To: Guddu Kassa
Subject: Let them eat cake!
You mean they make berebasos in size 30 and 31? My, how cute.
You know, I never thanked you for bestowing on me the honor of being one who owns a zufan. Not just any ol’ zufan, but a teshkerkari one, to boot. Throw in an automatic suspension feature and alloyed wheels, and I’m trading in my Range Rover. (Incidentally, is the "Zero-to-360-degree- -in-2.01-seconds" a standard feature on the Zufan 2000 DXL model?)
I must admit to feeling, a little… well, sad, after reading your last entry. As I took in the panoramic view of downtown from my floor-to-ceiling office window, and leaned back on my executive chair and put my feet up, I realized what abscess we live in. You mean to tell me, Guddu Kassa, that there are actually people who work in 5 by 5 cubicles!!! That’s so… icky! (Memo to self: Make nice to people who work in 5 by 5 cubicles if ever you run into them. Find out if they are branded with scarlet letter for easy identification.) And may I thank you for pointing this new CHiqun hizib, lab/wez ader group.
And back to our "erroro new weiess hassèt" CHewata.
Here’s what is puzzling me. Shouldn’t the now rich-as-God but bedehna gizay a bike-coveting, snot-nosed kid who used to call me "enashin" be too busy medabess-ing the Corinthian leather in his new Jaguar and not his harsh memories of childhood??
I can’t remember who it was, but I remember some prominent millionaire being interviewed on the Charlie Rose Show in which he was recounting his humble beginnings. I am talking Humble… single mother, nine kids, no food, no running water, no (eeeppes!) serategna OR zebegna. The difference here, the Gud Man, was the sense of pride and triumph with which he was telling the story. Why do we Ethiopians pick up the very synthetic aspects of assimilation in America (the ‘sexual freedom’, the neurosis, the agul ferenginet) but overstep what I think is at the core of American advantage: the ability not to let your past cripple your future.
When I say that, it reminds of a recent incident at the office. An African American colleague of mine, who keeps hearing me on the phone speaking (OK, mashkakat-ing) in Amarigna one day looked me in the eyes and said "You know, when I hear you talk in your beautiful language it cuts right at the heart of me. All of that was taken away from our people…" I am sure I was supposed to kenferaygn meTiTCHay offer up a morsel of liberal guilt topped off with a "Yene emebayt… Endiaw eko kebad new" as consolation. But I was more curious to find out what she, individually, had done to ease her pain. I asked her if she ever thought of actually taking language classes… Swahili, Amharic… whatever. Guess what the answer was.
I do have a point here, even if it comes at a cost of being compared to Mengistu and his "three hour harangue". (You know, I never once saw him do the little sippy thing from an Ambo Wuha bottle. What gives?)
The point being, choosing to remain angry is a very comfortable state to be in. It justifies the past, and it makes wallowing in self-pity look a little more regal. If that 30-year old millionaire is still swimming in thoughts of the abject poverty of his/her childhood instead of devising ways to ease the same pain of those who are presently going through the same inhumanity, then I say his/her next venture should be funding how-to books on being self-centered. The world, Guddu Kassa, does not revolve around our past pains. (Unfortunately. If it did, someone here would be paying dearly for insinuating that our aTir Gibee was only half stone and the other half metal! Ante defar! 20-foot atidresubin imported stone all the way, just so that you won’t make that mistake again.)
If we rightly scoff at people who, even after so many years in this country, recklessly slap you around with their absurd zer-meQut’r and " yema lij endehonu tawQaleh?" hateta, then we should equally pooh-pooh the Silicon Valley mogul who snivels at past injustices while taking his blonde girlfriend to Hawaii for the weekend. (Those torn Calvin Klein jeans should be a suitable enough tribute to the past. Minew etay!)
