July 31st, 2008
One of the main objectives of Lissan is to present promising project-establishments for the benefit of Ethiopian people. We admire those who are behind such projects and encourage them to keep up their unbreakable dedication to make a change. Seifu Ibssa is one of these determined Ethiopians.
We contacted Seifu recently and he has kindly sent us an article describing about his project and about himself.
East African Village Outreach
I started what I call “community transformation” by accident less than 3 years ago. In February 2005, Fremont Presbyterian church, located near Sacramento State University, asked me to help seven Americans as they travel to Ethiopia to visit their mission fields to which I agreed. After helping them with their mission, I invited the team to visit my birth-village, which was on our way to the capital from the trip. They agreed. We had a wonderful time staying in my dad’s hut overnight, built at the top of a very cold hilltop, about 10,000 feet above sea level. The next morning, we started walking and we saw a small boy fetching dirty water in two containers. The water was so dirty that no one in his right mind would even wash his feet, let alone drink it. The 8 year old boy didn’t even care what those 7 foreigners and a few Ethiopians were doing near the pond. He had a job to do – fetch water and go home. We took his picture and my depression began right there!
Seifu Ibssa tests the faucets on the water storage tank he and his Sacramento friends constructed in the remote Ethiopian village where Ibssa was born.
I was depressed for two months after I arrived in USA to be with my family. I would hardly eat, drink or joke around with my wife and kids during those two months. Something was wrong with me. I couldn’t take the picture of that child off my mind no matter how hard I tried. So, I decided to do something about it. I sold my car, sold my African collections at a garage sale, begged at a church, washed cars for donations and sent about $6,000 to get a water tank built and make clean water available for 200 villagers and their cattle. That was not the end. I had a new vision. Education is in high demand. Women deliver babies on dirt floor at the only clinic in the village. Deforestation is at work at an alarming rate, and soon the next generation will have little or nothing left to eat due to soil erosion.
Before construction of the well, villagers such as this young boy gathered their water from this mud hole, which they shared with livestock and hyenas.
I wanted to build a school, work on reforestation and upgrade the clinic for a population of more than 10,000. After establishing a board consisting of 3 Americans and 3 Ethiopians that would oversee my activities, I accomplished the following:
· Built a Kindergarten on a land given to me by the farmers. We now have 105 children attending with 2 teachers and a janitor. Last year, we had 176, but 70+ had graduated and moved to the nearby government school.
· We tutor 8th graders in the afternoon in my KG, get them involved in sport activities. Last year, all 43 students who sat for national exam passed as a result of our efforts! We are hoping to see the same result this year.
· We added 2 more class rooms at the government school, and donated 100+ desks.
Provided classroom desks to these schoolchildren, who previously sat on sticks on the ground.
· We built a four-room living quarters for teachers in the area to live free of charge.
· We donated a delivery bed and other medical tools and drugs to the clinic.
· We helped finish a school building in a nearby village (the rooms had no doors or windows)
· We are currently supporting 85 high school students (23-10th graders and 62-9th graders). You see, there is no high school in my village. After 8th grade, the kids would have turned to farming rather than walk 25 miles one-way to get to school. We rented houses and have them live there.
· We have planted 500 trees to help curve the soil erosion.
· We conducted 3 to 6 days clinic each year we traveled to Ethiopia, to treat the sick free of charge (drugs from us too).
· We paid to have a 15 year old boy’s split lip medically fixed. He is one of the high school students, and was in tears when we were there 3 weeks ago to visit and give pep talk.
· We are currently collaborating with Ethiopian Tree Fund Foundation (ETFF) to get apple trees, honeybees and mushrooms introduced in the area to help generate income for the farmers.
East African Village Outreach
A PRESS ISSUE about SEIFU IBSSA
Corporate Employee Brings Water, Hope to Ethiopian Villagers
Ibssa’s native village
In McClatchy’s corporate Finance Department, they call him King Seifu. That’s the good-natured nickname given to Seifu Ibssa, a financial systems analyst for The McClatchy Company whose “kingdom” encompasses the PeopleSoft financial network.
