There is a trend we are noticing in the SELEDA mail these days, a trend that has gotten even the staunchest cynic amongst us to huddle in a corner and weep… well, not really huddle… and not really weep, but just try to imagine Prada totting editors being touched. The trend being that there is a particular wave of erudite people making poignant points about our pages. Like real letters… as if we are real editors. Yikes and aybelew!
Don’t get us wrong, we are ayn yaweTu freelance freeloaders, so we are shamelessly sanguine with masquerading as people who deserve to be in the same league as them fancy, trendy magazines with them smelly perfumed pages.
Quick! To the November mail before someone around here gets any scratch-‘n-sniff ideas.
A lot of you on the ascetically prudish side of the cyber equation sang the praises of the new SELEDA look, among our favorite being Fasil D. Damte’s verbal gyration. "… At last! SELEDA has finally arrived. Although content-wise you all were superior, we "computer types" used to wince at the K-Mart-ish look of early SELEDA editions. Your upper management people, besides being deviously talented at padding their expense reports, must have finally sprang for a decent web master. We are pleased."
Ah. Correction. Upper management did not spring for a new web master… What? And let that cut into their "Cooking Class Part VII: Fun with Light Vietnamese Cuisine" budget? No. That would mean too much free time on their hands. The truth is, the bashful and effortlessly corruptible SELEDA Computer Mafioso, eagerly headed by the Godfather Abiy "Erso belugn!" Desta, has lately been inspired way beyond the call of duty. We don’t care what brought this on… we don’t wanna know the details, we are just grateful. And we have been ordered to call him Web Massa Abiy.
But there are, (surprise, surprise) smarmy people even among "computer people" as evidenced by this email from an S. Engeda. "Bravo! Does [the new SELEDA look] mean that I can take down my ‘This way to computer civilization’ sign I had erected in SELEDA.com’s honor…? Seriously, clear, simple graphics. Next thing you know, I will actually read what is inside these pages. I kid you. I love SELEDA."
We, of course, have a policy of never kidding a kidder. That’s why we have taken down our "This way to unkempt, molaCHa, computer knave’s den. Check your social life at the door" sign. But since we seriously love you back, we don’t want you to dismantle the last, er, erect thing in your room. So let the sign live.
Now, really. Was that necessary? Hold on, we gotta run to catch up with our runaway wuqabi…
Moving right along, Nemo Semret’s article on the intricacies of coffee marketing in SELEDA Bawza led us to the disconcerting conclusion that there are entirely too many MBA’s floating around to do anyone any good.
From Eskindir Assefa: "It appears that, from the article on coffee, that Ethiopia would be better off getting out of the coffee growing business and get into the coffee distribution (marketing) end. So what is stopping us if it is that clear and simple? Somewhere in the $100 per pound end-of-chain price, is the cost of capital (risk/reward) the cost of labor (at the distribution end), and the higher cost of living in the US. I am an Ethiopian and I am also concerned. But, maybe we should lead the dialogue into how we can get the Ethiopian GDP to grow rather than focus on the price of coffee to the Sidamo farmer (which is probably the intent of this very well written article). Apparently, the world does not value green, unwashed, raw coffee. It appears the world (whether in Seattle or in Beijing) values more the ability to order a foaming, custom made latte, and be able to sip it while talking to a colleague or a friend on your cell phone. Yes, the$100 per pound price reflects convenience and customized choice. Maybe we should get into that business."
Uhhhh… Hell, yes! Zeraf! Give us chaise lounges, and World Beat music in a Starbucks in Merkato, or give us death…Ah, hell. Give us another foaming latte as we try to decipher what GDP is.
And another spit-n-polish on the Nemo-mobile from Azeb Sahlu: "Thank you for the SELEDA Bawza on coffee marketing. The author brilliantly assesses how perhaps we should shed our collective identity as a ‘poor Sidamo coffee grower’, and maybe focus more on aspects of marketing that other third world coffee growers seem to have understood. At a gourmet coffee market in downtown San Francisco, a pound of something called El Primo Estancia coffee (from El Salvador) sells for $21.50 a pound. Why? It is from a "private Estancia" … Yep. Coffee as wine. You have your Chateau Margaux, and then the Estancia Reserve. 1998. Belew!"
