To:                 Rafael
From:             Tirseet
Subject:         The melting pot entry!

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 and purpose.

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…I have 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
Demanding perfection
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 job!]

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 them!

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 their mirriqat?

Yagerih Lij


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! :-))

To:              Tirseet
FROM:        Rafael
SUBJECT:   Where are you from…Again???

Selam Tirseet….

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 Etiyopiawinet .

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 PhDs…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….Or more importantly, an understanding of your roots and an ability to proudly defend them.

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…period.

"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 identity.

OK, so how does this relate to Etiyopiawinet again?? Let take a before-and-after-approach:

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 America.

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 on-board…"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 own country.

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…(Although I am not condoning the behavior, the idea of sharing is at the core of Etiyopiawinet).

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…again?".

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! Debdabe!…I am now glad that I did it…

So keep in touch, writing partner, I will do the same - less anonymously of course…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).

'til then

Yagerish miTiregna