Mellow Yellow on Being Back with His People by Danny Harris

Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.

“Homeboy, do you know what it means to be kicked out of your country and not be able to go back? That shit is serious, cuz, and sits with me every day.

“In Ethiopia, I was someone. I was a graduate in the school of agriculture. I went to go work as a coffee inspector and then got a job as a reporter for the Ethiopian Herald. I was one of the best writers in all of Ethiopia. I covered all of the important topics. I am telling you the truth, homie. But in Ethiopia, the government did not like that I was running my mouth and writing certain things, so I had to flee from my home and leave everything behind. That was 33 years ago.

Continues after the jump.

“I left my country for this Babylon. I ended up landing in Atlanta, Georgia. I got my college degree in applied animal nutrition. I got married and had twins. I worked a number of jobs. The thing is that I was not supposed to be in this country. I was supposed to go back and serve my people in Ethiopia, but I couldn’t go back because of the government. Most of the Ethiopian people knew and respected me there. Here, I was a nobody. I had a college degree and my green card and had all of my shit straight, but it was never the same.

“I ended up getting into drinking and drugs and this-and-that. What can I say, homeboy? These things are a reality and a fact of life for some people. You can never understand until someone takes away your life and country and tells you to start over as a nobody. I couldn’t handle things and ended up leaving my life and family in Atlanta and moved to Newark, New Jersey, but it wasn’t any better there. I came to Washington eight years ago to be back with my Ethiopian people. I sit on these streets and see the people that I grew up with and the people who knew me from my writing days.

“Just because I am around my people, though, doesn’t mean that everything is lovely. I may have a college degree, but I ain’t nothing but a hustler now. I have been doing a lot of things in the nations’s capital, but to tell you the truth, I am not going to tell you how I get by here. All you have to know, homeboy, is that the strongest survive and the fools die. My father lived until 87 and my Mom lived a long life, too. I am 59 and will be a survivor just like them.”

63 Comment

  • I love how being an average person with a college degree, a job and family in the USA for someone who comes from some 3-rd world nation where the GDP per capita is $390 is not enough and too mundane so it becomes a natural progression that all of this should be dropped and to start drinking, doing drugs and being a “hustler” –

    Thanks for coming to this country – enjoying the advantages but then deciding to be nothing but a drain on society because you couldn’t handle being a “nobody”.

    • Also – let’s get this straight – you are not surviving because you are “STRONG” – you are surviving because you moved to a country that ALLOWS you to survive – paid for by the people you came here to “hustle”.

      • i totally agree with you, in principle…but in reality, i say hold judgement until you’re forced to live in exile. that sh*t can mess people up. some are strong enough to move on, some aren’t. this guy clearly wasn’t.

        • Give me a break. This guy started doing drugs and now lives from crime because here he wasn’t known and respected by everyone. Basically if he can’t be a celebrity he decides to be a crackhead petty thief and a drain on society. Besides – he himself claims he is strong.
          He had a career and family. What did he have to “move on” from? And this makes you turn to crime? Leave your children and wife? It’s just another crackhead lazy bum that you are supporting because YOU choose to get up every day and go to work. Next time you are home late to see your family think of the money you just made to keep this asshole fed and sheltered.

  • I was a f%^&ing space cowboy, then I lost my way.
    Now I just sit at a desk and work everyday.

    Liar, liar, pants on fire.

  • So, just because he wasn’t surrounded by other Ethiopians made him a nobody? Well, excuse us for not being good enough for you.

    I guess we (as a nation) drove you to drink, do drugs, hustle and to abandon your wife and kids, you piece of shit?

    You’re making excuses for all your laziness and incredibly poor choices. Despite having a good education (from two nations, mind you), good jobs, and the ability to be a good writer, you decided to just toss away all those gifts…why? because “The Man” didn’t give you yo’ props, homeboy? Fuck off.

    You’re a bum. And get this: you’re a bum because you CHOSE to be a bum. You’re a drain on our society and a boil on the ass of Ethiopia. You bring shame to all the hard-working immigrants who come to this country to work hard for a better life – and *succeeded* in doing so!

