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Estegenet Beyene: Staying strong in America

Thu, Sep 26, 2013

Estegenet Beyene

Estegenet Beyene had just come from her favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Chicago. It reminds her of home and its custom food. “My favorite dish is Injera. It is made of different flours, like flatbread,” says Beyene. “I also miss our famous coffee.”

Each week, Beyene travels to an Ethiopian restaurant or buys ingredients to cook her own food. “The culture here is different, and I like USA culture. But, a little bit, I miss my country.”

Married during her ninth grade school year, Beyene graduated her local high school with her husband. Beyene lived as a housewife–gardening, cooking, and cleaning–but wanted work.

To her satisfaction, Beyene and her husband established a family-run business crafting and selling soaps, candles, candies, and more. The business lasted only one year. The two wanted to see America.

Beyene and her husband last saw Ethiopia from outside the airplane window, 13 years ago. The couple moved to America to begin better lives for themselves. “Saying goodbye to my country was a big challenge for me,” says Beyene. Boarded onto a 17-hour flight, Beyene would see outside of Africa for the first time in her life. “The flight was scary. But I felt fortunate to go and see USA. But scared.”

Once safely on the ground in Washington D.C., Beyene fought to find her line of work. Her husband landed a local job, however Beyene was less fortunate. “My husband didn’t need me without me having job,” says Beyene. “I was going to return home but my friends and family in Ethiopia said to stay in America and get a job. So I waited. And then I got a job at McDonalds!”

Now independent, Beyene devoted all her time to her work until her rent caught up with her. Unable to pay her dues, Beyene made her way to Columbus, Ohio, finding a spot at the local McDonalds. But she wanted to see more of America.

So she found herself en route to The Windy City!

Part time, she discovered an opening at a nursing home in her neighborhood. Still in search of employment, Beyene landed a position working at O’Hare International Airport. “I was working there for five years, and my job was very, very hard.”

Five years proved to be enough for Beyene as she quit her job and left the airport. It was then when she became homeless.

“It was very very hard to be homeless,” says Beyene. “I didn’t know how I would live. I felt bad for myself, and little by little, I tried to fix my life.” And with help from Streetwise, she now gets to experience Chicago’s rich culture out on the streets during her working hours.

“I live now in a hotel,” says Beyene. “I don’t know if that’s considered homeless? But I am in a hotel.” Beyene has been with Streetwise for a year now, and plans to continue her work as a vendor on the corner of Wrightwood and Racine.

“I believe in myself in America,” says Beyene. “I work and like my job and I have a salary and my own place. I am very happy to be liberated.”

Josh Kahn
StreetWise Contributor

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