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Water for Fire: the Choices We All Make that Contribute Either to Violence or Love, Part I

After writing a fire article two days ago that brought to light the unfair treatment that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is enduring and the way she is being viciously maligned by her detractors, I made the decision to drive up to Washington DC to deliver the missive directly to Omar’s office. This article is a recap of the events that unfolded yesterday, an experience so serendipitous that it required me to disconnect from social media and reflect in the hopes that I properly convey the message that I am presenting before you today.

The morning started with a bit of a tiff between my wife Bethlehem and me. Unable to apologize because my pride gets the better of me even with the person whom I love the most in this world, I created a disturbance in the morning where a simple “I’m sorry” could have smoothed things over. As we always do, Bethlehem and I made up after I wised up and expressed the contrition that eluded me in the morning.  However, our lovers’ quarrel, which I initiated with my ego, opened up the pathway for the spirit of retribution to enter my heart.

After praying, breathing in atonement and breathing out forgiveness, all was well—especially after I had my first cup of coffee. Once my heart was cleansed of rancor, I checked my social media accounts while sipping my daily roasted addiction only to notice a message from Mel Tewahade. The night before, Senait Dereje Senay, of my friends on Facebook, tagged me on a picture that Mel took with Meshasha Kassa. By the way, put a bookmark on the name Senait, we will revisit this name, which means pleasant in Amharic, down the line in ways that prove that life truly is not an accident. As my sister Rahel Fikre once said, everything makes sense in reverse.

Atse Tewodros II, who was born Kassa Hailu, was the king who united Ethiopia during Zemene Mesafint, the age of princes, and is my grandfather five generations removed.

Meshesha Kassa is a direct descendant of Emperor Tewodros II, who, in my book, was the greatest king among the Solomonic line of monarchs who traced their bloodlines to the offspring of Queen Sheba and King Solomon by the name of Menelik I. The Solomonic Dynasty ruled over Ethiopia for close to 3,000 years, with a few periods of interruption, until the line of Judah was shattered in 1974 as Haile Selassie was deposed and subsequently murdered. Parenthetically, I was born the same year and a month after the coup that toppled Haile Selassie came to fruition as the brutal Derg regime rose to power and shortly thereafter committed a genocide in my land of birth—a revolution started to relieve the poor instead led to the death of over 500,000 Ethiopians.

This is true of ALL revolutions; idealists fight for freedom only for egotistical usurpers to return the revolution back to the tyranny that gave birth to it. Beware of false prophets; they come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. What is true of Ethiopia is surely true of America and beyond.

Upon seeing my family tree that I sent to Mel, he reached out to me and asked for my number. A few hours later, Mel called me and we shared a long conversation. I will take a pause here and admit a few things. As much as I disavow imposed identities and talk about our need to rise above our differences, I cannot hide the fact that I am deeply attached to my once homeland. Even as a child, I used to take court in my parent’s house as I lectured adults about the beauty and significance of Ethiopia. Sadly, the gregarious child that once was in Ethiopia was transmuted into a withdrawn and saddened soul upon arriving in America.

My father Fikremariam Million and me in Ethiopia as I greeted him at Bole airport upon his arrival from a trip out of the country. I miss you dad, rest in eternal peace.

Unbeknownst to me, my first dance with depression occurred when I was eight years old. The free spirited Teddy was replaced by a sullen child who sought comfort watching TV wrapped in a netela (blanket). Gone were the days of roaming my neighborhood in Bole, within a few months I gained a lot of weight as I chased my blues away between Twinkies and McDonald’s french fries. My parents, who I love dearly, were driven from a life of upper-middle class comfort in Ethiopia to minimum wage workers trying desperately to provide for their children. My dad was barely home, he worked three to four jobs at a time and my mom worked as a maid during the night only to work twice as much as a provider for my siblings and me during the day. The warmth of the home I knew in Ethiopia replaced by the cold reality of America.

