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Time slowed down and your primitive instincts kick in, and I just felt like some way, somehow time just did not exist, the only thing that existed was decisions.
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This is actually happening. Listeners get 10 percent off plus free shipping on their first color kit with code happening. That's code happening. Both of my parents were born in Ethiopia. They came over to the United States in December of nineteen eighty eight and I did not find out until about college that my parents actually escaped to Ethiopia due to a political regime that was just terrorizing people who didn't agree with what the government was saying. There was actually a really large migration of Ethiopians to the United States during that time because there was just so many people affected by it and my father was one of those people.
One time they had seen him with a person they suspected to be against the stay at church and arrested, my father and my mom did not know where he was for days. So that was his last straw.
And he decided that it was time to leave and they would come to Washington, D.C. in December of nineteen eighty eight to never come back to Ethiopia for at least 20 years.
As I got older, I kept asking all places, why did you guys come to D.C.? We have a winter here. We could have been in L.A. because there's a huge population of Ethiopians in L.A. and like Houston, in Toronto. And at the time, D.C. was the first stop in America. So their plan was, we're in this country, we're going to just make it work. We're not really thinking beyond basic survival. They got there in eighty eight and I was born in nineteen ninety, I was the first person born in this country from my family, so a lot of my childhood was heavily Ethiopian influenced with sprinkles of American influence.
I think it got stronger once I got to school because obviously I'm around people from different cultures. So sometimes I just I didn't feel to Ethiopian and sometimes I didn't feel to Americans. I felt like I was in this strange space. Childhood is strange when your parents don't know what childhood in that country is like, like sleepovers. I think that's something a lot of children of immigrants relate on because immigrant parents are not really big on sleepovers they didn't really pick up on.
OK, this is what normal Americans do. My mom was definitely the disciplinarian. She's the head of the house and what she said when. My mom was apprehensive and I get it because from her perspective, she had just left chaos. So I think she wanted to maintain some sense of peace and consistency. And I think to her, that meant keeping family close. I remember the first time I asked my mom for some Jordans and she looked at me like I was crazy, which in hindsight I get you're coming to your immigrant mother, you're just trying to survive and your kids asking you for one hundred dollar shoes.
Not really the best economical choice, but I was going to school with kids who had Jordans. I like to Jordans. That was the culture that was kind of like the trend. And my mom didn't understand that. She figured you guys have shoes. There's kids back home who don't have shoes. They did the best that they could, but I felt like as that first generation American, that I needed to place my stake as the American version of our family.
And I think the Ethiopian one exists and it is equally powerful and important. But I understand that our American identity is completely different. I remember during recess, I went and I wanted to double Dutch, and the girls who were double Dutch said I could not double Dutch with them because I wasn't black. And that was the first time someone told me I wasn't black. So I went home and I asked my dad, are we black? And he looks at me kind of confused and he says, Of course we're black.
What do you mean? So I tell him the story.
And he sat me down and told me that sometimes when you're not from this country, people rather focus on the differences and not the similarities. And that we were black, we just had a different black experience. And it took me a really long time to really understand that. And I struggled with that. Then my experiences with people who weren't black would be ignorance about Ethiopia and Ethiopians, anti black rhetoric or anti Ethiopian rhetoric, I would hear all the starving Marven jokes.
Although you live in a hut, your people are hungry. And during that time, Ethiopia was going through a lot of hard hits as a country. So what's being broadcasted on the news is all that people are getting. But they didn't really highlight on the culture. Being a child of immigrants, being a girl, being black, I feel like these are all things where you're constantly having to announce yourself. And because I felt like I didn't belong anywhere, I kind of just said, well, screw everything.
I like me. I know what I am. I will just identify with myself. A lot of the times I felt alone, but in that loneliness, I felt empowered, I guess I felt that if I could get through this, then it really didn't matter what life threw at me. In 2002, my mom, the sister, fell ill and eventually passed away and my mom went back to Ethiopia for the first time since she had come to the United States, and she figured that would also be a great time to take us.
My sister and I to Ethiopia to learn about our heritage and see the country. I was 12 years old and in middle school, so with my super and high pre-teen persona, I was always listening to my CD player or in a book really didn't really care for what was going on around me. Our flight to Ethiopia was on our first flight, we had gone to a couple of places within the United States before for like family vacations, so I never really had a problem with planes.