Hmmmmm. Make that a foaming, Black Label, 1970, Dark Roasted, Casa del Fuiego, Ye- Balambarass Gwaro Private Reserve Latte. (Well, at least all the lawyers are still safely slithering under their rocks.)
People who love people loved the November Diarist, among them Ali Mussa, SELEDA’s own couleur de rose. "… May I gently point out to the gentleman diarist that he failed to address the point that our arriviste sister did finally connect to back home through history and literature, not through some sickeningly skeletal "incident?" (A politicized abesha music event? At Meskerem in between thick gurshas of kitfo?) Well done."
Ali, we flung that fact at the "gentleman diarist" and his response was swift, insolent and apoplectic. "I am no gentleman!" he howled in indignation. Well, now!
"Is it me or are the Life Diaries getting longer and longer," inquires our observant friend and SELEDA kristina enat Sofanit. "It is costing me an arm and two legs (chewed, not stirred) to read Diaries from the United Arab Emirates. Thought you would like to know that a lot of us who travel in arriviste circles caught on to the subtle yet profound literary tie-in. "Fiqir Eske Meqabir" alliteration with class politics?? My, my. Put another Kassa Tessema CD in the Range Rover, and rock on. I loved it."
Aha. A scurrilous attempt by Sofanit to charm us into paying for her Internet connection. As the SELEDA motto goes, "You can never be too thin or too paranoid." We are not biting. Take two GDP’s and call us in the morning.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, there is a ferenjie in our midst… Ehem. On the SELEDA Backpage about duplicitous arriviste circle frequenters, Joe Ciuffini writes: "Love this on-line publication! Especially raved over the Backpage in the November issue.. ! The author has captured so well my new word for this 'indignation': ‘Diasporation’...Thanks, J.C. (one of the ancient Peace Corps volunteers who came to believe that Harrar is/was the best place on earth. )"
Talk about "yazz, yazz TebeQ argen…"!
But just as we cautiously peek our heads out from our well-fortified "Ferenjie alert" barracks, he sneaks in this request…(And you say there is no such thing as a free lunch, free long distance or free compliment?) "P.S. Some of the Amharic I can understand, but some not. Is it possible to have a brief 'glossary' or "Amharic used in this issue" section for those of us who are ‘BaAmarinia challenged’?"
Joe, Joe, Joe. Because we here at SELEDA are (may we?) well "diasporized" Ethiopians, we will assume that your request is not a… clandestine, sir yesedede effort to spread American propaganda and hypnotize God-fearing SELEDA readers into accepting American hegemony? Huh? Huh? (Because that would be encroaching on SELEDA upper management duties.) However, Yosef, despite our tendency to… beqa, be all silly putty in the hands of anyone who verbally bludgeons us with sweet words about Harrar, gotta tell ya, the ‘glossary’ idea has to be shelved until some… ok, a lot of the SELEDA staff can come up with "deniability" clauses that they too oft consult "the Secret Glossary" in the SELEDA Vault. Now don’t go telling this to the G-men during your next debriefing.
Speaking of clauses, we are this close to reinforcing the "No whining clause" that had served us so well before we started on the silly egalitarian kick we are on…
A very ticked off and a very irascible Dejen Yemane fired off this email at us that has us convalescing at the "Oh fer Pete’s sake!" ward. "It is always a pleasure to support people who are doing the right thing, especially when they are impowering [sic] a nation. I want to give you the editors and writers of SELEDA an advice that will allow them to stay on this focus."
