A short story
By: Betsega Getachew, 21, Ethiopia
I am African; to me that means that I was born of people who are of African descent. It means that I was raised to perceive myself as African. It means that I will always be bound, in one way or another to the fate of the continent and her people. It means that if I care about myself, even a little bit, I must also care for Africa. I must care about the people, their politics, their past, their present and future, their culture, the music the art and religion, the fashion the languages and cuisines. I must know and understand Africa so I can have some pride when I call myself African. I decided to do just that some six years ago. I told myself I would serve Africa with the most of my capability, not for romantic reasons, I am sorry to say, but for the simple reason that I had to help her to help myself and my future children, perhaps along the way I could help my brother and his children, my friends and their children and maybe also the children and children’s children of my acquaintances as well. I set this among the biggest purposes of my life. I decided I wanted to be educated here in Africa and I chose to study Political Science and international Relations in Addis Ababa University.
PSIR they call it, is a three year program. As soon as my freshman year started, my soul, mind and spirit knew that I had made the right choice. I loved it. I loved reading political philosophy. I loved the way my teachers handled words as they lectured – with reverence to the worlds of meanings and implications each one held. I loved the way those words changed the ways I had learnt to see my world. I loved the way I learnt to enter into the minds of famed political thinkers and see their version of Utopia just as they saw it, believe in it as much as they did. I loved how it inspired me to think as well; how I began to imagine what kind of world I could create for my Africa, my home. It made me this romantic, passionate yet realistic person that I never was before. A person that settled her dreams down to apply them to the situations on the ground. I began to devise ways of how I could make those dreams happen. I told my friends and mentors that I had a political theory I was working on. It was as if I had stepped into this world where the ground had become clouds, and the air was some warm caramel color, so sweet you could taste it. My mind was buzzing non-stop every moment. On Campus, in the taxi, at Church, at my part-time job, at home, I was lost in that world. Sometimes I had to wake myself up to write down the things I would see, so I never forgot to make it happen in real life. I would write and write for hours until my hands hurt. I would write on scraps of paper I didn’t have a notebook. I would write even when people in the taxi peeked over to see what I was so frantically scribbling away. It was always as if the words would escape if I didn’t write them down fast enough. I promise I never took any drugs, don’t think I even had a sip of caffeine but I was bubbling over with God-knows-what every single moment of my freshman year. It’s not that I had learnt much, in fact, I don’t think I knew half-as much as I do now, but the hunger in me, that commitment I had made to help change Africa just swallowed it all up. To this day, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone as affected by something as I was by a passion for Africa.
Of course this passion fluctuated as life gradually hit in full reality, as my grades fluctuated, or things happened in my family that changed my focus of obsession. But Africa, with her problems always bigger than mine, always nagged my attention back to her. I told myself I could never give up on her, that the mini things I went through were probably the same as what thousands upon thousands of Africans also went through. I told myself to take lessons from my life, so I would know empathy when it was required of me. I told myself to toughen-up; I would make a better impact if I had stronger person within me. I believed with all my heart that since I believed in the creator of Africa, that He would make all things work together for the good of those who loved him. My second year went by with me coming down off my high, confessing such things over myself to keep myself going. It wasn’t as Cloud and Caramel as the first year.
Sometime over a year ago, senior year began. My classmates were crazy-excited to get university over with, but I knew if anything it would be the start of a career for me. I chose my research topic – I could feel my excitement begin to bubble up again - of course it was going to be about Africa. I buckled up to begin my first real step that would change my world and went to meet my Advisor. He was one of my favorite teachers, a man who had inspired me with every course he had taught us. I was thrilled that I got assigned to work with him. I nearly skipped on the way to his office with my title written on the half-of-an-A4-size-paper tucked inside the only book I was carrying in my bag. I knew he would grin at me and promise me his full support. I will not tell you what my title was, just to keep you intrigued, but I will tell you this, when I handed my teacher that paper, he did not give me the reaction I expected.
He looked at that half-of-an-A4-size-paper, with my research topic written in my lopsided handwriting, in red ink, in the middle of the page. He took a good, long minute at it– perhaps choosing the words he would speak to me next. He looked up with a careful, professional expression and asked me why I had chosen the title. Right away I gave him an answer, perhaps I should have learnt from him like a good student and sifted through my vocabulary for words; but I didn’t. My arrogance hit him smack in the face and his head went back a couple of inches. He laughed a little bit too, and then took more time to stare at me - another good, long minute. He said he would “recommend some less challenging titles” to me and that I “should work on one of them”. I didn’t refuse, but I didn’t agree either, yet he gave me some five titles around my desired area of focus. They all looked like term paper titles to me. Challenges and Prospects of the AU, Pan-Africanism OAU-present, The theory of Economic Integration e.t.c.
Why? Why didn’t he believe I could work on the title I picked? Why didn’t he think I could produce something that could change Africa for good? Did he look down on me? Doesn’t he know that the number of degrees to your name isn’t what’s needed to change a continent? Doesn’t he know that all you need is passion and a few clues to get it right? My pride was hurt. Today I call it pride, but if you had asked me then, I would have told you with the humblest of words that “All I want to do is contribute something substantial to my continent, but all my advisor wants is for me to do a meaningless paper, just so I can get good grades and graduate.” SMH at the kind of generation these lecturers want to create.
You may guess that I decided to stick to my title. I decided it was my project and not his. He got his chance when he was an undergraduate. I would prove to him that even young people could do great things.
I started reading history books on African History and Pan-Africanism, theoretical works on Economic and Political Integration, Nationalism, Neo-colonialism and Dependency theory. All of these seemed to have some considerable effect on where Africa stood and where she could head in the future, and my paper was supposed to tie all of this together to present “The Way” for Africa’s future.
Laugh out loud at the attempt of a 20 year old girl knowing The Way for a continent of over a billion people. Laugh out loud at my humble but prideful, faith-filled ambition. Laugh out loud the way I often do when I am sitting by myself, in my room, or at the library, with a book in my hand or staring down at the screen of my borrowed laptop, feeling overwhelmed at the task I chose to carry on my shoulders.
I have read many books since that day in my advisor’s office. I have read and read and I have read some more. In fact, I am still reading a year and a half later, but I never feel like I have read enough. Africa precedes me. I cannot presume to “know” “her” talk less of The Way for her. I can know things about people within her, but the essence of her I have not yet found. The more I read, the more I am humbled. The more I read, the more aggravated I get at people who are as prideful as I was; assuming things about Africa, they presume, they insinuate, they… I would find all these people- those that are living and educate them on the complexity and shrewd, hidden nature of everything in Africa, but I have much to learn myself. I would accuse them of their sin of ignorance and their arrogance that binds them to their ignorance, but I have yet to prove myself any different.
Don’t get me wrong, I am still determined to produce from within me something substantial that I will give to this continent; for my sake, for the sake of those I care about and perhaps for the sake of their children and their children’s children. But perhaps I will have to start small. Perhaps it will start from some humility to change my title, produce a good paper that will earn me good grades and finally my degree. Perhaps it will start with meaningful little acts of service that will accumulate to a big influence. Perhaps I won’t come out with a Big BANG but will start by sizzling first.