Date:            Friday, July 16, 1999 (4:54 p.m. EST)
To:               Biruk
From:           Sergut
Subject:        Mechés min yidereg, inew lijemirew

Selam Biruk! Min biyé lijemir?? Flummoxed as I am as to why it is "traditional" for the female to fire first, I will not risk raising the popularly feared ire of our SELEDA (it has been suggested that I light candles and play some superbly appropriate Gregorian chant music whenever I mention the name) Editors by whining. I do, however, find myself wanting to check out the SELEDA archives in the hopes of stealing ideas. Cheap and cowardly of me, I know, so I will resist the temptation.…Oh, what the hell!

[Okay, back from the SELEDA archives - and feeling more intimidated and cowed than when I gallivanted off. I fear I'll have to rely on my own wit to make sure that our readers don't need to prop up their chins during our installments.]

First and foremost, let's clear the hurdle of my code (scribto) name. I shall be known as Sergut, which, I may have mentioned in our "before-the-start-gun" communication, is "my other real name". Truth be told, Sergute-Mariam is actually my kristina sim, one I have never used, not even when asked if I have a middle initial. I have enough difficulties getting the American populace (the Brits and French curiously have no problems) to correctly enunciate my absurdly simple, two-syllable first name without taxing them with the old multi-syllabic, hyphenated Christian name. So, why use it and not my "street" name? Lends to the mystery, don't you think? Besides, it needs to be aired out now and again.

That said and out of the way, on to the real introductions….

I left Ethiopia at the rather tender age of eight and my strongest memories of home are tanks, soldiers, bomb scares and - on my last day there, at Bolé airport - Tiger war planes flying off to do battle with Somalia. This was in 1977. I have not been back home since although my ties to all things Ethiopian remain remarkably strong. Without going into a long retelling of my life in between - read the book! - let's take a time-leap to the 90s where I find myself living sola in a one-bedroom apartment in a part of Northern Virginia I refer to as Little Addis.

Although I went to school in the US starting from Junior High, I have never felt American. My American friends found this declaration contemptuous, and in college went so far as to try to convince me that I was American. After all, don't I eat the food, wear the clothes and make the odd and appropriate pop-culture comments? Well, never mind that I could speak a language they could never be offered as an elective in their entire education career, or that I craved sights and sounds and smells that could never make their heart ache. I think what finally won them over was not evidence of the dabo kolo my grandmother supplied me with throughout college, but my persistent and, to them, curious ability to pronounce my T's's with little effort. Still, people - usually not Ethiopian - are surprised to find out I am Ethiopian. The comment "but you don't have an accent" is often their surprised comeback to my announcement. To which I reply: It's not a pre-requisite. I am often mistaken for (get ready for the list) a Samoan, Hawaiian, Indian, and - this one still puzzles me - Asian.

I went to University in Virginia (not Ivy League, although when I graduated the walls were sporting a proud growth of Ivy) where I studied English and French (why French? Why not?) with the serious intention of pursuing a career in Law. Like a true Liberal Arts major, however, I floundered over my choice trying to decide on a career that would fit my personality like the proverbial glove rather than one that would chew me up and spit me out into a cesspool of overworked, undervalued individuals who are still trying to find themselves but were now out of the energy and time. Well, I never went to Law School (although perversely, I'm still thinking about it) and I promise myself on a weekly basis that I will one day write a best-selling novel - under a scribto-sim, of course - because, at heart, I'm truly just a frustrated writer who lacks the discipline and gumption to just go for it.

Meanwhile, in real life, I'm a program manager for a beltway-bandit firm that sub-contracts with USAID. [Yes, you read that right. But I'm not really evil. As a subcontractor, moreover one who is doing this only as a job and not a career, I'm once-removed from true evil. It's a paycheck - what can I tell ya?] Sadly, I crunch numbers and manage contracts. I am surprisingly good at designing spreadsheets (Excel is my new techno-god) and in the true spirit of my state of confusion, I'm currently entertaining thoughts of a career in MIS.

