Buffalonian of the Week: Abiyu Aynalem

Cultural Note: Ethiopia retains the Julian calendar, in which the year is divided into 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month of 5 days and 6 days in leap year. The Ethiopian calendar is 8 years behind the Gregorian calendar from January to September and 7 years behind between September 11 and January 8. This difference originated from a divergence between the Roman and Ethiopian churches as to the date of the creation of the world. The years are classified by the names of the Evangelists: Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.

EnkuTaTash means the “gift of jewels”. When the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive jaunt to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her bolts by replenishing her treasury with inku or jewels. The spring festival has been celebrated since this early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside.  Today’s EnkuTaTash is not exclusively a religion holiday but is  a season for exchanging formal New Year greetings and cards among the urban sophisticated – in lieu or the traditional bouquet of flowers.

By Rubens Mukunzi

Abiyu Aynalem is 37 years old and a father of two kids. He was born and grew up in Ethiopia.  He received his Bachelor of Science in Earth Science from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, and finished his master’s degree from the School of Civil Engineer at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. Abiyu is currently a professional, an engineer and is co-founder and president of the Empire Transportation Service company, which has three employees and 18 operators. He also directs public relations for the Ethiopia Community Association in Greater Buffalo (ECAGB).

What was it like when you came to Buffalo for the first time?

I came to Buffalo in December 2013 together with my beautiful family straight from Norway. It was snowing and cold, as for our arrival, we had no plan to stay Buffalo. We were intending to move to Canada, but unfortunately the Canadian immigration office at the border would not allow us to cross.

What is ECAGB and what is stands for?

It is standing for Ethiopian Community Association in Great Buffalo. It is a community-based organization that provides social opportunities for Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans and is a community center for social, cultural, educational and recreational activities to maintain the traditions and to tackle common problems facing the community.

What pushed you to start this organization and who are your members?

The primary reason that we established the ECAGB was to bring Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans in Buffalo and its surroundings  together under one umbrella. Our goal was to create a common forum for our community so that we can provide various services including assisting newly arriving refugees and immigrants in the area, [with a particular] focus on the youth, so that there is a continuation to preserve and promote our cultural heritage.

 

 

Our members are Ethiopian and Ethiopian-Americans who reside in the Greater Buffalo area.

What the most big challenges your members or refugees and immigrants community are facing?

There are many challenges [that our community faces]…language barriers, cultural differences, lack of jobs, and housing, health and education opportunity have been challenging for newcomers that are [of] Ethiopian origin.

You are a refugee community leader, especially for the Ethiopian community. How are you integrating the newcomers and what is your contribution in the community?

It is a good question, One of the pillars of ECAGB stands for is to welcome [newly arriving] Ethiopians to our community. We [want to]  make sure that they easily adapt to living in Western New York. We assist them [with] housing, job seeking, connecting with the governmental temporary support, opportunities for school and so on.

The Ethiopian community is celebrating its new year (Enkutatash). Tell us about this new year and how you plan to celebrate it in Buffalo.

Ethiopia is one of the most ancient nations in the globe and we preserve various cultural values [not shared with other ones]. We have our own calendar, our own way to count hours in day and night, our own [writing] script.

Our new year 2010 E.C will begin on September 11, 2017. On September 9, we will be celebrating the New Year at 200 Como Park Blvd, Cheektowaga. The doors will be open at 6pm and the event will feature various programs including cultural show, traditional music, different lottery drawings, and authentic Ethiopian cuisine.

What makes your community stronger? What other values that other communities should learn from you?

Our community in Buffalo is small in number but very cohesive with strong cultural values, which we believe has given us the strength to endure many hardships and given us the needed stamina to succeed in adverse conditions.

 

We come from a country where all three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) have peacefully coexisted in harmony for centuries. We offer a culture of mutual respect, goodwill, and diversity, which we are so proud of to share with other refugee and immigrant communities in Buffalo, and by and large, to the rest of the world.

What message do you have for the Ethiopian community and for other refugee and immigrants community living at Buffalo?

Unity is strength! Our motto is “working hard and looking forward”! Ethiopians [make up a diverse] community regarding  political ideology, religious practice and cultural [heritage], so sometime we have to work hard to bring all these differences to one table to craft a unified community.

The ECAGB cordially invites all immigrants, refugees and local Buffalonians to join us for the coming Ethiopian New Year celebration. Attendance is first come, first served.

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