But this was also right after September 11th. So like most people, I was kind of nervous to be on that flight and it was a 16 hour flight. So that's a lot of time to think. When I first got to Ethiopia, my first thought was, wow, I've never been somewhere where everybody's black. That was my immediate thing. I would just go everywhere and everyone looked just like me. I mean, growing up outside of Washington, D.C., you have pockets of communities that are majority black, but there's a difference between being surrounded in blackness in a city or county and being in a whole country and everybody's black.
It's just a different feeling. And I don't know how to explain how that feels. It's just something that you have to experience. It was interesting to be around people who shared cultural similarities with me, who spoke Amharic eight and eight with their hands. I felt like I didn't have to explain myself. I felt like the little pieces of me that were Ethiopian made sense, like I remember growing up my mom, when she would make stew, it would just take up the whole house and we would smell like stew going to school.
And I hated it. And I would try to make sure that I never smelled like it. And I went back home for the first time and everywhere smelled like stew one day. And I said, wow, OK, this is this is me. This is who I am. Going back to Ethiopia, I felt like I was going home, but I also just didn't feel at home because I was 12 then, and I think that I was really Americanized at that point, kind of living in my own world.
So although I felt like I belonged, I still felt like there was still a piece missing. My mom has like six or seven brothers and sisters and I hadn't met any of them prior to that trip. So it was like a family reunion, a cultural reunion. It was everything at once. So it was overwhelming and just a lot to take in. I had met my grandfather and my grandmother for the first time, and that was really exciting, and when I was talking to my grandfather, I had said my last name and he looks at me and tells me, who told you that was your last name?
And I'm kind of looking around like everybody. He tells me that I've been pronouncing my name, my last name wrong. Mind you, I've been pronouncing it that way my whole life. This and in Ethiopian culture, your last name is your father's first name. So am I. My last name is my dad's first name. So I'm looking at my mom asking here, why didn't anyone correct me? Why didn't my dad correct me? This is his name.
By the time that my sister and I had arrived to Ethiopia, my aunt had already been buried. So I had experienced an Ethiopian funeral in Ethiopia. But we have something called the luxo. And that's when people come to your house and they cry to mourn your loved one who's passed away. And it's very intense. It's very emotional. And if you are not familiar with it, it can be very overwhelming because you have a houseful of people, usually women, who are wailing for hours.
So when my aunt had passed away, I was pretty glad that we missed that part because I just wasn't available emotionally for that. It's very draining. My mom is from Addis Ababa, which is the capital of Ethiopia, so that's where we flew into. After my aunt's funeral, my mom decided that would be really great for us to visit a couple of other cities just to see the diversity within the country. So one of those cities was Bahadoor.
It's only an hour flight from Addis Ababa, and the main attraction in Barga is the Blue Nile Falls. My mom took us hiking. It was really great. We got to see it. It was beautiful. We had run into a group of Canadian students who were on a trip visiting and they had a Canadian student as a guide who had been to Ethiopia and had been to the Blue Nile false before, and he was serving as a tour guide.
My mom had told me that the Blue Nile Falls was really dangerous to swim in and why we were there, that same tour guide actually tried to save someone who was drowning and they both ended up passing away. I was familiar with death, but it was just so close, especially since we had just seen the gentleman that same day. And whether you're a part of our community or not, if you share an experience with us, we do it together.
You know, it's not like, OK, that happened to you. Sorry for your loss. So there was obviously a tone that was set by that passing and that one event just did not sit well with me. It just felt very surreal. And at the time, I just didn't know how to process that. Today's episode is brought to you by upstart, you know, that credit card, the one you're afraid to look at and see what the balance is if you've been avoiding your debt.
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MTV and Wonder represent Cavefish, the podcast hosted by award winning filmmaker Neil Schulman Catfish. The podcast exposes the truths and lies of online dating. Each week, Neeve and his guest hosts will reveal the wildest, most dramatic stories with never before heard moments. And you'll learn that when someone seems too good to be true, they just might be. Subscribe to Catfish, the podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you're listening now. The flight to Addy's from Bahadoor is only an hour, and so we did some like last minute sightseeing and my sister and I decided that we were going to wear our newly tailored skirts because why not?