In the remote Ethiopian village where he was born, however, Ibssa is treated as if he were king. Upon his visits, he is welcomed as a returning hero by the thousand or so residents. Lambs are slaughtered and feasted upon in his honor. He is given a white horse to ride during his stays.
“When you are away from the village for a long time – and especially if you are living in the Western world – they think you are just the most precious person, the most educated person,” he said. “They think you are the richest person in the whole world and, comparatively, you are. You are like a king, literally, because you can afford to buy anything in that part of the world.”
Ibssa, 47, is more than the hometown boy made good. He has become his village’s benefactor. He has initiated a number of humanitarian efforts to lift his native village and the surrounding community out of poverty and suffering.
Ibssa was born in Kerebigne, a tiny mountain hamlet within the surrounding village of Acheber. Acheber sits 10,000 feet above sea level in the mountains of southern Ethiopia. Kerebigne is only accessible by donkey, horseback or a 45-minute hike from Acheber.
Since 2005, the area has been the focus of Ibssa’s relief efforts. He has provided medical supplies and purchased a maternity bed for the health clinic. He’s bought classroom desks and benches to relieve schoolchildren from sitting on sticks on the ground. He’s paid for a new building wing at the local high school and has secured land and the government’s OK to start construction of a kindergarten and after-school center. He has recruited Sacramento churches and missionaries to the cause, raising about $15,000.
“My dream is big. I want to transform that village,” he said. “I want to train the children. I want to focus on the next generation. I look forward to my retirement days so that I can go back to my roots and help my villagers.”
No gift was bigger than the supply of safe drinking water Ibssa and his Sacramento friends provided last fall.
Ibssa raised money for the construction of a well and water storage tank to supply the villagers and their livestock with reliable – and separate – sources of clean drinking water. Ibssa spent three weeks of his vacation in Ethiopia last year overseeing the construction.
“People are just very, very grateful for what we’ve done to help them,” he said. “You have to remember that this is just a forgotten village. It’s never been looked after by any government entity or any nongovernmental organization. Nobody ever goes there.”
Ibssa began returning to his birthplace in 1992. That’s when the political situation in Ethiopia stabilized enough to allow him to visit his father and other relatives there. He fled Ethiopia and its brutal Marxist government in 1982, making his home in California ever since. Acheber’s remote mountain setting had largely insulated it from Ethiopia’s chronic problems – devastating cycles of drought and famine, environmental degradation, over population, a history of civil war and oppressive military regimes.
Villagers still live the way they might have centuries ago, tending to their livestock and farming wheat and barley. The village even had its own water supply provided by two natural springs and a nearby river. Ibssa fondly remembers his childhood there. He worked as a shepherd until he was 10. That’s when his father, a relatively well-to-do farmer and landowner, sent him to Addis Ababa, the capital, to get a formal education. “At the age of 10, I didn’t even know what a car looked like,” Ibssa said. “All I knew were horses and donkeys, cows and goats.” In Addis Ababa, Ibssa worked his way through school, ultimately earning a university accounting degree. He started a career as an accountant until he found an opportunity to leave the country and its military regime in 1982.
“Anybody who had a chance to run away and leave the country would run,” Ibssa said. “It was just a horrible time. There was no freedom. I needed a visa to go from the capital to where I was born 130 kilometers away. That’s not how I wanted to live.”
In California, Ibssa immersed himself in his new country, taking English and U.S. history classes at night and working entry-level accounting jobs during the day. He married, started a family and went back to college to get a business administration degree from San José State University. A job offer in 1994 took him to Sacramento, where he gained computer and PeopleSoft experience. He joined The McClatchy Company in 1999 to help install and oversee the PeopleSoft financial applications.
His job is to make sure those systems work and to help finance employees throughout McClatchy with questions and problems. “That’s what I do best – helping people,” he said. “It goes with my character.”
In February 2005, Ibssa accompanied a Sacramento church group to Ethiopia on a humanitarian mission, serving as a translator and guide. At the end of the trip, Ibssa invited the church members to his village as his guests.
To his shock and dismay, Ibssa discovered that Ethiopia’s widespread suffering had finally caught up to Acheber and Kerebigne. The local elementary school and health clinic were in bad shape, and water was in short supply. The two underground springs had dried up from neglect and overuse. The mud hole that remained was being shared by villagers and livestock during the day and by hyenas at night.
