HERstory – Nahusenay Girma on Brutal Honesty

Known in her inner circle for her brutal honesty, and perhaps feared by the outer circle for this, AfricanFeminism asked Nahusenay Girma a.ka. Nahu, to share HERstory of living honesty.  

Nahusenay Girma

Delivering truth serum since 19**:  I am the first born in my family. My father died when I was 7 years old. He was from a family of 8 and the first to die, at the young age of 34 because of a doctors malpractice. His siblings and mother were devastated but all 7 of them took his four children under their wings. We grew up within a loving family, open, inclusive and full of trust. I had a wonderful childhood but again I thought all family was like that till I got married and found out my in-laws were different. It took me a while to understand when my cousin by marriage told me that not all family was like mine. Before I received this revelation from my cousin, I told my in-laws that they were odd and discriminated family members based on who was blood relation. I shared that I never grew up in such a household and they were weird in that sense – ohooo, that didn’t go well.

The choice I have made in life then is to be open (open/honest communication) about everything I see, thinking that this is not something to be kept from the receiver. I don’t think it was particularly a conscious decision but somehow I always thought ” to tell is to make better”. I don’t know how I got that idea but when I hear others saying my action is courageous or bold, I am sometimes dumbfounded, because to me what feels natural, to others may be unacceptable culture. So, I concluded, my part was mostly from naiveté.

I grew up from age 7 in all girls’ boarding school in which we created our own culture and we must have believed the entire world thought as we did. Honesty to us and all of us, was telling what we saw. When I say we developed our own culture, there was no one to tell us what we practiced was “not right”. It could be said growing up with out adult supervision is a recipe for disaster. In my case, and that of my fellow boarding students, it was a blessing in disguise. We are all friends or better yet family members even today and we tell it all: the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.

I remember one incident that when I talked about not being circumcised and that was the practice of my household, one of the girls in my boarding school said that my mother’s behaviour, (thinking that she might have been responsible for our ” sins”) was unacceptable and she was practicing something that society would not approve of. I told that to my sister who was two years younger than me, wanting to hear that the girl’s behaviour was an anomaly, but instead my sister was angry with me that I spilled the beans. My sister advised then that in a sense I needed to watch my audience. Well I still can’t seem to do that and now later in life, I am finding out that honesty is a taboo in my community. So after maturity and knowing that my actions must lead my life (conscious choice if you will), I became it.

The backlash: I have become a harsh mirror – a mirror that is not asked for perhaps; just that my action and my word that go together consistently make others conscious of themselves and what they could have been. A mirror discovered unexpectedly on your way to business as usual. So, most don’t like me. And that doesn’t bother me for I am not into the culture of ” looking good”; I am my best friend. That helps me to appreciate time alone. So when I hear (not first-hand though) that some don’t like me, I always say: because they don’t know me.  I feel there is a fine line between superficiality and being civil. I abhor superficial relationships which I find a majority of relationships are – in the name of being civil. And I am guilty of attachment to my judgment of the superficial…perhaps I need more work of detachment there.

My unabashed and at times unsolicited honesty have also earned me the label an acquired taste. My actions make some uncomfortable and this reaction became obvious in my daily professional life as a founder of a women’s networking group with a mission to develop leaders. I took it upon me to put everyone straight…well, all hell broke loose. Most people were so uneasy about my ” tell it all” character and some even stayed away. As a membership based organization, to get more members was at the top of the list. I had a different idea of members – if they can’t take the heat, let them lose. It didn’t go well, even with those who understood my action well. I am consistent in my action and most have witnessed that I live my truth and not there to diminish anyone. I must say most who stayed away are those who didn’t understand the meaning of self reflection which I ask a great deal of myself and those around me. I teach a very important self confidence class which helped most get to know me better. But one can’t ask to change those who are full of it – somethings are better left alone. Hence the reputation of an acquired taste. I told a friend about this labelling and she told me caviar is an acquired taste. I suppose we can include dark chocolate in that order…which they say is good for your heart.

Response to the backlash: I truly felt sorry for those getting offended at my honesty. I used to initially get offended by their response at first and become defensive, but now I understand we all carry our baggages in different modes and I must not judge it. If anything, this reaction, upon reflection, helped me to be compassionate; it helped me understand where most are coming from. At first I became very judgmental and resentful of those who didn’t see my comment for what it was. But I understood later, it all had to do with projection. We project what we were told we are. If good and you feel good about yourself, you don’t think much of what others say or didn’t say. If the contrary is true, you feel bad and every comment you feel is there to attack you.

The price of honesty: None. Do you pay a price for being authentic? I don’t think so. I don’t believe in paying the price for being true to yourself and being honest to your self. You may become alone but not lonely. Most people are afraid of aloneness for they don’t differentiate it from loneliness. You can become lonely amongst many. My experience with AWiB, the association that I talked about, those who come whole heartedly come to explore, reflect, learn and go with the experience but some stay behind because they genuinely don’t know what to do with their new self. ” What happens if my spouse wouldn’t like the change”? ” What happens if my family doesn’t accept my ” new me”? They think wild thoughts which makes the prospect so scary. They’d rather bury their true feelings until one day it boils over and perhaps change for the worse. We need to believe in our power of making good in the world; we need to believe in our gift to bring others to share our fortune and grow together. We need to believe in our strength to lead our lives to the fullest regardless of who is in the picture. It would be great if our ” loved ones” are with us in the journey; but if we can’t convince them and show them the way, I don’t advise to join them. There is a saying in Ethiopia, that goes like ” you need to move in order to gain”. We must take the risk of losing in order to gain. My gym trainer tells me always stability then mobility. In order to move, he tells me you need to be stable which   your core serves you well. But you need to move eventually. Stability without mobility becomes utter bore and life is about adventure. Leaders are adventurous and we must lead ourselves first in order to lead others. There is no other way but to lead the way.

The gains of honesty:  Honest relationships…friends, protégées that were helped and flourished by my honest feedback and (my) support that came with it. Others come to me to discuss their most inner thoughts for they believe I can give back my most sincere, honest self. They know they are not judged and all comes from love…on my tombstone would be written…She Loved!

Core principles:  

  1. Do no harm
  2. Life is about giving back
  3. Not to live in others’ boxes…especially assigned to me…confinement, I don’t seek.

Last words of wisdom:  Authentic life is not an easy journey but there is no other way to a happy, fulfilling life. I wish all readers to search for their truth and live for it.

A couple of us at AF have received some of Nahu’s dose of truth serum and we love her for it for it has made us better women. Nahu Girma, from Ethiopia, is the Founder & Executive Director of AWiB – a women’s networking platform in Ethiopia.  
If you’re interested in submitting a story of an African woman (you or an interviewee), please get in touch with us at africanfeminism@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.  

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