Friday, May 6, 2011

Where is Bisrat now?

Twenty years ago, a group of us started a newsletter called ERITREANA in our neck-of-the woods.
Also twenty years ago, a young 8th grader from Baltimore, Maryland (USA) sent me an article to be published for the August/September 1991 issue.

Fast forward to May 2011. Where is Bisrat now?

Issayas: Would you tell us about yourself?
Dr. Bisrat: A lot has happened since I last wrote about myself in your newsletter. I am proud to say I have several roles currently. I am a mother, wife, and doctor. As you can imagine, I am really busy in my day-to-day life but I enjoy all aspects of my life, particularly hanging out with my one year old son. Currently, I am working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer (we are also known as the “disease detectives”). I work on infectious disease such as tuberculosis. I will be obtaining further clinical training as an infectious disease specialist in a few months.

Do you remember that you had written an article for a newsletter?
Yes, I remember writing that article many decades ago! I’d forgotten what I’d written but it was great to see it again, now as an adult.
Issayas: Let's continue from that article. In the article, you mentioned that you and your family would be traveling to Eritrea that summer (1991). Did you make that travel? What was your reaction going there the first time?
I was amazed to visit Eritrea back in 1991. Everyone in the country was ecstatic that Eritrea had obtained independence and there were jubilant celebrations in the streets. I enjoyed a wonderful 3 month vacation there. I was so happy to see the relatives that I left behind, especially my grandmother. I also made many new friends, some of whom I still keep in touch with.

Click on the page for a larger image 
Issayas: Have you been to Eritrea since then?
Bisrat: Yes, I actually spent a year there after graduating from college. I worked with the Ministry of Health on a variety of projects. Some of my activities included making visits to Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps throughout the country. My travels allowed me to visit many places in Eritrea including Keren, Afabet, Nakfa, Barentu, Adi Keyh, Areza, Massawa, Koito, and the Dahlak Islands. It was a life changing experience, to say the least. I was sad to see the destruction that war had caused but I was happy to see the resilience of our people.

Issayas: Even though you were in the 8th grade when you wrote the article, in
your article you encourage young people to learn their language, to know
their culture, etc. Now, you're not an 8th grader, but a practicing physician
who graduated from John Hopkins University, a renowned university. What message do you
have for young Eritreans?
Bisrat: I encourage them to work hard and stay focused in their studies. For me, education has been my ticket to a better life. I would encourage young Eritreans to dream big and think of ways to make their dreams a reality. In my discussion with Eritrean youth, I have found that they may not always be aware that they can achieve whatever they set their mind on, no matter how big or small. I think the saying “the sky is the limit” should be everyone’s motto. With that said, it’s really important to reach out to other Eritreans who have already gone through the process of schooling and career development to obtain guidance and mentorship. Being in medicine myself, I know there are things that I wish I had known when I was going through the process that might have made my life easier. Nevertheless, others like me are now available to help, and in this social networking age, it should be a lot easier for Eritrean youth to connect and reach out to others. We have to maintain a support system for each other and provide mentorship along the way.

Issayas: What would be your advise for children (and parents, too) to be successful like you?
Bisrat: Actually this is a great question. I now have a one-year old son and ask myself that same question. Honestly, my goal is to raise my child the way that my parents raised me. This means he will grow up in a relatively strict household with a lot of guidance from his parents. My husband and I want to teach him Tigrinya as his first language and want to encourage him to learn about his Eritrean heritage. We have also decided to limit the amount of television that he watches. Actually, our goal is to simply remove the television from our home and encourage other activities such as reading and outdoor excursions. In addition to getting him into a good school (preferably public), we also want to encourage him to engage in many extracurricular activities (e.g., sports, arts, travel). We want him to be a fun-loving and independent child that takes initiative and lives life to the fullest.

Issayas: The person sitting on your lap in the picture is your sister. What's her name and what's
she doing now. Is she your only sibling?
Bisrat: Yes, that is my sister. Her name is Zebib and she is going to graduate from college on May 21, 2011. I suppose I’ve been an influence in her life because she has recently decided to go to medical school. She is thinking about pursuing a psychiatry residency after completion of medical school. I also have a younger brother who is currently a second year mechanical engineering major. He is a sharp cookie as well and is considering a career as an engineering researcher. He is especially interested in exploring alternative energy sources and will likely seek employment with a company that is working on advancing those types of technologies.

Bisrat (left) and Zebib. May 21, 2011
Issayas: Now you are married and have a one year of child? Could you tell us about your
Bisrat: Yes, my husband is named Hagos. Hagos and I met at a family wedding where he was a groomsman and I was a bridesmaid. The bride and groom of that wedding decided to pair us up as they thought we would make a nice couple. Little did they know that we would get married nearly one year after their wedding. Hagos is a second generation Eritrean who was born in New Jersey. He’s completely fluent in Tigrinya (maybe even better than me, although this is a constant debate between the two of us) and has been to Eritrea twice. He is a computer scientist went to (MIT: Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University) by training as well as a businessman.We both have loving and supporting parents and we are currently enjoying our new roles as parents.
Issayas: Thank you for your time.
Bisrat: You're welcome.
Note: The interview was conducted by phone and e-mail.