We wanted to look cool. During that time, the World Cup was going on, so the whole country was pretty much tuned into that, Ethiopians love soccer. When we got to the airport, I realized everybody was watching the World Cup game, everybody from the check in to TSA, which I thought was really strange, but I thought maybe at the time, I think you're just having some 9/11 paranoia right now. Because the flight from Bahadoor to I.D. is relatively short, they put us on a smaller plane, they set two people on each side of the plane and being the older child, I volunteer to sit by myself and I told my mom and sister they could sit together.
I had never been on a small plane like that. So I was pretty excited. So I volunteered to sit at the front of the plane and my sister and my mom said a couple seats behind me. The flight takes off and almost immediately this guy goes to the bathroom. He goes back to sea and almost immediately goes back to the bathroom. And I'm like, well, maybe he's feeling sick, OK? I don't know what's going on, but I'm just going to mind my business.
I'm sitting and we're we're flying during that time, I was really into, like making my own little CD mix of whatever mood I was in and I will never forget I was listening to this song by a rule called I Cry and I'm like into it. It's really sad. I don't even know why I'm listening to it. But at the same time, I'm getting hungry and I look back and I see that the flight attendant is gearing up to get the food cart to go down the aisle.
A couple of minutes had passed and I felt that by this time that the cart should have been to me or at least nearby. So I turn around to see where the cart is. And that's when I see two gentlemen standing up with a grenade and a knife in their hands. They're talking in a park and they're telling us to sit down and stay calm. One of the guys stays with us and he was pretty much doing crowd control, making sure we weren't moving.
And it's kind of watching over us. And the other guy goes to the cockpit. As soon as that happened, my mind went to we're going to die. This is May 22, so we're not even a year outside of 9/11. My assumption is that the only kind of hijacking is the kind that we had just witnessed. So I had to assume the worst. I look back and my mom is looking at me, telling me to sit down and just be calm and I thought I was in a dream.
During that little time, we're all very panicked, but no one's really speaking, no one really knows what to say. One of the flight attendants attempted to wrestle the grenade and knife out of the hijacker, and I was in the front of the plane and this was happening maybe towards the middle. So it was kind of hard to see what was going on. All I saw was the hijacker just jam his knife into the flight attendant's leg.
And after that happened, he sat down, the guy still had the knife, he's still watching us. And as that happened, a gentleman in a suit gets up. The hijacker was watching over us, tells him to sit down. He does not sit down, he proceeds to get closer. So I'm now confused as to who this man is. Then I see him pull out a gun. He then shoots the first hijacker dead. When he shoots that first highjacker, all of us are confused because, again, this man has not said anything.
He just gets up, pulls out a gun, shoots the first hijacker. And I just say, what the hell is going on? When the first hijacker was shot, I didn't even realize what was happening because the shot went off so fast and I had never heard a gun that close, I didn't know if maybe the grenade went off because again, everyone is just high anxiety. So you're over perceiving events as they're happening. That was the first time I had seen a dead body, so I wasn't even sure of how to feel like half of me is just ecstatic that this man is dead because he's not going to kill us.
The other half of me is just trying to process the fact that I had just witnessed someone get killed. We weren't sure if this guy was another passenger, another hijacker at the time, I didn't know what a flight marshal was, and I think that was a relatively new concept, especially after 9/11. But he grabs the first hijackers ID and goes to the cockpit. He knocks on the door of the cockpit to get the second hijacker to open the door.
When the second hijacker asks who it is, he reads the name of the first hijacker and he opens the door. When the hijacker turns around, he sees that this is obviously not his coconspirator, instead is a man with a gun. So, again, I am sitting at the front of the plane, so I have a view of all of this. And as a sidebar, I think that if you do crime with somebody that you should know what they sound like, just a personal opinion, because, I mean, that was one small detail that kind of always bothered me, that he was just so easily able to confuse and lie to this man about who he was.
When he open the door of the cockpit, they immediately start wrestling and they're moving towards my seat because I'm sitting in the front. They're wrestling for a couple minutes, and I could tell that the air marshals priority was getting the grenade out of the hijackers hand and he was able to get the grenade out of his hand. As soon as that's happened, he shoots the second hijacker and he falls into my aisle and grabs my leg as he's dying. At this point, I am screaming because this man is touching me, I don't know who this guy who's shooting him and my mom thought something had happened to me because it's all happening at once.
