F.O.B.1 is the acronym you use to chidingly describe those Habeshas that have recently arrived from Ethiopia to the U.S. In her well-researched medical anthropology book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman tells us that the updated term is J.O.J in the Hmong communities.2 What do you call an Habesha that does the opposite? Though being born in the U.S., chooses to go to Ethiopia. Diaspora.
Jerusalem Theodros (ኢየሩሳሌም ቴዎድሮስ), Pepperdine University’s Seaver College 2014 alumnus, is a diaspora heading to Ethiopia at the end of August.3 She has been awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, which sends people to 140 countries all over the world, and managed to land herself a ticket to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (አዲስ አበባ, ኢትዮጵያ). According to Fulbright’s website, “the Fulbright Program has fostered bilateral relationships in which citizens and governments of other countries work with the U.S. to set joint priorities and shape the program to meet shared needs.” For those of you who don’t speak the bureaucratic dialect of the American language, Fulbright’s goal is to spread international intellectual dialogue for the benefit of all.
Jerusalem is doing advanced personal research, but Fulbright also sponsors students pursuing graduate degrees, and teachers of all levels. But why listen to a narrator when you can hear from the source:
Me: Hey, what are you up to?
Jerusalem: Practicing my Amarinya, sharpening my skills
Me: [laughs] Where are you at right now? How would you measure yourself?
J: Intermediate listener and speaker
Me: Okay, I’ll take that…
J: Reading is remedial though.
Me: Don’t worry, everyone was remedial at one time… you can sharpen more in Ethiopia… you’re going to Ethiopia, tell me about that.
J: I was awarded a Fulbright research scholarship. I am proposing to research the brain- retain in Addis.
Me: What does that mean? That’s a little technical for us.
J: The brain-retain is a term that a professor and I came up with together. It’s the reverse of the brain-drain – the flight of highly skilled human capital out of a developing nation. I’m proposing to research the brain-retain which are the different factors that keep medical professionals practicing in Ethiopia.
Me: Before we get to the brain-retain, how’d you first hear of the brain-drain?
J: Through my parents, and immigrants I know, it has been an idea I had always been exposed to.
Me: So, no class prompted this?
J: Uh-uh, I just started researching the idea and found that there is a lot of research on the brain-drain in Ethiopia. That’s why I had to narrow my research.
Me: Were they ferenj (foreign) or Habesha researchers?
J: Habesha. When I was interested in the brain-drain as my topic, I found a one hour lecture on the subject by an Habesha professor.
Me: Youtube? JSTOR?
J: Google, then it popped up in iTunes
Me: How long is your stay?
J: 9 months
Me: ….and your living arrangements?
J: They only fund my living arrangement, but it’s my responsibility to find a place, and furnish and live.
Me: If you wanted to, could you live in a gojo (hut) and save the rest of the money?
J: I could, but they track your expenses. They expect you to be living comfortably, spending a good portion of your allowance on rent.
Me: What I meant is how flexible were they with the funds? Are they just for housing?
J: For food, housing, transportation, and travel.
Me: What do you know of Addis Ababa? Have you been there before?
J: I went once, six years ago. From what I’ve heard, it has changed drastically.
Me: In what way?
J: I think in every way. I don’t know what to expect, but I hear there are a lot of diaspora there, renovations and a lot of foreigners.
Me: Glad you mentioned the diaspora. I know a number of people born here who are working in Ethiopia. Ya’ll are doing research there, and I’m doing research on ya’ll doing research. What made you choose Ethiopia? You have so many countries in the world, why Ethiopia?
J: I was drawn there because my family is from there. I have an interest in learning and contributing in whatever way I can. Not that I can do much in 9 months. But, I’m hoping my research can improve the health industry there in some way. I plan to ask medical students, educated in Ethiopia, and professionals what reasons are keeping them practicing there.
Me: Do you have any hypotheses?
J: Yeah. I imagine the documentation – green card, visa etc. National pride could be one. Family responsibility or not enough money.
Me: Is Fulbright facilitating your conversations?
J: I’ve spoken to two Fulbrighters in Ethiopia, and they said Fulbright is pretty hands-off. But, when you apply, you apply with an affiliate – somebody who will agree to facilitate your research or help you out once you get there. Somebody knowledgeable in your subject. I applied with two. I’m hoping they will connect me with the right people. I also have a relative who used to work at Black Lion (ትቁር አንበሳ) hospital. I’m sure they can connect me with some people who are willing to help.
Me: Is it like online dating? How did you find these affiliates?
By Henok Elias
J: Fulbright is also hands-off with that. It’s on you to find this person. It’s also pretty hard to lock-in an affiliate, because communicating overseas is challenging, and not only getting them to agree but to write an affiliation letter was troublesome. My aunt connected me with someone at Addis Ababa University, a business lecturer there, who I had no problem communicating with. And, my dad has a friend at the university who is willing to help me.
Me: You say it was hard to communicate. What did you use? Phone, Viber or Skype?
J: University people are used to communicating that way.
Me: How much free time will you get? Do you have any plans?
J: Since I’m there for 9 months, it’s up to me how to set the pace for my research, and how I spend my days. I’m hoping after the first month, that I’ll have an agenda for the week, and meet all of the goals that I set. I also have to come in being flexible. I know that people don’t treat time and appointments the same over there. I’m sure I’ll have enough free time. Friends of mine are working on a project there, Sincerely Ethiopia. I plan to help them as much as I can.
Me: It’s a film project right? How would you help?
J: I don’t know how yet, but Sincerely Ethiopia is a documentaruy that highlights Ethiopian entrepreneurs and business owners that uplift members of their communities. They want to highlight the Ethiopians, as opposed to the NGO’s or any outsider stepping in to help. The point is to showcase Ethiopians helping Ethiopians.
Me: Sounds like your research is also about Ethiopians helping Ethiopians. And HabeshaLA is no stranger to that concept.
We’ll check back with Jerusalem when she returns. I hope her experiences can inspire you to succeed in whatever lane you find yourself in. She ended the interview by telling me that she applied a little tardily, but her contact with staff at her university made all the difference. Network, network network.
1. Fresh Off the Boat
2. Just Off the Jet
3. The more academic way of describing her would be a diaspora member, but I phrased it as it would colloquially be phrased in Ethiopia..