To: Salem

From: Mesraite Kristos

Subject: Those Who Can…Teach!


Selam Salem:


I knew this day would come and I lived in fear of it. Oh well, nothing like jumping in with all three feet… old SJS joke.

I live in Boston, an ancient (by American standards) North Eastern city and work for an IT firm that makes software. I moved here quite recently having lived in the US for 17 of my 35 years, 13 of those in the Washington DC area 2 and a half in Seattle and the rest at my current location.

My hobbies growing up show jumping and riding, the martial arts and reading evolved a mindset that eschews spectator sports in favor of participatory ones. So, other than the occasional game I happen to catch when someone else is watching, I rarely watch sports. My only hobby right now is trying to find one that does not consume too much time as I am desperately short of it all the time.

Of my 5 siblings, 4 girls 1 boy, two sisters are in the legal profession, one is in the computer industry and one works in the financial sector and my brother works for State Government. My dad passed away last year. Still miss him. Great guy. Hope to be a fraction of what he was and still is to a lot of folks, but my mom, who has been a friend as well as a paren, keeps the faith, the laughter and - at the very least - me going with her funny witticisms and ways.

My two dreams while in college were to write and to teach just about anything. The first lives on in that nether world all undisciplined would-be authors dwell in, the second lives very much still as my ultimate dream. Surprisingly, I discovered I liked teaching after participating in the literacy campaigns in Ethiopia. Surprising because as a "reactionary bourgeoisie" once removed, it had been intended as punishment and a means to keep denying my successive visa requests to leave Ethiopia for three consecutive years. (Well, it made sense when the cadre explained it back then.) My interactions with students, the realization of self-confidence and the synthesis of their own ideas and thoughts (such as it were) made the experience invaluable. I know you are an educator. I hope to learn much about your experiences as an educator in the US.

So, what does an Ethiopian kid who writes bad prose, and even worse stories, who flunked out of engineering school, found himself an economist with marginal prospects of employment, and whose work for the University Police helped him fall smack into a job in the IT industry do to pass the time? Well, cultural enrichment, community involvement, and what I hope is the betterment of our civic institutions (yeah, I guess,

I am still a dreamer).

My involvement with civic organizations began with the African Students Association in college. I served as an elections commissioner, legislator and VP, and was tapped for Student Government serving as associate Justice of the Court of General Sessions. From there I turned to our own community and served in a civic organization from ‘93 to ’95.

I won't go into anything political per our SELEDA guidelines (sigh...just kidding, SELEDA) but I like working with institutions, individuals and groups that are force multipliers for our community, that help it grow muscles, flex ‘em and win friends and influence folks. As I said, one can dream, and of my few vices, I have held on to this one.

Of significant accomplishment was a program in which I participated where an organization to which I belonged helped gather and donate money for Ethiopian homeless (at the time there were 40) people. The program awakened the community and galvanized its assistance. I am proud to mention a few individuals in the community went on to give their all in serving in homeless shelters and showing those of our less fortunate brothers and sisters that they were not alone in an otherwise lonely, foreign land. I think we (if they allow me to use that, for the effort was theirs as well) rescued 2 -3 individuals from addiction and wasted lives. I am involved in a similar organization where I live currently.

I have worked with civic Ethiopian youth associations since my days in college. I currently work with 2 groups both with promising individuals at the helm and in their ranks. Both deal with academics and building leadership skills.It gives me a sense of renewal to see energy and idealism thus engaged.

As to my job, well, I am in the process of winding down an involvement with a Java software development tool, and in transition to Server/System administration and Quality Assurance for Wide Area Network(intranet) software. The first involves Java code that is able to run on Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, which will allow it to work on all operating systems and computers. The second enables e-mail applications such as Notes, to use modems and other communications hardware. I am quite thrilled with the transition since my previous deployment required testing/development on 6 operating systems and 3 different hardware platforms requiring, all in all, 5 computer screens. My current deployment only has me deal with 2, which is quite welcome.

I think I will draw my letter to a close here and hope this finds you well.

