From Chewing Khat (a little sister of Amphetamine drugs) to Grinding Knowledge…
This week, I promised to share my humbling story- from where I came from. That is important at many levels. First, when people learn some of my accomplishments such as becoming the president of the largest university students’ union in my home country (AAU), having multiple degrees including a doctoral degree, writing two books on the theme leadership, establishing a couple of organizations, working with world-class training organizations, and more, they may assume that I came from a well to do family. Second, when some people notice my confidence, upbeat, and positive personality as they read my articles and watch me present and/or facilitate workshops,they may think that I’ve been this way throughout my life. Third, a few may assume that I might have neglected to look inward and be realistic; otherwise, they may wonder, how on earth someone like me (an underdog full of visible disadvantages) remains optimistic all the time. I’m aware. Like everybody, I do have limitations, struggle here and there, face setbacks once in awhile, and failed a number of times but these never make me bow down my head and remain pessimistic.
There could be many other reasons for this undying commitment to remain positive and having the attitude of always moving forward regardless of facing things that I didn’t expect that surprised and sometimes frustrated me. One of the reasons is from where I came from- my humble beginning. Think about this. I’m from Ethiopia- considered as one of the poorest countries in the world. Of course, I’m proud of my root like millions of my fellow countrymen and women. I’ve many things that cause me to remain thankful for being an Ethiopian. As if this isn’t enough though,I came from a poor family (I’ll share more on this in the future). I’d like to point out one thing, however. Though my parents hadn’t a chance to get education for themselves, they committed themselves and tried their best for their kids to go to school. I’m grateful. That being said, let me give you a little background about the place where I grew up so that you may have a clear picture where this all began 🙂
It’s in the Eastern part of Ethiopia, Harar. My village is a notorious place called Kelad Amba. I’m sure many from Harar would find it difficult to believe that I’m actually from that place 🙂 Don’t ask me, the story is long. But, they know why 🙂 Like many of my peers, I was from a military family. In that part of the world, we had our own subculture. As we grew up, we were like brothers and sisters. We loved each other and it was a wonderful place to grow up as kids. The trouble started when we become teenagers. Rather than focusing on education, and use our time effectively and protecting our future, and ourselves, we got distracted partly because of our roaring testosterone that made us prone to do crazy things.
Looking back retrospectively, I wonder how come some of us survived? As teen-agers, we chewed Khat (Qat)- a green leaf illegal in the US and many Western countries. The substance from this leaf is mild compared to Amphetamine drugs. When you chew Khat, you experience euphoria for a couple of hours. Unless you tried it- or other similar drugs, it’s very hard to explain what happens when you chew Khat here on this page. I hear you say, try me 🙂 Well, when you get elated, you begin fantasizing, talking nonstop and loudly without any care to listen what your companions have to say. You feel happy, forgiving, idealist, and romantic even if these aren’t your natural attributes.You promise yourself to study hard starting tomorrow, go and ask forgiveness from the persons you offended. You envision becoming the president of the country, break world record in long distance run, marry the most beautiful girl in your village, and many more. You may wonder what is wrong with these seemingly great things? Well, what you may not know is that, the next day, these all beautiful thoughts on the cloud are gone. You won’t make yourself accountable. What is interesting? When I look back retrospectively, since back then I didn’t have the luxury to think about this kind of things :-), is that the following day you start from scratch and continue to fantasize more and endlessly 🙂 lol By the way, as I write this part, I went back and reminisced the old good days 🙂 Recounting this part caused me to stop writing and laugh so many times…
Chewing Khat is unhealthy if it is done on a daily basis. The trouble, however, was what we used to do afterwards. To break the mild depression that follows the euphoria state that stays for a couple of hours, we go out to drink. We used to say, let’s go out for ‘Chebsi’. Most nights, we party and dance while some nights we do other crazy things. Many of my friends have already deceased because of HIV Aids. I don’t know now. Back then, more than two decades ago, the awareness wasn’t there. Many of us slept with multiple partners, and did sex without protection.
Some of my peers who escaped the wrath of this disease could be able to survive and even thrived while the majority of them couldn’t survive life and the challenges it presents since many of them didn’t get a chance to continue in their education. In our subculture, we lived one day at a time disregarding to spend a fraction of the time to think about our future. Partly, we didn’t have enough role model individuals that succeeded in business or education. There weren’t institutions and government supports to equip us become fruitful citizens. It looked like we were going to stay in that the same place and environment in the rest of our lives without vision and hope. Some of us became lucky not because we were better or special while some of our dear friends were not so lucky. It’s very painful when I think about those great individuals who were victims of the environment… Sad!!!
So you know, I don’t consider myself better than any of my peers. For that matter, I was well aware that many of them were more intelligent and smarter than I was. I say this not to appear humble. I know myself. The only thing that, looking back, helped me to advance in my education, and succeed in my other endeavors were very small things like passion– the determination not to quit regardless of setbacks. Most of my successes took time. I overcame those setbacks that confronted me since I stayed on them long enough. Passion empowered me to outlast them one at a time. That is why I don’t take my little achievements seriously and motivate others to succeed in life. Having passion doesn’t require education, intelligence, and smartness. If you just have passion, nothing else, my friends, you’re bound to become one of the great world changers. The sky is the limit. If the guy who used to chew Khat and fantasized ‘for a living’ has come this far, you don’t have any excuse. Remember, I didn’t have any clue I’d reach this far. I didn’t have any idea that those little things that I believed in and practiced would lead me to where I’m currently, and where I’m going…
Remain tuned. Part II coming soon… In the meantime, let me know if you relate to my story. Share with me your beginning? Have you thought you would come this far? What enabled you to survive, and even thrive? What do you advise others who may be where you were?
Assegid (AZ) Habtewold is a motivational speaker at Success Pathways, LLC. His passion is to inspire people to make positive changes in their attitude, mindset, values, and in turn to take bold actions to transform their lives, relationships, and organizations. To learn more about the themes of AZ’s motivational speeches, check out this page: http://successpws.com/?page_id=20 The list isn’t complete. If the topics you’re looking for couldn’t make it to the list; let’s know, we can come up with the right topic and customize it for your audience.