Standing on the shoulders of Giants

by Sophia Ayana

Sometimes it’s hard to leave behind what you’ve always known or what you’ve been told to know, in the hopes of finding something better or chase a dream you’re having. In the journey of doing so, breaking generational cycles, following your own dreams and ideas, even your own people will call you crazy. It takes a certain flame inside of you to eventually make these bold decisions, take risks and blindly go after them.

When I look at my own life decisions, I can only smile and look back at my grandpa’s story.

My grandpa grew up in the 1940’s in a small village/community in the mountains called Borko in Ethiopia, 30 miles away from any form of city life. Due to the unlucky business decisions of his father, he grew up very poor; unlike his uncles and their families who were way richer. Growing up, he couldn’t wrap his mind around this and knew he wanted to make a change: for his father and for his own future family.

One day, when he was 15, a woman who had gone to the market near the city, returned to the village and claimed to have seen Americans who were handing out jobs. My grandpa couldn’t stop thinking about this and immediately made a plan to follow the woman to the market the next time she would make her way. And so he did.

Drive and Determination

He followed the woman to the city, looked for the American people and waited in line for a job. Because he was a short man, he was hard to notice and had to be creative to be seen. After days of standing and waiting, the Americans finally noticed him and thought he was funny for trying so hard. They loved his drive and determination, and went on to hire him. Not very long after, he got promoted, and would always send his first salary to his father back home in the village.

He gained promotion after promotion because of his extraordinary drive and skills, and very very long story short, my grandpa grew up to become a business mogul and built his empire in the city of Shashamane and surroundings. He married, had children and all of his children, including my dad, went to college and moved to Europe and the US.

Listen to your own fire inside!

Grandpa, Mr. Burka Tufa

My grandpa had set his mind on breaking generational cycles, in his case, generational poverty. Or as I’d like to see it: breaking out of a community bubble, their traditions, their ways of money-making and instead think for yourself and listen to your own fire inside.

So whenever I feel stuck and don’t know how to move forward, I remind myself of looking back. I’ve always felt my dreams are bigger than the city that I’m from, which is why I moved from Amsterdam to London 6 months ago – to pursue a career in music, to grow in entrepreneurship and perhaps create a better life for my own future family.

To think how far (literally) we’ve come, I can only be thankful for my grandpa’s bold decisions and open mindset. Even though he wasn’t raised to think like this, he knew the world was at his feet and we’re just walking in his footsteps.

From the mountains to the metropolis, my grandpa is my Giant and the journey continues…

Grandpa died on 9th of January 2021 in his house in Shashamane. He was buried in the mountains of Borko.

What about you? Who ignites the fire inside you? Who inspires you to aim for more, to break generational and societal norms, to be a better version of yourself each day, to build the future of your dreams? Please share in the comments.

Sophia Ayana is 27 years old and has Ethiopian and Dutch roots. She currently lives in London, England, and is passionate about song-writing, music analysis, African history and futurism.

The featured images show (L) Sophia with her family in Langano Lake, Ethiopia 2001; (R) Sophia at Arba Minch, Ethiopia.