Subject: The melting pot
Dear Raf, (may I call you that?)
As always, I loved reading your letter. I was crackin' up imagining a bunch
of blonde, blue-eyed ferenjoch; their eyes half-closed playing
"Tizita"! What a hilarious concept! I did go and pick up the
Ethiopique CD you recommended and I totally LOVE it. Thank you! Of
course the guy at the store tried to push a couple of new artists on me,
but I wouldn't hear of it just because
"Rafael said so" :-)!
I did want to share a not-so-uncommon experience from last week. I was purchasing
a purse and immediately received (despite my profuse protests) talak
kinash simply for being an Etiopiawit. You guessed
it - the salesgirl was an Abesha I'd never met before! It started
me thinking about what it was that defines our
Etiopiawinet! I don't know about it being spiritual but there
is definitely an intangible quality, which defies description. It sets us
apart and yet binds us together as well!
One aspect of our Etiopiawinet that I cherish is a generosity
of spirit that is incredibly genuine and at times self-sacrificial. This
was most vividly apparent for me when I visited rural Ethiopia a few years
ago. Yebalager sew malet deg, yewah, sew-akbari, and yet so
dignified! Makes one realize what a blessed inheritance we have. But even
here, where my closest friends are both Ethiopian and
ferenjie, if it comes down to me having say, a financial need
- well there's just no comparison! Still, each friendship has it's own place
By the way, Rafael, did you read the Opinionated Editors section in this
month's SELEDA? Bilew bilew sew masaTat jemeru
eko! I was up in arms when I read their criticism of pen names, weren't
you? Talk about hypocrisy! Do we even know who on earth THEY are? (A few
excepted). Despite possession of the feared seif, they brandish
it only from behind the generic name of "editors"! Get this: there is not
even a pen-name to call them by! Have you ever encountered such audacity?
Endayeneshina! Ahunis demaye fela! [fyi: SELEDA
Editors' Pen-names: GetoCH, Damtachew, Kitachew...]
And of course, being just as opinionated as THEY, I do have my own theory
about anonymity versus non-anonymity. I agree most with the last writer of
that piece. Until we as a society are intellectually and culturally open-minded
enough to tolerate and even embrace different and opposing viewpoints there
will always be reluctance to reveal one's identity and justifiably so! Anonymity
serves an important purpose. It allows the material to stand on it's own
merits, unaffected and uncluttered by the reader's pre-conceived notions
and prejudices about the creator of the piece! Otherwise, whatever point
the author is attempting to make would immediately be invalidated by statements
such as: "Ayi, esuma mehandis - sile fikir min yawkal?" (Sorry
Raf - just a misale :-)). Anonymity gives both the writer and
the reader a clean slate, so to speak!
Phew! Pardon the dissertation! These no-name editors, Sint amet yetowkutin
tsebay (i.e. memoTamet) asnesubign eko! But my dear
Rafael, you've got to help me out here and release your wrath on them! It's
only fair to our predecessors that we loyally continue the tradition of
SELEDA-bashing (they really asked for it this time) so go for it!
Your observation of how our people behave at parties sounds typical. I have
to lay the responsibility for this one squarely and unabashedly with our
Setoch! You can't blame the guys for not wanting to walk across
a room and promptly get rejected! My humble advice: Chill out, stop reading
more into things than necessary; and most importantly, don't let your behavior
be dictated by what others think!
You asked what I will be doing. Bawqew tiru neber
this theory that experiencing many different jobs and/or professions will
make me a more interesting and well rounded (not literally I hope) individual.
Of course, there is what economists' call the "opportunity cost" which in
this case would be forfeiting higher income and growth potential in a given
field. But that's not a major consideration for me.