This is why I am so overjoyed, to the point of over-exuberance, when I meet my fellow Ethiopians. I am trying to fill a throbbing void in my heart each time I connect with the community I have little in common with outside of love for our culture and history. I often felt like the protagonist in the Invisible Man growing up. A profound sense of unbelonging the theme of my life, I at once fit in everywhere while fitting in nowhere at all. I realized recently, though, that my story is not exclusive to me; even the most popular people can feel a deep sense of alienation. However, a wise adviser recently dispelled this pain from my heart, Thomas told me that people who don’t fit in a box have the rare gift to look outside ourselves and see life through nuance. Hardship is a blessing in this way; my unbelonging is the source of my writing and the reason why I was able to produce this video below about Ethiopia that so many people who are not Ethiopian identify with and feel moved by each time they watch it.

As you can imagine, talking to Mel as he shared with me his experiences as a first generation immigrant and what he is doing as an entrepreneur to improve the lives of impoverished Ethiopians was like breathing life. During our long and ranging conversation, Mel noted that I come from royal blood. I instantly pushed back and told him that we are all royal because we all come from the one true royalty who created the universe. Let me not be pious here; my mom Sara Shewangizaw told me since I was a child that I would be the king of Ethiopia. You think Obama had audacity, his audacity was mere timidity for I harbored in my mind a day where I would return to Ethiopia a conquering hero. But that was the old me, after being nearly broken by tribulation and enduring homelessness for more than two years where I lived in missions across America, I learned to stow my ego and to believe in a greater power than me.

Because Mel is no shrinking violet—he too has the soul of a jegna (warrior) in his heart—he pushed back with equal vigor and told me that acknowledging the Solomonic line is not about ego but about restoring hope in a people who desperately need it at this time. Besides, he was not telling me to be king, he was merely telling me to stop beating around the bush and explicitly acknowledge who I come from so that can Ethiopians look back to our past to be reminded of our source of strength. A sense of community and our unity as a people is what enabled us to defeat would be colonizers at the Battle of Adwa.

This sense of community and collectivism is being chipped away daily by the need to chase modernity at the cost of our heritage. What I am writing about Ethiopia is equally true about what is taking place here, we consume more debt and connect to more apps only to be disconnected from each other and be confounded by sorrows. Sure, it is easy to rage against the machine and demand justice from rulers, but we must not forget the part we play in all this. As much as the powerful lord over us, in a lot of ways, our compliance and our insistence on going at it alone is the reason why we suffer apart. Layered on top of this social friction are political and social constructs that flourish by pitting against one another—tribalism runs amok. If we only paused to consider, the only way to overcome injustice is through unity and love.

As my morning conversation with Mel continued, he told me about Haile Selassie’s children. At this point, my ego came rushing back like Walter Payton at Soldier Field. You see, my grandfather Million Tedla, who was a World War II veteran and a Fitawrari (commander) who fought against Mussolini’s fascist army. He led a group of arbagnoch (rebels) who resisted the Italians for close to a decade until Ethiopia was liberated in 1943. As Mel was giving me more insight into Haile Selassie’s reign, I could sense resentment growing in my heart. My grandfather, along with dozens of arbagnoch, were summarily executed because they refused to submit to Haile Selassie upon his return to Ethiopia from exile.

My father, Fikremariam Million, grew up without a father because of the decision Haile Selassie made. For this reason, even though I give Haile Selassie credit for restoring a broken country, being the driving force of Organization of African Unity, starting a student exchange program with Howard University and forging a relationship with America that opened up the pathway for my family and hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian immigrants to come to America, I nonetheless reserve resentment for the last king of Ethiopia. My father Fikremariam joined the Ethiopian Navy and saluted the man who took his father; I chose the opposite path and grudgingly respected Teferi Makonnen while silently being hostile to his legacy.

Where youth manifest ego, experience teaches us forbearance. Mel tamped down my passion by letting me know that Haile Selassie was just a human being who had his flaws the same way that my grandfather five generations removed made mistakes. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” This sage observation was made about monarchs a long time ago. I understand now that the crown that weighs on rulers is the ego. Haile Selassie committed an egregious act against my grandfather the same way that Atse Tewodros committed egregious actions against his foes; pride and hubris drives even angels to sin.

Too often, proximity to pain or power drives our passions for redress or fuels our apathy for human suffering.

One day, I’d very much like to meet the children of Haile Selassie and embrace them without a hint of resentment; compassion heals the forgiver and the forgiven only to spreads outwards to others—love is how we change the world. This was the precise counsel that Mel was giving me as I was driving on 395 North on my way to the US Capitol.

