A Beautiful Life Rescued in Love
Teodrose Fikremariam was once a noted political activist, a prolific writer who later fell on hard times in the United States. With much accomplishment and willing to reflect on his own life in order to promote a slew of public causes and issues he cares about, the Ethiopian - American recently reflected on his own American story, on his activism, on the recent conflict in Ethiopia and on how others can learn from his, if they want to follow in his footsteps.
You are many things to many people - a prolific writer, an activist and an entrepreneur.
First of all, thank you for this opportunity. I am just Teodrose. For a long time I did not know who I was. I arrived in America at the age of eight in 1984 during the height of the famine in Ethiopia. The one place I felt at home, the land that gave birth to me, was all the sudden taken away as my family and I became refugees.
A life of sedet erased my connection to the land that I loved, whereas I once lectured adults about the need to love and honor Ethiopia at the age of six, all the sudden I felt muted by sadness and, frankly, depression. My life has been that of overcoming this depression, of trying to fit in while never feeling accepted. I write a lot because it’s my form of therapy. Between music and the pen, I am trying to bleed out years of sadness, of seeing my father struggle with PTSD and my mom struggle with depression.
I really struggle with whether or not I should tell their stories but since their stories are my stories, I feel moved by Fetari to tell it so others don’t struggle in shadows and cry alone as I did for such long stretches of my life. Who am I? I am a man who has many wounds who is trying to heal, who misses his dad Fikremariam and his mom Sara Shewangizaw. I am every Ethiopian, my story and my tears, my sorrows and my joys are that of our people who float back and forth between desta and hazn.
You have also started a radio show with your partner. Tell me about that?
Four years ago, I went through a stretch of homelessness. I went from a six figure job at Booz Alen Hamilton where I consulted agencies in the Department of Defense, to living on the streets with fellow broken and invisible citizens. I had a mix of a Jobian and Jonah existence.
Eventually I wrote a poem called “Memo to She”, inspired by God to be honest with you, and that poem ended up becoming a nexus between Bethlehem and me. She read the poem, that first day we talked for five hours, separated by 2,000 miles, in time we fell in love. Fast forward four years, we are now married and have a son named Yohannes Teodrose.
You left Ethiopia at a young age yet you have stayed engaged to many things in the community in the United States. I still have an image of yours with your father that you posted at Bole International Airport. Tell me about that?
My dad was and is my source of strength. I came to find out recently, though there is still research that I am doing to get final verification, that my dad might have been the Ethiopian version of the Navy Seals. Well that explains a lot. I believe that my father suffered from PTSD, it is because of that my father worked all the time and was always there without being present. I think people who know what it feels like to be raised in a household where one or both parents suffered from sadness can identify with this story. In all honesty, this is a story that all of us can identify with. No one escapes the clutches of hazn, the woes that come with living life on earth.
My dad though worked all the time, he provided for his family and he made sure that I always back up my stories with verifiable facts, he trained me a long time ago to be a journalist, actually he trained me to be an observer, I owe everything to my dad and my mom who taught me to have empathy and compassion above all.
How has fatherhood changed you?
I stopped rebelling against my dad; I now have a son whom I fear is going to rebel against me. Full circle, once a woyane (calm down TPLF opposition, Woyane means rebel, it’s not the same thing as TPLF which I detest to the core) I am now a jegna who is trying to raise a son the same way my parents raised me, with care, patience and above all love. I’ve also learned the value of being present, something that I’ve struggled with most of my life. I am either living in the past or living for the future, the present being robbed from me each moment I rewind or press fast-forward.
I am learning, through the timket of Yohannes Teodros, to put aside my need to fix things and just be in the moment. I believe that God’s presence is felt in the moment. It has been said that depression is living in the past and anxiety is living for the moment. But as Eyesus said, if God takes care of the sparrows, would he not take care of us too given that we are worth more than birds?
These are lessons I’ve learned through trials and tribulations but I would not change one word of it. I learned through fire to be less Teodrose (warrior) and be more FIkremariam. I also learned to be a mix of my mom Sara and my dad Fikremariam. That is the sweet spot in life, to find the middle ground between two polar opposites.
Looking back on your own journey as an activist what advice do you have to those who want to follow in your footsteps?
I spent most of my adult life trying to chase acceptance and validation from others. Come to find out at the age of 46 that the only validation I needed was accepting me. Once I realized that I am sufficient and that I am in fact a child of God, everything else became secondary. I don’t have to measure my worth based on how others view me, I see my value through the eyes of my Father Egzyhabier In heaven, my father Fikremariam and my mother Sara who are next to Him.
You must be observing the recent conflict in Ethiopia and you have called out for it to end, opening up on your own biography. Tell me about that?
The conflict in Ethiopia in a lot of ways traces its roots to the strife between Atse Tewodros II and Atse Yohannes country Ethiopia. Atse Tewodros II, who was my great grandfather five generations removed, and Atse Yohannes had a falling out and Atse Yohannes ended up siding with the British and betrayed Atse Tewodros.
Well Atse Tewodros’s granddaughter ended up marrying a Ras named Gebreyohannes, who I have a sneaky suspicion might be related to Atse Yohannes. And through that branch I came into existence. And now we have before us Yohannes Teodrose, proving that love covers all sins. Love heals all wounds. God restores all people who turn to Him.