Mantegbosh, my mom, lived traditionally in a city called Bahir Dar, in Ethiopia, where mostly homogeneous groups of people live. Everyone spoke Amharic, shared the same values, and wore the habesha, a long white dress woven from cotton with different designs on the hem and sleeves. At holidays or other special events, my mom and other members in her community would come together and prepare meals for the event. Some of these were the Ethiopian New Year’s celebration, Enkutatash, and weddings and graduation parties. She invited the neighbors and her friends to celebrate together. Mantegbosh woke up early every morning to prepare breakfast and lunch for her children: scrambled eggs, spaghetti, or firfire—made of shredded Ethiopian injera (a wheat flatbread) and spicy wot (a red meat sauce with red peppers). Then she walked her children to school. After that, she went to church for two hours, then either went to the market to shop or went home to wash clothes by hand. Then she picked up her children when school was over. In Ethiopia, Mantegbosh did not have a job. She did not attend college. Instead, she took care of her children and prepared meals for the family. Mantegbosh moved to the U.S. without knowing how difficult life would be.
In Ethiopia, we celebrated Timket, “Epiphany,” where a crowd, dressed in white, walked, clapped, and cheered for God by honoring the Ark of the Covenant. In Boston, however, the celebration is not like this. Mantegbosh did not expect the spiritual and colorful religious holidays that were so important to her, like Timket, to be celebrated inside a diminutive indoor space of a church. She felt placelessness for the first time, and now she goes to church only on weekends. However, Mantegbosh felt ambitious for having the opportunity to move to the U.S. for educational and job opportunities for her children. Mantegbosh started school at Jewish Vocational Services with no English at all, attending every morning for two years and job training for one year.
At first, she did not know how to take the MBTA or when to leave class. The teacher even had to call my uncle for him to explain to Mantegbosh that class was over. Finally, however, she got her certificate to work at a food preparation company. Mantegbosh even cooked the main Ethiopian dish injera with spicy stew and served it to her manager to show her cultural background. She then started to work at Au Bon Pain, preparing food in the kitchen. Some things have not changed for Mantegbosh. When someone is sick, she goes to visit them. When someone is worrying or has lost a family member, she assures and helps them even when she is tired. On weekends, she volunteers in church, bringing or preparing food. Mantegbosh made a friend through her involvement with the Ethiopian community and church. This friend, named Frehiwot, made a significant impact on her life. When we lived in a motel without a kitchen for nine months, Frehiwot brought food she had cooked for our whole family. My mother’s service to others contributed to the help we received when we were having a difficult time.
Mantegbosh would like to be remembered as a very thoughtful, helpful, and reliable person. People describe Mantegbosh as clever. Her concept of success is getting an education and working hard. She says, “Without education and hard work, life is living in a dark house.” The burden my mom carries is feeling sympathy for others. Mantegbosh hopes that all her children will go to college in the future.
Written by the graduating class of 2018 from the Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINcA), this collection of personal essays explores ideas of success across generations and continents. Foreword written by Poet Laureate of the City of Boston Danielle Legros Georges.View In Store Read more from this book »