So my mom is screaming, my sisters cry. No one knows what's going on. You know, you play video games as a kid and you kill somebody, you're going to shoot them and you don't feel anything. But in that moment, I felt that Mandir, as he loosened his grip. That's when I realized, oh, my God, this guy is dead. When the second hijacker died, I couldn't even look at him, I just froze, I didn't know what to feel and even I couldn't even remember the fact that the air marshal had the grenade because I thought maybe he had the grenade on him.
I didn't know if he had maybe a bomb around him because my instinct initially was, I'm going to kick this man off of me. This is crazy. But you have to think really quick. And I mean, at 12, I don't even know how I even thought like that because I didn't want to kick that man. To feel, literally feel, physically, feel someone passing was undescribable. The energy that someone gives when they touch you is intense.
So to have a man who is dying grab onto your ankle is it was surreal.
After I realized he had passed, his hand was kind of still on my ankle. It wasn't like rigor mortis where it's like stuck around me, but it was enough for me to be uncomfortable. So I had to shake my ankle off to get his hand off of me. And I was still panic because, again, I wasn't sure if this man had a bomb strapped to him. So I'm thinking first touch and we all might die anyway. So it was this delicate shake off.
After I'd shaken off his hand off my ankle, I tried to get up and leave my seat and that's when the flight attendant told me I needed to stay in my seat. I was so shaken up and I thought for a moment, I thought the audacity of this person to tell me to stay in my seat with a dead person when they're available seats on the flight, I just wanted to sit next to my mom and my sister, you know what I mean?
It was so much going on. I'm like, I'm not a part of this crime scene. After I curse the flight attendant out, they let me sit with my mom and my sister, my mom asked me if I was OK. She was asking me like, well, why were you screaming? And I'm telling her we're all hugging each other. Everyone is checking on each other. My sister and I, I'm pretty sure we're the only kids on that flight.
And we kind of had this moment of it was a pause of, OK. I guess we're not dying. It was an hour flight, but that was the longest hour of my life. Time slowed down and your primitive instincts kick in, and I just felt like some way, somehow time just did not exist. The only thing that existed was decisions.
I think that time slowed down for all of us just so that we could really observe what was going on and what decisions to make, because even going down to should I kick this man's hand off of my ankle was that felt like a whole five minute decision.
But it happened in a split second. Once everything has settled down there, which is a lot of people asking us if we were OK, trying to comfort us, my sister was visibly upset. She was mine at the time. So I'm glad that I was the person who volunteered to sit in the front. My friend's father said some people are just built for the bullshit, and that's what he described me as. And when I think about that little detail, I think of that and I'm just very thankful that it was me, because I knew that even in hindsight, in that moment, it had to be me.
I don't know if any other puzzle piece would fit in that moment.
While this was happening, I wasn't sure of what the hijackers demands were being read outside of 9/11. My assumption was that they were trying to crash the plane. But what I found out was that hijacking was actually pretty common and they would usually just fly you to another country and hold you for ransom or demand asylum to another country. After the hijackers were killed, the air marshal introduced himself as an air marshal and he kind of explained that once we landed that we would be interviewed, but that he was working for the airline.
My sister and I were the only kids on that flight, so a lot of the passengers came up to us to ask if we were OK and see how we were doing, especially me, because I was in the front and all of that had happened. And they were asking if I had noticed the first gentleman going to the bathroom. And I said that I did, but I didn't know what to take of it. So I found out that a couple of people had thought that was weird.
We're all processing together. And I think that once we landed, everyone felt a sigh of relief because it just didn't feel like it was done until we landed. As soon as we touched the ground, I remember crying and being so happy because I really thought I was going to die that day. That was the homecoming that I got from Ethiopia, like I was in the homecoming that I expected, but it's the homecoming that I needed and I was so glad to see the city.
I was so glad to see my grandma and my aunt in that kind of completely change the rest of my trip, because now I'm just super grateful the news had gotten back to the city. So my family was really worried. We had to call my dad, who was back in the States and tell him. And he this poor man is so emotional because he had to escape the same country on a plane just for this strange full circle event where his wife and his two kids are on a flight and almost died.
Learning from mistakes is important, but then you prefer to learn from the painful mistakes of others. I'm Tim Harford, host of Cautionary Tales, the podcast that looks for valuable lessons from great crimes and disasters of the past. You're right with cavalryman of the Light Brigade as they charge headlong towards certain death to fly on a doomed airliner hijacked by idiots. Attend the trial of the art forger who fooled the Nazis and uncover the deeds of a doctor who paid friendly house calls to his patients while really planning their murders.
The series stars Jeffrey Wright, Helena Bonham Carter and Malcolm Gladwell. Oh, what a sweet thing to say.
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Listen to late night wars on business wars, on Apple podcasts, Amazon music or the Wonder App. Join thundery plus in the one to recap to listen one week early and add free. When we had gotten back, we had maybe another week left in Ethiopia and all I could think of was we have a 16 hour flight back to the United States and my sister and I could not stop thinking about it. I was so nervous, I was anxious of telling my mom, maybe we should stay another week.
I'm not ready. And my mom told me something that to this day I never forget, which was if God wanted you to die, you would have died that day.
And in that moment, I'm thinking that's not really helpful. But as I got older, it was kind of like a stoic mentality that stuck with me.
And that moment kind of just transformed how I view life and view making decisions and taking risks because of the back of my mind. I kind of repeat that saying her mom said if I was supposed to die today, then I would have died. So I'm not going to wait or hesitate or hold back. I think once you get your flight hijacked, anything is up in the air, and that's how I still view things like I don't count out anything, because if you had told me before that that I would be on a hijacked plane under a year after 9/11, I would have never believed you.
On the flight back to the United States, my sister and I did not sleep, we were up the whole time. We were staring at everybody who came by us, who sat by us.
That flight or fight feeling kicked in again. My eyes are just darting everywhere to exits and people and faces and movements. So I think that was really the hardest part. And I felt that if I were looking at myself on that return flight, that I probably look crazy.
I was not able to feel calm until we landed. When we landed back in D.C., my dad was waiting for us at the gate. We immediately ran into his arms, were all crying, were so happy to see each other. It just felt so surreal. So to see my dad just felt like, OK, now we've really made it when we landed in Ethiopia. I felt that I made it. But once I had seen my father said, OK, everything is OK.
I felt that sense of the new normal because something that was familiar was near me. Now it's done. I'm home. And that event has closed out. When we landed and we made it, I knew that right then and there that served a purpose in my life. I will never forget that gut feeling I had when I noticed that the first hijacker went to the bathroom. At that time, I didn't think anything of it, but I'm so glad that my instincts kicked in because I still get those feelings too.
And I don't I don't play them because, again, I just never thought that I'd be on a plane that's hijacked.
So I don't try to count anything out. So I try to really be observant of my surroundings and the people who are around me and what they say, because I feel that the more information and observations I'm able to have, that the better I am to assess where I'm at. I don't think I was able to sleep on a flight until around two thousand twelve, which is right, because I've made a couple of long distance flights since then, but that anxiety just keeps me up.
I think even now, when I enter places, I always make sure to figure out where the entrance and the exit windows, whatever, anything that's out of the ordinary. I pretty much pick up on immediately, like when I'm on flights. I notice when people go up and down the aisles a lot because that was something that the hijackers did. In a sense, it ruined people for me, because when you see people do things like that, it just taints humanity and it opens up this door that you can never really close again if of how you see people, you don't want to walk around this world and suspect everyone of being capable of hurting you.
But when you go through an event like that, you can't count them out. When you meet people, you assume that they're good, that they have morals. Whereas I kind of look at people and I think that they're capable of anything and that's not necessarily a good or bad thing. I think that that event let me see people for who they are based on how they present themselves. I think when you assume people are a certain way, that's how you become a victim.
When something like that happens to you, you either succumb to it or you rise above it, and I think because of my personality and the things that I've been through in my life, I felt the need to have to come above it. And I refuse to be in a position of vulnerability like that again. You never want to feel that feeling again, like I never want to take my life for granted or the things that I'm doing, even the mundane things are just so amazing.
Like having a Saturday and doing nothing is a great day for me because I chose to do that. And I think that anyone who's been through something traumatic will tell you that because the power is really in the ability to make the choice. And even if it's not making a choice, that was your choice. I think that I went back to school and I didn't really care about what people thought I was or who I was, you know, I am a person who went through something and I came out of it and this is who I am.
