Subject: Can’t we all just get along?
Dear Yene Entina:
Herein lies your problem, Mr. Moody-two-shoes: Vanilla flavored lattes?! As an arriviste, I will have to point out the incumbent policy on ruining a perfectly innocent cup of buna with rikash additives: simply, I say, Enddaaayyyy! Minew Bakih!
I am appalled by the news that I am one of those on the fast track to sunny 5 by 5 Cubicle Land. (Is it anywhere near eziya… ashaqbo yemitayew Disney Land?) Ere lemehonu, min aTfiCHe? Have I not paid enough deference to that nifTam neighbor of mine who now just issued IPOs for his Self_Pity.com empire? Why am I being punished alagbab? Look. Look at all the roses I have amassed to sprinkle at his feet. [Points to heap of roses…] Ere be teshkerkari zufanu amlak!
Still pulling 16-hour days, thank you for caring. If that don’t prevent being doomed to rub shoulders with those 5 by 5ers, then I don’t know what will. (I hope I get to keep my Corporate American Express. Memo to self: scout out nearest Dean & Deluca in Five by Five Land. A girl can’t starve now, can she?)
I often wonder if my addiction to 16-hour days will be easy to eschew once the "Master Plan" of "ye tkebereCH ye-bet emebet"-inent kicks in? You know, it’s the pitfall of being in a long-distance relationship. You focus on the career stuff and wait for the personal life to work itself out. Not good. But a soulmate is a soulmate is a soulmate. And I have found mine, so I bear with the long-distance part. Hopefully, not for long.
Er, oh, mysterious one…You realize that you have said zip about your life… I leave that sentence hanging so that the SELEDA tseTita askebariwoCH will come to the rescue… (Enante! Tenesu!)
So, Entina Guddu Kassa, what is the current temperature in the Anger Jacuzzi? No, I don’t think anger in itself is comfortable. I think letting yourself stay angry is. Anger has been the catalyst to all social changes. It is certainly the sine qua non of galvanizing social change. The beQaign point. But at what point is it ok to let go and focus on re-building the emotional ruins?
Perhaps we hang on to the past because that’s all that makes sense anymore. The "Great Equalizer" has put the blender speed on liquefy, and to avoid being sucked into the middle, we hang on to one of its blades and prefer to slowly cut and bleed ourselves to the inevitable middle. Maybe ‘tis nobler to do so. Perhaps we are continuing the great tradition of that Ethiopian pride. "Look at our Kings. Look at our Queens. And look at how we constantly peel back the wound and stick our Tors in it. Look… Look."
I say when in a blender, do as the blendees do. Sure in this topsey turvey situation, delving even further into the past and hanging on dearly might be our first instinct, but so was sticking our pinkie in our noses and eating our nifT when we were kids. But eventually our parents’ "Ante likiskis qusha-sha!" stopped that.
Enough with the "Sahle Selassie was my ancestor…" vs. "My grandmother was a miskin enjera gagari" duels. Away with "We used to have houses in all the provinces" vs."I used to try to hide my yeTeTafe surri" mêlée . It is so banal. So stultifyingly and woefully banal. So, I prefer to move on. Grateful for my luck. Grateful for my peace of mind. Grateful that I can look at myself in the mirror, and it don’t crack. While I am unapologetic about this wegeb yezo ashaferegn perspective, I hope you don’t think that it makes me oblivious to the screams of others. Always remember from whence you came. It’s just that I’ve done my time. And I am outta here.
Ok. Fine. I will admit to being tickled by the Range Rover driving arriviste doing the church thang. It does make your point about the "cool-izaisation" of being newly Ethiopian. I do object to the 5-inch heals, however. What is this? The 80s?
I really do understand the "Wuyyyi!! Endayt tam-ra-la-Chihu!!" cute-ness factor of those who "come back" only to the fanfare and to the wild call of "Hey…we are turning 30, what else can we do?" adventure. I hope mine is more genuine and a little more sir yesededde. I think that’s why connecting to home via history and Ethiopian literature and poetry is important to me. I leave the temperamental flag waving to the more ambitious.