Mesraite Kristos

From: Salem

To: Mesraite Kristos

Subject: Things in Common


Dear MK:

Well, it has taken me long enough to get to this entry. You have every right to expect a masterpiece but sorry to disappoint you, no such thing. I don’t even know where to start. I have just finished correcting mid-term papers and scripts for two classes and feel battered by bad language and dumb visualization. I am as uninspired as they come at this moment. But if you had to wait for me to be truly inspired, it may take a few years. By the way, did you know that I make documentary films? I don’t know why you would but I am ready to be flattered. The last film I made, Ye Wonz Maibel (Deluge) took me six years to make. Mostly for lack of funds but concomitantly, the story underwent several transformations before I let it go. This is by way of telling you that in addition to teaching at a college, I am also an independent filmmaker. I did it full time before I started teaching. Unfortunately, there is little support for an African woman who wants to make films about Africa. So I had to find gainful employment to support myself and my daughter. It is not the worst job I could have, and I am growing to like teaching. Now you also know I have a daughter. She is a second year student in college, but not where I teach.

You and I actually have a couple of things in common. In my incarnation as a young woman in Ethiopia, I aspired (even had the gall) to enter the Engineering College in Addis to become an architect. I suppose I did end up an architect of sorts anyway – building stories. There were two women in the whole college at the time and even though they couldn’t flunk us, the big boys (your compatriots?) harassed us out of there. The teachers were no help either – took any opportunity to show us the way to the Nursing or Commercial school. I am not bitter. Just amused at the narrow mindedness of some people. Trust me, it has not changed much; it is somewhat tempered now, since it is no longer terribly politically correct I suppose.

I went to Menen School in Addis. I was a boarding student and looking back, I feel quite nostalgic about it. At the time, it felt like a convent and was run like one. The education, perhaps not as rotten as present day, was uninspired though rigorous. They were such control freaks that even the way we entered the dining hall had to be in two rigidly straight lines. No wonder most of my friends (contemporaries) still look oppressed!

I am a product of that culture and am still battling demons of yilugneta. If I weren’t, I would not have consented to honor a promise I made last spring to our editor to become a diarist. Last spring – that was such a long time ago and I guess I must have thought that October would never come! And when it did, even though I am overwhelmed with work, and going through a tenure process at school, I couldn’t say no. Frankly, though, I am enjoying this moment, despite myself.

Back to the introductions. I don’t have my American history at the tip of my fingers, but your "ancient city" in the Northeast of the US is also my "ancient city" as well. I have been living in my "ancient city" for longer than I have lived in Ethiopia. It is not proper to tell you how old I am, but comparatively speaking, I am quite old. I come from a large family, the daughter of a priest. My father, the most important influence in my life, passed away last year, too. I miss him and will continue to do so forever.

I was born and grew up in Addis, but was fortunate to have lived in Axum at a time when most Ethiopians my age did not travel around the country. I saw quite a bit of the north during that time. Maybe it is that wanderlust which has suffused my blood with the love of travel. I tried horses in Addis, but my father thought it unbecoming for a young lady to mount the brutes. I enjoy camping, beaching, swimming, exploring new lands or haunting old ones. I am a yoga enthusiast, and dabble in meditation. I live near a pond and an arboretum and gladly visit them frequently. I actually suffer for lack of easy access to bodies of water when I am in Ethiopia, especially in recent times!

I never thought that I would end up living in the US for so long when I arrived here for college. Yes, like most of us, I came here to get an education and then go back to serve "my people." I still hope to do so but in a different way. I will share the secret when I discover it! But really, I am very interested in continuing to make films about Ethiopian subjects. I have many dreams of epic dramas – take Empress Taitu’s story for example! When I am ready to tackle this topic, Ethiopians better be prepared to fund the entire proposition! As any independent filmmaker can tell you, fundraising is the worst part of our jobs. Have you ever heard Haile Gerima speak? Now, he, being one of our pioneers and someone to treasure, should not have to beg for every penny so he can make his films. But the reality is such that to produce Adwa, he had to totter on the brink of bankruptcy. Okay, okay, I will stop preaching.

I make it a point to go back to Ethiopia often, at least once a year, and when I can, twice. Going back is like getting a re-charge. The more I do it, the more I need it. My work depends on it. When I go, it is not really for vacation. There is always something I am researching, whether it is oral history or archival work. So much needs to be done! Despite my bitter complaint about the lack of support for our work (or even the awareness that we need support) I count myself among the fortunate because I do make my films, no matter that it takes me years to do so. So there, you shouldn’t feel bad at all. Just informed. I think I will stop with this positive note. Until the next one, may it not arrive too soon.

I am yours in the struggle,