“Only wanting to support our immediate family and be careless about others in the last 45 years, has taken Ethiopian to a very low place. As long as we only care about ourselves and immediate family Ethiopia will remain a poor country.” ~ Mel Tewahade 

It is the ego and the need to think about me above the collective we that is cratering my homeland Ethiopia, my new home America and the planet writ large. We live in a time where we accumulate possessions only for those collections to end up possessing us. The rich and the poor enslaved the same way, the entirety of humanity is buckling under the crown of ego because we refuse to acknowledge each others struggles and instead seek justice for just us. As much as we inveigh against inequalities and demand fairness, the brokenness we need to address first is not the struggles of the world but the pains in our souls. Alas, it is easier to save the world than it is to redeem ourselves.

After talking to Mel in the morning, I got off the phone with him intent on delivering the article I wrote to Congresswoman Omar’s office. I went to the local FexEx Kinkos and printed out two sets of brochures, one was the article I wrote two days ago titled “The Zionist Caucus’s Political Lynching of Ilhan Omar” and the other one was the article I wrote last week titled “Neo-Colonialism and the Perils of Tribalism“. With these two articles in hand, I went to Congress with fire in my left hand and water in my right. This is the poetry of life, I am named after Atse Tewodros, a fierce warrior who subdued a fractured nation by force yet my last name, Fikre, means my love in Amharic. As much as I honor my ancestor, it is my father Fikremariam who wielded the greater power—love.

The second part of this article, the part that gets truly sublime, is one I’m going to write tonight and publish Saturday. I do this for two reasons: 1) I want to reach out to all the people I met yesterday and ask them if I can quote the amazing pearls of wisdom they passed to me or mention their names in the article and 2) I have to break up this article so that people can properly digest what they are reading without feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of words that one all encompassing article would present. Check back in Saturday for part 2 of this article, I will also be interviewing Mel Tewahade tonight at 9:3o PM EST on Seek TruthTV. We will discuss the issues outlined in this article and show how the issues confounding Ethiopia are the same issues that confront us here in America and beyond.

The solution is simple: tamp down our egos and believe in the collective whole. The simplest tasks are the hardest ones to achieve, yet we grow as we go. Let me add one more thing, I am usually very reserved about my faith, I don’t make it a point to throw my beliefs upon others. However, the second part of this article will include a story of a chance meeting I had with a Muslim intern and a Jewish Rabbi in the halls of the Rayburn building that led me to withdraw the fire and embrace fully the spirit of water for the rest of the day. This theme of fire and water will make a lot more sense in part II of this article; let’s just say a meeting with a Jewish intern named Haya later on that day, who offered me water in Congressman TJ Cox’s office, is an encounter that flipped the narrative of King Solomon and Queen Sheba on its head.

The rest of this story to be written tonight; thank you for reading part I, part II will be published Saturday. Choose water for it heals and restores life, fighting fire with fire only leads to two burn victims:: #WaterForFire Click To Tweet

**Special announcement: if you are in the DC metro area, Ghion Journal will be hosting an Adwa Awakening event at Meaza Restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. Instead of pointing out the problems of the world, we are going to pivot and have community events. The Adwa Awakening event is one that shows how unity can bend injustice. CLICK HERE to RSVP and/or to find out more details. 

UNITE, look out for the least among you, don’t bow before the powerful and follow leaders if they truly serve the people instead of serving their egos. You shall know them by their fruits::

Usually, at the end of each article, there is a “tip box” of sorts where we ask our readers to contribute as they are able to the authors of each respective write up. However, today, given the nature of this article and the issues of togetherness and communal sharing I wrote about, I ask you to contribute as you are able to a Nikki Noeller, someone who once tweeted me after reading the article I wrote where I shared my journey from homelessness to redemption. You can find out more about her in the article I wrote titled “Tsebel”.

She is struggling now like I once struggled, though we could not be any different in terms of skin color, our politics and our overall outlook, what we have in common is greater than our differences. Nikki set up a GoFundMe account not too long ago, she raised $425 thus far, I hope you are able to give as you can and help Nikki get back on her feet, not only with dollars but by reaching out to her and giving her encouragement. Thank you.

Click HERE or on Nikki’s picture below to contribute to her directly.

Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
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Lij Teodrose Fikremariam

Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the co-founder and former editor of the Ghion Journal. He is currently the chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice.

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.
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
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