It was a moment that brought me to tears. Watching Tiffany Haddish give a tribute to her Eritrean heritage and observing joys emanating from a person who witnessed her fair share of tribulation was a testimony of her resilience and a ray of hope for all of us. There is depth to Tiffany that is found once you travel beyond her humor and understand her life narrative. The funniest comedians are usually the ones who have experienced the most turbulence.
All art that moves us is because there is a stroke of pain in the paint strokes that reminds us of ourselves. I was touched by Tiffany’s joy and her journey to rediscover a home she never knew because I too know the ennui of being disconnected from a place I only remember through traces of memory and flashes of remembrances. Watching the video of Tiffany visiting Eritrea is a beautiful reminder that we can all go home again even if we are visiting for the first time.
Tiffany’s journey back to her roots was one fraught with emotional hurdles. Her connection to Eritrea ran through the genes of a father she only met as an adult. Here is one thing I am certain of, the source of all art is woe. Like most laugh out loud comedians, Tiffany was struck by tragedy on countless occasions throughout her life. At the age of three, she lost her connection to her father Tsihaye Haddish when he left his wife and children to pursue a divergent path.
This initial void opened the door for a bigger adversity that would later come knocking. At the age of nine, a catastrophe befell Tiffany’s family as an act of cruelty injured her mother Leola and left her and her siblings without a caretaker. As if her father’s absence was not difficult enough, a malicious crime incapacitated her mother. Tiffany became a provider to her siblings at an age most children are playing with dolls and chasing youthful mirth.
Shortly after her mother suffered a devastating brain injury in a car accident, Tiffany and her siblings were put into the foster care system. In calamities that break many, Tiffany found levity and the ability to make others laugh. There are choices we make during moments of distress that define the rest of our lives—either revert to pain or invert the pain. Tiffany chose to invert the pain and make people smile where life was steady giving her reasons to be bitter. Alas, behind the bubbly personality and the joyful demeanor, Tiffany was burdened with the absence of a father she never met again after he left her side when she was three years old.
Where circumstances hand us mourning, it takes the intervention of others to turn distress into blessings. When Tiffany discovered love in William Stewart, he promised that he would reconnect her with her estranged father. William delivered on his promise; in what Tiffany described as her fondest moment in life, Tsihaye Haddish walked her down the aisle and danced with the daughter he had not known since she was a toddler. A lifetime of emptiness was all the sudden made full by the embrace of a father Tiffany always wanted.
Life is at once beautiful and distressing. Shortly after reconnecting with her father, tragedy would strike again as her dad was felled by heart failure and pneumonia. In a most moving ode to her dad, Tiffany posted a dedication to Tsihaye Haddish as he clung to life in the hospital. She wrote on Instagram the following words:
“I cried so hard when we danced because there I was in my Daddy’s arms. He said something to me I dreamed of him saying to me all of my life. He said ” Tiffany you are the most beautiful woman in the world and I am so proud of you. Even when you wrong you are right in my eyes. I am here for you.” That was it I started to ugly cry. Now my Daddy is in the Hospital with Heart failure and pneumonia. I am praying he lives so he can see me win awards, walk me down the aisle again, meet his Grandchildren I have yet to give him and share the success I have yet to gain. Daddy I Love you! God Please don’t let my Daddy Die.”
Quoting Tiffany just coaxed tears out of my eyes; I too once begged God to not take my father when he was battling lung cancer. These are stories all of us can identify with, live long enough and all of us are gashed by injustices—pain truly is the universal language of humanity. If we only realized that we are bonded through common struggles as much as we are made one through our hopes, there would be less tribulation in our world and coexistence would be upon us. Click To Tweet
Yet again, in tragedy, Tiffany found purpose. She decided to visit Eritrea in January and reconnected with a lineage that was fractured by circumstances and cruel impositions. In the midst of strangers and surrounded by the warmth of her fellow Eritreans, she was made whole in the very spaces she once felt melancholy. She found home through music, food, culture and dance in her visits to Asmara—she discovered family in the embrace of Eritreans. 50 pennies of unkind cuts are irrelevant for people who have treasures of love in their hearts.
What Tiffany found in Eritrea is the next paragraph after a sentence of misfortune. I know there are people reading this article who are going through hard times and struggling to cope in their season of discomfort. Let Tiffany be a testimony that austerity is not a permanent no matter how much it seems like it. Where there are seasons of barrenness, there will in time come a season of abundance. Through it all, follow Tiffany’s example and find reasons to smile even when shrouded by tears and anguish. Eventually, the trials lead to a journey of saese (dance) and hagos (joys). #TiffanyAndEritrea
“The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
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Check out Tiffany’s journey back to Eritrea and her travels to reconnect to a land she never knew but always felt in her heart. Big shout out to Eritrea, may God bless your nation and all of us.
Check out this Ghion Cast where I talk about the journeys of hardship and adversities we all travel, no matter our travels, in time we can in fact find home.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.