This is
Kibret Mekonnen (1970)

Country of origin

In the Netherlands since

Journalist en mediatrainer


Living on the ground floor

Ethiopia in Amsterdam
The dirt road to the Vondelpark at the Overtoom

“I had worked as a journalist in Ethiopia and lived together with my family. When I had to work in increasingly dangerous situations my family did not want to be affected by my job, so I left them to live alone. In 1995 my mother took me to the airport as I was attending a media and democracy conference in Maastricht. That was the first time I had ever seen snow. Maastricht was snowed in, so the plane was diverted to Schiphol. Ten days later I called my mother to say I would not be coming back. I was almost twenty three, and this was my opportunity to leave Ethiopia. I reported to the Delft police. Within a year I had received my residence permit and came to Amsterdam to live.

I’m from Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. This is a city where all kinds of people live together, which is what I look for here. And found. I was offered a house on the Mercatorplein; quite a coincidence as Mercator is the most powerful company in Ethiopia. I thought Amsterdam was an old city with lots of ugly buildings, but I felt free here. Rotterdam and Den Haag don’t have the same feeling of hospitality, but I feel welcome here. I joined On File which is a Dutch organisation for refugee journalists and writers. I met some very interesting people there and enjoyed coming to the Balie, which was a cultural centre then. Amsterdam is now my home, especially Amsterdam-Oost. I’m married, have two children, and love living here. If you ask anyone on the Javaplein, “Where does Kibret live?” most of them know. Which is exactly what you would expect from Ethiopia.

I left Ethiopia as an adult leaving my mother and nine brothers and sisters behind. I was always different, which is probably why I became a journalist. I was very open-minded. Everyone still lives there; I’m the black sheep. I don’t want to go back. I’ve left it behind me, but can’t let it go. I still get homesick.

My mother came to visit me in 2003. I was still studying and lived in a second floor apartment at the back of the building. She felt very confined. She suddenly had to walk around with a large set of house keys which we’re not used to in Ethiopia. Someone’s always home. She thought the red light district was very strange, and was spoken to by a lot of Turkish and Moroccan women because she wore a headscarf. We are Coptic, and therefore Christians. She asked, “Kibret, what am I doing here?”

232 people in Amsterdam have the Ethiopian nationality


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