It’s Irie: African American Rasta On Life And Work In Ethiopia
Ever wonder what it's like to be an African American living in Ethiopia? We chatted with Timothy Green about his experience. Be sure to check out our podcast interview with Timothy at the end of this article!
On your path to the African Continent
Where do you live in Ethiopia?
I live in the capital city, Addis Ababa.
How did you end up moving to Ethiopia?
I am a Rastafarian, so this is the culmination of a lifelong dream and active plan since 2005. My great-grandparents were members of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA and ACL. I always had a love and desire to live in Africa. I visited west Africa (Algeria, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Nigeria) in the early 80’s, and from 1985, I'd been working towards repatriation.
How long have you lived in Addis Ababa and how much has it changed since you first moved there?
I’ve been here for almost eleven years. Addis has changed a lot due to development, more automobile traffic, and a lot more access to the rest of the world.
On Professional Life
You currently work as an elementary school teacher? Can you tell us a bit about that?
Yes, I teach reading, spelling and English grammar to grades one to three and five at the Bright Future School here in Addis. Dr. W.A. Davis, (another African American) founded the school here 20 years ago. He hired me after hearing me on the radio—he said he wanted his children to benefit from my pronunciation and diction!
You’re also a poet! Please share a few details about your poetry work in Ethiopia.
That is my passion! I began performing with Sydney Salmon and the Imperial Majestic Reggae band as an emcee and would also open with some of my poetry. That led to newspaper and magazine interviews, presenting news and music programs on Afro-FM, Ethiopia’s first English language radio station, and also voice-over/narration work on documentary films.
Other poets (Jamaican, Ethiopian, Nigerian, Kenyan, American, etc.) and I have formed a spoken word poetry collective here, called Zem-Negede Andinet Spoken Word Poetry Collective. I perform at a few places around town whenever I get the opportunity or am invited to perform professionally.
What immigration and employment advice would you give to Black expats looking to move to Ethiopia? Would it be difficult for someone to relocate there?
First, professionals are always welcomed on the continent. Usually, they can find employment, teaching, etc.
There is a saying here, that if your heart is not for Africa, Africa will spit you out! That means there will be trials, obstacles, delays, problems, but NONE are insurmountable. You just have to be prepared to accept the African reality as you experience it on a daily basis.
On Everyday Life
What’s everyday life like for you in Ethiopia?
I work, I eat, I enjoy myself, I perform my poetry. In other words, I do me!
Do you speak any local languages?
I am learning Amharic, one of the main languages spoken here. In Amharic, I say the time, count my money, travel via local transport without any difficulty, and I know the days of the week, etc.
What are the best parts of living in Addis Ababa?
For me, waking up in the morning—I always hear prayers, and both Orthodox Christian and Muslim spiritual songs, as opposed to the radio traffic reports, sirens, helicopters, gunshots, etc. of L.A. and other U.S. urban centers.
What are the most challenging aspects of living there for you?
Learning the language, getting people here to understand not ALL Rastafarians are from Jamaica, seeing a lot of poverty and not being able to help all, and being profiled by beggar street people who think I have a lot of money.
How have you been welcomed as an African American expat?
I’d say a majority of the people love and appreciate us for making an effort to learn their culture and share ours.
Can you share a few details on the cost of living in your community (in U.S. dollars)?
I rent a small, two bedroom apartment for 3500 Birr ($127 per month). Every three months or so I pay $10 to $20 for utilities. I live alone, so I eat out most of the time. However, sometimes I cook at home and so groceries cost maybe $10 to $20 a week. For me, transportation is about $3 to $15 per week. When I have to use the internet, I usually go to an internet cafe which costs about a dollar an hour.
Advice and Final Reflections
Would you encourage an African American or other diasporan to consider moving to
I would. I think any travel broadens one’s scope. I think everyone should at least visit the Motherland—ANY country, but especially Ethiopia. Ethiopia has a rich history and culture. I think many people would benefit from seeing its many cultural heritages.
What advice would you give to a new visitor or expat to Ethiopia?
Be open, but don’t be a fool!
What has your time living in Ethiopia taught you or how has it changed you?
I’ve learned to be more patient, more loving, and more tolerant of my fellow human beings. I think I’ve changed for the better. I’ve also lost weight and gained seven years (Ethiopia’s calendar year is now 2010)!
Where can we follow you on the web?
- On Facebook:
- Timothy Green, I-Timothy (https://www.facebook.com/itimothyentertainer/) Open Mic Night and Zem-Negede
- Andinet Spoken Word Poetry Collective
- On Youtube: DreadVision Production
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you Timothy!