My son, do not walk in the way with them, Keep your foot from their path. Proverbs 1:15 (NKJV)
Growing up in North America, especially back in the early 90s when there were only 25 to 30 Eritrean families in our city and no Eritrean students at my school. It truly made me feel like we were outsiders and I felt I had to try to fit in with the American culture in my school, around the students and especially with my friends. However, regardless of how hard I tried, I had a whole list of things that set me apart from everyone around me.
My name for starters, you would think it would be a breeze to pronounce “Selam” as it is known every where. But every teacher I had, had difficulty pronouncing it. So every year on the first day of school, not only did I worry about what new outfit I was going to wear, I had to also prepare myself mentally, because I would have to correct every single teacher I had.
Second, our food, clothing and language is completely different. Every time I wore my Eritrean dresses, I would hope I didn’t run into anyone from my school. When my mom cooked, I would politely ask her not to use onions, because I didn’t want my clothes or my book bag smelling like onions. After all, I had an image to uphold at school. My mom would give me a crazy look, and would ask me if I wanted us all to eat plain injera, because every dish in our culture has onions. The year I discovered Lysol air freshener was the best year ever and I bet I was their number one customer. I applied Lysol on everything I owned before I left the house.
Whenever we went shopping with my parents, and you know how Eritrean parents are when it comes to their language and culture. They are proud and they feel the need for the entire store to hear them speak. Before we got out of the car, I would remind my parents to speak to me only in English and if they must speak in Tigrinya then they have to whisper. One time I tried to shhh my dad to lower his voice in the store, that was the first and last time. I quickly learned, we cannot shhh Eritrean parents.
Lastly, to add to the list of all the things that made me different, how about being a Tewahedo Orthodox girl? Try explaining to people, why our Easter and Christmas celebrations were on different days from theirs, why we fasted more than we eat meats during the year, why we stood in church more than we sat down and the constant explanation why covering our hair is part of our Tewahedo Orthodox faith and we are not muslims.
Over the years, I have learned it is these differences that sets us apart from everyone else. When God decided to create us, He made us in mind with our identity and culture and we were blessed to be born into the beautiful and rich Tewahedo Orthodox faith. As a Tewahedo Orthodox girl, we don’t have to try to fit in with the cultures of others. We have to embrace our culture and be proud of our religion.
Every where you go, be proud to stand out and share with the world that you are a proud Tewahedo Orthodox Girl!
-Author: Selam Seyoum