Hellina Nigatu

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Text Translation: Zeyneb Library. In Memory of Zeyneba Eshetu Zele, built by her family and opened on Megabit 26, 2015 (E.C)

Grief and Healing: Tribute to my grandmother.

Writing this blog demanded a lot of emotional strength. It is about a topic I am not fully ready to articulate with words. This is a story of love, family, spirituality and grief. This is a story of my grandmother and her legacy. This is a story of how lost and healed while living abroad.

I come from a family of strong and vocal women. My grandmother was one of them. Her name is Zeyneba Eshetu. She is one of the most cheerful, kind, and strong spirited women I know. She is one of those people who brings everyone together for family gatherings, goes to visit the relatives everyone else had forgotten about, and opens her door for strangers and those in need. She was the epitome of kindness. She was also known for speaking her mind; she does not sugar coat anything. If my hair was a mess or she did not like what I was wearing, she told me to my face; same goes for anybody else.

My grandmother was also a religious woman. She made dua for all her kids and grandkids. Once I got to university, I would call her and ask her to make dua for me whenever I was trying something. A final exam, a scholarship, a job application… she would respond with “ I am always praying for all of you. May Allah grant you what your heart desires.” Soon enough, I would get what my heart desired. My favourite part is to then take coffee or dates to her and tell her the good news.


After I moved to the US for my PhD, my routine continued: I try something, I call and ask her to make dua, I get it then call to tell her the good news. For the start of Ramadan in 2022, I called to wish her a good month of fasting as I always did. But something was different this time–her voice was not the same. I asked her what was wrong and she told me she was feeling a little under the weather. I did not want to keep her for long so I just wished her a good Ramdan and told her I loved her. “I love you too. May Allah reunite us in peace.” Little did I know those are the last words I would hear from her.

The whole week after that, my family was not responding to my queries about her and her phone was not working. I knew something was wrong; I just did not want to accept it. That weekend, my friends set up a dinner to tell me the news as is our culture. They did not have to say anything, I already knew. My grandmother, Abaye, passed away a few days after I talked to her. I was not ready…My friends tried to take me to places, help me forget, nothing really worked.

Dealing with grief while away from home and family is very hard. I still cannot talk about her without crying. Because I was physically away from her for about a year, I could not help but think I will see her when I am back. We think about all the things we would do for the ones we love. We forget how easily we could lose them, how truly short life is. I kept thinking that she should have seen me graduate, she should have seen me become a professor. But had it happened then I would think of all the other things she should have seen me become.


Around the end of my first year, I applied to the SIGHPC fellowship. This was the last thing I asked her to make dua for me. I got my fellowship…but I could not call her to tell her that. As part of my healing and as tribute to her, I built a library in the rural village where she was born using the fellowship money. I have blogged about education and the need for more infrastructure in my previous AWiB blog. I am where I am today because I had access to books as a kid…because I had the opportunity to explore and feed my curiosity. I hope this library will provide that for the kids who live in that neighbourhood.

Abaye, I cannot describe with words how much I miss you and how much it hurts to think of not seeing your face again. Your dua worked and I got my fellowship. I know you are looking down on me and that you are at peace now. Inshallah the library will be a place where kids flourish….Inshallah, I will build many more and spread the love and kindness you taught me.