“I was just devastated,” he said. “I came back just depressed. I was depressed for about two months.” That depression eventually turned into action. Ibssa started asking friends and relatives for donations to help improve the situation. He gave Power Point presentations at his church. He formed a relief organization called Ethiopian Village Outreach complete with a board of directors, brochures and a website.
“I am so thankful to my American friends who have joined me on the board and have given so much,” Ibssa said. “They are very, very generous.” Ibssa’s relief work doesn’t surprise his McClatchy coworkers who know him best. “Seifu is a prince of a guy. He’s just one of the real precious people in the world,” said Ted Norris, a fixed asset accountant in McClatchy’s corporate Finance Department. “He’s still really drawn to Ethiopia and feels a need to share his good fortune and blessings with his countrymen as much as he can.”
May 2nd, 2008
Sosina was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978. She started doing gymnastics at the age of 7, and was Ethiopian Gymnastics Champion at ages 9 and 11. She joined Circus Ethiopia in 1993, and toured the world for five years as an acrobat, contortionist and dancer, including performances at the Adelaide Festival, the Womad Festival in England, and a performance for the Queen of the Netherlands.
“Africa” photo: Rob Skovell
Sosina moved to Australia in 1998. In 1999 she completed a Diploma in Small Companies and Community Theatre at Swinburne University, including spending a month doing work experience with Australia’s flagship contemporary circus, Circus Oz, and participating in a Melbourne Women’s Circus community performance. She supported her studies and training with a job at Africako, where she was employed for her specialist Ethiopian hair braiding skills. Sometimes Sosina performed as a “hair busker”, braiding hair, adding colorful extensions and bright found objects and offering a free smile to the shoppers in Auckland St, St Kilda.
Sosina was fortunate to complete her diploma just as the Swinburne University National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) sought applications for their inaugural two-year diploma in circus arts. She was a successful applicant, and was one of its very first graduating students in 2001. While studying at NICA, she developed her world-class, solo, bouncing ball juggling act, and a ladder-balancing act. These acts, along with her stage presence, her contortion, her creativity, and her ability to work effectively in a collaborative creative environment led Circus Oz to offer her a position in their permanent performance ensemble in 2002.
February 17th, 2008
Haile Gerima is an independent filmmaker of distinction who has served as a distinguished Professor of film at Howard University in Washington, DC since 1975. Born in Ethiopia, Haile is perhaps best known as the writer, producer and director of the acclaimed 1993 film Sankofa.
Haile Gerima: Writer, Director, Editor
This historically inspired dramatic tale of African resistance to slavery has won international acclaim, awarded first prize at the African Film Festival in Milan, Italy, Best Cinematography at Africa’s premier Festival of Pan African Countries known as FESPACO and nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film festival where it competed with other Hollywood films. In addition the film captured the imagination of huge audiences across the United States, many who waited in long lines and filled theaters for weeks on end. In so doing, the film defied the notion that signing with mainstream distributors was the only option for filmmakers to have the public see their films. Guided by an independent philosophy, Gerima practiced an innovative strategy in distribution whose success remains unprecedented in African American film history.
What inspires this filmmaker is a tireless devotion to the art of independent cinema and the vision of a uniquely innovative cinematic movement that stresses a symbiotic relationship between African Diasporan artists and community. The success of Sankofa has allowed Gerima to begin to create an infrastructure to pursue this vision. His film center, located in the heart of the African American community at 2714 Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC, represents one of the real manifestations of the dream he has for independent African American cinema.
Sankofa (Klick here to order the DVD.)
While a number of productions are currently in production, two documentary films have been completed since Sankofa’s distribution and the center’s opening in 1996. In 1997 Haile co-produced, with his partner and confidante Shirikiana Aina, Through the Door of No Return. Its focus is the emotional journey Africans in the diaspora make to Ghana to reclaim the lost memories of a distant traumatic past and the experience of a Pan African consciousness inspired by Kwame Nkrumah’s open invitation after that country’s independence. Work on the second in the series with a focus on the history of the Pan African movement is presently in progress.
