An Ethiopian-BORN GERMAN Climbing the Ladder of Success
From refugee to multi-disciplinarian, Yared Dibaba went from training with, to being chased by the Dergue regime. From his newfound home in Germany, he went on to master many fields, from media to trade, to give back to the nation that afforded him a second chance. But he reminisces his hardships as a refugee and the extra effort made to succeed in life. He believes that one should respect all human rights and be deeply rooted in culture, heritage, and self-awareness, and that Ethiopians can benefit from these virtues and should learn from one another by engaging diversity. EBR’s Haimanot Ashenafi sat down with Yared to understand his journey and aspirations.
Yared Dibaba, a 51-year-old TV show host, actor, songwriter and model, used to wake up at four in the morning for military training when he was just an eight-year-old boy. He had to travel from his home to Mekanisa (a neighborhood, back then on the outskirts of Addis Ababa) with his friends to be trained by soldiers about matters like getting up early, marching, fighting, and other skills. Attending this training was an obligation and he remembers the time when soldiers were sent from his kebele (the lowest local government structure) to find him following his absence for four months. “I got sick,” he reminisces. “Imagine, I was just 8 years old during that time,” he exclaims sounding a bit surprised by his own story.
During that time, many of his father’s friends and colleagues were kidnapped, missing and killed. Since Yared’s father was working for the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, it was very shocking at that time to learn that the Ethiopian theologian and General Secretary of the Church, Gudina Tumsa, was kidnapped and killed. “The threat was very close to my father and dangerous even for us. Thus, my father tried everything to get us out of the country,” Yared states. Finally, after a lot of ups and downs, Yared and his family managed to leave Ethiopia when he was a 10-year-old boy.
The brutality of the Dergue regime was the major factor that forced Yared and his parents to flee their own country and move to Kenya. “We had a terrible regime which did not hesitate to kill, arrest, and kidnap people. That was a dangerous time,” Yared recalls. However, Yared and his parents stayed only four months in Nairobi since the Dergue government had an extradition agreement with its Kenyan counterpart. So, they decided to leave that place as well and move on to Germany. Yared describes the journey as bitter-sweet. “On the one hand it was very difficult, and on the other side we were very lucky to be able to leave Ethiopia, as well as Nairobi,” he says.
There were so many people and families who were caught in the plane escaping and were later imprisoned or killed. So Yared considers his family lucky to escape and make it safely to Germany. The fact that Yared’s mother and father studied in Germany made their trip less suspicious and contributed to their safe arrival in Germany. “Compared to many people in Oromia who had to march through the borders of Sudan and Somalia to the camp in Kenya, for example, we were really lucky. Apart from that, being away from your family, from your home, from your home country and living abroad as a foreigner is always hard. It is not easy. It is difficult,” he explains. “But it also offered us new opportunities to go to school, to live in peace, to educate ourselves, and all that. So, it had two sides for us.”
An ardent admirer of diversity, Yared has studied a number of disciplines. “In whatever case possible, like culturally, in the society, at work or any other issue, people like to put you in a box; but you can’t put me in a box because I’m German; I’m Oromo; I’m African; and I’m European. I also speak almost seven languages,” Yared elaborates. Furthermore, he learned coffee import, export and trading in Germany. So, he is a coffee specialist and professional coffee taster. He also went to drama school. He is an actor, a TV and radio host, an author, and a singer. He also has a band and has recorded CDs. Yared acknowledges his parents for his professional success and multidimensional career path. He says: “My parents encouraged me to do all that. Without them, I wouldn’t have been where I am today.”
Yared does many things and claims to do all of them on a professional level. He states that it is difficult for him to describe himself under one profession as he finds himself in all these disciplines. He notes that it was especially very difficult in the beginning. Yet, he believes that self-awareness is the most important thing for anyone. “To know your roots, culture, heritage and language means you are rooted,” Yared told EBR. “You know, if you are rooted like that, you don’t have to be scared that anybody could take something away from you because it’s inside of you and you are solid. So, I think this is something I will tell everybody: learn what you do professionally and don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget where you are from, especially in these globalized times.”
Yared states that his journey was not full of comfort after going to Germany. Just like many other people, he has had his own share of challenges as a man of color. It was difficult for him to go straight to his desires. Thus, he always has to figuratively jump over things, pass, and go left or right since he cannot go the ordinary way. Besides, it was tough to get the same chance as others, solely because of his skin color. He says he was expected to work very hard and go the extra mile to overcome such hardship, grow professionally, and reach where he is now. But he insists that overcoming these difficulties has helped him become stronger. As a result, he advises people who are in a similar situation to believe in themselves and move on.
As an author, Yared wrote a book about people leaving their countries for Germany. In his book, he compared the lives of other immigrants with his own and found out that there are some similarities. “I saw the world and wrote many stories. It is like little short stories about things I experienced in my life as an Oromo and as a black male in Germany. As an immigrant, you observe things totally differently from people who were born here,” Yared states.
He also made documentaries on German TV in a language called Plat Deutsche. Plat Deutsche is a regional language on the verge of dying. Yared rates himself as a fluent speaker of the language. He did the documentary after interviewing people in Siberia, other parts of Russia, Brazil, China, South Africa, Australia, South America, and North America.
Yared has witnessed that all peoples were not treated the same way in Ethiopia and did not have equal rights for decades. He thinks things have nowadays changed for the better as there is a lot of hope in the country. “If you don’t respect human rights, I think this is the first step to crisis and conflict. So human rights have to be respected. People have to sit together, talk and sort things out. You have to make sure that everyone’s rights are respected,” he declares. Threat to human rights was one of the factors that pushed Yared and his family out of their homeland. Yared’s father passed away three years ago and was buried in Germany. Yared feels sad that his father was not able to return and visit his country and that he was not buried in his homeland.
Yared refers to the European “refugee crisis” as a crisis of humanity. “This is a shame on the whole world. What kind of society are we? This is shameful, full stop,” he says. Although Yared believes that border blockages against refugees exacerbates the problem, he gives much emphasis to the reasons that push people out of their countries. “It (migration) is related with the climate or the economy. I can cite what happened in our country. It was land grabbing, taking land away from the people. It’s their source of income and everything to them. They take it away because huge companies go there and get the land for cheap. This is a crime. It creates refugees; making people go through the desert, the sea, drown, or lose their families to make it to the accepting country. This is the reason for people to leave their countries. From the European side of the story, they are involved too. European companies, Chinese companies, American, Russian international companies, they make money of that,” he explains.
Yared has a plan to get back to his home country and teach people about diversity as he believes that the society has to learn and see diversity as a huge opportunity, and not as a threat. As human beings, it is possible to learn so many things from each other. Younger people can learn from the old. He states that women can learn from men and men from women. “So, we have to see diversity as an opening and consider it a positive thing in our life. I would like to teach this to people because not all people in our country have experience with diversity,” Yared says.
8th Year • Dec.16 – Jan.15 2020 • No. 81