In Search of Family Ties’ By Laura Kebede

Laura Kebede met many members of her family for the first time when she traveled to her father's homeland in Ethiopia in January. (RTD)

Richmond Times-Dispatch


I once convinced a Tunisian guard I was Tunisian to avoid a foreigner’s fee at a museum. All it took was sunglasses to hide my hazel eyes and a Tunisian friend to, eh, explain that I was deaf.

In Cambodia, I put my brown arm up to a dark-skinned girl’s arm when she obsessed over my friends’ lighter skin because she believed white American skin was ideal. When she noticed our similar skin tones, it put her more at ease — that is until she discovered my unusual poufy hair.

So going to Ethiopia, my father’s home, should be easy, I told myself in January before I embarked on a three-week father-daughter trip. I’m quick to find common ground no matter where I am, and these people are half my heritage.

Accordingly, half of everyone I interacted with assumed I spoke Amharic, the official language, or Tigrinya, my father’s language. The other half could tell a mile away that I was American. It must have been my marvel-glazed eyes.

All I had imagined about Ethiopia was coming to life, and I’d been imagining for a long time: the mountains, the food, the ancient rock-hewn churches and, of course, the coffee — Ethiopia’s gift to the world.

I also often wondered about my father’s only sister and her nine children. I had only overheard her and my father talk in the familiar tones of Tigrinya some nights when she happened to travel from their rural birthplace of Adeba to somewhere with a phone.

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