For right now, I'm really enjoying my Web design classes. In fact, I have
my home page up and I'm telling you it's quite spiffy looking, if I may toot
my own horn. Professionally though, there may be an internship lurking in
the distance at some fledgling Internet company. But I like to keep all my
options open, so we shall see
Well, I suppose it's time to say goodbye. It has been a singularly memorable
journey and you have of course, been a superb fellow traveler. Don't forget
to have your future wife send me an e- Thank You card for what you learned
here - Oh la! la! How presumptuous of me! Ma ene? Bechirash!
I do have a confession though - I lied about the previous poem being the
last one. But then again, I would be remiss in my duties as an amateur poet
if I didn't write a teeny weeny poem for you.
My cyber pen-pal, Rafael
Although I do not know you well
A true gentleman no less
Positively chivalrous, oh yes!
Rega Yale, Astoway
A dream of an Ethio guy!
And of course, it would be totally against my nature to exit without divulging
the haq about our editor for Life Diaries. I have to grudgingly
admit, I do esteem our editor highly (Editor: have I redeemed myself?). To
prove it, here's one especially for you:
To our SELEDA Editor
We'd choose you over any other
A tough cookie, we confess
But brilliant nonetheless
Yet stole our affection
Witty and charming to the core
An Ethio gal one cannot help but adore!
[SELEDA Editor busy blushing and thinkin' this is not a bad
They may not be particularly good (thank you for your kind comments about
the poems, Rafael) but they are most definitely sincere so I hope you like
As I get ready to say goodbye, one of my all-time favorite movies "The Sound
of Music" comes to mind and I find myself humming the tune "So long, Farewell,
," But I quickly stop myself. Bagerachin denb mezgat yishalal
meselegn. So Rafael, let me close by saying as my grandmother would
say if she knew you "Entef, Entef, Tebarek Lije". Is there
anything more valuable that our parents and grandparents can give us than
p.s. you didn't forget my rebellious side now, did you? I am not one to resist
a challenge and those opinionated (i.e. guregna) editors have
de facto dared us to reveal our true names! So our beloved SELEDA editors:
I double dare each one of you to the same!
[SELEDA Editor VERY busy blushing even more at being called
"guregna". Thank you.]
p.s. FYI to "those editors": after espousing too many radical theories and
revealing my true identity, I have to remain true to my capricious nature
and immediately go into hiding under the Witness Protection Plan - so don't
even try to forward any hate mail (only complimentary ones! :-))
SUBJECT: Where are you from
Raf is OK, but don't even think of adding the -IYE part lest
you feel like promulgating the "forum for flirtation" problem
All kidding aside, as first generation immigrants, we do - in fact - face
another problem: a "crisis" of cultural and individual identity. The problem
has continued to grow despite the fact that Etiyopiawinet has
often meant many things to many people. I believe that this has happened
because many Ethiopians now find themselves/ourselves in the relatively
unfamiliar setting of a foreign land. - A setting that has caused many of
us to (inadvertently) cut the roots that define the deeds of those who exhibit
Let me try to explain by digressing a bit
Political economists and economists have paid their mortgages over the last
30 years by developing increasingly elaborate "development models". Most
of these models have completely failed at predicting why certain countries
develop, and others don't. That's harmless enough, I suppose, but when these
political types have power then the results can be disastrous.
A recent classic case was Russia where a bunch of expatriate PhD's prescribed
"solutions" that have cause chaos. (I got nothing against
Gin, qelem biCHa mehon ayTeqmim). It turns out that
the communists had so up-routed the core values of Russian society, that
quick fixes wouldn't work.
In my opinion, the answer as to why one country succeeds, and others don't
is the same answer that once helped us standout as Ethiopians.