And yes, the road back has had some awkward moments. I try to remember what is n’wir and what is acceptably ferenjized. But mostly, I try to find a comfortable zone on the "Ethiopian-ness" mizan. But I still am not sure why it has to come at the expense of pushing you off the medeb and plop onto the amed. (Hey, I can’t stand to see you e’merayt lie sitinferageT. Here. Take some of my bug spray. Might help with the t’wuans.)
But remember, my friend: it is not only unchecked assimilation and qibTeT that has resulted in the rift between Ethiopians in the Diaspora and home. It was also harsh memories of a revolution that effectively cut the spirit of the country and the people. It was the lack of opportunity and the degeneration of what once was home. I don’t want to apologize for leaving Ethiopia. But I will certainly not apologize for going back. In the end, those who can righteously judge us are those who, knferaCHewin neksew, stayed back home.
File this under: Not only should they eat cake, but I’ll spring for it--Crème Bruleè or Tiramisu? At a certain point, you do have to simplify the question in order to come up with an answer. Here we are, at the turn of the century, hundreds of thousands strong in the US alone. What do we want to do? What parts do we like? What parts are we changing?
I once accidentally found myself in a particularly trying calculus class. (We are talking about in the middle of kutara hee’sab temariees complete with designer pocket protectors. Yalderese gud yale meslohal…) Anyway, in between bewilderment about why in God’s name anyone would want to do calculus, I picked up on something. Here were these people, hulet hamoos away from an advanced degree in math (and reality, if you want my opinion) and after all those classes they were back to analyzing the "plus sign", and the basic concept of addition!!! That was what the whole class was about: the concept of addition!!! Hello and zeraf, ye- logarithm ashker! Didn’t Mr. Lewis cover this in third grade? Y’know. You take one apple. You get another (or if you are a gulbetagna Derge-biTay, you nationalize another), and how many you got now, l’il Johnny? (Take the abacus out.)
You see my point? Of course you don’t. We start off with an assumption that 1+1=2. We know that. Been told that since Memihir Gebre Matios mekorkom-ed and told us that. Then we go through life trying to find out why 1+1=2. (That’s the self-searching, exorcising past demons, cathartic, finding yourself part of life we all go through.) And after all of that ostentation and TimQet, what do we find? 1+1 still equals 2. (As they say, "Lifa yalew, a’nd enCHet yasral." ) Meaning, in the end, as the book said, all we ever needed to know, we learnt in kindergarten. (Be that at Agazian or Jack and Jill.) In the end, one plus one is still two. It is simple. But to see and appreciate that simplicity, we do have to go through a lot of calculus classes. And designer pocket protectors.
With that, I end my misTir tintena.
Wede Qum neger… I am still irked that you, a niTir Etyopiyawi , drink Vanilla–flavored coffee. And you complain about your stomach lining corroding?? Yebelih!
OK. Here’s something that might lead the way to our erq. Have you tried getting coffee at Starbucks these days? I went there to buy half a pound of Harer coffee. Innocuous enough, even for the arriviste. There behind the counter is a tongue-pierced, eye lid-pierced high priestess of Metalica. The barrista. (I think I know her from my CBGB, Hüsker Dü days in NYC.) Not a good start.
"May I have half a pound of un-pierced Harer coffee?’
"Sure." [Sounded like ‘Shhhooourrre’, what with her ye-milass werQ madaleT-ing her tongue, and making her lisp.)
"Er, to go."
"Sure. Whole bean or ground?"
"Fine or coarse?"
"Huh?… Fine, I suppose."
"For a drip or a cone?"
"I … think… drip…" [Said with eyes narrowed.]
"Paper drip or filter?"
"Waaaa? Are we still talking about coffee?? The stuff I need to have a civil conversation in the morning?? Just gimme that, you freak. My people have been drinking this stuff for 2000 years. I don’t need no eye-browless , satan’s step-child to tell me how I need to drink this. Ere weigij!"
