The athletic metaphor appears to capture our country’s ongoing predicament while also suggesting a way forward. Four of the top ten women’s finishers in the London Marathon 2022 were Ethiopians (six of ten were men, including Bashir Abdi representing Belgium). Yalemzerf Yehualaw took a hard fall mid-way in the race and lost painfully precious seconds, but she still got up and run to win first place in 2:17:25! This article was originally published in Tecolahagos.com in August 2008 and has been republished here with a few changes for brevity and clarity. MA
By Mitiku Adisu
Tirunesh and Elvan are shown above. Tirunesh and Elvan are not chasing each other, but a dream. Tirunesh is lagging behind. It is not difficult to imagine what is running through their heads at this point in the race. Both are aware that only one of them will be declared the winner before too long. Both are determined to beat the other to the finish line. (No one competes for the fun of losing.) Both run, fully aware of their humanity, national origin, youth, and what is at stake. Both gracefully bear the pounding. Both realize the hurdles it took to make it this far; it took leaving behind fellow athletes vying for the same prize. The past is temporarily suspended in order to fully concentrate on the present. Running is a futuristic and deliberate motion, especially if you know why you run.
Tirunesh and Elvan also know that each step is a step closer to the finish line. Both realize a sea of humanity is watching and that their effort is impregnated with a hanging hope. Exultation will soon replace travail and vigor fatigue. In less than thirty minutes, what seemed like an endless preparation for glory will come to an end.
Suppose Tirunesh and Elvan (a.k.a. Abeylegesse) were running in opposite directions, or that the contest was comprised only of one of them, or that there were no spectators in the stands to cheer them on (think pandemic). The race would turn into a dizzying and meaningless activity, to say the least. The beauty is that one can run against and with the other, alone and together, toward the same goal. In other words, the two can remain near and distant, rivals and allies all at the same time. Tirunesh and Elvan are allies in the sense that they are essentially Ethiopian. The only distinction between the two is that one is running for Ethiopia, the other for Anatolia. This, I would argue, is our version of globalization where interdependence is affirmed and the center is trounced and remade in the image of the periphery.
Elvan is the Turkish feminine for ‘colors.’ I gather this is in reference to her olive complexion. Elvan, born Hewan (Eve) Abeye Legesse, was a young woman of promise. As in so many other instances, there weren’t many opportunities in her country; but Anatolia (Turkey) was a step away from her goals. She moved to Turkey and was granted Turkish citizenship and the name Elvan Can; she would later reclaim her original, unsquished, Abeye Legesse identity. This could be a sign that the swallow was never far from home and was in fact heading that way. And then there is Zenebech Tola, now Maryam Yusuf Jemal, representing Bahrainis. Opportunities in her country were closed to her as well. Bahrain came to her rescue. Of course, such transactions are not a one-way track as is often portrayed. Maryam, likewise, put Bahrain on the map out of its dreary existence in the backwaters of competitive sports. The only requirement was a name change to Maryam Yusuf without the need to abandon her Christian faith. Interestingly, America did not require the Moroccan Khalid Khannouchi to change his given name or his Muslim faith when he moved here in 1992.
Opportunity rarely, if ever, comes knocking twice. There are things one is able to perform at twenty rather than at forty. Alas, there is hardly an Ethiopian alive who has not spent part of his or her life behind bars, dodging or fighting a heartless government, being unemployed, in undocumented state, or waiting for the twilight in some foreign capital. As we speak, the talents of an exemplary community leader, a competent and compassionate prime minister, a devoted health professional, a very able parliamentarian, an enlightened educator, a culturally sensitive architect, a general who is also a poet, a consummate and patriotic diplomat, and a conscientious entrepreneur are somewhere being wasted. Time flies. Time runs out. Those in their 60s and 70s were once teens and twentysomethings out to ‘turn the world upside down’. Where have those youthful years gone? Sadly, some have chosen to relive the past, wanting to drag the rest of us there. Either we reform or we are doomed to eternal regret.
Belayneh Densamo’s career in the late-1980s was cut short just when he could have reached new heights. Abebe Bikila avenged, barefoot, the 1930s Italian aggression against our country by taking remorseless Rome and spineless Europe hostage at dusk. He was later involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed and, for a while, forgotten. As a nation, we have failed to pay proper homage to those who make us proud. Miruts Yifter (the “shifter”) was not allowed to shine even brighter as a result of the 1976 Summer Olympics boycott, and so on.
That brings me to my other point: limited opportunities and a life filled with fear and mistrust have become a primary reason for outmigration in search of peace and gold in recent years. I might add that some got away with the nation’s gold while harboring an eerie desire for violence.
What needs to happen to keep our lives from spinning out of control? Representing opposing sides, as Tirunesh and Elvan did at the Bird’s Nest, should be celebrated, not feared. And what will it take to center Ethiopian politics on athletics? That is, rather than plotting ways to trip each other up, we should focus our efforts on cultivating fairplay. Ethiopian victories in the 10,000 and 5,000 meters, I would argue, were not only double gold but also double silver.
© 2008, 2022 by Mitiku Adisu. All rights are reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means without the prior written permission of the author. I hereby request that Ethiopanorama.com and TheWorldNews.Net remove any works bearing my name from their respective websites. In either case, the original was altered and permission was not sought or granted.
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