Just what is ‘lived experiences’?
It’s really just as plain as its stated. It’s the experiences that people have gone through in their lives considering the cards that they were dealt with, the choices they have had to make and the knowledge they ultimately have acquired from those circumstances, experiences and choices made. In this article AWiB chose to approach two women, non-AWiBers, from different walks of life, that are relatively low key in the sense of social recognition, but nonetheless wonderful women whom were willing to share their stories of their lived experiences.
In Ethiopia, especially, many women still remain reluctant to share their stories, and sometimes it’s simply because many do not even believe they have any story to share. But what happens when we refuse to take over our own narratives, what happens when we no longer speak for ourselves? Ask yourself, how much of history is documented by a pen held by a woman? How has it affected our understanding of where we come from and where we are going? It is our lived experiences that shape us into the women we become and it is vital we learn to share that truth, for posterity as well as for the benefit of those that may learn from us.
The women were asked what childhood and upbringing factors they believed determined the life they were living now. They were asked to reflect upon the level of confidence they had about themselves in past experiences when coming to know themselves as women.
I grew up in a rather large family and at a very young age half of my siblings were separated from me as my mother migrated to Germany during the Ethiopian political unrest at the time. Having to take her youngest with her, us older siblings were left behind with our father. Our father remarried twice, and twice the experience of step mothers were not at all pleasant. You have to understand these were not necessarily civilized times, if you will, but times when things were very different from what they are now; my mother herself was married by the age of twelve to my father who was in his thirties at the time. Both step mothers created a harsh environment for us but it somehow made me strong, this I wouldn’t recognize this till very later on in my life. Looking back at it now I think those difficult times away from a mother’s love hardened me and made the persevering woman I am today.
I don’t think I have ever thought about how I got to where I am before. I never really reflected about that before. I have to say, thinking about it now, I know for sure that I rushed into marriage, way before I was ever really ready, and then one child came after another, then another and then I had four. Don’t get me wrong, my children are my life, but I know this was not the life I had imagined for myself. What did I imagine for myself? I really have no idea. But one thing I do know is that I would have furthered my education and continued on to Law School like I had once wanted when I was in high school. I let myself fall in love at such a young age and get swept away by societal influences and subtle obligations that I wish I had ignored. I think I have subconsciously instilled this regret of not pursuing school and heading into marriage too soon on my youngest daughter, I am always pressing her to just focus on school and not think about men or dating until she is done. I realize this may be a little harsh, some may even think unnecessarily strict, but it’s just how I feel, I can’t help it.
Here the women were asked to reflect on experiences they considered as real challenges they had to face and just how they overcame them. Where did they find the strength with themselves to face their fears and push through whatever obstacles life threw at them?
When my daughters began high school, my son still just in primary school, my husband left for the U.S. for an undeniable job opportunity that would benefit our family. I think that experience was the first sacrifice I had ever made, not knowing just what I was getting myself into. I was left to raise growing teenagers and a very active young boy all by myself. Well, of course I can’t deny the fact that I had home help. But as a full-time working, “temporarily-single”, mother, coming home and having to let the help go to night school, leaving the night shift with the kids to me, was some of the hardest times I can remember. I still don’t quite know how I survived it all, looking back at it now. I just know that there was inner strength in me that I subconsciously brought out, through all the challenges. It was never something I sat and thought of, it was automatic. I was always doing what I had to do, being tired wasn’t even something I considered; I was like superwoman if you ask me.
Life has so many ups and downs, I can’t even begin to think of the one event that stood out enough to share it as an experience. I know that I was able to handle anything that came forth because of my children. It might sound arbitrary but my children have always been my source of strength. Everything I went through during my marriage and life in general were sacrifices I made for the sake of my children. There was nothing that was going to shake me down enough or break me into not dealing with whatever I had to endure in order for my children to continue to live their lives with the comfort they were accustomed to.
Happiness to Me
The women were asked to share what happiness was to them, before and currently as well with what they did in their lives to maintain their sense of happiness.
Above all my spirituality is my source of happiness. There is no other sense of peace I feel elsewhere as I feel when at my church, or in my private conversations with God. With all of my children grown and leading their own lives, and the passing of my beloved husband, I am now more involved in my spiritual practices and frequent church visits more often than I could back in the day as a busy mother. I obviously enjoy hanging out with all my grand children too, they give me a sense of great energy and it is a love that is indescribable unless experienced firsthand. These are what make me happy.
Although I have carried much regret about not finishing school, I can not deny how happy I was working as a secretary for twenty years. They were my best years, I was so excited to go to work everyday and although, funnily, I had a problem with showing up on time, I was always the very last to leave and I always brought a little work home. I could never get enough. I’m not sure what it was but I think maybe it was my small sense of financial freedom and self confidence in what I could do. Obviously the pay was nothing in comparison to my husband’s but to me it was something, and being able to go in and out of work, having colleagues as friends, a social life outside home, and not to mention the happiness I felt being able to buy items to take home, or just to put fuel in my car; that was my true happiness then. Now I find happiness in getting people together and hosting parties. I love the sound of people talking, music in the background, and on top of that I actually love cooking too.
What I Believe
Finally the women were asked to share their philosophies in life, what they believe in, and any messages to readers they would like to put forth. They were asked to reflect on what they would go back in time to tell their younger self, if they could.
A statement my aunt once said to me has always resonated within me ever since. She said to me “Never forget that Adam was made from the earth, and Eve from bone. Imagine that? Women were made to be resilient from our creation”. I have always carried this statement with me and I share it with others whenever I can. I admire a woman’s strength and I am always stunned by the length we women will go to raise our children, to sustain our marriages, to manage our households, to maintain societies requirements of us, or just to survive really. We are incredible creatures.
What I’m certain of now, is that women should take their time dating. I know our customs might be a little difficult, but things are changing and women are standing up for what they believe in and want. I really think women need to live with the men they have crossed into the next chapter of their relationships with. I know I wish I had. I guess if I could advice my younger self or a young girl, I’d say the same things I’m always telling my youngest daughter. Men are always going to be available, they are not going anywhere, but I feel like education is timed. Life only gets harder for women, especially when marriage and kids come along, going back to school gets more difficult. So get educated and don’t squander family’s help to see you through college and at least your first degree. As a woman you have to be educated, you just have to.
Selam Tamteme is a 67 year old mother of four. Her husband passed away just about two years ago. After receiving her diploma from St. Mary’s School, she worked at the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia for 36 years; starting out as an internal auditor and becoming Department Head before retiring. She now manages the rented out family’s house’s tenants, renovations and all, she takes care of her mother who is now 90 years old and helps out with all of her five grand children.
Adugna Masresha is a 57 year old mother of four. Her husband passed away five years ago. After receiving her secretarial diploma, she worked for over twenty years at Ras Hotels, originally government owned until it was privatized. She now holds shares at the Charisma School and owns and runs a small cafe/restaurant business that she opened about six years ago.
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