Uh-huh. I can just imagine you tearing your eyes away from the "I am dumping my 90-year old lover for a more mature guy" episode of Jerry to howl in indignation. I want to pre-empt your, "Listen Missy, whatddo you know about these complex complexes?" before it loses it charm. So, un-froth yourself from the frenzy you’ve whipped yourself into.
It is easy for those who had a perfect childhood, great happenstance and cake from Endrico every Saturday to succeed. The road is paved for them to succeed. But are they to apologize for it? Yet it is estimable, and almost a form of poetic justice when those who did not get to ski down Churcher Godana thrive. It’s the kimem that makes life interesting. I wonder, Guddu Kasa Wolde Ibd, if wounds inflicted on us during childhood are as hard to heal as those inflicted on us when we cannot bounce back as easily.
But the fact remains, we have either been hurt in our formidable years, or later in life. We have lost parents and children. We have gone through heartbreak and severed relationships. Loved and lost. Not loved at all. Watched loved ones suffer though all kinds of diseases—some physical some not. We’ve seen some of them get better, and many of them die. We remember not being allowed to mourn our dead. We’ve watched our friends and families being mowed down. The question then becomes, how do we choose to heal ourselves without trying to get lost in extracting the degree of hurt, by whom and how many times. In general, how do we heal past hurts?
[As a point of clarification, I marked "Teyim assa messai" in the "Race/Color" box in my college application. Was that wrong?]
Somehow, you manage to raise a good question about the pride that impedes us Ethiopians. (And I am taking huge gulps here to swallow my pride to admit you made a good point… )
I share your ire at the contingent in the Diaspora who glow neon green, yellow and red at the slightest prompting, with no civic responsibility to show for the radiation they emit. (You see? You and I can agree.) But, I don’t dismiss the pride factor as easily as you seem to. When things seemed insurmountable, when my sense of self was in crisis after my first encounter with racism, when success seemed so unattainable, mockingly so, that sense of pride inculcated in me my grandmother and my mother, my father and my brother saved me. It did pick me up, dust me off and send me back fighting until I learnt not to come home with a bloody nose and tear-stained eyes. So, it might be a double-edged sword that we are dealing with here.
I forgot to tell you… my new edition guidebook arrived via Fed Ex yesterday. And look. Page 524… right underneath the illustrations on the proper way to wear your neTela… it states, and allow me to quote, "Discussions of sex, politics and class should be limited to three entries…" Thank God. I was going to go on and on…And then, what would they think of me at the annual golf outing and ladies luncheon?
Tinged as it might have been with a paragraph outing you as a foot-fetish survivor, I really did enjoy reading your fassika story. And that line at the end about "Ye enjera neger eko hono new" was… priceless, even though you might be struck dead for it at anytime.
Since I think spiritually is private, I won’t sermonize on why I have become a qiliT yaleku church-goer, and occasional annoying resident evangelizer. (Besides, I think even the q’es might need a decent size bush for tibTeba in order to asses your sins for sigdet… but I leave being highly presumptuous to you since you do it so well.)
But here’s my "a scene from my church" story…
There are a lot of new people from Ethiopia coming to church. You can tell the difference between their sine s'rat and the rest of us who have been here one decade too long. (One sure give away is the way the latter is sprawled on the bench during 'Egzio Marene Kristos', only bowing heads in a perfunctory salute... in between wide yawns and personal conversations.)
I started tearing up at one point at the sight of two young men, probably in their 20s, who were dressed traditionally, and who seem to know the entire Qidassay by heart. Their aqebabel, their zeiybay, their total lack of pretension and their obliviousness to the myriad of un-holy like behavior around them was incredibly touching.
In front of them was an elderly gentleman... a VERY stately looking gentleman-- handsome, tall, in his late 60's I would guess, who also had his neTela wrapped around him. When he came in, he did the traditional sigdet in the direction of the alter, and then, very humbly turned to the women's side and ke wegeb betach bowed in a deferential "endemin walach'u". Same to the men. He settled at the edge of the aisle until one of the ushers found him a spot. Again, his stately zick belo selamta as a thank you. The same when the young usher handed him a maQuamia.