Hey, we thought, the gullible and jil negeroCH that we are. We love advice. We love anything that has to do with power. What can possibly go wrong? Ha! Watch as he sticks the Tor in…: "The pedantic style of writing must stop. I don't know anyone on this earth that talks the way you wright...[sic] Hey, anyone can sit down with a thesaurus, and be just as pretentious. So, who do you think will benefit from this: are you writing to impress people, or are you interested in impowering them? That's why I have stopped reading your articles: I DO NOT GET ANYTHING OUT OF IT! To be honest, I have read your articles maybe once, or twice, a few months back, and it still has not changed. Ok, ok we are impressed with your English, but write like a true writer."
Fine. If that’ll impower you, darlin’, we will. After all, we live to empress.
Dang! All we want is a l’il love, a l’il "Hey babe, you wanna sit down with a thesaurus with me?" But, nooooooo.
And then, as if we are not on the brink of oblivion anyway, here comes M. A. in New York with the push that has us pummeling down the "Bash SELEDA" sinkhole. "Just wanted to tell you why we don’t read SELEDA anymore. Frankly, the Amharic is a great hindrance. You have great command of it, but it almost feels like you are flaunting it. I often find myself spending too much time trying to understand words that may or may not enhance a sentence. What is the audience you are trying to reach? Judging from the nuance and command of your English, I assume it is someone like me. This should not be chore to read, but since I don’t understand some/all of it, I have ceased logging on. Good luck."
What is this? Has SELEDA become a "Pouty ‘R Us" group therapy/self help cyber-adarash? Are we doomed to the thankless task of impowering all types of dictionary hating, demonic cults? What? Now we have to deal with the neurosis of the Hyphenated Ethiopians? (That would be encroaching on Peace Corp duties.) Ay-ay-ay! OK, foQeQ belu, and make room for one more on the Clue Bus heading north to the "Dream On" fayrmata. No, we won’t dumb down the Amharic. But, as soon as we start catering to the "hackneyed, Tsere-hizb, cerebral transgressors" demographics, we will make sure to appoint M.A. Chief of Protocol. Until then, read on. Or should we say, cease on.
Tew chalew hode….
But, you know, there is always someone out there to break our free fall into the sinkhole, and November’s SELEDA teklil goes to none other than Befekadu, our igzayir yeTalelelin parachute. He writes: "What can I say? It's 7 in the morning, and I'm still up trying to decide if I should go to the lab or take a three-hour nap before going to my class at 11. Little did I know that checking my e-mail would denude me of free will and keep me glued to my monitor for another 40 minutes, laughing hysterically, sometimes screaming, cussing, doing everything a normal person wouldn't be doing at 7 on a Monday morning. But then again, what a perfect way to start another painful 6.004 lab...kicking and screaming. Much props to all you SELEDA peeps. You only keep getting better...it's scary to think where you'll be two years from now." Now, this… this is what we call a balm for hurt feelings.
But he continues: "By the way, I love your new design. It's very nea...as in neat, definitely 1, 2 & 3 wozete. And one more thing, the article under Jebdu reads "Merisaw Kasa, Yequaraw Anbessa" on line 6. I believe it should be "Meyisaw Kasa.." Don't call me a cynic…I expect nothing short of perfection from you guys."
Air… we need air.
Befekadu, you are dead right about it being "Meyisaw Kasa"! Thank you for pointing it out, and we did correct it. May we tell you how stunned and electrified we are by the intellect pulsating through the veins of some SELEDA readers? And… ehem, Bef, you wanna show us your thesaurus and we’ll show you ours… Call us.
There are, we have sadly noted, some of you out there who are strict observers of a Tsom we are not aware of that apparently forbids consumption of anything ironic or sarcastic. Hey, who are we to condemn? We drank skim milk lattes all throughout the Filseta Tsom and could not understand why it annoyed, what we here in the Sanctum call, the fuddy-duddies.
