Map showing location of Ethiopia, courtesy https://www.worldatlas.com

Experiencing Home by Yodit Lemma

War and Peace. It has always been true that somewhere in the world there has been war and in other parts there has been peace. But now, with television, those of us who live in peace see war every day in our houses as the war takes place. The war on TV looks real and makes us think that we know what war is like. In reality, however, the war we see on TV is a story safely contained within the television set. It feels like something happening to somebody else.

Yodit’s story is about a trip she made to Ethiopia in 1994 to see her family. It is a story about self-discovery and is exceptional for the honesty Yodit brings to her description of her own feelings. For example, at first, when Yodit sees poor people who are begging, she turns her back on them. Only after some time does she let herself feel the human and personal tragedy of the people around her.

Even though this story is non-fiction, Yodit uses literary techniques to tell her story. Pay particular attention to the last paragraph in which Yodit shows us how the memory of war now lives in her and how, even while playing cards, living a normal life, she has become changed by her experiences.


Project: Write about a Personal Experience That Made You Understand Something on an Emotional level.

Intellectually, Yodit knew about the war in Ethiopia before she went there. But emotionally, she hadn’t really understood. Many of us read about homeless people living on the streets of the big cities. Many of us pass homeless people every day. But almost all of us, like Yodit, just walk past them without stopping. Go somewhere with your parents where you can meet people whose lives are very different from you own. Talk to them and then write about your experience.

The difference between the way a journalist writes and the way you should write is this: a journalist doesn’t include him- or herself as a character, while you should. Tell us, as Yodit does, how what you see affects you. How does it make you feel?


Experiencing Home by Yodit Lemma
Age 12, Blantyre, Malawi

First published in Stone Soup Magazine in March/April 1994

I think it is hard for people to believe things unless they experience or witness them. I once had an ex-perience. I experienced the results of how war came into a city and destroyed people’s homes and jobs. Not only did I experience this but witnessed struggles for freedom that created broken hearts and famine.

In the summer of 1992 I visited my homeland Ethiopia, longing for a happy and enjoyable holiday. But when I went there I saw soldiers in their camouflaged army suits one after the other with huge guns over their shoulders and children without homes, sleeping on the pavement. These things began to frighten me and fill my heart with sadness. Then I knew that what I thought to be a holiday was not going to be one. Many people, young and old, would come up to me and ask me for money with longing faces. At first, I would turn my back on them. But as time went on, I started to feel sorry for them and began to share the few cents I had in my pockets. There was one man in particular that I gave all my money to that day. It was when we were traveling to my grandmother’s house. We had stopped for a road check and were ready to leave. Just before we left, this poor man dressed in rags and fairly thin came to me through the car windows and pleaded for money. So I gave him the money I had. The rest of the way to my grandmother’s house I wondered about my country. I felt as if I should blame someone for all the hunger and poverty. But I didn’t know who to blame.

That summer my fifteen-year-old cousin, Lidet, told me the different things she experienced or heard about during the war. Many times, she had to stay at home because soldiers would shoot anyone they saw, thinking that this person was on the opposite side. She and all my family there were very frightened. Many of them began to cry because they never knew what would hap-pen next or what would become of them.

Once many teenage orphans were asked to fight in the war. But they did not agree and tried to run away. Then, suddenly, long thunders were let from the guns of soldiers and lives of innocent people were lost. As Lidet told me this story my mind refused to accept it. I questioned—why were people like this? Right then war entered my mind. All people could think and care about was war.

Among the tragic events that occurred, there’s one about my grandmother that I could never really believe happened. It was said that there was a time in her village when people went crazy and shot everyone and everything they saw. As she was opening her door to go outside, a bullet swished inches past her eyes and hit a mirror. This event also gave me a fright and was harder to believe than any other event. This was because my family and I were always safe here in Zambia and yet my relatives in Ethiopia were in danger.

That summer I experienced results of tragic events, but I also had a great time with all my relatives and friends. On dark, stormy nights we would sit around the fire and play cards.  As I got ready to say, “A-shea-ne-fku,” which means “I win” in Amharic, the heavy orange, purple, and red flames of the fire caught my attention. I gazed as I remembered all the tragic and maddening events I’d heard about. In the background I could hear my name. YODIT! YODIT! So I snapped out of it and screamed in happiness, “A-shea-ne-fku.” I win!

About the Author

In 1973, I was twenty years old, teaching children's art classes at my college, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and came up with the idea that the best way to encourage children to write was to introduce them to the best writing by their peers. Stone Soup grew out of that idea, and I have continued to publish Stone Soup for all these years.
I am also a culinary historian. I write about traditional foodways. My book, "The Magic of Fire," is about hearth cooking. My book, "Bread, a global history," speaks for itself. I am currently writing a bread history for a University Press. I publish articles on gardening and traditional foodways at Mother Earth News. I also publish on wild mushrooms and other food-related subjects.

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