This is my story: the story of an Ethiopian woman in conflict first with the grim feudal customs into which I was born, then with the anarchy of the revolutionary period, from which I escaped in 1991 in a brutal forced flight into Kenya with my six children, the youngest of whom was a year and four months old. From there, I was sponsored by a church group in Halifax and taken to a paradise of peace and water: Canada.
My story is one of horror and miraculous escapes. It is also a grim Ethiopian story: one told from a woman's point of view, in the awareness that of the problems with the society is its male chauvinist traditions. The book is also full of anecdotes and conversations: I reveal Ethiopia through the talk of others. One of the several climaxes of this story is the fact that I was rescued right off the street at one point by Emperor Haile Selassie personally, and taken to the imperial palace to be educated, an event which obviously changed my life.
At a very young age as a child of a rural landowner in Ethiopia, I became disturbed at the fate that awaited me: I had been betrothed while still in the womb (on the assumption that I would be a girl) to an Orthodox deacon 20 years my senior. I decided that I wanted an education instead. I was also increasingly disturbed, even at six or seven, at the condition of women, especially that of my mother, in the society around me.
At the age of 11 I faked an illness to get out of the impending marriage. A medicine man was brought in. His treatment made me unconscious for two weeks. I was not expected to live (many didn't survive this treatment).
Even my first menstruation was deeply traumatic. As I bled and was terrified, my mother, out of ignorance, accused me of having had sex - before I knew what this was. She informed me that, if so, I was a soiled goods and my father was entitled to kill us both. A medicine woman, in another horrible experience, was brought in to confirm my virginity.
Through luck, the marriage was postponed, during which time I managed to live with relatives in my big family and, with the kind help of strangers and my own determination, I managed to go to school for a while.
Finally, the marriage date was set when I was 14. I was with relatives in another town. My father came to get me. I escaped from the train on the way back. My father then disowned me for having dishonoured the family, wrote that my brothers (all older) would kill me if they saw me, and ordered all my relatives to not take care of me.
Just when I was about to be put out on the street, the Emperor was on an official visit to the town where I was. I believed he would take me. I tracked his motorcade amid thousands of people. He would give little gifts to children. Finally he called me over and offered me something.
I said I didn't want that.
He asked me what I wanted.
I said "an education. I want you to take me."
Miraculously, he did! I, a ragged street girl about to be without a home, was in the local palace that very night! I was taken to Addis Ababa, where I lived at the imperial palace in summer and attended the country's best school with the children of the aristocracy through high school. (There were several others - the Emperor picked up promising people occasionally). Among the highborn, my sense of what was wrong with the country deepened.
Another chapter began, just before my final graduation, when I became pregnant by the son of an aristocrat who had promised to marry me but then rejected me when I became pregnant.
A mere visit to a hospital to confirm the pregnancy turned into a nightmare that merely revealed how corrupt things were. The doctor pressured me into having an abortion - he did them on the side for money. I refused, wanting to keep my child - a decision that in itself would bring dangerous social rejection.
I got kicked out of the palace for being pregnant. But I had my diploma. Just as I tried to find a j