I know there is a whole part of me that over-romanticizes Ethiopia. But I can't help being touched by small incidents such as this. And I admit that I find serenity in them. I know it is naive. I know it is grossly over-simplifying our culture. I know it is desperately trying to be placated by an innocuous incident and magnifying it to find solace. But it always makes me wonder about Ethiopia, a hundred, a thousand years ago, maybe in a small village somewhere in rural Ethiopia, where we DID care about each other. I know the traps we set for ourselves when we live though the follies of fantasy. But there are visceral instincts of home that still move me to tears.
Few words have touched me as deeply as did the last entry from the July/August Life Diaries. In her last entry, Makeda talks about the small changes we collectively will have to make in order to initialize big changes.
I used to quietly shudder when my mother used to grab people whom she thought were Ethiopian, and point blankly ask them, "TenaysTilign. Etyopiyawii neh/nesh?" If the answer was yes, the scene that’d follow would remind me of that small village in rural Ethiopia… "Lidjay… endayt neh?" "Ezi hager koyeh?" "BetoCh ezih aluh?" Eventually she would send them off with blessings and words of encouragement.
There was a part of me that used to get a little embarrassed by the prospect of my mother interrogating selamtegna mengedegnoCH. But I finally got the point. It was a way of reconnecting our dead nerves to a sense of home. Today I have become a miniature version of her. I make sure I make eye contact, I smile, nod and say "Selam". The slightest encouragement and that would be me in the middle of a boulevard talking a fellow-Ethiopian’s ears off. A small step--but one that has indelibly changed my life.
I have to go. I have to find roses whose petals I will have to sprinkle at the feet of some ChuCHay software mogul. I will call you from the Zufan phone if I find your Rolex.
Subject: Dinnich enna dubba...
Yes, Sebliye, there ARE 5-by-5 cubicles... and dare I say, YOU may soon be one of them... thanx to the sedentary 15-hour days atop the teshkerkary Zufan 2000 DXL. But let’s not go there.
I think I finally figured out what your simple recipe for dealing with past adversities had in common with your rhetoric to the African American woman at work about learning a language... they smack of the let-them-eat-cake-hakuna-matata school of thought that so appropriately decorated the header of your last entry.
While regally wallowing in self-pity, lemme tell ya, as one who’s spent one too many ["comfy"?!] moments spinning in anger mode... as someone who’s had not one, but two, three layers of stomach lining corroded by anger-- or was it by one too many tikuss triple-venti-vanilla-lattes?--hun, anger ain’t no Jacuzzi... it ain’t comfy, it ain’t warm. The only warmth it has to do with is the sensation of multiple squirts of stomach acid churning away inside your shinfilla... so, no, anger ain’t comfortable!
But self-pity is a whole other matter... What it is depends on where you now stand on the social ladder and the age spectrum. For those crawling in the dirty alleys near the foot of the ladder, it’s a curse. For those wallowing in Jacuzzi baths at the top of the ladder, it’s a badge of courage in the face of adversity. For those in the middle, it makes a nice preamble to the classic reprimand of parents to the young’uns... "If I had what you have while growing up; if only I had used soft instead of qiTel ... yet derishe nebber yihenne...!" To the ones freshly liberated by the "great equalizer", it makes for a great been-there-done-that anecdote to recite as they lean back through a veil of cigarette smoke. For the elderly bundles of wisdom, it gives one more evidence for the eminent apocalypse... "Waaaaa... we had so little then... and yet, by golly, we were grateful even for the piece of bale-Teem-injera that we had us for a daily meal... nothing tasted better... ay ay ay ... siminitegnaw shih new yahunumma..."