    Like so many others, my mother came to the U.S. (legally), didn’t speak English, and only knew one person here. But she worked hard, went to school, learned English, became a citizen, was never on welfare or drugs, raised a family and made a success of herself.

    You better take a look in the mirror if you wanna know where the root of your problems are, homeboy.

  • Yeah, I feel like a nobody sometimes, too. Except that I still go to work everyday and provide for my family.

  • Man, the vitriol on these boards is just bizarre.

    • why bizarre. doesn’t this anger you in the least?
      personally, I’m thoroughly sick of people making lame excuses for themselves.

      • Why should it anger me? People are free to live their lives and make their own choices. I have no idea what it’s like to live his life, so I have no reason get angry over the choices he’s made.

        But it is interesting to hear his back story. I see people like him out on the streets and occasionally I wonder what led them to that path. Thanks for posting PoP!

        And TSM, maybe you should look into getting that blood pressure under control.

        • This person directly makes your life worse by living a life of crime and substance abuse WILLINGLY all the while getting the benefits provided to him by YOU that are intended for people who are in trouble but are instead going to help this useless bum.

        • nothing wrong with my blood pressure. I happen to be very able to tell this guy to fuck off very calmly, not at all raising my bp! 🙂

          I have very strong opinions, as you guys may have noticed. but this definitely touches a nerve with me because of my own story (or, more accurately, my mother’s story).

          And if you’re not mad, you may want to reread any of BIKERS_SUCK’s comments and really think about how people like this loser drain from those of us who work hard everyday – and sometimes struggle – without copping out to a life of drugs and “hustling” (which is just a quaint euphemism for committing crime).

          I wonder if you’d be so charitable about people being “free to live their lives” if this guy was shitting in your alley, shooting up under you bedroom widow, and breaking into your basement.

        • “I have no idea what it’s like to live his life, so I have no reason get angry over the choices he’s made.”

          You have no idea what it’s like to live MY life, and I’m making the choice to break into your car. Don’t get mad, though. Just shrub and say, “Gosh! That fella sure is living his life the way he wants!”

        • Well because ~50% of DC’s taxes go directly to pay for guys like this and the collateral damage they cause. That’s not a problem for you if you think you can just “tax the rich” to pay for all this and the problem will magically go away. If you do believe this, I suggest you go and read up on the history of the last 30 years of this city –not the BS you hear from folks, but look at how the city and it’s residents actually performed and lived.

          The problem with “live and let live” comes when A) the city defaults on it’s bonds because it’s middle class tax base disappears (happened in DC already) paying for more and more folks who chose to live like this and/or B) when the problem doesn’t actually go away after spending money on it and another teenager with weak supervision is lured away from a productive life into drugs/violence and despair.

        • Correction: people are free to live their own lives and make their own choices WITHIN THE BOUNDS OF THE LAW. This guy, in both his drug use and whatever illegal activites constitute his “hustlin'” is not doing that.

          This sort of relativist drivel — essentially, “who am I to judge?” — irks me more and more, every time I hear it. It’s like there is no objective right or wrong, or we’re supposed to be purposefully blind to right and wrong. If either of those two points are right, our society is doomed.

          • Second only to the excuse that no one’s perfect and third to don’t judge because you’ve never screwed up.

    • Yea – it’s bizarre that your healthcare is expensive because this waste of life will “survive” by “hustlin” but when his kidney fails from all the drugs he smokes -guess what – free operation at the emergency room – paid for by YOU. Then it’s back to “hustlin” with no responsibility thinking he is “strong” while you work your ass away at your job trying to pay for ridiculous health costs.
      But don’t get too mad now.

    • Can’t speak for others, but I’m not mad. I do have to call out self serving BS when I see it.

      • Definitely self serving BS on the part of this person, but I can’t say that I’m mad about it either.

        Sad, maybe.

        Having worked with refugees from Ethiopia, Burma and from Vietnam, I feel for this guy and the trauma that he’s survived. It is something incomprehensible (to me, at least) that a person’s entire way of life, including their home country, can be ripped away at the hands of persecution that I’ll (hopefully) also never understand.