To each his/her own, but Araya Amsalu from Cincinnati, … eeeeeeh. We are no doctors, but maybe a little dose of irony here and there… in pill form…His letter reads in part: "I love SELEDA. It is fun as well as qumneger. Two things made me to write: your article on going home and your ferenjnet. I am one of those who have been contemplating about going home a lot. Unlike most of your writers I went to a Public School, got my first degree from AAU and worked for 3 years in Ethiopia before coming here in 1991. Thus cut me some slack if I do not fit in your mold of an Americanized Ethiopian who is trying to re-Ethiopianize. First I said I wanted to go back after finishing my Masters, then I justified it saying I will be more useful if I finish my Ph.D. Now the story is some financial safety net for my family…." [We’ll interrupt here to tell everyone that we are not all from private, estimable, high quality high schools. There are some in our midst who went to St. Joseph. Yes, it’s affirmative action… yes, it’s being quota-ish… but, they gotta fall somewhere.]
But back to Araya. "The second point: I see most of your writers seem to have had only peripheral contacts with their Ethiopian environ while they were there. How else could you explain qulubi mikael!! If you ever start an Amharic page on SELEDA, I would be happy to help."
Hmm. We think we’ve got a perfect playmate for M.A.
How do we explain Qulubi Mikael? Sheesh. Every one of US knows that to recklessly invoke the name of the REAL Qulubi G-man (besme-ab, besme-ab), without the requisite bleeding knees and gnarled fingers holding onto some miskeen ye-silet madresha QuniCHa, is to incur good old G's legendary wrath. Kira-rai s’wo .....adinene kemeatu sewirene… Thanks, but no thanks -- we'll stick with our farcical (but infinitely safer) Qulubi Mike.
Thankfully, we find solace in the impishness of readers such as Kebede Daniel Gashaw. "I visited your web site for the first time and found your publication a great pleasure to read. I enjoyed the contents such as My Story, Life Diaries, Bawza, Jebdu etc." (Uh! CHewa sew yigdelen.) "Congratulations for a witty, sarcastic, humorous and concise but effective publication. By the way, your e-mail link on the Editors Note page (firstname.lastname@example.org) is broken. May the powers of ye Qulubbeew Mikael help restore it."
Kebe… na esti… Tega bel.
We have voted our give-and-take with our friend Iskender Tezera the strangest conversation we have ever had next to that l’il… tête-à-tête we recently thought we had with a person who looked like Aristotle, but sounded like Her Divine-ness, Kiburitwa Hanna Shenkute… (it was a long day, and dry Martinis on an empty stomach did not seem like a bad idea…)
Part One: Dear SELEDA, I have been a regular reader of SELEDA ever since its inception. At first, it was exiting to read about my fellow Ethiopian-American, but lately I have been getting the impression that most of these articles/diaries are regularly written by one or more of the same people. Now, I may be wrong and I have been known to be way-way wrong quite often, in fact several times a day. But, I still think this time I may [be]
right on the mark...Otherwise, you folks are doing a great job.
And finally, here is a bit of wisdom from someone who claims to understand the dynamics of this medium: [Gee whiz, more advice…]:
1. Twelve issues a year is not enough. This is not a print medium… It is electronics, baby. The only reason it would take 30 days between
two issues is only if all the writing is done by few staff members. Is it? Say it ain't so.
2. Today, the name of the game is this. You take someone's original idea and add some more features to it, i.e. re-packing the same crap, but making sure that you get more of it out there. Get it? So, what I am really saying is that if you do not grow, and grow fast, soon you will be run over by others.
Cheers and keep up the good work."
Hubba, hubba… Do we sense another MBA flittering around aimlessly?
Iskew: (we might be tyrannical beasts, but we are tyrannical beasts with hearts of gold. So, we make nice to everyone.)
Yekebere selamta. We think we are flattered by your conclusion that a few of us have written all seven issues of SELEDA. Ere aygebam (aww! shucks.) So we scoured through past issues... could Awrais and Gelawdios and Tewodros and Biruk (all past diarist) be the same person?? Could Makeda and Tirseet and Rahel and Haeran be the same SELEDA sergogeb multiple personality editor? If only, Iskindir. Note from the editors sets the tone (that smarmy, shul-aff, content-free segment) and after that we hope we have managed to bring you personal stories about Ethiopians in the Diaspora connecting to our parents, our history, our home. We've tried to do a little career stuff through Corporate Arbegna, and tried to highlight Ethiopians in different fields in Jebdu ... We thought we WERE getting a diverse scope of people to write (filmmakers to researchers; academics to policy wonks; attorneys to financiers). However, if they all sound alike, maybe we are not trying hard enough. And we will try harder...you are right... most of us went to the same schools in Addis, and we carry on the same style. So, we owe you one for pointing that out. [Wow. We are nice!]
- As for being "run over" .. bemin idilachin? SELEDA is purely experimental. If it inspires others to offer ETs an alternative literary based ‘zine devoid of politics, then we will foQeQ malet happily. We're doing this because it's fun, and we're learning that there are a lot of us out there who want to connect to home sans politics. It is not a business venture, not a bully-pulpit... it is just a l'il fun ‘zine. When it stops being that, and the minute we start taking ourselves seriously, is when we'll fold.
- TWELVE ISSUES IS NOT ENOUGH??? Iskew... minew bakih? You realize we all have jobs that require us to... um... work an' stuff. We would love to work on this full time, but... y'know that rent thing. However, if a lot more of you contribute, and we don't spend half the month trying to secure writers from our own pool of friends, then (hint! hint!) we would be happy to expand SELEDA to weekly, hell a daily operation. Do you realize how hard it is to get writers to agree to write...and on DEADLINE?? How long has it been since you left Ethiopia???
Can't tell you how much we enjoyed your letter. We hope you, too, shall one day jump on board. Until then, keep us posted on our progress! :-)
[Note use of smiley face… Note our courteous yet not unapproachable demeanor… we are tellin’ ya, next venture, SELEDA Charm School.]
We went skipping on with our lives thinking that Iskew probably did the same. No big woop. Not! Kaplink! Another email…
"Dear SELEDA, Thank you for a prompt response to my letter. Do you acknowledge all letters or just the ones that you think are worthwhile? Gash! I hope I didn't touch a nerve or something. But, I am glad that I did get your attention by being slightly offensive. God! People are so predictable it is killing me. Anyway, after a quick and careful summary of all the articles, letters and stories presented by SELEDA, I have come to conclusion that, once again, I have gravely erred and I would like to offer my sincere apologies to all the people that have worked long and hard to make SELEDA a unique experience for all of us. As for you inquiry "How long has it been since you left Ethiopia???" What I really want to say is this: It is not any of your business!! But, I won't.
P.S. For the record, I left Ethiopia in August 1982."
Since we are so predictable, we wonder if Iskew knows what we thought about his letter. (What we should do is enroll him in the "How to be properly offensive" class we give twice daily…, but, that’s none of our business.) Who is it who said of Dickens’ Little Emily "It is hard not to laugh"? Ok, ok. We’ll pick on someone our own size.
And finally, as we close yet another mail doniya, we look to Alem Mekuria to recalibrate our sense of … our sense of… hmm… we have no sense of anything.
"I don’t know who you people are, but I owe a big one to a friend who forwarded me your URL. It’s been a long time coming. It’s lonely being an Ethiopian Marine Biologist in Tallahassee. Damn sea urchins! They can’t understand why it is that I whisper "Enday!" every time I trip on my gear. Thank you for bringing back sweet memories of home. I have read everything in the archives, and I wait… wait… and wait… under the Florida sun for another issue of SELEDA. Gratefully, Alem."
Alem, Alemewa… Thank you. The only things our friends send us are bad vibes and instructions on how to use their home enema machines. May SELEDA printouts protect you from the Terra-ra Florida sun.
The pain pills we took are wearing off so we have to get going. Year 2000 mailbox, we hope, will continue to challenge and engage us. We are delighted that so many of you take the time to write to us, honored that you…ahhh, come here, you! We love you, man!!
May the New Year bless us all. Keep us in your emails.
The Humble Editors.