energy and bubbly enthusiasm that’s not dampened by life and jadedness. In the same vein, don’t be the one to dampen kids imaginations. It will serve them in the future and reduce limitations they put on themselves.

14. Love yourself. All of you. Flaws and all. Understand that you’re a work in progress, and you must work on those things that are in your power to change. But in the meantime, love, respect and appreciate who you are.

15. Enjoy the present. And the journey. Celebrate the small steps and the milestones.

16. Don’t get stuck on plan a. Life often throws you surprises … and what you think is certain is not. Learn to be flexible like bamboo, which means that you’ll bend rather than break.

17. Don’t ever forget your infallibility. And your mortality. And who is really in control. It will keep you grounded and humble. Although this shouldn’t be an excuse for a laissez-faire attitude on life.

18. There’s a time for patience and a time for impatience. Learn to know the difference.

19. Impossible is nothing. Don’t be afraid to dream. And dream big. But don’t stop there. You must be ready to execute and wake up in order to realize those dreams. As a friend once reminded me, impossible itself is telling us, ‘I’m possible’.

20. God is the ultimate judge. We mustn’t condemn or critique others’ actions for we know not what is in store for us. Let us focus on improving ourselves first and foremost and that in itself is a big contribution to society.

21. Don’t underestimate the power of faith. At times it is the one thing that gets us through the night or a difficult situation.

22. Love. Deeply. Don’t be afraid of pouring your love into another. It has the power to transform and doesn’t drain your reserves.

23. Don’t underestimate the power and medicinal properties of laughter. It’s good for the soul and keeps one radiant and young. It reduces stress and adds spice to life.

24. Don’t give power to ludicrousity. If such a word exists. Don’t feed, react to or dignify nonsense.

25. Put the Almighty first, always. Stand by your faith, unapologetically.

26. Be curious. Yes they tell us that curiosity killed the cat. We don’t often hear the second part of that, ‘satisfaction brought it back’. Curiosity leads to exploring, learning and discovering.

27. Take on challenges. It leads to tremendous growth but also makes one realize just what one is capable of.

28. Feed and cater to your creative juices. Read, write, draw, imagine. Beautiful things can be created through this process.

29. The monster is often bigger in our minds than it is in real life, if it even exists. The sooner we face it, the sooner we realize it’s not spooky or insurmountable.

30. And one last one for good measure. Your best benchmark is previous versions of yourself. May we always strive today to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow to be better than today.

Disclaimer: you may have read these lessons elsewhere, or at least something similar and so am not claiming they’re original…perhaps some are lessons I’ve been told or read about and implemented along the way…but all are lessons I find to have worked in my life…hope you benefit from being reminded of them.

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Celebrating Daddy

By Semiha Abdulmelik

Losing my father was an exercise in a kind of growing up, an exercise in trying to comprehend as well as giving up on understanding, an attempt at resurrecting and reconstructing memories, buffing some and trying to darken others. It has been over time, trying to understand absence over time, and to borrow the words of another, ‘For a long time I stressed the absence, the hole. Now I find it is the shape which has become more important.’

Loss is an exercise in remembering and the funny amnesias. I can remember that it was a Sunday, and the minute details of the day, including the quick shower before heading out to what I thought was going to be a hospital visit, and I remember running to the living room to watch between the hexagonal grill the ambulance enter the driveway. But I can never remember whether it was the 20th or the 21st of February. Every year, mid-February, I turn back my calendar to February 2000, to check which was a Sunday. This major pilgrimage was always difficult, always different. The date, regardless that it was confusedly straddled between the 20th and 21st became a shrine in my mind that I visited and revisited.

Perhaps this year, I will try merely to celebrate a father’s, my daddy’s, love. His love was comforting-a comfort borne from being known, flaws and all, and loved deeply nonetheless. It was a love that saw all my colours and hues-bold, muted, hideous, beautiful. It was not loud or demanding, just certain, constant, and always present. I did not ever turn behind or around to look for it, certain as I was that it was always with me. It was that trusted gabi, neither too heavy and suffocating, or too light and unreliable. It was the feeling of sitting indoors, spoonfuls of cardamom vanilla honey laced oatmeal on a cold keremt day, whose sensation lingers into the summer days. His love I think come before and beyond my story-indeed when pressed, he would tell me, ‘I loved you the moment I knew you were conceived’.

If matter is neither created nor destroyed, perhaps so it is with my father’s love.

Tribute to Momma

“your journey has not been easy,
but your faith has never faltered,
and your heart has never surrendered…
if it hadn’t been for you,
we may have never known
how truly strong
and courageous
a woman can be
how deeply concerned
and loving a family can be
how welcome and assuring
a home can be
how beautiful and lasting
a mother’s love can be
you are our courage, our hope,
our inspiration
you are our mother
and we love you with a love
we’ll never outgrow”

familia

Happy Momma’s Day to the Best of the Best!

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.’

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