Leaving Addis Ababa for the US
My dad was diagnosed with cancer last year, he undertook treatment in the US. Unfortunately, he did not respond well to the treatment. When he realized the chemotherapy wasn’t working he decided it would be best to return home, to Ethiopia to pass away in his homeland.
I received a call informing me his health was drastically deteriorating and to prepare myself for the worst. I had initially made plans for my father to return home, but given the change in his health I decided to fly to the US to spend his last moments together, alongside my mother and son. This was around November 10, 2020 – the war on Tigray had already begun and the Tigray region was in total darkness.
Although I live in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, the majority of my family are based in Tigray. I was deeply concerned for the events unfolding in Tigray and shocked to see my neighbors celebrating and cheering the devastation. I became increasingly aware of the ethnic profiling of ethnic Tigrayans. I heard stories of mass imprisonment, home searches, planting incriminating evidence in homes; ploys to humiliate and dehumanize Tigrayans. It became clear the attacks on Tigrayans weren’t isolated to the region, but extended to those living in wider Ethiopia. This was a startling realization, that the country I called home was no longer a safe space.
The day of my flight to the US, I was denied entry. I knew ethnic Tigrayans were facing difficulty leaving the country so I braced myself for the inevitable. I was asked for my ID, unlike many other ID cards my ethnic group isn’t clearly outlined. Security officers began calling me by my surname, I assumed this was because my first name isn’t a typical Tigrayan name. I was asked if I was Eritrean, I didn’t know why I was being asked this. My ID and passport both show that I am Ethiopian. I answered and told them I was Ethiopian.
I was then instructed to stand to the side, alongside other ethnic Tigrayans who were denied entry. I stood there for an hour and a half. There was a breastfeeding woman to the left of me, countless other women crying, enraged men and confused children. We were treated like criminals and with very little regard. I vividly remember a security officer offering the breastfeeding mother a chair so she could comfortably feed her child, this enraged one of his colleagues and led to an argument between the two. We were stripped of our humanity, treated like criminals.
Shortly after this, I was then called by a security officer, who took me inside the airport – a man who I am sure is Eritrean began questioning me. I was fearful of what this man could want with me; he may have known my father, a fighter in the 17 year armed struggle against the Derg regime. The way security officers spoke to me was belittling and humiliating, I was shocked.
They asked me ‘Where was your Grandfather born?’ – I didn’t know.
I knew he lived in Asmara, Eritrea so it made the most sense to assume he was born there. Following that, I was denied entry onto my flight. I knew my father was dying at this point, once I was refused entry, I had no choice but to return home.
My mother and son were due to board a flight to the US the next day. They faced countless interrogation and security checks, but eventually made it in time.
Two days after my initial denial I decided to try again. It was a heartbreaking realization knowing I wouldn’t be able to see my father before his death. I showed security officers pictures of my father, letters from the Hospital all highlighting his poor health but was denied entry for the second time.
My father died the next day.” #TigrayGenocide #StopWarOnTigray
Prior to my third attempt to leave Ethiopia, I received a phone call from someone that knew my father. I was informed that I would be arrested if I were to go to the airport. I cancelled my flight.
My father died the next day.
The majority of my family live in Tigray, besides my mother, son and a few other relatives who are based in Addis Ababa. I had to organize a lekso – the grieving process. I was forced to grieve a monumental loss, alone.
I continued my efforts to leave Ethiopia, I called any and everybody for their help or advice. Nobody was able to assist me.
This changed when I received a phone call from a stranger, I didn’t know who it was at the time – but he instructed me to go to the airport and try again. I was escorted through the airport because I kept getting stopped. Just as I was about to board my flight I was pulled aside by security officers for further questioning.
At this point, I lost my temper. I began shouting. I didn’t know what to do. I showed them pictures, letters proving his death. I pleaded with them to let me at least bury my father.
I was eventually allowed to board the flight. Although I didn’t see a point anymore, I wasn’t able to see my father before he died; my whole life is in Addis Ababa, I began thinking ‘I might not ever be able to return’. My businesses, livelihood and my son’s home are all rooted in Addis Ababa.
The day Mekelle, the capital of Tigray faced heavy shelling my entire neighborhood celebrated and cheered the offenses in the region. I was at a loss for words. These were people I lived amongst. The realization that the death of Tigrayans was celebrated left me depleted. As if grieving the loss of my father was not enough, coupled with the loss and damage to my home region I lost faith in humanity.
They robbed me of my last moments with my father. I avoid talking about the ordeal, it’s too painful.
Omna Tigray Contributor 03/17/2021