        I have been incredibly inspired to work with folks who have lived through that sort of hell and come out the better for it – dedicated to improving themselves, their families, and their communities by establishing self-help infrastructure and gathering resources to make our neighborhoods a better place to live, while also helping those that were left behind.

        But for all the people who make it, rebuild their lives, and contribute to a renewed community, there are also people who, for one reason or another, can’t.

        I think those people (like the guy profiled) deserve some empathy along with all that scorn.

        • Out of all those countries I never have seen deadbeat crackhead bums on the streets that look Burmese or Vietnamese. That is strange don’t you think?

          • didn’t realize you’d taken an inventory of all the crackhead bums on the streets all over the US. Just cause they aren’t in this town, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

          • There are tragedies in every community, every day, including those that rarely make it into the mainstream news.

            If you need stories about women from these communities beaten to within an inch of their lives by their abusive boyfriends who have taken their immigration documents so that they can’t leave, or a story of a father killing all four of his children, or of mothers disowning their children, I’m happy to share the grief.

            Failure to see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

          • Cait B, and Gabo,

            But stories about things are just stories. There’s no evidence that any of this happened to this particular guy — in fact he seems to have had every advantage in life, an education, a family, a new start in a new country, and he pissed it all away.

            Some folks never get any of those chances, and still manage to lead decent lives and take care of their own kids. This guy might have even doomed his own kids based on their lack of a father figure. It’s just selfish.

        • You start by saying:
          “Definitely self serving BS on the part of this person”
          and end by saying:
          “I think those people (like the guy profiled) deserve some empathy along with all that scorn.”
          How do you reconcile those two statements? Either he’s a BS-er or he deserves our empathy because he was somehow deeply wronged.

          In fact, by his own admission, this guy basically had everything going for him: jobs, family, education. But **DECIDED** to chuck it all because he felt like a “nobody”. (Guess what, most of us do from time to time).

          So apparently, he was some kind of big kahuna Muckity-Muck in Ethiopia, but had to endure being a regular schmuck like the rest of us here in the ol’ USA. Too much pressure for him, I guess. Poor fella. I understand now why he abandoned his wife to care for their twins all on her own, turning instead to drugs and crime. Makes perfect sense.

          • What I was trying to get at is that this guy elicits a mixed emotional reaction from me.

            On the one hand, he screwed himself over of his own accord.

            On the other, I see someone defeated and feel for them.

            In the end, it comes down to the fact that I have a tough time writing off the suffering of others, even those who brought it on themselves. Even selfish bastards. And I’m fine with that.

  • Why is it that just about everybody from Ethiopia has an advanced degree in Rocket Science, yet they can barely make ends meet here in the US?

    • maybe because a lot of them are refugees or were exiled? that’s no joke, it’s not an easy thing to live through. don’t judge until you’ve gone throgh that. and maybe because it’s not that easy in this country to get work as a rocket scientist with a foreign degree?

      • Are you for real? So it’s either become a top nasa rocket engineer or become a crackhead criminal?

        Like a person with a degree in rocket science can’t learn how to be a plumber or make a pizza or lay bricks?

        There are places in this city that have “Help Wanted” signs in the window and in front of it there are 5 able minded lazy assholes asking for handouts because the job as a janitor or line cook is “beneath them”.

      • I’m perfectly comfortable judging because he had another option, by his own admission, to keep his mouth shut and provide for his own family in his own country. Then he might not have doomed his own children to a fatherless existence in a foreign land. I’m not saying political repression is a good thing, but on the individual level when it’s your own kids, you have to make a decision whether they are more important then you’re own selfishness.

        It’s called “being an adult” and taking responsibility.

        And for the record, I don’t believe he was a big man on the wrong side of a political divide in Ethiopia either, but mostly because he’s so full of BS with everything else he says.

  • To CaitB, 1:43pm:
    “If you need stories about women from these communities beaten to within an inch of their lives….”

    I most definitely do not doubt there is real tragedy out there and real victims that survive despite the odds (or don’t). I just don’t think this guy fits in that category. He made a choice to “check out” because he didn’t feel important. Being a father and a husband wasn’t important enough for him.

