When I was 12, my dad took a job with USAID, and our family of five kids moved from a middle-class American life in DeKalb, Illinois, to Mogadishu, Somalia. I went to middle school with Somali kids whose parents wanted them to be happy, healthy and educated, like mine wanted for me. I also saw many Somalis suffering from the ravages of poverty in a country that was the victim of a Cold War where both America and Russia fought for dominance with no one winning, least of all Somalia. When a coup brought down the country, my family was able to return to the safety of America. But the vast majority of Somalis didn’t have the option of leaving and were caught, literally, in the crossfire. It pains me to this day to think of cherished Somali friends left behind.
Because I lived in Somalia, I try to look beyond the stereotypical images of violence and poverty to see an ancient and mysterious land of beautiful people, where I befriended nomads, wandered the mud floors of gold-seller stalls, learned tribal crafts and had my clothes made like a local. My early experience in Somalia was “written on my soul” as Dylan once sang, and started my lifelong love of East Africa. Since that time I’ve roamed other East African countries — from Kenya and Tanzania, where I was nearly gored by an angry momma rhino and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, to the islands of Lamu with their ancient spice trade and to the remote Seychelles where spies meet in anonymity. During my travels I’ve collected art, antiques, textiles, bead work and other ephemera.
Once my dream for my life was to be a respected artist with art hanging on the walls of MOMA. When Damien Hirst pulled the rug out from under me by replicating my art, it shriveled my creative spirit; I continue to do my art but no longer try to show it. For years I focused on a directing career that some would consider successful, but at my peak in my early fifties, coinciding with the Great Recession, the work stopped. Realizing I was tired of living in what I called the World of No, pushing back against the negativity and rejection, I wondered how could I get back to a World of Yes. That's when I created Ethio Sky.
Today my own little family of four lives in Topanga, California, a community of rebels and creative people. Ten years ago we adopted our daughter from Ethiopia and now she is the same age as I was when I lived in Somalia. Thus a circle is connected. With Ethio Sky I’ve aspired to empower women artists in Ethiopia, to give back some of what I was lucky to get in my African life. If you’re born white in America, you're not faced with racial prejudice or living (yet) in a repressive dictatorship — so who am to wallow in self pity that I haven’t gotten more? If you're working with others in a way that helps everyone, no one cares if you're young or old or female. These are the thoughts I’ve had in Ethiopia sitting in my $22/night hotel room drinking a freshly made avocado mango smoothie and watching the misty rain while listening to Ethiopian jazz, reflecting on the dots that have connected me in this place. The products on Ethio Sky are the result of a whole lot of hard work, experimentation, revision and TLC on the part of everyone involved, both in Ethiopia and Topanga.