In 1999, Haile completed the first in a series of documentaries commemorating Ethiopia’s 1897 defeat of Italy at the Battle of Adwa in Adwa: An African Victory. It has had enthusiastic screenings at the Venice Film Festival, the London Film Festival and Sithengi: The South African Film and Television Market. This film has also had screenings in Washington, DC, New York and San Franscisco as well as other cities across the United States. The second film in the series, The Children of Adwa: Forty Years later, presently being edited, recreates the Emperor Haile Selassie’s stoic defense of Ethiopian sovereignty in the face of fascist Benito Mussolini’s brutal attempts to avenge his country’s earlier defeat.
Haile is also at the development stage with a five-part series on Maroons, inspired by audience questions about the role in of these African freedom fighters in American history and as portrayed in Sankofa.. He believes this exciting work will address a glaring omission in the knowledge and thinking of Africa in the Americas and will utilize the expertise of international scholars, thinkers and filmmakers in its presentation.
Gerima’s latest dramatic film is TEZA set in Ethiopia and Germany (2004-05). This film, currently in production, chronicles the return of an African intellectual to his country of birth during the repressive Marxist regime of Haile Mariam Mengistu and the recognition of his own displacement and powerlessness at the dissolution of his people’s humanity and social values.
In addition to his work on films about Africa and the Diaspora, as well as fulfilling his responsibilities as a full Professor of Film at Howard University, Haile Gerima also lectures and conducts workshops in alternative screenwriting and directing both within the United States and internationally. He has also conducted numerous workshops in the new South Africa and in 1995 he was invited to the British Film Institute to serve as a fellow. He is generous, giving his knowledge and expertise to a large population of students and is heavily invested in the notion that the filmmaker must be engaged in a constant process of self-reflexivity and learning along with the community he serves.
Haile Gerima’s training as a filmmaker can be said to have begun in Gondar, Ethiopia, the place of his birth, where he sat around the fire engrossed in the tales told by parents and grandparents. His father, a dramatist and playwright who traveled across the Ethiopian countryside staging local plays, was perhaps his greatest influence, nurturing a love of the art in young Haile. In high school he would himself direct his classmates in end of semester productions before leaving to study at the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago and later at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
It was at UCLA Haile recognized film as a medium which could help communicate some of the social and political ideas he and his peers were exploring at the time. During the late 1960s, social protests and revolutionary fervor in the developing world and African American struggles for civil rights would challenge young filmmakers and other artists alike to make their education and their works of art take on social relevance, especially in their own community’s struggle for social justice. While the teaching establishment ignored their concerns, their activism, fueled by intense study and critical discussion in study groups would forever shape Haile Gerima’s lifelong vision to create films that raised the social, political and historical consciousness of African people. It was also where he developed a keen interest in experimentation with the formal elements of the art form. His first film Hour Glass (1972) is the story of a young basketball player contemplating his fate as a gladiator. Child of Resistance, completed in the same year, was inspired by a dream he had of Angela Davis’ incarceration and the challenges she posed to African Americans to sustain the historical continuity of resistance against white supremacy.
Community concerns are again the inspiration for another powerful yet intensely poetic film set in urban America. In Bush Mama, completed in 1976, Dorothy, an African American woman living on welfare in Watts, California, struggles to raise her daughter while her partner is unjustly imprisoned. The film’s political aggression provides audiences with a cinematic experience that is hard to ignore prompting The Washington Post to insists “‘Bush Mama’ is a picture that must be seen…This film crackles with energy. Fury shakes every frame.” Twenty years later The Society for Cinema Studies would celebrate this film, convening a special panel to discuss the importance of its cinematic style.
