As well as running a restaurant, Tigist Teresa has a market stall in Coffs Harbour. (Liz Keen)
Tigist Teresa was born in rural Ethiopia the same year that Bob Geldof put a spotlight on her country’s horrific famine.
Now, living in Coffs Harbour in regional Australia, Ms Teresa is frustrated by the ramifications that Geldof’s Band Aid program had on the perceptions of her home.
“I did, a lot of times, feel disappointed about the way people talk about Ethiopia, all people know is that there was hunger and people were starving,” she said.
“I never starved, we were never hungry at all.”
People come into her restaurant and say she must feel lucky to have so much food, and that they are surprised an Ethiopian restaurant has food.
She finds these comments insulting.
She said she was frustrated that many Australians did not know there was currently a civil war in Ethiopia, and that many people had died fighting the government.
She believes this is because the Ethiopian wants to push the famine story out, so they can get money, but they don’t want people to know about the war.
“At least 40 people a week die in the war for weeks and weeks, and that sort of news doesn’t exist,” she said.
Escaping arranged marriage
Ms Teresa grew up in a traditional family on a farm in a place called Qoro Hari.
Her father had two wives and she has 17 brothers and sisters; they farmed all their food and bought only salt.
She did not start school until she was 10 years old, because the school was a three-hour walk each way.
“We grew up the traditional way and my family still lives that way, which is amazing,” she said.
Tigist Teresa comes from a place called Qoro Hari in Ethiopia, which is always green. (Tigist Teresa)
She was 14-years-old when she fled her home to escape an arranged marriage to a man she had been promised to since she was 12.
“I ran away on my engagement morning,” she said.
“I ran away around five in the morning while everyone was cooking.
“I remember my mum was just sitting by the fire cooking, and she was tired and she didn’t see me when I left.”
She travelled by four busses to get to a major city where an aunt had arranged for someone to pick her up.
“I was hiding two years in the house, no going out, not seeing anyone at all.”
She didn’t know that her family was looking for her until she was ready to face them two years later.
“I didn’t like that life anymore, so I called my family. They were happy to hear from me because they thought maybe I was not alive,” she said.
“It’s been very hard on my family; I’m sorry to do that to them, but I wasn’t ready for it.”
Living in the city
After she let her family know where she was, Ms Teresa stayed in the city and started working at a cafe in the day and studying at night.
It was while she was working in the cafe that she met her Australian husband, Marcus Baynes-Rock who was in Ethiopia completing a PhD in Anthropology.
“Marcus came into where I was working. I didn’t speak any English but I knew he liked me,” Ms Teresa said.
While they could barely communicate, because he spoke little of her language and she spoke no English, he kept asking her on dates.
“We have a culture where you can’t say to people ‘no’ directly, so I would say ‘ok sure’, then I would stand him up.”
After six months of leaving Mr Baynes-Rock waiting, Ms Teresa finally turned up on a date.
“A few months after we had been dating I said ‘ok’ and we got engaged, and around five months after we got engaged, we got married,” she said.
Ms Teresa said it was not until they had been married for six months that her English was good enough for them to have a proper conversation.
“Before that it was a love language.”
Mr Baynes-Rock was the first white person to visit Ms Teresa’s home village. They were surprised to see him, and worried he would not eat their food.
“They were in shock,” Ms Teresa said.
Now my mum loves him so much, and everybody loves him.”
Tigist Teresa with her husband, Marcus Baynes-Rock and their daughter Marlena in Coffs Harbour. (Liz Keen)
Moving to Australia
Once Mr Baynes-Rock completed his study, the couple moved to Coffs Harbour.
It was Ms Teresa’s first trip out of Africa, and she was understandably nervous.
“I was just following one guy, I didn’t even know where I was going, even though I knew I loved him and I trusted him,” she said.
But the green of Coffs Harbour reminds her of her home, and she has come to love the small regional city.
Two years after moving to Australia, and in the early stages of her first pregnancy, Ms Teresa opened the town’s first Ethiopian restaurant Mana Chita.
She said that while the idea of starting a restaurant just before having a baby seemed crazy to people around her, she was used to cooking for her large family.
“I always loved cooking, it is part of my culture,” she said.
“Cooking for my family every night was almost like cooking in a restaurant or having a party every night.”
She said her friends in Coffs Harbour helped her, and she has loved running the restaurant.
As an anthropologist, Mr Baynes-Rock doesn’t have any work opportunities in Coffs Harbour, so when he was offered a three-month contract with the Notre Dame University in Indiana, the couple decided to close down the restaurant and move there together.
“I went there for five weeks with him, but I didn’t like it so I came back, I just love Coffs Harbour,” Ms Teresa said.
Mr Baynes-Rock is travelling between America, Coffs Harbour and other regions for research, so they are spending months apart.
He has just finished a stretch in Coffs Harbour but next week he will leave for seven months.
“It will be very hard but I think we just have to do it,” Ms Teresa said.
“I don’t think I can live anywhere else but here or my home in Ethiopia.”