Seven days in the United States and Brazil. As the plane lands the guardian newspaper releases the news of my Chancellorship. I’m met at Washington Dallas Airport by Dr Yonas Zegeye. He is a highly respected neurosurgeon and the organiser of my visit to The United States. In the picture below behind Dr Yonas Zegeye is my good friend Professor Abebe Zegeye.
I am staying at The Washington Hilton. It’s where Ronald Reagan was shot in 1986. Within a few hours a beautiful white Cadillac takes me and my brother (Abiyu) to a celebratory party in Pontomac Maryland.
Ethiopi Alfred and her daughter Kiddist have organised a grand celebration of my University of Manchester Chancellorship. There are 100 Ethiopian-American artists, authors, actresses, lawyers, business owners, publishers, doctors and Ethiopian community leaders. (Full article on little Ethiopia.)
What a party! What an extraordinary and beautiful party.
The following night I leave Washington DC for a nineteen hour journey to Paraty in Brazil to perform at FLIP festival. It’s the the largest international literature festival in Brazil. The hotel is working for me.
On the evening of arrival there is a swish cocktail party by the swimming pool of a high end hotel in Paraty. I go with Elisa Lucinda more of whom later. The party is attended by the great and good of the Brazilan literature scene: press, authors publishers and agents plus the internationals. I spot Ngugi Wa Thiong O. I pass him some water and get him a chair. “Now I can say a chancellor is my waiter” he smirks and promises to come to our reading tomorrow night.
Tomorrow night comes and so does Ngugi. It is thanks to the British Council that I’m here at all. I’m reading with the incredible black Brazilian poet Elisa Lucinda. Our venue is the oldest church in Brazil and the queue is so large we perform once and then once again for the audience who were waiting outside .
They were waiting for Elisa. I urge friends at The Southbank Centre to book this powerhouse of creativity. She – black and Brazillian – is loved by the community. And she is-stop-on-the-street famous. Eliza Lucinda brought Ngugi Wa Thiong O to tears with her performance. The Brazillian community lives in the shadow of Southbank. She’s perfect for Poetry International. Elisa reminds me so much of my South African sister Lebo Mashile. Both are as famous in their respective countries. Both are poets and actors. The next morning it is sad to leave Brazil but their are exciting things to come. I take the grueling nineteen hour journey back to DC. Then I am taken to Maryland University where I read poems in the Stadium at a celebration of Ethiopian Football and I hang out on the pitch with the winning football team.
And sign the football
The following night is the big one. It’s why I am here. To do a gig, to do WHAT I DO. I am on stage at The Blackburn Centre in Howard University. It’s the oldest black university in The United States.
I feel like Elisa did in Brazil. At home. The spirits rise as the reading begins. I am on stage for over two hours. It is unusual. Normally I do one hour at the most. The audience is ninety five percent Habesha with one hundred percent love.
When I finished to a standing ovation Wayna was moved to sing. About Wayna. Wayna hot-footed to the party (the one at the beginning of this blog) from a Stevie Wonder concert with whom she sings. This is the moment we met. And it was electric.
She sings Amazing Grace and silence falls on the room. Goosepimples rush from person to person. It’s about me. “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see”. She is world class. She has more than the voice of an angel. She teaches the angels to sing. I don’t have a photograph of her in song because I was blurred with tears. At the end the crowds surge forward. Time for a selfie.Full article on this event here. and event poster here.
On the following day I read poems and take questions at The library of Congress in the African and middle eastern division.
The prince of Ethiopia, Ermias Sahle Selassie, his mother and sons came to the event.
The next day there’s an interview with the voice of America back at the hotel
and late that night there’s one final event at Sankofa Video and Bookstore in DC. It’s a full house with the most famous Ethiopian film maker of all time Haile Gerima.
It is a beautifully packed house.
After the gig I ask these two people if we could unite the afro for a camera shot. Little Ethiopia article on Sankofa here
I’ve had a beautiful time in America. I will be back. A tour is being organised as we speak. Each time I am recognized by my own people something is corrected inside me.
And I can breath again and most of all I can laugh. These two people who were at the Sankofa event are like a poster for Art. Our power.
Our Power is not in who we are it is in how we are. Once we realise our power is in how we are it becomes evident that it’s who we are. I am not defined by my scars but by the incredible ability to heal. (photographs by Matt Andrea, Dawit Asfaw and Marta Ali.)