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  • Writer's pictureYasmin Nuru

AM I HABESHA ENOUGH? ANSWERING THE LOADED MARRIAGE QUESTION AS AN ETHIOPIAN LIVING IN AMERICA

By Yasmin Nuru


The curly-haired skinny boy I had a crush on in 5th grade came to my family house to get my brother to go play outside with him. There was food cooking in the kitchen so he assumed my mother was home. But it was me cooking that afternoon after school. My mother was working late so I was starting dinner. I was boiling noodles to make lasagna and hoped my culinary skills would impress him. As if an 11-year-old kid would care!

Me and my younger sister

You see, every Ethiopian girl (and I’m sure this goes for most Africans) is raised to be the perfect wife and mother. Keeping a house was part of my duties in addition to excelling in school (this has not changed; B’s were frowned upon). Like all immigrants, my parents moved to the States so we kids could have the best opportunities. Disappointing them was out of the question. So I became the dutiful daughter. While my parents worked their varying long shifts, I became the third adult in the house – cooking, cleaning, caring for my younger siblings in ultimate preparation for my future role as a wife. Because every Ethiopian girl is raised to be the perfect wife and mother.

My family

By the time I was a senior at Chamblee High School, I had learned to balance all my duties pretty well. Getting to school early some days for Student Government Association meetings, sports practice, volunteering with Honor Society on the weekends in addition to cleaning, cooking, studying and doing my sister’s hair. I was college-bound and excited about the new chapter ahead as the end of senior year got closer.


“...every Ethiopian girl is raised to

be the perfect wife and mother.”


And then one day, I got The Call.


It was a Saturday afternoon in October, my friends and I were hanging out at Northlake Mall on Briarcliff Rd. It was my mother.


Me and my mother

“A husband has come,” she said, sounding excited and giddy.


Pause…yes, I was a teenager but I was an immigrant teenager which meant that I had to somehow figure out how to reconcile the American and Ethiopian cultures that I lived in while obeying my elders while maybe considering my own aspirations. It’s not like I could talk to my friends about this so I went back home. My friend dropped me off. Though she wasn’t aware of the circumstances, she knew that when my mom called, it usually meant my outing was done for the day. On the ride back, I just kept thinking my mother was joking. She can’t be serious, right?


The call had come from my aunt in Canada who had gotten a call from someone else. That’s how it works. There’s an entire network of women whose sole hobby is matchmaking and oh are they committed to this cause!

Me with my aunts

Back home, at the breakfast table in the kitchen, I sat listening to my mother get excited about how he’s from a good family and that he could even take me to prom so I agreed to start corresponding with the young man.


The guy was ten years older, seemed nice enough, but he was a “fresher” immigrant and couldn’t speak English very well. My Amharic had weakened over the years and although I could understand Tigrinya, I could not speak it. This was awkward. Tigrinya was his primary language so he and my mother had a grand time chatting. I’d be folding laundry in the family room and they’d talk about where he grew up and the mutual people they knew. My father would walk by with a stoic demeanor but never said a word. I wasn’t sure if he was on board with the idea or just wanted to see how it played out. The guy and I would use Instant Messenger and I’d get preoccupied with his grammar mistakes. The whole ordeal lasted a few weeks and eventually, my mother realized how it was burdening me so she let me off the hook and we went our separate ways.


“My Amharic had weakened over the years and

although I could understand Tigrinya,

I could not speak it.”


I went off to Vanderbilt University to study public health then graduate school to pursue a degree in nursing both away from home and was immersed deeper into American culture. I lived the melting pot theme of America and surrounded myself with people from all over the world.

My with classmates at Vanderbilt University

The few Ethiopians I came across would speak English because I’d default to it so my Amharic proficiency continued to worsen. English had become my primary language and it saddened me that I struggled to communicate in my own language.


The matchmakers continued with their efforts and my initial questions would be:


“Does he speak English?”


“Did he grow up in the West?”


These inquiries seemed silly to them because, why wouldn’t I want to marry a Habesha? Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of where I come from but having a partner who understood the split identity that I, and other African immigrants, inevitably grew up with was paramount.


Also, I don’t cook Ethiopian food!


Well, I can but it takes too long and after having adulted so young, I rebounded the other way and embraced the freedom that I never quite had in my childhood which was so packed with responsibilities that my American peers were not grappling with.


So really, am I Habesha enough?


Have I become a whitewashed American version of a Habesha?


How embarrassing is it to not speak my first language fluently? These questions constantly fuel what has now become my imposter syndrome.


And then there’s the loaded marriage question, always hanging over my head like a dark cloud.


I just started running away from marriage. This became a sport. I entertained many setups (still holding on to my respect for elders' of course) with men I had nothing in common with but all the while, I kept thinking, “No way you’re going to tie me down! I have too much to do!”


“...having a partner who understood the split identity I,

and other African immigrants,

inevitably grew up with was paramount.”


My 20s were spent balancing to build my career and finishing graduate school. I also moved around a lot which luckily made me a harder target to pin down for marriage.


As I entered my late 20s, the family pressure on me intensified. God forbid, I turn 30 and am still unmarried! But I never heard the ticking clock. I actually claimed 30 when I was 29 – drove my mother crazy – but just ended up confusing myself and forgetting my age. Ergo, I started to consider the idea of marriage may not be for me. And I made peace with that. Figure I could go do humanitarian work, teach orphans how to read, be sort of an Earth mother on a grander scale.


With another decade filled with responsibilities behind me, I started traveling the world. To name a few, I explored the Rio Secreto caves in Mexico, climbed Machu Picchu in Peru and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, had tea in one of the oldest cafes in Istanbul and am still planning on seeing more!

Me hiking in Machu Picchu

But as life often does, things change.


I am also a practicing Muslim and marriage is a big part of that. The commitment and union is said to be an ultimate act of worship as it completes half your obligation to the deen (religion). Dang it…. totally forgot about this half our deen thing!

The empiricist in me couldn’t resist so I find myself making an effort to overcome my commitment phobia. However, this potential husband has to be on the same page because I’m looking for someone to complement my life, not complete it.





Yasmin Nuru is a GP in family medicine based in Virginia in America who enjoys good food, great company, endless travel and probably the only Millennial weirdo who doesn’t use social media.


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Jun 03, 2023
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