The same year after the completion of his thesis film, marked the release of Harvest: 3000 years, a film that gained the distinction of being selected as a Critic’s Choice for screening at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Following the festival the film would go on to win the George Sadoul Award. The film’s international reputation was again celebrated when it won the Silver Leopard (Grand Prize) at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland and the Grand Primo Award at the Festival International de Cinema at Figueroa da Foz in Portugal. In the USA it garnered the Oscar Micheaux Award for the best feature film at the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Variety magazine describes the film simply as “remarkable”. Set in Ethiopia, Harvest is the story of peasants exploited by a wealthy landowner and their dignified struggle resist the feudal overlord. The filmmaker’s experimentation with form is clearly evident for a film that lasts 150 minutes long. The magazine journal Cineaste comments: “Gerima’s camerawork in Harvest is at its most lyrical. The hypnotic images of fields and valleys, and the slow panning shots of the land and sky, evoke a sense of viewing an epic silent documentary”. Yet Gerima’s interest in cinematic form is not restricted to drama. His foray into the documentary in 1978 with the film Wilmington 10, was as intense an exploration of form and content as his treatment of the fiction film. Looking at the ongoing persecution of political prisoners and the American justice system, the filmmaker’s approach views the cases of the accused within the socio-historical and economic disenfranchisement of African American peoples and their relationship to national and international struggles. In a review of the film “The Black Collegian” described Haile Gerima as “…a powerful filmmaker, gifted at inciting emotion and riots in the guts of his viewers.” In dramatic form, this documentary captures the humanity of a people who have been under constant siege for generations and passionately shows how this present generation locates their place in the historical struggle.
Again the engine of history provides great impetus and becomes a legitimate source of healing for the lead character in Ashes and Embers, a Vietnam veteran who suffers from post war trauma. Of the 1982 film “The News World” in New York described it as “…a soaring film…a harrowing portrayal of one former soldier’s struggle to leave the war behind” and the Village Voice proclaimed Gerima “…as among the most interesting and original narrative filmmakers on the current scene.” He would later be honored two years later with a retrospective of his films at the Festival De La Rochelle in France, alongside older, more seasoned filmmakers.
After Winter: Sterling Brown (1985) is Gerima’s documentary tribute to the famed poet and literary critic. Made in collaboration with students from Howard University who served in major roles, “Gerima’s film lets its illustrious subject take the viewer on a journey laden with literary landmarks and historical anecdotes” says New Directions magazine. More importantly, the poet laureate of Washington D.C. serves as oral historian, and represents an archive for future African American generations much as the filmmaker himself perceives his role.
Throughout his career Haile Gerima has always used his films as critical lessons for his own personal growth and creative development. His concern for people of African descent is evident especially where the representation of their images is concerned. His belief is that his cinematic expression should counter stereotype-laden classical Hollywood films and this guides the evolution of his socially relevant cinema. Many of his films therefore have been made utilizing either community support, institutions supporting independent cinema or sources outside of the United States. This has had a strong effect on both the content and form of his films
Sankofa represents a watershed period in terms of Gerima’s experimentation with form. From its initial screening at the Berlin Film Festival in 1993 to the critical reception of the film’s commercial release in South Africa in 2003, this film has thrilled critics and audiences throughout the world. Yet any assessment of the success of the film Sankofa would be incomplete without considering his previous films, their funding and the strong ties Haile Gerima has developed with the African American community. The latter is responsible for the formidable presence of this community at the box office for the film when every major distributor in the United States ignored it. Soon after the successful independent distribution of Sankofa was completed, Gerima undertook the BBC commissioned film “Imperfect Journey” in 1994, exploring the political and psychic recovery of the Ethiopian people after the atrocities and political repression or “red terror” of the military junta of Haile Mariam Mengistu. The filmmaker questions the direction of the succeeding government and the will of the people in creating institutions guaranteeing their liberation.
This idea of identity and liberation is perhaps the defining goal for Haile Gerima and his vision for an independent cinema. To tell one’s story is to place one’s name on the map of history and to do so while honoring the struggle of ancestors is critical to ensuring future generations have the documentation to create their own blueprint of survival. The history, culture and socio-economic well being of all peoples of African descent is his primary concern but above all the preservation of their humanity is the greatest motivation for this filmmaker. At this point of his career Haile Gerima acknowledges that the goal of reclaiming story in the battle of ideas remains his most enduring passion. That passion and the philosophy that guides it are also articulated in his writings on cinema. He is the published author of numerous essays and articles and is the author of a forthcoming book on the making of Sankofa.
February 3rd, 2008
A Youth Ambassador?
By: Yohannes Birru*
He came to the United States of America as a toddler in 1995 and today he’s a 16 year old social entrepreneur. Yes, this teenager is Samuel Gebru, a talented Ethiopian living in Cambridge, Massachusetts who has probably done more for Ethiopia in his young life than many adults.
