The following post was penned by Siega Disasa.
For as long as I can remember, I've always had to explain my heritage when introducing myself to a stranger for the first time. "Hi, I'm Siega Disasa. Nice to meet you." Without an introduction of their own, the usual immediate response to the trivia question I did not ask them concerning the origin of my name is: "Disasa? Is that Spanish?" I've always wanted to reply with a simple question of my own, "Do I look Spanish?", but instead I resort to autopilot: "No. I am an Ethiopian American. Both of my parents are Ethiopian and I was born in South Carolina."
In just a few short weeks, I will be making my first trip to The Motherland with a group from Downtown Church. For me, this trip is a little more personal than your average church mission to Africa. I am a little disappointed to admit that it has taken me this long to experience firsthand the stem of my family tree. My parents have sacrificed tremendously by giving their four boys the opportunity to grow up in a country with endless resources. For that, I am thankful. As a lifelong educator, my father has told us many stories of how his early childhood struggles growing up as a shepherd boy in rural Ethiopia have shaped who he has become today. He didn't own his first pair of shoes until the 9th grade. Enough said. I have always felt as though I still have a lot to learn about my heritage and my people. I am eager to see, hear, taste, smell, and truly love what it means to be an Ethiopian. I am excited to go to a country where you are less likely to be judged by the carats in your watch/ring, the car that you drive, the sq. ft. of your home, or the number of zeros in your life insurance policy. I believe when Ethiopians look at a person they take everything at face value - that is the smile on your face because of the love for your God, country and people.
I am attempting to go into this trip with an open heart and mind, because what I expect coming in will be quickly overturned by the unexpected encounters and realizations. Through this, I anticipate that I will be forever transformed from the person I thought I was into the person I am striving to become. I intend to listen more than speak so that when I arrive back to the States, I can do justice in telling the story of the beautiful places and people with hope in the horn of Africa. When I step off the plane into a crowded airport of several hundred Ethiopians, it will become a reality. Without having to open my mouth, I will instantaneously look like part of the majority, which will inevitably put a huge smile on this Ethiopian's face.