    I’m glad there are people like you doing the work you do, but if you’re defending this bozo, you’ll get no traction with me.

  • A lot of the comments above are racist. It bothers me that I share this space with people who comfortable leaving such comments. If you want to live in a cookie cutter subdivision with people who look and behave like you, maybe you should consider leaving DC.

    • I haven’t seen one comment that even comes close to racism.

      It bothers me that I share a city with someone who is comfortable throwing out antagonistic labels that have nothing to do with anything anyone said.

      And you can move out of MY city if you don’t like it.

      • Ragged Dog, this comment is pure racism:
        “Out of all those countries I never have seen deadbeat crackhead bums on the streets that look Burmese or Vietnamese. That is strange don’t you think?”

        You can’t deny that comment. end of story and your apology accepted in advance.

        • Ok, you’re correct, that’s bigoted and I missed it.

          Does that mean that everything else that he said is untrue. Or that the point he was trying to make isn’t valid.

          Because the flip side of the racism charge is that he can do whatever he wants because he’s X, or Y, or Z.

    • Excuse me?! Where in here did I even make ANY sort of reference to this guy’s race, ethnicity or skin color (implied or overt)?

      Although I don’t owe you even one iota of explanation or justification, I’ll tell you anyway: I for one love living in the city and always have. I love the diversity, the mingling of cultures and languages and foods. I hate the suburbs and anything “cookie cutter”. Got it?

      If you wanna hide behind a flimsy accusation of racism, that’s your lame choice, but I’d rather hear why you feel like this guy is worth defending.

      You basically lofted two of the most tired and sorry hand grenades that people with no other real point always throw: 1) “you’re a racist”, and 2) “if you don’t like DC, then move to the suburbs”

      Please try harder. It bothers me to share this space with YOU.

    • I just wan’t to live in a place where people don’t steal my rims, break my window to steal my gps and don’t take a shit in my alleyway in broad dalight while smoking crack and I don’t want to pay to support their selfish crime filled lifestyle.

      That makes me racist? You are a moron.

      • Word.

      • No, dweeb, your comment about Asians makes you a racist, what you post above is plain normal. But your Asian comment DOES make you a racist regardless if you like pizza, watch Seinfeld or don’t want your GPS stolen.

      • Then you should probably move, because this ain’t the place for you if you want to live where those things don’t happen.

  • first of all, i don’t see why you are all assuming that this story is true. i could tell you any number of entertaining lies if we met on the street.

    assuming that we take the more entertaining option of believing it…

    try to appreciate it for what it is: a person telling the truth about their life. this reads more like a tragic novel than an episode of cops, in my opinion. try to be objective. i think that the biographer is just trying to get readers to think twice the next time they see a similar subject. well done.

    • I think I would have had more respect for him not knowing this story. I would never have assumed that he was a junky or had left his family behind. I would have just assumed he was living his life on his terms and doing the right thing.

      If you want to tell a story with no feedback, then don’t post it on a blog. People are tired of having their information coated in BS. If you turn off the TV because of the BS, you don’t get the information. This is why blogs destroy TV/Print media -you can’t peddle BS without getting an earful.

    • “being objective” and “thinking twice” when encountering someone who’s down on their luck would include listening to his story, whether he’s lying or not. We’ve all done that. We read his story in his own words.

      If he’s lying than he’s doing a thoroughly poor job of painting himself in even a remotely a good light (which, one would assume, is the point of lying about it!).

      We’re all reacting here to the “facts” that he has presented us, nothing more. I think it’s the Super Liberals of you out there who aren’t being objective. You see a poor soul downtrodden by life and injustice, regardless of what he’s told you. Or you look at him as some kind of free spirit “living his life the way he wants to!” Modern-day hippie.

      Gimme a break.

      • in my experience, people often lie to make themselves appear more interesting. but that really is not the point. the point is that he gave you an honest account of his life and mistakes. i don’t think he was being excessively sorry for himself. he was admitting that he had serious character flaws. i don’t think that he considered his inability to cope with losing fame anyone’s fault but his own. i think that he would agree with a lot of what has been said about him here.

        weather it’s a bum, a criminal, or a senator we should respect when people take a hard look in the mirror.

