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A Huge Bowl Of Jelly Beans

 August 5, 2020 at 7:41 AM PDT

Meshate Mengistu (00:03): To be honest with you, I wish life wasn't so tough that people have to leave their homelands to make home somewhere else. It's wonderful to be around people that speak your language and that look like you. It's a beautiful blessing, but this is where my life is now. Andrew Bracken (00:23): Welcome to my first day telling stories of those. Who've come to San Diego from elsewhere and now call it home. My name is Andrew Bracken. It's amazing how flexible and pliable kids can be in the early years. It's like they can be thrown into new and different situations and still just be kids with any potential trauma being delayed until later in life. Meshate Mengistu (00:46): I think when you go through things as a young person, you kind of just learn to be resilient and cope with situations. As I'm getting older, I realize the challenges I faced and I have to tell myself those were tough times, you know, and because it shows up now. Andrew Bracken (01:04): Meshate Mengistu, who goes by Mimi was born in Ethiopia, where she lived with her mother and six siblings with the father who fled Ethiopia before she can remember. But a phone call from her father in the middle of the night would change the trajectory of her life. We'll be back with Meshate Mengistu story after the break. Andrew Bracken (01:23): Mimi spent her early youth in her native city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Meshate Mengistu (01:44): I had five siblings, four older brothers and one younger sister. So our house was quite packed, but we had an amazing time all the time. There was at the end of every coffee ceremony, there was always dancing involved. So that's what I remembered from my childhood in Ethiopia, just good times, really good time. Meshate Mengistu (02:07): The phone rang. Based on an eight year old mind, I want to say it was like 3:00 AM in the morning he called and then I just heard my mom say his name. And then before we knew it, he was saying, I started a process for you to come to America. It was just quite shocking to be quite honest with you. I mean, America was seen as something like an escape from your current situation and we were not well off of course, cause my mom had to take care of six kids on one income. Um, though she did have a decent job. It was still quite hard to obviously feed seven people including herself. Uh, so it was definitely a relief. I mean, my mom was super excited. She told us not to tell anyone because she just didn't want to like get people to riled up as an eight year old child at that time. I mean, it was quite overwhelming, but at the same time, I was super excited that there was a potential to finally get to see my dad. I mean more than America. I think it was the idea of finally getting to put a face to the name. I mean, I don't have any memories of him, but we did have pictures. And my mom used to tell us stories about him. Meshate Mengistu (03:31): So that was what we held with us Andrew Bracken (03:46): After a lengthy immigration process, Mimi and her siblings began their journey to San Diego in the United States to reunite with their father and with the understanding that their mother would join them soon after Meshate Mengistu (04:00): We were super excited. But I remember just feeling so nervous, but we finally did get on the plane. And I think at that time it just hit me. I was like, Oh my gosh, we're we're really leaving. This is really, really happening. Or do you need me? My mom, this is real. I was also super happy and excited that it was like with my brothers and my sister, we got on the plane. It was really awesome because it was the first time we were any, we got on a plane, we had really good food. They were like fried chicken. I remember just eating a bunch of cake because I don't know how that it just kept coming or maybe that was just my perception of what I was experiencing. I thought design, but I just remember I got eating and I was just like, it was just an awesome experience that because I was just eating so much food of things. I never even knew. I finally kind of, you know, throw up on a person right next to me. I felt so bad. It was another Ethiopian girl, but she was so nice. So understanding about it. Meshate Mengistu (05:08): It was just overwhelming. It was also, Oh my gosh, this is a real. We are inAmerica. I remember my dad and his friends and they had flowers and we went to his apartment. They had made food for us and we never knew, so Ethiopia we eat injera, which is like a sour pancake. And we never knew that existed here. And so when we got to his house and we saw in Jeddah and like the Ethiopia, we were just like so confused. We were just like, how is this here? You know? I mean, it did definitely doesn't taste the same. I remember the taste and everything. I was just like, Oh, this is definitely not what it tastes like. But it looks like though, so my dad had bought like jelly beans. Cause he was like, well I think in my mind, I'd be like, Oh, there's kids that are coming. Meshate Mengistu (05:55): So let me buy a bunch of jelly beans. I don't know. But there was like a huge bullet it's just setting. And we're like, what is that? My brothers were super excited because they knew him as like their dad. I mean, I didn't know him. I was just still in shock. I was just like, I I'm seeing that he's right in front of me. And I just fell so easy that first day, you know, like you're just like, dang, my dad bought a soda. So in Ethiopia you only get soda on special occasions, you know? And you get them in glasses, glass bottles. I mean, coming here we go to get the, like the two liters. And we're just like, what is that? I remember my brother's for her job was at 7-11. And he would bring us like, you know, now I would eat it of course. Meshate Mengistu (06:40): But he would bring us like big bowls of nachos. We were like, what is that? Those are the thing that I remember those like couple months I was like, I mean, even days just drinking a lot of soda. I mean, we came in September and school started, right? I think my dad let us chill for like a week. I do remember waiting in school. It was nerve wracking. It was just a bunch of, I mean, I was used to seeing people that look like me, you know, Brown skin or maybe light skin, but puffy curly hair. And that it was just a bunch of people that were just very different. It was, it was a culture shock. They put me in fourth grade. So I had two Ethiopian friends and that class and fighting being as able spoke a different language, but they were Ethiopian. Right. And so I only spoke I'm heartbreak. They spoke to Diana and so they would try to speak to me. And I was like, I don't know what