Who is Samuel Gebru and why is he important? Samuel plans to be a catalyst for change. He heads an American nonprofit, The Ethiopian American Youth Initiative, which strives to promote Ethiopian culture in the US, unite Ethiopian and American youth to raise funds for Ethiopian developmental projects concerning women and orphans, as well as to serve as a platform for networking between Ethiopian and American youth as a means to find the “inner leadership” that Samuel is convinced hides in everyone.
Mr. Gebru is an avid Ethiopian, concerned with Ethiopia’s social, political, economic and youth affairs. He shows his concern through the many websites that show his work including his very own blog and his work through African Path, an online African portal for bloggers. Interestingly enough, Gebru’s article on Ethiopia’s land policy gained the attention of Mr. Michael Strong of Flow Idealism in his post: Gebru vs. Sachs, who wrote a commentary on Gebru’s views on the land policy and Sach’s recent visit to Ethiopia in January 2008.
He’s already garnered the attention of Ethiopians throughout the world. Through his youth work, Samuel simply amazed Mr. Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister and Mr. Kassahun Ayele, the former Ethiopian Ambassador in Washington, DC. Samuel proposed an idea which would bring all Ethiopian youth together, disregarding the political, socioeconomic and religious boundaries: The Worldwide Youth Embassy of Ethiopia. His plans for the Youth Embassy of Ethiopia are unprecedented - which includes that the Youth Embassy of Ethiopia should be headed by an official Youth Ambassador and if this plan materializes, Samuel is slated to become the world’s first official youth ambassador.
“The Ethiopian Youth Embassy could be that connection that the youth and the government have never had. In September 2007, a few days after Ethiopia’s new millennium, the Prime Minister held a series of meetings with Ethiopia’s youth in order to ‘heal wounds’ between the government and the youth.”
He continued to state that Ethiopia’s youth have always had horrible relationships with Ethiopia’s Governments since the 1960s. “During the time of Emperor Haile Selassie the youth were the ones who engineered calls for political reform, this eventually led to the fall of his government and the rise of a military administration that would plague Ethiopia,” he adds.
“However, it was also the youth that engineered the downfall of Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam’s Marxist government.”
Samuel refers to the EPRDF, Ethiopia’s ruling party, as part of the youth-led movement which ended in Mengistu’s downfall, “the EPRDF emerged from the TPLF, which was established by high school and college-aged Ethiopians from the northern Tigray province….but what distinguished the EPRDF from the other political fronts and organizations which had their roots in the young population was that it was able to mobilize its members quickly and it garnered the support of the peasants, who to this day remain the essential backbone of that party.”
When I asked Samuel Gebru about today’s political arena, he seemed to be more conciliatory than his previous articles and posts over the internet which usually condemned political parties. “Ethiopia is diverse, and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve all heard that! However, we have over 90 political parties and it is impossible to create unity with so many different views and ideologies. Hence, it’s better for political parties to either merge into coalitions or into unified political parties therefore creating less of an array of political parties because many Ethiopian political parties are similar in their objectives but they’re too reluctant to unify. I believe I’m just reiterating what was said by Ethiopia’s former Minister of Defense, Siye Abraha.”
He was disappointed that Ethiopia’s main opposition coalition was in disarray, “Let’s remember that the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, the CUD, was formed shortly before the May 2005 elections. In such a rushed environment, the parties which formed the coalition did not hammer down all of the important factors, party due to the short-sightedness of a few officials who had their own agendas�It’s unfortunate that the CUD has become divided to the point where I can’t even begin to tell you who the Chairman of the party is: is it Ayale Chamiso, Temesgen Zewdie or Hailu Shawel?” While he chucked when asking such a question that he categorizes as rhetorical, Samuel acknowledged, “there are elements in every political party in Ethiopia - EPRDF, CUD, whatever it may be - that are hell-bent on destroying Ethiopia for their own purposes and I think as Ethiopians we cannot let that happen to our motherland. From our elected officials and rebels, both good and bad sides exist, and what we must do, as a nation, is bring out the good so that national reconciliation can actually happen and not simply be a framework for utopianism.. For instance, opposition parties are given a field day every month for 30 minutes to set forth anything they wish on the agenda. How is 30 minutes in one month going to be effective, at any rate for political parties? The system must be accommodative because I cannot foresee any benefit from a mere 30 minutes.