The "magic ingredient" can be summed-up in one word: PRIDE
importantly, an understanding of your roots and an ability to proudly defend
Without going into a dissertation on this subject, let me point out how this
"ingredient" often manifested itself in Ethiopia (and a few other countries):
No "Le- Bichaw yebela, le-bichaw yemotal" : A trait most formally
know as "capital flight" - which is another way of saying "take the money
and run". Someone who truly believes in his roots would always re-invest
his/her gains back into his/her country
No "Brain Drain": Education is viewed as an obligation, not a privilege or
a right. You got educated to serve your less fortunate citizens
"Po' But Proud":
as they say in West Virginia
No matter how poor
you are, you don't let others "show-you-up". This is a highly unfashionable
concept in today's global economy, but you got to have it to maintain your
OK, so how does this relate to Etiyopiawinet again?? Let take
Le- Bichaw yebela, le-bichaw yemotal: Until the 1974 revolution,
there was no such a thing as capital flight in Ethiopia.
Etiyopiawinet dictated you almost loved the
afer as much as you did your zemedoCH. You therefore
reinvested what you had. Nobody does that any more. If you're in America,
you keep your money here. If your in Ethiopia, your try to send it to
No "Brain Drain": Until the 1974 revolution, something like 10 people emigrated
from Ethiopia to the US. Etiyopiawinet dictated that the people
paid for your education, and you owed them. Everybody used their education
to help their country
"Po' But Proud":
: My favorite example on this one is Ras Hailu - who
used to be the richest man in Ethiopia in the early 1900's. He once rode-up
to a train on his horse and refused an invitation to come
"Enya kalaseranew L'Ager liTeQim aychlim".
was pretty much what he said.
Like I said, in this era of globalization - where you could rationalize your
way out of even subsistence - Ras Hailu was an anachronism. However, if you
look at the newly successful countries, every single one of them exhibit
these traits (that we once had). The Japanese and Koreans almost always buy
their own products - no matter how inferior. 900 million Indians still wear
saris and sharwal-kemis every day. Without a strong sense of identity you
will always be second rate.
Indeed, we have to look no further than contrast old Ethiopia with new Ethiopia
to see if the core values of Etiyopiawinet are alive and well.
The results are not very good at all. There is massive brain drain, and capital
flight is rampant. I am particularly shocked when I go to Ethiopia and see
the average ferenje r'dat serategna being treated like a king.
Mind you, there is nothing wrong with being polite, but until 20 years ago,
nobody would treat a ferenje better than an Ethi opian in his
So where does that leave us? Not in very good condition when it comes to
Etiyopiawinet. The revolution has been so traumatic, that it
has cut most of the cords that linked us to being Ethiopian. You can "see"
this in a lot of younger Ethiopians who have migrated here. If you are under
30, the only Ethiopia you know is one in which millions died of hunger and
murder, and dozens got rich from corrupt schemes like ayer
ba'yer. SO when many come here, they try to identify with something
"better" - whatever that may be
Again, this is very different from Indians and Koreans immigrants who have
maintained their version of Etiyopiawinet. Koreans have
Eequbs in this country. Indians plow their money back into
new Indian businesses both in the US and in India
I suppose it's up to each of us as individuals to try to re-connect those
"cords" that have traditionally defined Etiyopiawinet in our
own way. That is kinda' what your store clerk was doing
am not condoning the behavior, the idea of sharing is at the core of
Personally, I find myself only "good for" the "po' but proud" part. I guess
that's better than nothing, but as the years go by, I know I am becoming
less of an Ethiopian because I have not fulfilled the may other deeds of
Etiyopiawinet. Hence the hesitation these days when I get asked
for the umpteenth time
."Where are you from
I suppose my ramblings are a sort of jib k'hede wusha CHohe.
But I suppose I would give it a shot at explaining what I feel was a unique
part of being Ethiopian
That aside, I got to agree - somewhat flirtatiously - that you and the Editor,
are definitely unique folks!! When I got roped-into this, I was somewhat
reluctant at the prospect of spending my free time on - wei gud!
I am now glad that I did it
So keep in touch, writing partner, I will do the same - less anonymously
You may even see me walking around - dazed and confused -
in your fair city's bright lights
(Sorry, logging onto your website
won't be good enough).