I wonder why you never saw Mengistu do the little sippy thing from an Ambo Wuha bottle? Probably becuz Ambo Wuha was ye adhary luxury that Menge would’ve shooed off with his copy of Mao’s little red book? How about the $90 mil or so, worth of whisky imported for the Tenth Anniversary of the Revolution... no, THAT was a necessity... how else could our polit bureau members muster up the chikkane to shoo away the tefenaqay skeletons camped outside their metal gates? I tell ya, if religion is "the opium of the masses", whisky is definitely the spirit of the polit bureau...
Speaking of Menge, can’t resist: two elderly men conversing at a leqso about the Revolutionary Leader... one says to the other... "Endew ahoun, eziya e’nigussu zuffan lay yiqemeT yimeslehal...?" The friend: "Ayi min ebakih, engdih medeb medeb yilal, eziyaw medebu lay yihonala yemiqemeTew" alu yibalal.
Why you’ve become qiliT yalsh church-goer is a sermon I’d like to hear some day over a cyber pulpit... but I just hope it doesn’t have a overture that needs to be repeated twelve times. In the mean time, here’s my conjectural story on why. Take it with a grain of Prozac or a tablet of cyanide. I am not yet finished ranting about having to be relegated to the medeb and down to the amed, and haven’t yet recovered from the many mujale wounds I’ve incurred as a result. I’ll save the erq for my last entry:
An abesha woman drags herself out of bed one early Sunday morning just as the radio clock hits 10:18. After paying a lengthy tribute to the carnal shrine that many guys call "a gorgeous body", she heads out into the silvery morn to pay another lengthy tribute to a concrete shrine that she calls church: the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. With a qentegna seber-seka atop the 5-inch heels, she squeezes her way through an aisle of knees with the help of a few "excuse me"s and slops down zerfeT bila. One row behind, an elderly lady rubber-necks towards the young woman, and looks away with visible disgust while pulling an edge of her neTela further up over her mouth.
As heads all around her bow down and up, the young lady sits motionless looking like ye biret missesso in the middle of a teff farm. Her eyes fixed across the aisle ... Normally, she’d ride the wave and bow, rise and sit, and engage in a semi-swing shibesheba that every now and then sidetracks her open palms to fold into fairly audible snaps that the kebero’s dilliq-dilliq swallows magnanimously. Today, even that wasn’t to be. She started tearing up at one point at the sight of two young men, probably in their 20s, who were dressed traditionally, and who knew the entire Qidassay by heart. Their aqebabel, their zeiybay, their total lack of pretension and their obliviousness to the myriad of un-holy like behavior around them was incredibly touching.
Many times in the near past, she’s fancied herself in the company of such grace, dignity, and unmistakable authenticity. In her ye ferenj-nek aggressive aynawTannet, she’s even found herself approaching such one graceful neTela-donning traditional abesha man and while lightly holding his upper arm, she’d whispered to him "beTam Tiru tizefnaleh..." to which he’d simply bowed with a shy smile that communicated thank you, and a silence that communicated "yiqir yibelish" for the audacity to call ‘mezmur’ ‘zefen’...
Circumstances have relegated her to the back of the "fara" side with the traditional folks now frolicking in the "in" of the qidassay-reciting "cool crowd". She can’t even find solace in the myriad I-still-think-of-you messages from Todd, Ted, and Tom. But none of these flatteries stir her these days as if spiting ex’s didn’t use to be a favorite fetish of hers once upon a time...
Wallowing in the prospect of this "new Ethiopian" fulfillment, she grabs the handle of the door to her Range Rover, and sticks the key in. Before she has a chance to yank it open, she’s startled out of her wits at the shrill sound of the alarm. An elderly man heading for an adjacent car stops and crosses himself as though the saitan that the abuna spent the last couple of hours ‘megesets’ing had struck with vengeance.
Welcome home Sebliye, yene prodigal ehit... let me embrace and kiss you agelabiche as your brother now that you’ve paid for the Tebbot that you devoured. Make yourself at home... and oh, please have my medeb, I’ll take the amed. [The ticks and the mujalewoch will miss me anyway].