Gashe Ephraim Isaac, an Ethiopian elder and renowned scholar, has a motto he introduced to the world which I continue to use to this day: ‘Hidasse Ethiopia, Ethiopia indegena teweled.’ This short and simple phrase means a lot; Ephraim is calling for the revival of Ethiopia, an Ethiopian Renaissance!”
In the past, Samuel has been criticized for a few statements he’s made with regards to Ethiopia’s war in Somalia and Ethiopia’s politics. However, he stated that he believes that those criticisms helped him reach out to the other ideas and to understand than to annihilate. “Life is a learning process! Yes, I took hard-lined views on certain things, however, I also opened up to find a mutual ground to talk with people who have different views than my own - this is the key to tolerance, or as we say in Ethiopia: ‘mechachal’.”
His advocacy of the Worldwide Youth Embassy of Ethiopia and the support he’s garnered notably from Ambassadors of Ethiopia and experts on Ethiopia has helped enhance ‘the campaign for youth voice’ as he calls it. “I was appointed by the Cambridge City Manager in March 2006 to serve on a council chaired by the Mayor: the Coordinating Council for Children, Youth and Families. As a voting member I am introduced to new perspectives which help me formulate ideas to represent the youth of Cambridge to the council.”
Gebru believes that youth are catalysts for change and believes that unless due attention is given to youth and their grievances Ethiopia will just see more riots and revolutions. “We call Cambridge the ‘People’s Republic of Cambridge’ because it’s a leftist city - we’re a very liberal and secular city and because of that, we’re noted as being Marxist! Cambridge respects its people and gives so much attention towards us youth that I cannot even begin to describe it. The Kids’ Council is just one avenue the government gives attention to the youth; and through my activeness in such a city that gives due attention towards youth I begin to list similarities and differences between Ethiopia and Cambridge and this gives me another reason for advocating for the Worldwide Youth Embassy because, simply put, Ethiopia does not give due attention towards its youth in the nation and abroad.”
Through the Worldwide Youth Embassy, Samuel hopes to create a lasting communication between the youth and the government in order to facilitate economic, social and political growth because “the youth will drive Ethiopia forward tomorrow, like it or not, we’ll be taking over!”
Samuel Gebru, with a clashed personality of Ethiopianism and Americanism, is the ideal Ethiopian to head a youth-led revolution; however, instead of taking up arms, Samuel plans to have youth take charge of their own lives and become leaders in Ethiopian society. As for now, he’s waiting from the official response from the Ethiopian Government as to if his plan can materialize. To enhance his idea, Samuel was invited as a Special VIP Guest of Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin, in which he met with the Foreign Minister and Ethiopia’s State Minister for Youth and Sports, Mr. Abdissa Yadeta, two youth associations and paid a visit to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.
“My business trip to Ethiopia in August 2006 certainly helped me gain attention, and ever since then, I’ve been using this attention to emphasize the fact that we youth all are leaders and regardless of what’s next, I will continue to push for a youth-led revolution of Ethiopia’s political and social culture. I encourage dialogue and enjoy when people contact me because I am also able to learn their side of the story. The time has come for change, and youth are, what we call in Cambridge: change agents!
And there you have it, the 16 year old Ethiopian you might be calling “Mr. Prime Minister” sometime in the future.
*The author can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Samuel Gebru’s email is email@example.com.
Yohannes Birru, M.B.A.
Statements and opinions expressed in this article herein are those of the authors. Lissan Magazine accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the content.
December 9th, 2007
Celebrity Chef in New York City
Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden by adoptive parents, Marcus Samuelsson has always bridged cultures and cuisines. The critically acclaimed chef rose to prominence in New York for his cooking at Aquavit, the Scandinavian fine-dining destination, and now owns two additional restaurants in New York: the casual AQ Café, at Scandinavia House, and the Japanese-American fusion restaurant, Riingo.
Marcus Samuelsson is no stranger to traveling. He could have opened a restaurant anywhere. Today home is New York City, where he is chief creative director for New York City-based Townhouse Restaurant Group, which operates Aquavit and new, pan-African brasserie Merkato 55.