you're saying. And then I would try to speak with them. And they're like, I don't know what you're saying, but they were just so kind to me, never the less Andrew Bracken (07:43): Mimi and her younger sister had to adjust to life with their father, a stranger to them. They also began to realize that their mother was not coming to join them anytime soon. Meshate Mengistu (07:52): I think it was challenging for both him and us, my sister and I cause, I mean he didn't know us either. You don't know him. Yeah. I mean, it was, it was odd. It was always something that we had to like grow over time. He just was like, okay, this is who he is. Like, you learn who this person is rather than just a segment of your imagination that you can put together. I think I suppressed it. You know what I mean? Cause life happens and it is what it is. So, but it was quite overwhelming. But glory be to the most high, my brothers being there was a blessing because I honestly, I don't know if it would have been good for us without dumb now because my dad wasn't a good guy or anything just because like that they were familiar to us. They were a part of home to us Andrew Bracken (09:03): When we come back. Meshate Mengistu (09:04): So I was just quite lost. I mean, understandably so Andrew Bracken (09:08): Mimi navigates her new world and takes on new responsibilities early in life. Andrew Bracken (09:24): As time passed, it became clear their mother was not coming. It would be 13 years before they would see each other. Again, Meshate Mengistu (09:31): I don't know if there was any moment of acceptance. It just became a part of life. Not to have my mom there, but it does show up later in life though. Cause you're young. And so you're able, you know, you're, you're more, um, pliable, I guess, but at the same time it kind of lingers cause it becomes like a surprise issue I think has a got older, you know, being a mother now and having a family of my own. I wouldn't want that for my child. Do you know what I mean? But I know my, I mean, especially for my mom, I can't imagine how hard it could have been for her to experience having six kids running around around you and then to have an empty house. Meshate Mengistu (10:22): It was less traumatic for us. And more traumatic for her. It changed her as a person, you know? Andrew Bracken (10:47): So we had to take responsibility for my father who was supposed to be responsible for us. So that was quite traumatizing more than me coming here and leaving my mom. I think the things that I do think about more often than not is just the amount of responsibilities that I had to hold it at a very young age that forced me to grow up a lot quicker than other kids. Despite the difficulties forcing me, me to grow up quicker than other kids. It also helped her appreciate the good moments too. My dad was blind and it was my sister and I and my older brother and he was loving his life. So we were the main people to take care of my dad. We were the caretakers, you know, but we were so we were generally happy. Meshate Mengistu (11:31): We learned that this is the norm and this is life and nothing was missing from us. Our dad was always home. He would let us read our essays to him. I would dance. Cause I learned a certain dance at my dance class and I would like jump around in his room and he would enjoy it. You know what I mean? So now that I look back at him, just like we were fortunate enough to have him with us. Even if it always the best of life circumstances, we still had him there present at our lives. Andrew Bracken (12:05): Like a lot of young people after high school made me struggled to find direction. Meshate Mengistu (12:09): So I was just quite lost. I mean, understandably so I didn't go to a university though. That was what was expected. There was nobody who did that route. So you know, when you're high school, my brothers, my brother graduated. So I was like, well I'm graduating high school. It's not, it's not even a question. But with college was, it was a little bit more complicated because since I didn't see anybody else doing it around me, I didn't even think about it. You're 18 to, I want to say 22, 23 could be really tough because you're trying to find your place in the world. Especially when you don't have a mentor to lead you. It can be quite tough and it can be very detrimental because you're just, you know, you're having fun. You have a lot of friends, you're just doing whatever you want to do. Really. Andrew Bracken (12:59): A trip back to Ethiopia gave me, me new clarity and focus. Meshate Mengistu (13:04): It was a huge revelation of where I came from and how ungrateful I had been of like the opportunities that were afforded here to me. So I was just like, I'm going back to San Diego when I do, I am applying for full time school. I'm taking you seriously. And I did Andrew Bracken (13:23): After spending a few years in community college, Mimi transferred to San Diego state university and became the first in her family to graduate from college. The day of her graduation ceremony stands out in her memory. Meshate Mengistu (13:36): Yeah, it was a moment. I mean, it was more for my family, you know, cause nobody in my family has a degree. I was the first in my family and I always tell people that when they're like, I don't want to walk into it. It's like, it's not for you. As for the people that work really hard to get you there. It's a big deal for them. It's like dang. One of us made it. Thank God Andrew Bracken (14:31): Today, Meshate Mengistu, but are known as Mimi works for a San Diego based nonprofit called United women's East Africa. Thanks to Sarah Abdi and Mary Ann Beyster for help with this episode. My first day is produced by me, Andrew Bracken, along with help from Melissa Diaz, you can find me Andrew Bracken .com Or email my first day stories at and our Instagram is at My First Day Stories. Andrew Bracken (15:02): Music by Jason Begin Andrew Bracken (15:05): Additional music by Jackie Hill Perry theme music by Chris Curtis KPBS, Emily Jane Kowalski's tech Kinzie Moreland's podcast coordinator, Lisa Jane Morris sets, operations manager and John Decker's director. This programming is made possible in part KPBS. Explore content. Thanks again for listening. Andrew Bracken (15:36): See you next time.

Meshate Mengistu gets on a plane for the first time and moves to a new land to live with a father she cannot remember. About the show: My First Day is a KPBS Explore series that explores these important days through people who came to San Diego from elsewhere, and now call it home. About the producer: Andrew Bracken is a documentary mediamaker working with audio, video, and interactive media. He is the creator, producer, and host of the KPBS podcast My First Day. Follow the show: Instagram: Contact: