To: BeTam Labedew Guddu Kassa
From: Wzo. TiruAynet
Subject: Where are my Ski Poles????
Hey, I see your "ye Qera gimatun, ye Gebrel-meda sifatun, ye Geedo-washa tilqetun yahil endet kermeshal...?" and I raise you a "S’mayyin yale bala, midirin yale qasma be yazew amlakachin selam biyalehu…"
You know, I am pouring over my leather-bound, raised gold lettering "Guide to Ethiopian Culture for the Arriviste" book you mentioned, and gosh-darn-it, nothing on how to dexterously avoid being dragged into discussions on class politics/polemics. (Who writes these damn books? Whoever it is, I can guarantee you he/she would look bewilderedly at a finger bowl, and would not care if a bottle of Chateau Petrus 1962 was properly decanted. Savages! Somebody throw them a copy of Zagat while they ma’lameT yaderre enjera.)
As I rode the escalator up to my office this morning and walked across the atrium—at 6:45 a.m.—I let myself conjecture what part of the dur arawit grooming ritual you were engaged in… the de-clawing or the de-horning? Don’t the animal rights people care anymore?
Enderassé Guddu, if I may confess… I too was once banished to Literary Purgatory, and was green with envy that some lucky ones got special VIP sections with plush velvet ropes draped around their tables. I looked on longingly, trying to inch in closer to the entourage, but was "kiff"-ed off unceremoniously by one goon. But let’s not try to heal wounds on this forum.
You know, Fitawrari Guddu ze Kassa, the sound of my friend’s stern voice lecturing me about the follies of my ways regarding the Stadium vs. Ethiopian restaurant debacle had not yet stopped reverberating, when you just had to add to the be qum meQeber tichit. Hig yelem enday? Will it help my standing if I told you that among my newly acquired arriviste skills is the ability to Q’bay manTer? I am talking about Teguray be shash teTemtimo, diligently stirring in koseret and korerima, tiqur azmud and besobila until … hmmmm.
Where were we?
America, Lij Guddu Kassa, I think has managed to temper the rabid classist in most people in the Diaspora. (By the way, you were that guy slobbering all over the dainty Ethiopian Airlines napkins right before take off from Addis? Hmm. I did notice you on the way to first class. Nice… berebasos. They could pass for $200.00 Tevas.)
So, how long do you think it took the "party-‘til-dawn", "college-in-four-years", "jump up on the corporate ladder and don’t stop climbing ‘till you can buy an estate in Mekanisa crowd to discover that before America loves you, it will break you into a million pieces?
Who cares who hand washed your clothes at home? You drag your lazy, Flamingo Bar wenber yamoQew butt to work at 2 o’clock in morning to wash dishes, pump gas, serve food and count pennies for bus fare; you find ingenious ways to ask for deferment of your F-1 visa size college tuition; you pick up your self esteem when you realize, for the first time ever, that you really don’t know when your next meal was coming from; you try not to feel lonely or sad, because those were two sure ways of going mad; you hide the despair you feel when you meet with visiting family who have seen you do the Hilton circuit in Addis; and you clench your fists hoping an employer does not ask you for papers.
In the end, the saccharined irony between the lives of those who came here on political asylum, and therefore a green card in their hands tesheguTo, or those who were lucky and smart enough to have college all paid for through scholarship, and those whose serategna waited on the visa line at 5:00 a.m. for them, and those ye-tiliQ sew beteseboCH who could afford to bribe officials … that whole deliciously wicked irony is not lost on what currently makes the Diaspora.
So, here we are, more or less in the land of the Great Equalizer. Perhaps it was our parents’ tslot/limegna/silet to at least 42 of the 44 Tabots, that umpteen years later, most people can look back at those days, look at their scars-internal and external- and whimsically smile. It might have not made us stronger, but it didn’t kill us. Those scars are testimony to Man and Woman’s ultimate ability to survive, and the legacy of decent parents who drummed into us that no matter what, you look stuff straight in the eyes, clench your jaws and hold your head up high in dignity.
Somehow, Merigeta Guddu Kassa, our worlds got a little closer. The "my emma tiliQua was the granddaughter of Wagshum so-and-so" crowd loosen its tie; the intellectual crowd peeped its head from the library stacks; the newly monied stopped trying so hard, and the "we herded the TTibot lamb you ate" crowd forgave the past. (Although, between you and me, Gudduyaye, I suspect the latter did precious little than Tirsachewin mefaq on green pastures all day.)
We might not all have begun at the same starting point, but boy have we ended up in the same venues… be it the same parking lot jobs; the same schools; the same wegeb miQorT third shifts; the same graduate schools; the same corporations; the same parties, the same cyber chat rooms or ‘zines. And so, we move on… sometimes relishing the past, and sometimes hating it.
[Can I tell you something? That wretched guidebook makes no mention of what the etiquette is on how much "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" erroro is acceptable in polite company. The world, GK, is coming to an end in a ye ij qirCHat. I will take matters into my own hands here, and end it with a gargantuan arat neTib !!! (Self-righteousness unduly taxes one.) I say we find a common enemy and bond through the quaint little process of manQuashesh… So, what will it be? That Bravo! Bravo! hell hole in DC? Calvin Klein Ads? Shamelessly mediocre Ethiopian restaurants? Whiny, ultra-hip ETs?]
It’s 9:00 p.m., and I just realized that I’ve been in the office for over 14 hours. I finally got the last yeshagete paperwork out of the way. It must be the yelugnta yalew Ettyopiawi in me, but here I am making sure that I have met all deadlines, written all letters and returned all calls and messages. The next few weeks are going to be killer, even more so because we are short handed. The telalaki you mentioned has been unacceptably sluggish these days. Has not been changing the oil in my teshkerkari zufan, so it has not been rotating the full 360 degrees in a decorously slow and graceful manner. Dammit!
I know for the aqumada–hugging qolo temari circles you’ve been spotted frequenting this might mean as much as sheep herding means to me, but here is some insider information on the corporate world: it’s not the people in power who are dangerous. It’s the people who bask in the glow of the people in power who you should watch out for. For these are the same people who will sell their souls at a gulit in order to get closer to those rays of prime seats at events, hitching a ride on the corporate jet, beaming when the big boss call you "Hey, pal!". … I tell ya, it’s like being back in the playground at Jack and Jill all over again. Amusing stuff, and terribly infectious if you are not careful.
I often wonder how long I can last. A bunch of us women were talking about futures and families, and we’ve decided that we are all going to become housewives. That’s the plan for now. (Excuse me for a moment here, Gudu. I am trying to remember if I, even in passing, had ever mentioned this tiny ye dess dess to KiburinetaCHew. Er, honey, I did say something about that, no? He is probably reading this l’il twist-o’-fate, this… meander into "what the hell" land and thinking, man, they really did drop her on the head! By the way, was it all men or just my significantly better half who was really… I mean, REALLY smitten by the concept of the Victoria’s Secret clad igir aTabi, igir sami, Twaf yaji super abesha woman??)
OK. I don’t think that even you deserve to be subjected to my bordering-on-the-frenzied "quit job until kids are grown" theory. Unless you want to pretend to be my nesiha abat, and then I will bear all. But to be a nesiha abat (and I will let you know, every arriviste has one, two if you are feeling particularly nostalgic for the Lallibela rock hewn churches) you would have to be quTib, ye reGa menfes yalew azawint biTay. And judging by your qeleblaba Entry #1, I regret to inform you that that ship sailed, baby.
[Aside: again scouring what has turned to be a notoriously useless guidebook. Just as I suspected! No information on hiking and rock climbing adventures at Lallibela. Ere wedia new!]
You know what I miss? I miss seeing my grandmother laugh. I miss walking home from school and running into the same characters when I took an aQuaraCH through one gurangur sefer: the high-pitched, feisty little girl who fought with her brothers; the duriyay goremsas who hit on passing women; the same group of chatty elderly setiyoweCH who’d congregate at the foot of one hill; the drunk old man who’d hold on to a telephone post; the young boys in the middle of ye Tofe bi’y CHewata, while hurling obscenities about each other’s mothers… and then, on the final stretch, the blind old man who used to beg on a bridge ever since I could remember. I miss my life being predictable.
Man, am I homesick.
From: Guddu Kassa
Subject: What... you gonna ski down ‘Churcher’ godana?
Tirusha... in the name of the two Tabots that you ignored, I say ‘amen’ to your ye-Menge’n-yemiyasniq three-hour harangue, and raise my fist and punch the air.. [neww! neww! anniTeraTerim!] Oops... there goes my Rolex...!
The deha yesefer lij to whom you once commented on how cute his berebasso looked and even mustered enough audacity to ask if it was size 30 or 31, and who used to ogle your fancy bike through the opening in your half-stone-half-metal fence, may now be head of a new startup in Silicon Valley… already worth 30 mil in stocks even before he’s turned 30. And he may be the boss at whose feet [Tevas, this time!] you’ll be sprinkling rose petals a year from now. America, the equalizing melting pot. America, the blender! How it cuts you to pieces before it turns you into a sweet, lovable vegetable juice...
But here is a fact that should be even more visible to those wasting away in 5-by-5 cubicles or those corporate qoT sefari prodigal sons and daughters of Ethiopia: America isn’t a magical post-eighties, super mood-altering drug that leaves you complex-free. Because you drank its properly decanted wine or enjoyed its soap spa baths and full cable, or simply breathed a piece of its scented atmosphere, or partook in its milk-and-honey-feast [by the way, where are these?], America may make you equal to your ex-chauffeur, but it doesn’t make you equal to a complex-free version of you ... it may dissolve all your class complexes, but it will also fill the void with some new ones...
Ask your fellow prodigals who marked the "other" box in their college applications and embarked on a scholastic pilgrimage destined for cold, lonely, white South Dakota. ["What do you mean black... I’m clearly qey dama!"] Or your other friends who served scholastic time in Kentucky and had to repeatedly explain that, no, the way back home isn’t a flight to Johannesburg followed by a horse ride straight into Addis.
Do you know why that "wretched guidebook" makes no mention of the proper etiquette for the "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" erroro ... ‘ts becuz, when you prick us, we do not bleed... we explode. We explode with all the might that our swollen pride vents... and we lecture you about our glorious past, about our conquering kings, about our beautiful warrior queens, our thirteen months... heck, it doesn’t even take a prick for us to start telling you all that, we will compulsively sneak it in every conversation...
The classic naivete that so many of us pack with our frozen qibe enna dorro when we first come to the US... a positively tinted window of pride and prejudice through which we view the world... which leaves us incredulous and traumatized the first time we’re brought to realize the world doesn’t see us any differently... nor does the world know of our legendary claims to glorious history and heritage... instead, the whole world "knows" we can’t even feed ourselves and make a past time of fighting each other.
A friend who schooled in a rural New England campus around the time of the 80’s famine confessed to me once how he and his ET buddies got compelled by circumstances to carve out every mention of ‘Ethiopia’ on the ETO posters they proudly displayed on their apartment walls...
Yaaaaay! Jerrrrrrrrrrrrrrry! Go Jerry Go! hmmm... where was I ...?
Here’s a motto I recommend regarding Life Diaries... when you can’t keep a train of though on track... do the ini-mini-myni-mo thing and start dissing in random directions... that also seems to resonate well with your prescription that the way to fake a united front is to find something to scoff at in unison. So... how about... you and I... scoff... in unison... at.... YOU! Lidgit, your li’l pontification about Arramba collapsing into Qobbo, is that rorro or hassét? What do you know, other than the anecdotal references in your arriviste bible, about the li’l complexes that are known to have crippled the social worlds of many an abesha youth...? Complexes of not having even a ‘selbaj’ surri to save one’s butt from the slap of morning frost... of not having a running shower to bathe in or a proper outhouse ... of not being able to invite home your relatively well-to-do friends in exchange for their invitations... lemme guess... "Aiiiy ere yihe!! ... Serategnachin enna zebegnaw tinnish tinnish siyaweru semchalehu..."
Anchi kossassa, lest you think I’m a cave dwelling cantankerous bahitawi, I flipped frantically through the mental filing system to prove to you that I, too, run in my own traditional abesha circles. [The funeral? No, it was embarrassing: I took a card as a gift... The hospital visits? No, embarrassing again, I told the uncle of a friend ‘enkuwan mariam gelagelechih’... ] So, here’s my li’l get together this past fassika, where my cultural grooming and well-manners were put to the test:
Last April, as the weekend rolled into a late start, I was poised dejectedly for yet another cultureless, unholy Saturday evening—disregarding of the greatest Christian holiday in the Orthodox calendar. I was paying tribute to the gods of caffeine, when a certain fit of madness drove me into making a couple of calls. Before I had time to think it over, or to glance at the pile of work on my desk, I was on the bus next to my good friend Selamawit, and on the way to Boston. A few hours of semi-nerdy socializing later, we got to the church service at... well... in time to miss the twaf lighting and the abune-ze-be-semayat... in fact well after midnight. It was a full house... more so than I’d seen it two years ago and way, way more than I expected considering the current political mess brewing in the homeland. Church seems to be the last frontier of unity for the Ethiopian Diaspora everywhere, despite the close contact of the Orthodox church with the state and its occasional blunder into politics and nationalism.
Bicha., as prescribed by age-old custom, the men sat in one column of the addarash and the ladies on the other, the ladies clad the ever-more-so-creatively-designed ye hager libsoch looked absolutely beautiful. As unholy as it may seem, I think I understand why church gatherings have always carried the extra implicit purpose of igniting romance, even other than with God. You know, it’s known that many unholy thoughts ride the waves of the shibsheba and qidassie chant... and as the kebero goes dilliq-dilliq-dilliq, so does some guy’s heart as he steals a side glance at the ladies column and eyes meet loga loga toes sticking under the Tilet of a beautiful shemma... The eyes fixed even as his hands go through the mechanical motions of clapping to the beat of the drum... Be sime ab... yiqir yibelew...
Gin, with the air so saturated with incense, and the kebero going dilliq-dilliq and the smooth voice of qidassie coming and going through the mike, the unholy thoughts don’t linger much ... and holiness creeps by osmosis into even the x-rated corners of the mind... and sparks a halo that hangs over each head... well... till another wave of unholy thoughts sweeps through...
When the crowd broke up and was sent off with mirriqat and good wishes and people lined up to kiss the cross, I squeezed my way through many a hug and ran downstairs to be first on another line... this one for food... to break a fast that I’d only partially respected out of a meager budget, and severe case of laziness for cooking...
Egzer hoy, yiqir belegn, ye enjera neger hono eko new...