Portrait of Salahadin Ahmed Adous


Interview by Sinet Adous
Photo by Niveda Shanmugam

Salahadin Ahmed Adous is from Dawa, Ethiopia and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

It wasn’t a choice for me to leave my home. I was forced. The political stability of Ethiopia was not good at that time. The communist government came to our country, and we were fighting against it. The government was killing and imprisoning people who were opposing the military regime, and I was one of them. A lot of my friends died. I was in prison at one point for about a week. They took any youth who they considered activists, and they thought I was an activist. I told them that I wasn’t an activist, so they released me. And when they released me, it was time to start walking.

The only thing I remember about the day I left was my mom, right on the border, saying goodbye. My mom helped arrange our escape. She took me to the border and that was it. I didn’t get to say bye to my father, to my brothers, to my sisters. My two friends and I walked to Djibouti, a neighboring country, after walking for, I think, 10 days. All I remember is the desert and dirty drinking water—any water we saw, we jumped to it. Food was bad. Sometimes people who were living in the desert gave us food. Some days we didn’t eat at all.

There were a lot of other refugees at the Djibouti border; there were tents everywhere. We lived among them. The refugees weren’t allowed to leave the camp, they were supposed to stay on the border. If you didn’t know anyone in the city, there is no way out, but we did, so we had help. We had family friends in Djibouti who arranged to take us to the city, and we lived with some people there. After 6 months of living in Djibouti, we were accepted by the United Nations to go to Cairo, Egypt, where we started school. We didn’t know our futures. We didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t know what we were doing, we were just in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t even know we were going to Cairo—it could’ve been anywhere. All we knew was that we had escaped from Ethiopia.

After high school, the United Nations arranged for us to interview to get placed in America, Canada, or Australia. Once we were sent to one of those countries, we knew we’d have to start establishing our lives. But when we were in Cairo, it felt like we didn’t have a country. We were basically homeless, country-less. For that moment, I didn’t want to be home. I didn’t want to stay in Ethiopia. The whole state was corrupted. You had to either join the military or nothing, education wasn’t an option. Once I left Ethiopia, I didn’t miss it because I was escaping it. After 22 years, I came back, and it did feel like my home.

It was long struggle. I spent my life fighting. When you’re a refugee, you don’t have a mom; you don’t have a dad. Imagine if you were just a teenager, and you have to care for yourself. The UN used to give us monthly stipends, which just covered food and living. You have no extra pocket money. What is tomorrow? You don’t know. We didn’t know we were coming to America, we didn’t know anything.

I didn’t see my mom for 16 years after I left, until she surprised me in America on my wedding day. It was 22 years before I saw my dad again. The first time I met my youngest brother, he was 20 years old. I wasn’t there for his childhood. I had three kids in America, how could I leave to visit home when I had to work? The government was still corrupted for decades. That’s refugee life. You leave your home, and when the government is against you, you can’t go back. Not until the government lets you.

I don’t think I want to move back to Ethiopia. Once you move to a Western country, you don’t leave. There aren’t a lot of opportunities back home, for your kids, for education, for business. The healthcare isn’t good, and when you’re aging, it isn’t worth it to go back. Because if I’m sick, what would I do? I’m glad I’m here in America for those reasons. I miss home because it’s my home, but I only want to go to visit now.

I worked hard to come to this point. From a refugee, making $4.20 an hour, living just on minimum wage, to being a self-employed business man. From being poor to middle class. After coming here, I got my college degree. I’m proud because I worked hard, and now I have four successful children. I’m most proud of being a good father.


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