One Extraordinary Woman in My World Now: Yemarshet Sissay

This is my mother. Her name is Yemarshet Sissay. She was twenty one. I first saw the picture when I was twenty one. I was fostered through a social worker called Norman Goldthorpe with Wigan social services. One foster family, four childrens homes and eighteen years later I was given a letter when I left the “assessment centre” on leaving care. It was from eighteen years earlier.  She wrote  “How can I get Lemn back?  I want him to be with his own people, his own colour. I don’t want him to face discrimination.”  At eighteen I began my search for her with that letter.

The picture was given to me from her college. On returning to Ethiopia she  married a vice minister under  Emperor Haile Selassie (1969)  but had to flee when the revolution overthrew the Emperor in the early seventies.  I found her in West Africa.  She had fled there from Ethiopia working for the UN and never returned to Ethiopia.   I was twenty one years old. I was  similar in age as my father when she met him for the one and only time. In other words the last time she saw him was at my conception – a shock for her.  A few days ago we met in New York.  We’ve met about twenty times in all.  Has it been easy? No. Does it get better? Yes.    She is an incredible and extraordinary woman.  I met my mother for the first time through this picture which was taken a year before my conception.mother1966


42 thoughts on “One Extraordinary Woman in My World Now: Yemarshet Sissay

  1. Such a lovely heart warming story. I’m so glad you managed to find your mother. I remembered your search starting a long time ago now.

  2. I remember meeting you at a writing workshop years ago and we talked about how you came to understand and appreciate that you are the person you were always meant to be. I loved that thought and have never forgotten it.

    • So lovely that you remember that. Because I still live by it. I believe you become who you are. Same thing. Thankyou.

  3. I listened about story on the radio in Addis Ababa. it is touching experience.
    I am eager to know whether you got your mother. If so you are lucky.

  4. Thank you for sharing your account of facts of your feelings behind your back ground. And stying so positive throughout the event. Just recently been introduced to my older brother who’s been giving up for adoption to swedish family. My mother had him when she was 14 years old. It was very very life changing experience for him, but in the other hand it was our dreams come through. Growing up we all know about him, she never hided, for him though it is hard to adjust his life now with his own family. He was happy to meet us all. He even came to the state we all are to visit. But I can sense resistance and consfusion in his emials and phone calls. I told him whatever he wants we will support; however, I will admit my mother will be so hurt and I don’t want her to neglact us more because of him. I also know all of us will be hurt is well. I have hope after I read your story and thank you for giving me that hope.

    • When you all meet it is the beginning of the journey no the end. That is where the difficulty begins and that is where the rewards unfold. My best wishes and thanks for sharing your story. Lemn

  5. Thanks for sharing your story openly. You are a born story teller. You have told the painful past with no exaggeration in a painless way. Your story is so touching that I felt as if we were conversing. Because u did not run away from the truth, I am happy that you found the answers for your questions. It was big relief. Happy family reunion.

  6. Just saw and heard you for the first time in Dartington Hall at the Tagore Festival and was so inspired that I went home and wrote this about you. Hope you like it: Small, slight, black, surprising
    Your mass of curly hair like a halo
    Your eyes bright and shining
    Passion in your sounds
    You amaze, amuse and move us
    A survivor of the English Carecare system
    Roots lost and friendless at 18
    You faced the white adult world
    And knew you had to search out kith and kin
    Who were you you asked but one thing you knew – you were a poet
    Words made some kind of sense of your heartbreak
    You spun and wove them – they held you in their ambivalence
    Thankyou for being you, for being here at this time in our orbit
    Sweet serious funny man
    Your vibrant OK-ness inspires and will inspire
    All those you reach and teach.
    Thank you.

  7. Hi Lemn,

    I had just watched your TED talk and it was very moving…I’m glad you found your mother and a family to call your own. I remember you coming to Switzerland and speaking to us kids at the International School of Berne (I think this was around 2004 or so) and you were just engaging us with your poetry and your writing and I had never thought then that your life at my age at the time (14) was like that and that you endured, rose above and became who you are. I am not sure if there are many who would have.

    Thank you for your story and your works and for just being who you are. I will look out for you if you ever come to my side of the world in Malaysia.

    • Thanks Azlan, I remember the Berne gig. It was really enjoyable. I remember it well. Thanks for being in touch and I hope one day to read on stage in Malaysia. Best Wishes and thanks for reaching out

  8. I’m so sorry you and your mother had to suffer for so long ..but how awesome is it that you have her now ?
    No know will ever love you like your mama ..xx

  9. Congratulations Lemn….
    For having suffered much, but without bitterness…
    This is the secret of your success….Continue to be STRONG…
    Because your kind, truly inspires!!!

  10. I wish I could give comfort and love to the boy you were. But it seems that pain and aloneness led to the beautiful, generous, intuitive being you are.

  11. I saw your baby picture…..what drives people to be so careless with children and see themselves, their own selves righteous in the the eyes of God. Jesus said Suffer the little children to come unto me. If they had had the love of the Lord for children they could not have let you go. We’re they part of some cult or something. Who did they go to, what did they read, whom did they worship, what pictures did they see in their dreams……I want to apologise to you to God to all the children. And Queen VIctoria and the little Etheopian Prince….. So much shame that we bear for what we have done, ALLOWED.
    Your words , your rhythms, your clarity is helping people, I think you know that,you are helping people to heal. You are indeed BLESSED !

  12. Hi Lemn – just heard you on DID – I m breathless! Similar story – identical confusions –
    Thanks you for giving words and daylight to those dark corners that I try to ignore ….revelation!

  13. Just heard your amazing, uplifting story on DID. You have such grace that it’s almost tangible. Am recently widowed and realised that I’m still ‘nursing the bruise’ so I’m now inspired to move on and only remember the positives of a perfect marriage rather than feeling sorry for myself. Thank you and God bless you

  14. Hello Lemn,
    Your desert Island interview was the best I have ever heard. I found it extremely moving and inspiring. I agree very much that is best to let go of everything and give our energy instead to all that is loving and positive in our life right now.
    Thank you for being so authentic, you have no idea how refreshing it is to me.

  15. Hi Lemn. I had never been aware of your work before today. I just listened to your interview on desert island discs. I’m a 55 year old embarking on Novel Knitting. I am a deeply creative person but my life circumstances have been such – I have never had time/mental space/motivation to truly commit to my poetry art and writing. what joy to connect with a person like you!! How truly inspiring to hear about the kids writing poems and searching them out in the dark with a torch. This is the joy and truth in our lives that the simple wisdom of kindness heals us. Blessings to you and every one of your global family now including me. Love the one about the precious woman and her porcupine bum.

  16. Just listened to your Desert Island Disc. Food for thought for the day, a beautiful message of generosity, dignity, forgiveness, creativity, love, laughter .
    Also felt the incomprehensible abandonment of a small boy, I felt pain and anger and wanted to comfort him!

  17. Hi Lemn, I hadn’t heard of you before today, but am so glad I was listening to Desert Island. Your story is so inspirational and uplifting. Its rare in today’s society to see someone tell his story without rancour but focusing all the time on the positive – or ‘smiling at the world’ as you put it so beautifully. That half hour did more for race relations than 100 government statutes as far as I’m concerned. Manchester uni are lucky to have you. All the best in your new role.

  18. Hi Lemn. I heard you on Desert Island Discs and found you funny, thoughtful and moving. You have every right to be bitter and angry but appear not to be. The care system continues to destroy children, though not necessarily through the deliberate cruelty you experienced. I plan to get to know your work. Thanks

  19. Dear Lemn, I was profoundly touched by your life story on another wonderful episode of Desert Island Disc on Radio 4 on 16/10/15. Your life experiences and the way you turned your adversities into strength is aptly summed in a Yoruba proverb that says “Adaniloro fagbara koni” meaning those who treat us with wickedness strengthens us. I strongly believe that you are truly a gift to the world by the creator and your early life experiences was part of the journey of manifestation of that gift; you could never have been you without those horrible experiences. Thank you for being you and allowing your gift to flow through your poetry. I trust that you will “die empty” an the end of your sojourn on this earth. Remain blessed.

  20. Hi Lemn,
    Loved your Desert Island Discs and Ted Talk so much, then listened to your South Bank talk on Children’s Rights. Sooo inspirational, thank you! Linda & family

  21. I sat in the car waiting for the bank to open and I could not get out until DID had finushed. I did not break until the Opera. Despite not understanding a word, it broke into my soul and I was in floods of tears. I have recenty been accepted as a Foster Mother and this program was timely. By Gods gift of grace and wisdom I know I will be a good Foster Mother.. Congratulations on your Chancellorship, I will follow your work and remember your Birthday as it is the same day as mine, Thank you for Sharing you.

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