Letter From Melaku

Dear Fellow Millennial,

Below are the three most defining moments of my life so far:


1) When I left my brother and mom behind at 14. 

At the age of 14, my father explained that we were leaving Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for Portland, Oregon, which would become my home for the next four years. The airplane that I had chased from the ground as a child swept my two sisters, father, and me away from my mother and brother into a nation with a different language, culture, and cuisine. Tangled between my excitement for the new life and sorrow over my family’s separation, I trusted my father to take care of us. What expected to be a glamorous life in the US was not so attractive. I loathed Sundays because that’s when we called our mom and it was a constant reminder of her absence in our lives. In the little two-bedroom apartment with the four of us, we slowly learned how to make it feel like home. My sisters and I would clean the living room, bath rooms, clean the dishes, and make food while our father, a part time nursing student at the time, worked as Certified Nursing Assistant and an Interpreter. This was my life for three and half years before my mom and brother were able to join us in the States. 


2) When I realized I had to learn English to succeed in the US.

I remember my first few weeks of high school in the US very vividly. In my PE class, I didn’t like to participate because everyone played basketball. The only sport I grew up playing was soccer. So I spent a lot of time on the bleachers watching my classmates play. I recall a time in my high school gym when on of my classmates wrongly accused me of stealing his phone but nothing could come out of my mouth except the word, “No, no, no.” This was one of the most frustrating times to this day, not being able to defend myself because I couldn’t speak English yet.  

As my peers enrolled in Spanish classes in high school, English was my foreign language. And one that needed to be grasped quickly to ensure a successful academic career and integrate into my American community. My first month in the US, my literature class was assigned Warriors Don’t Cry. I did not even understand the title, so as classmates read aloud, I hid a dictionary under my desk to look up the definition of “warrior,” “segregation,” and many others. While working on my pronunciation, it was difficult to find out my tongue didn’t roll the way I wanted it to roll. I still remember how I would repeat to myself five, ten, fifteen times “we-rrr-l-d.” Ironically, though I’d traveled halfway cross it to reach my new home, “world” was the hardest word to tackle. Yet after eight months, I would have my first dream in English! 


3) When I witnessed the practice of medicine in Ethiopia.

Anyone that knows me knows how excited I get about medicine. After six years, the summer after my second year at Johns Hopkins, I excitedly returned to Ethiopia in hopes of revisiting my childhood and volunteering in the hospital, as my schooling in the US had instilled in me a desire to become a physician. As a volunteer, I worked with a surgeon at Bishoftu General Hospital. My job included carrying between operating rooms a surgical light and cauterizer machine and escorting patients and their families to the ICU after surgery. One day, as I was transporting a seven-year-old girl, I witnessed her mom was weeping. Later, I learned that many surgeons in the area had declined to operate on this little girl because they were afraid for their own safety due to her HIV infection. This experience in one of the poorest hospitals in Ethiopia elucidated my future role as a physician. I came to Ethiopia with the intention of becoming a surgeon but I left with more confusion about my future. Two things were clear though: I will incorporate global health in my profession and I swore to name my future daughter after this seven-year-old girl that changed my life.