I grew up a pastor’s child living in America with a traditional Christian Ethiopian background. A majority of Ethiopians are either Orthodox, Christian, or Islamic. Those who follow the Orthodox or Christian faith might see a scene from Supernatural and think Dean and Sam Winchester fighting demons was unnatural with the stabbing and the gushing of blood. Once, when I was watching the show, someone saw it and gasped “In Jesus Name,” in Amharic thinking it was an actual thing. So, engaging in science fiction and fantasy wasn’t always easy.
When I got the chance, one of the first books I read as a child was C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. It was a chance to escape a world where I was underweight and not strong enough to do a lot of the things kids my age could do. Books became the thing that helped me become strong in other ways. While I generally read books that were considered classics, I would often try to sneak in a book with a mystical twist to it. My brother, who was younger than me and a little more American since he was born here, began reading comic books at a young age and of course, it sparked my interest. I began to get interested in female characters like Jean Grey, Rogue, and one of my favorites, Catwoman. I would sit and watch the Batman shows with Adam West and cheer on the female characters that looked so awesome with their costumes.
But I wasn’t supposed to. Being the oldest meant I needed to be a “good girl” who didn’t dabble in the non-traditional ways that went against the Christian faith. We were the family that didn’t have a Christmas tree because my father didn’t want us to worship the tree. In second grade, my father stopped allowing us to do Halloween because the “costumes were against our faith.” Thankfully, our parents still bought us candy.
As I got older I read Stephen King’s Carrie anyway. I was in 6th grade and was dealing with the bullies that couldn’t understand why I was so skinny. I found the book so intriguing. How could anyone want to bully this girl? I wondered if I could ever learn to be as tough as her. When I got home and told my mom that I was reading it, she gave me this funny look. I could recognize the “Christian girls don’t read stuff like that” look from anywhere. I just shrugged my shoulders and kept reading until the end.
It wasn’t until I met my son’s father that I really got a chance to watch all of the Lord of The Rings movies. It was then that my interest in fantasy books really started. I was in awe. It was just like the comics I used to watch, yet more powerful and adventurous. I knew I needed to watch more. I had already begun watching Roswell and other teen shows. Charmed made me wish I could do magic. I didn’t tell my parents, of course, because I didn’t want the finger-wagging to begin. I just wanted to escape my life and just be me.
As an adult, I realized then how much the plots where similar to the Bible stories that I read. I kept it to myself thinking surely this wasn’t something bad. By this time I was reading Harry Potter books. How this young boy could go through bullying and still become a hero mystified me. In the last few years, I realized how many movies, TV shows, and books were not quite as they seemed since I began my childhood reading journeys. Once I got into the story, I saw myself as the main characters, trying to go against what everyone thought was a “strange idea” at the time. Traditionally, I was supposed to be the innocent preacher’s daughter who was supposed to memorize verses and quote them by heart, but in reality I was someone who loved fantastical stories.
It was when I went back to Ethiopia in 2013 that I realized I needed to stop pleasing other people. I began watching as many fantasy shows as I could find, which was pretty limited due to the weak internet access and electricity that wasn’t always working. I was just grateful to find The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Supernatural, and some superhero series. My parents and others watched me in shock and amazement while they shook their heads, and I had to frequently emphasize that the stories weren’t real but imaginary. After a while, I decided to each their own. I wanted to just enjoy these things as much as I could.
Last November, I returned to the States. I have since joined a Dungeons and Dragons group, watched as many Marvel movies and television shows on Netflix I could find, and began reading more comics. It’s been a fun journey seeing the changes in my life especially with access to shows and books again.