        • I disagree. I don’t think he’s owning up to his part in this at all. Where does he admit to “serious character flaws”? I don’t see it in there. He basically takes a “wattayagunnado?” attitude, paasing the buck completely.
          He basically lays it all at the feet of an unfeeling country that didn’t give him his proper respect.

  • existential malaise is a real bitch. Good luck, homeboy

  • Dude, what is UP? You never saw a Vietnamese bum? Jesus H Christ then you aren’t looking.

    There’s a Korean bum who hangs out at 12th and Mass and screams at me in Korean while holding an empty soup bowl. I presume empty soup bowl is what you beg with in Korea.

    Drive down to Anandale and see Asian bums and Korean teenage gangs.

    You see Ethiopians on the street here because Petworth is their neighborhood.

    The thing is that I knew an Ethiopian street person. the guy told me that in Eritrea you could camp out in the desert for nothing working in, like this guy, farming and he wasn’t prepared to have to work 7 days a week and pay rent and live indoors. The dude I know didn’t appear to be a crackhead. And the thing is, the way he told me that story of how he spent 6 years in Eritrea/Ethiopia learning English so he could come here but once he got here he couldn’t afford rent well, his story was BELIEVABLE.

    I totally agree that this guy’s story is f’d up, especially the kids, and I knew if from the moment his photo showed up- awww he was going to be a jackass because almost all these people in this series are.

    But let me ask you this. How would you feel if Sarah Palin won the election and started killing people and the gulf coast south split off and people were getting killed. that’s what happened in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It WILL mess you up and I think people are being unnecessarily rude in these posts.

    • You’re reading a heck of a lot into things that aren’t explicitly stated or even universally understood to be true.

      He also had the resources to get help. He had a college degree and a wife. He could afford counseling and was smart enough to know whether he needed it. He wasn’t sitting out on a farm, he was a politically active writer.

      His post read like: 1) excuse for everything that follows 2) self-aggrandizement 3) Excuse for later behavior 4) Plea for sympathy for previous bad decisions.

      If he’s conscious enough to sit through this interview, he’s conscious enough to beg himself enough money to get on Grayhound back to Atlanta and start picking up the pieces. Even if his wife doesn’t take him back, he can go find a way to provide for his kids.

  • Time to redefine what’s considered acceptable in DC.

  • Maybe we should just shoot him and all of his crackhead friends who are making your life difficult by stealing your precious gps.

  • i love that every day there is a reason to complain about the poor.

    bonus when gentrification and race come into play.
    good times.

    • Way to not actually contribute to a discussion among adults.

      • “Ragged Dog Said:
        I was a f%^&ing space cowboy, then I lost my way.
        Now I just sit at a desk and work everyday.

        Liar, liar, pants on fire.”


        i’m sorry i didn’t mean to interrupt you. jackass.

    • Again with ‘race’. Who was it again who said this had anything to do with race and gentrification? That’d be the douchebags who always want to call anyone a racist who doesn’t like people shitting in their alley.

  • The story may or not be true, but what is the point of it writing something so superficial that does not make any sense if you don’t have any more context. It sounds like untrue but if it is –it really is sad that someone with college education, with a family and with an opportunity to restart a life will end up like that because he felt the call to be with his people and couldn’t so drugs is the next alternative. non sense…

  • some of these comments are just sickeningly self-righteous.

    I can’t pretend that I know what it’s like to speak from anything but a point of privilege. even without being anything close to rich, I am not now and have never been homeless. whether this guy’s story is true or not is, to me, immaterial. not one of us should be telling him to stop draining society’s resources and to just go out and get a job. hell, look at him! he probably doesn’t have anywhere to grab a shower and a shave, much less prepare a decent interview or dress the part of an eager job-seeker. we should all be looking at him and knowing that, if we were just a little less lucky, it could happen to us.

    • It’s bad luck that he DECIDED to leave his job and family and start doing drugs and now CHOOSES to live a life of crime because he wasn’t sufficiently famous enough?

      You are saying if you have bad luck you would leave your family and commit crimes to score drugs? Lots of people have bad luck – this guy is just a scumbag.

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