It was the seventh grade and three of my friends and I were chosen to do a presentation in front of the president of Eritrea! The presentation was happening at the annual national festival that took place in the summer. My topic of choice was Agricultural development as opposed to Industrial development. I stood before the president and everyone else that was listening and made a case for the countless ways industries affect the environment we live in through producing immense levels of pollution that eventually contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer. There were lots of fun topics I could have chosen to present on as a 7th-grade kid but I genuinely cared about our surroundings and I also strongly believed that I could make a difference by using my voice to speak up on the importance of protecting the environment and advocating for a sustainable environment.
This time where I was taking ownership of the power my voice had was also a time where there were various changes taking place in my personal life. This was the time where my mom was feeling a bit sick and my dad had left for Canada shortly for his sister’s graduation from Nursing school at the University of Manitoba. Due to these factors I, unfortunately, didn’t have both my parents witness one of the greatest achievements of my Junior high journey.
One evening, my mom suddenly felt sick and went to the hospital, and she ended up getting admitted overnight. I remember visiting her the next day where she seemed okay to me. I thought to myself, “we’ll go back home together, she’s fine” but things started playing out differently. The doctors said she had to continue being admitted to the hospital until they figured things out. One of the downsides of the reality we found ourselves in was that we didn’t get updated on the severity of her condition and so we were very optimistic about her recovery and about eventually returning home with her. I never gave up even when things started to take a turn and the ray of hope was getting dimmer! I always imagined my loving mom coming back and warming our home once again. Things don’t always end up playing out the way we want them to, that’s part of life’s lessons. My mother suddenly passed away.
My father who entered Canada as a visitor was striving to become a permanent resident to sponsor his family for a better life in Canada when my mother passed away. I was left with my two elder siblings, one of them was near the Eritrea-Sudan border doing mandatory military service, and myself and my younger siblings were all alone. The pain is still indescribable. It felt like the whole world had turned against us. Nevertheless, my mother’s youngest sister who was 22 years old at the time came back from college and took all the responsibility of taking care of us and took on the burden of getting through the most difficult time of our lives. Inspired by my young aunty, my interest in helping people increased enormously because of this experience.
Afterward, in 2011 my extraordinary father worked so hard and rushed to get me to move to Nairobi, Kenya to start a family sponsorship process to Canada. What I will tell you next is the part of my story that most people find hard to believe when I share. I made the journey to Nairobi, Kenya with my younger sister when I was only sixteen! We had a family member that watched us for the first three months (which I’m eternally thankful for) but the family member eventually said Hasta La Vista to life in Nairobi and had to return to Eritrea. Life was beautiful and yet challenging. Thanks to my dad’s financial support every month we were able to live in one of the safest areas of Nairobi, Kenya. My 2 years of living in Kenya resulted in encounters with different kinds of people. This was also the time when I started my spiritual journey and was able to create the most unforgettable memories of my life.
Though conditions were livable, one of the downsides of living in Kenya was that I did not get to attend school. There were two reasons for this. One was the extra financial burden I would put on my dad as he was already covering all my living expenses. The second reason was that we honestly did not think we were going to stay there for as long as we ended up staying.
The other aspect of living in Nairobi, Kenya that I had to get accustomed to living in very close proximity with a lot of people. We were REALLY close as in we shared the kitchen and washroom with multiple people! We lived with a lot of habesha people (“habesha” is a term Ethiopians and Eritreans use to refer to themselves). I considered everyone who lived with us and near us, a family member, and this made me even more naive. I saw everyone from the lens of a family member and didn’t think people would be selfish and hurt others for stupid reasons. As a result of this I struggled with identifying people who took advantage of me for the longest time.
The fact that I attended church regularly and applied whatever concepts I learned in my daily life was soon seen as a quality that could be exploited by those who took advantage of me. I would just let people be because I wanted to leave in good terms with everyone in case my move to Canada happened quickly. I easily forgave people even when at the expense of knowing I was hurting deep down. Instead of putting myself first, I gave people the benefit of the doubt. This created so much hurt and led me to despair when I would find out the true intentions of those whom I continued to forgive and put up with. The funny part is that those people were in their mid and late 20’s. I always wondered why they would do some of the most unforgivable things to a teenager. This is a question I still ask myself whenever I reflect on those days.
Fast forward to 2013, I was so happy that I made it to Canada and that I was finally reunited with my father after long years apart. However, I had a hard time adjusting to life here as I was afraid of meeting people. I had a specific phobia when it came to meeting new people. I thought people only wanted to meet me because they wanted to hurt me. Things that I went through in Nairobi, Kenya would suddenly replay in my head, and my fight or flight mode would automatically get turned on. I was constantly reminded of certain events were people whom I thought were trustworthily humiliated and abused me both emotionally and verbally. I wasn’t in a relationship while I was there these were all experiences from platonic relationships therefore I feared everyone’s intentions when I got here.
In Canada, I was so afraid of people for at least two good years after my arrival. My internal struggles would manifest in the physical world as I started walking looking down to the floor to avoid making eye contact with people. It was so obvious that people started noticing it. They would refer to me as “the girl who walks looking down thinking she will find cash on the floor”. On top of my perceptions about people’s intentions I also had to adjust to school because I was away from it for 2 years. I blamed myself constantly for not trying hard to go to school in Nairobi. I thought that it would have certainly limited my interaction with the people I lived with and if that was the case then I would not have faced the challenges I was facing in Canada when it comes to meeting people and everything that comes with not being able to attend school for 2 years. My whole thinking process was disrupted with “should have’s” “could have’s” and “would have’s” and before I knew it, I turned into someone who was just complaining things.
It took me such a long time to realize that there is power in gratitude and that there are always invaluable lessons from the things we go through, including loss of a loved one, making life-altering moves at an early age, and encountering multiple challenges while transitioning into a new life.
I now clearly know why I lost my unique mom at an early age. I know why I had to move to Nairobi, Kenya at 16. I know why I did not go to school there. I know why I had to meet those specific people that were not necessarily a good fit for me. I know why I had a hard time connecting with people when I arrived in Canada.
It now feels as if one challenge was happening at a certain time to prepare me for the next one, and that one to prepare me for the coming one, and so on. The challenges do not stop and only your perspectives help you learn how to navigate through them. Allowing your perspective to change means you start seeing challenges as your blessings and identify that they are meant to create new opportunities for your personal developments and even the career paths you choose.
I opened up this part of my story the way I did for a reason. Even as a child, I had a strong belief that my voice could make a difference even if I was meant to stand alone. And now, here I am years in between and I’m raising my voice and sharing my story as I still believe in the power that exists in vulnerability and the courage to speak up.
My strong belief in the power of sharing my experiences has propelled me to start sharing those experiences and random thoughts on my blog https://lilydope.blog/. Please check it out and join me on my journey!
Thank you for reading!
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