You know, you can either understand it or you can. And if you haven't gone through it, you're just not going to get it. And I don't expect people to. But I do expect people to respect the. After that flight, one of the best and one of the worst things was understanding that everything and nothing is possible at the same time. And I had a couple of years in my teenage and early twenties where I wouldn't say I acted out, but you kind of just want to see what the limits of life are.
I feel like The Truman Show, like where you're just constantly trying to push and see, all right, where's the jig? Where's the bullshit? I'm going to push on this. And that's going to be the edge of life. And that's the boundary of life for me. Felt like I was scared for a long time because, I mean, once you're in a hijacked plane, you kind of feel like you're in final destination. Like, I think life, I think on my own life something.
But then you kind of realize shit just happens and it keeps moving and you've got to keep moving, too. And you can't be a prisoner to fear because it's just fear. It limits your lens of life, and that's just no way to live, and unfortunately, it's events like getting your plane hijacked or almost dying or being completely broken down as a person where you realize I have a lot more control than I think I do, sometimes that gets scary because then you realize you're responsible for everything.
I think sometimes I would try to outsmart life, and I later realized with time and experience that life happens for you and not to you. And that shift completely changes how you approach life. When I thought life was happening to me. I was constantly a victim. I never thought that I had any opportunities. I felt like I was trapped. And as I got older and I went through other events, I realized that life happens for me. I get tired of being scared, I get tired of wondering what people think of I think I like flashback to like grade school and wanting to be accepted.
And you find out that the people who didn't want to accept you don't even accept themselves as like, what the hell am I even doing all this for? So you just say, fuck it. And I mean that kind of freedom I want I wish I could give it to everyone. The first time I went to Ethiopia, I was 12 and I didn't go back until twenty one, and the second time I went back to Ethiopia, I felt so much more at home because sometimes when you're in America, you kind of feel like you don't belong as a black person, period.
You've got structures that constantly tell you you don't belong, you don't belong, you don't belong. And I always tell my friends who are black to to go to Africa once because it's a type of peace that is really indescribable. I have a board in my wall and it's like a list of affirmations to remind me of the things that I love, and you have to remind yourself of the things in your life that you have that make you happy, because in those moments, those are the things that flash by in your mind.
Like when I was on that flight, I was thinking, I'm never going to see my friends. And my dad always said, I want to play outside. I wanted to go to McDonald's one more time. All these small things or big things in life that we don't think about all the time come into play. Sometimes when I go out in nature, I go for hikes and I see just nature and it's peace, a cry because it's just it's so it feels good to be alive.
And when you're so close to dying or feeling that you're going to die, life feels great. I've always been interested in people, why people do things and what leads them to do things, I ended up going to school for psychology, so it kind of just fit in and help me reanalyze these events in my life. I think about that event all the time and a sense of sympathy kind of comes in like what must have happened in their lives to lead them to hijack a plane.
That's my question. These are two gentlemen who got on the flight with us, who looked at us, saw that there were two kids on the flight and still did what they did. I was raised to be humble and always have gratitude. My parents told me where I came from and they've always told me we worked really hard for you to have this life and we want you to enjoy it. And you have a lot of things that we didn't have as kids, and I never took that for granted.
And definitely after that moment, I had to just be thankful for everything. Like, I'm I'm just glad to wake up. You know, if I get another day and another shot at life, I can't really ask for anything else, because when you're in those moments, nothing else matters. You just want to see the next day. It's a strange thing to be grateful for, but I'm pretty grateful. Day's episode featured Yemi you can find out more about her on Instagram at y y.
M. S s. From London. You're listening to this is actually happening, if you love what we do, please rate and review the show. You can subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify, the Wonder App or wherever you're listening right now. You can also join a hundred plus in the one free app to listen ad free. In the episode notes, you'll find some links and offers from our sponsors by supporting them. You help us bring you our shows for free.
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I'm Robbie Damond, the host of Wonderings Newest Kids and Family podcast, Little Stories Everywhere, where each episode we take you on a magical journey through original tales and reimagined children's classics. Sure to entertain the whole family, whether you're listening during story time or enjoying screen free entertainment, little stories everywhere has a story for everyone. Go on an exciting journey to a fantastical island in my father's dragon or join B as she takes a journey to free the Griffins and along the way realizing she's braver than she thinks.
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