The creative force behind Aquavit and Merkato 55 shares his views on what makes America an exciting place to be a chef.
Q. You’re one of the chefs who participated in the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America event in September. How do you define American cuisine? What differentiates it from what you see elsewhere?
A. What you have is true diversity in this country. You have true diversity of landscape, true diversity of climate and true diversity of its people. There’s also the history of the country; the idea that people are constantly moving here means that the food is constantly changing. With that, you don’t always have to be cutting-edge, but you always have to be aware of your surroundings.
Q. You could have opened a restaurant in any city. What keeps you cooking in New York?
A. What makes New York City exciting is that it’s constantly challenging in the sense that new people are coming, new restaurants are opening. You always have to keep working in New York City just to be mainstream. And that’s what makes it very exciting on a food level. But also you have the diversity of your customers.
Q. What is the biggest change you see in how Americans eat today versus how they ate five or 10 years ago?
A. There are a couple of big changes. When I started fine-dining cooking, it was only a matter of French restaurants. Now France is one of many inspirational countries. What you want your restaurant to be conceptually goes beyond one specific country. Then the customer has changed, and with that, customer demands [have changed]. People want more flavor. They want the experience to be quicker. Customers are telling us all the time what they want.
Q. Do you feel a “celebrity chef” pressure to make yourself visible in your restaurants?
A. I never look at myself as a celebrity chef. I don’t think I ever will. I don’t spend time figuring out how I am viewed. I came to this country to cook; I’ve been cooking all of my life, and I’m going to continue cooking. It’s very basic for me. My story keeps evolving because I keep working on it. As long as you do that, you always have something to communicate.
Q. You partnered with Starbucks to develop new coffee blends and promote your latest cookbook, “The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa” (Wiley, 2006). Will you continue working with Starbucks?
A. It was a promotion we did for this year, and it was a lot of fun. I got to travel the country and talk about pairing coffee with food. Coffee has different flavors, and it’s not just in the roast. That’s the story we know with wine, but we might not know it about coffee.
Q. Is this an example of how the role of a chef has changed? Do you need to know details about all of your ingredients?
A. The consumer is very demanding; the consumer wants to know. So you have to be prepared. You have to be committed and passionate, and I think a lot of chefs are. I feel that young chefs in particular are very committed.
Q. What guidance can you offer to the next generation of chefs?
A. It’s basic: Keep working, keep traveling. If you can get a cheap ticket, you get it and go. Because whether you stay in California, Hawaii, Miami or New York City, you can always come in, talk to the chef, roll up your sleeves and work. It’s not like a major law firm where you need credentials. Here your credentials are yourself and your attitude.
Q. How would you describe your latest restaurant, Merkato 55?
A. It is the first major pan-African restaurant in New York City. I’m very excited to introduce African food into a fine-dining experience. I hope Merkato 55 can be an introduction to the continent of Africa, just as I felt that [Douglas Rodriguez’s now-closed restaurant] Patria introduced Latin food into the fine-dining vocabulary. Which it well should be. It’s fantastic food.
Source: R&I Restaurants and institutions
November 1, 2007
Interface: Marcus Samuelsson
By Kate Leahy, Senior Associate Editor
Link to recipe videos
Samuelsson’s just-released book, The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, finds him exploring the culinary traditions of his homeland. From Morocco to Ethiopia and Senegal to South Africa, Samuelsson spans the continent, feasting on home-cooked meals and street foods, and then adapting those recipes for the American kitchen.
Here, Samuelsson shares travel tips and highlights from his African adventures, and tells Fodor’s where to find the best Ethiopian cuisine in New York.
For those of you who visit or live in New York, here are the addresses if you want to give it a try and have a special culinary experience.
55–61 Gansevoort St., New York, NY 10014
nr. Greenwich St
AQUAVIT — Scandinavian
65 East 55th Street (between Park and Madison), New York, N.Y. 10022
AQ Café — Scandinavian
58 Park Avenue (at 38th Street), New York, N.Y. 10016
RIINGO — New American and Japanese
205 East 45th Street (at 3rd Avenue), New York, N.Y. 10017