Well, I didn’t say all that, but I did give her the annoyed-and-charmingly-chagrined arriviste look illustrated on page 204 in my guidebook. I’m glad it ended there without us going onto my mother’s maiden name, my date of birth and instructions on how to brew coffee. Can you imagine this scenario back home? As you sit in your gorebayt’s mad bet…"Ebakish, yene konjo… yenen buna behayle atiwQetiCHiw. I want coarse beans. And please, can you use the wood muQeCHa and not the b’ret?"
The scary thing is when I find myself in the unenviable and precarious position of being the resident amarigna liQ when I am around a few friends who have not yet been welcomed back to the fold by the agelabTo sami, amed-lie tegni "Enkwan dehna meTu" committee. You might think I rejoice in these moments, rare as they are. But I do not. My sense of triumph is always tempered by the fact that I still need to read Solomon Derressa’s lines twice and sometimes thrice. I still scratch my head at some of the prose in Haile-Melekot Mewael’s "Goon-goon". And I am far from memorizing Tsegaye Gebre Medhin’s "Ye Tewodros sinibit ke Meqdela". It just makes me wince at how much longer my trip back truly is. I hope the in-flight movie is good.
And so, here we are, my esteemed Life Diaries partner. Our enkiya selamtiya sadly hath come to an end. You were very uncooperative about finding a common enemy to manquashesh. If you had, we would be holding hands and singing "Kumbaya" right at this moment. Can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this even as I put another bandage over my yeteTalTe gerba courtesy of your acerbic girfia. But they are wounds I am proud to display. You know, it just might be at your feet that I end up sprinkling those damn rose petals. No bunions or simuni yemiyasholiku sinTiQs in your feet, I hope. But sprinkle, I shall. And with awe.
What the hell… I’m going to start singing Kumbaya solo. If you want, join me. I’m the one with the stretched arm.
What can I say. It’s been real.
Subject: Chereqa Dinbul Boqa...
Taytu!... I beg you for the sake of my tear-washed, short-circuited keyboard... for the sake of my nifT-soaked meharreb... Stop this anjet meblat! [And, no. It’s not becuz your 1+1 = 2 analysis is all too complicated for me.]
The last time I sat and cried over my keyboard like this was when I ran into that Bati music page online. I locked myself in the office for five days straight... playing, and replaying, and re-goddamned-playing Kassa Tessema, all the while cursing the web master, yet coming back for more. Kuribish, I’m getting soft... I’ve hung on the blender’s blade for one too many cycles... and, my God, here I come crashing down to the middle... hug me please.
The silly, fresh, uninitiated-into-pop-culture guy that I am, I thought Kumbaya was some kinda chant accompaniment to a certain toasting ceremony involving the shai kubayas that sustained us through so many early morning hand-holding treks to Qes Timirt-bet. So, yene Taytu, you’re on your own on the dance... and I’ll be on my own on the aqaqeer...
Why have I said so precious little about my life?? [Struggling to restrain my smarty-pants /cynically-philosophical alter egos.] I will sheepishly confess that I didn’t have the guts to watch my life kicked around on the SELEDA floor, no matter how plush the carpeting. Besides, the last time I ventured to spew such neurosis on the Net and graciously offered pointers to my identity, I had a crew of local mental asylums track me down with the kind of precision even collection agencies aren’t capable of. They threatened to haul my butt into their wards... I kept insisting, "But looka here... I AM already committed in an institution!"
Or maybe it’s just our collective legacy of extreme secrecy. Maybe it’s the legacy of an ancient culture that’s left its mark on our church structure... Every local church at home keeps a replica of the Tsillat which is placed inside a replica of the Tabot. The Tabot is placed away in the inner sanctums of the church structure called the Qidusse-Qidussan’--off limits to anyone but those tending to it. And so the layer extends outward to the third section: the common area of worship. Then there’s the that hamsa sheeh feres yemiyasgalib QiTir enclosed by walls which are the outermost fringes of sanctity. Even the walls are so sacred that if you, per chance, on certain parts of the month, find yourself relegated to worshipping while leaning on the OUTside of the QiTir, you do it without holding a grudge.
[WARNING: pay attention to what it says in the arriviste guidebook about letting your Chihuahua loose into the church QiTir ... and then flip over to the animal rights law suits section... it should be blank.]
I think we all carry around our own Tabots in our own Qidusse-Qidussan that only the most intimate of friendships are privy to. That may be why you never see abesha folks on the bus engaged in conversation with a complete stranger on the topic of "my mother’s bad habits". So, yene Kuribish, I’m guarding my Tabot in my holy of holies. That may also be why SELEDA may soon gain popularity as "the newest Ethiopian peep show on the block".
Honestly though, whenever I sit to compose a one-liner, neatly packaged sentence of wisdom [yes, wisdom! Go ‘head ‘n smirk!], a myriad of conflicting resolutions come rushing to my cranium and cause me a sever case of mamaT and meChneQ until it feels like I may soon die of brain hemorrhage. Then I drop it all and let all the blood flow back down, leaving a cranial void... that’s when I quit playing the oracle and decide to alternate between the village idiot, the court jester, and just the perpetual chiraQ.
No matter how much I rummage through the mental dumpster, I don’t seem to pick up a single, edible, neatly packaged uplifting resolution to offer. I admire those, who, upon demand, casually swing around, reach back into the mental filing cabinets with the kind of ease that one would grab a book from the shelf... no such neatly packaged bundles of wisdom in my dumpster... The warm and surreal is filed with the cold and the real... the edible, defiled by the rotting waste.
Yes, we should move on with pride regardless of our ‘elfign askelkai’ or ‘kosso shaCH’ parents. Pride is what keeps the swagger on our heels even as we maneuver through black-free zones. But it’s also pride that gets us reaching for the goraade and fretting ‘akaki zerraf!’ at the mere mention of the possibility that the Queen of Sheba may not have been Ethiopian. Something in our culture nurtures pride while weakening logical peripheral sight. Something in our culture nurtures this culture of fanatic pride via the selective reporting of isolated Ethiopian success stories as the norm. If you dare mention the possibility that the "Lion of Judah" may just be a legend, don’t always expect to be refuted with a historically-backed and logically sound counter argument. Instead, you may just be labeled "anti-history".
The excessive emphasis on grace and saving face nurtures kow-towing and backbiting. Regardless of the so-called "three thousand plus" years of history, we still live in biblical life styles and don’t have much to show in the way of our "glorious" past. Something in our culture blurs the separation of ideas and personalities and makes it difficult to attack one without attacking the other. Now, can we admit all of this and still keep the swagger on our feet... keep shooting for the high hurdles, and keep the name ‘Ethiopia’ on our ETO posters...??? I say I do... [Ok, fine, the swagger may just be my new, bouncy Air Jordans.]
At this juncture of political segregation and abundance-induced messelechachet among the Diaspora [at least in North America], I think I have a quick li’l fix that will guarantee that a ‘Selam’ with a slight vertical nod will NOT be reciprocated by a frown and a slight horizontal nod.
Here goes: gather up all the abeshas in DC, all the abeshas in the Bay Area, Dallas, Boston, Seattle, and Toronto, and disperse them into li’l bucolic as-of-yet-abesha-free WASP enclaves in the green mountains of Vermont, the jungles of Montana, and the white perpetual-freeze of the Dakotas. Keep them there for a year. Keep them there until they threaten to kill themselves because of injera deprivation; until their mother tongue gets rusty and they can’t spend one more night without sitting around a table sipping steaming bunna and joking with their home folks in their own aff yefetubet language. Keep them long enough until they burst as flood waves and flock to the nearest town with an Ethiopian restaurant even if it be a 12-hour drive away.
Then imagine running into these folks at a rest stop off I-80 somewhere in the Midwest. Imagine the scene right after the standard mutual stare and anget meqelbes and "Abesha newot?" bilo Tega malet. Trust me, it will seem like even your siblings wouldn’t be THAT happy to see you. It’ll be one of the strongest bonds you’ve ever felt, however short-lived.
Hun, it’s been real. It was good for me, too... [but I don’t smoke, so no special effect here]. But I’ll rant one last time before I split in my chiraqish ways: just when I thought we finally made concessions about your marching along and taking my medeb, you, darn-you, come stomping along to take over my calculus pulpit!! [Ere Tur f’ree ebakish!]