Well, there you go. I think that's good enough to discourage the often sharpened seif of the SELEDA (hallelujah!) Editors from coming at me. Did I mention to you that subtle blackmail was used to push me into these pages? Where will it all stop?? I hope that you will be more adept (and more prolific) with your usage of "amaringlish". I wouldn't want us to fail at even one of our list of "suggested" requirements.

Well, gwad (see, last minute ditch attempt to fall in line), I'm off to Philly this weekend and must actually start off now, so I leave you until next time, the ball squarely in your court. Do try to stop yawning long enough to reply….


L….ehem, Sergut

Date:            Monday, July 19, 1999 (3:34 p.m. EST)
To:               Sergut
From:           Biruk
Subject:        Endet nesh beAyalew  

Yidres Le Sirgute-Mariam - leTenash ende-min alesh?

As much as I am tempted to write the whole letter in Amharic, I have to be mindful of the ever-present seif wielding SELEDA editors and use what they call 'Amari-english' and what my Amharic teacher called 'Gurmayle' on a good day and ' Tiraz-neTeqnet' when he was in a bad mood. I have a feeling that I will have to consult Merriam Webster quite often or else I won't hear the end of it. Anyway, enough ragging on the poor editors and let me introduce myself.

Unlike you, Biruk happens to be my yebet-sim while my kirstina-sim is the name I use in the 'real world'. Many a times people ask me if I have a nickname. Even though I could tell them that Biruk is my nick name and they could easily pronounce it, I find a perverse pleasure in telling them that I don't have one and that they should learn how to pronounce my six-syllable kirstina/given name. In a sense though, it is a way of reaffirming my own Ethiopian identity constantly. After all, they would be only too happy to give you a monosyllabic American nickname like Sam, Dan, etc. which, by the way, many people insisted I should have just so it would be easy for them. My reaction - wenz gibu! That I think would start one on a slippery slope to losing one's identity. I guess I should leave the issue of identity/assimilation and living as an immigrant in the US for future entries.

Well, when I left home a good decade and half-ago right out of high school, I never thought I would be where I am today. Yet, I find myself in downtown Boston working for a Financial Services company. My dream was to finish college, work for a couple of years, get enough experience and go back to Ethiopia. Alas, that was not to be. I have become a Software Engineer by trade although I am an Electrical Engineer by training. I now work for a company whose current marketing spin is to portray the company as:

"...global provider of data, analysis and information tools offering the most comprehensive range of indispensable, market-leading services and customizable solutions to help our clients make better decisions, be more productive and achieve superior financial results."

The particular division I work for basically has a real-time electronic advertising system for brokers and institutional investors who sell and buy stocks by the hundreds of thousands. Yep, our clients are the likes of Morgan Stanley, Putnam, Fidelity, etc. who have direct leased lines into our main frame computers. The marketing people decided to make the system available to small time peddlers who can't afford to shell out big sums of money, and so they came up with the idea of using - surprise, surprise - the internet. So now I spend my days implementing their bright idea - writing specifications, designing and coding - and oh yeah, spending endless hours in meetings trying to knock some sense into managers who want to be system architects and spew unadulterated ignorance every time they open their mouth.

I am writing this to you as I wait for documentation from another division of the parent company in Rockville, Maryland. Fortunately, it seems like they have their own timetable and I am waiting here with nothing to do but listen Nebeyu Tesfay's CD and reading CNN oops, I mean SELEDA on the web. One of the things I love about big corporations (at least the one I am at) is that because of huge resources they have, there is no pressure about deadlines and actually people can come in at 9 and leave at 5.

My previous job was with a startup company where I put in 12 to 13 hours routinely and 16-hour days and weekends on many occasions. I was younger and idealistic and hoping when and if the company went public I would make mucho dinero and retire happily. I chugged along for five years but I was too blind to see the writing on the wall. Although I, along with the other members of the technical staff, complained and had a good time making fun of the total incompetence of the managers, ultimately we were the victims as the company effectively declared bankruptcy. The managers parachuted out with golden severance package while we were left out in the cold. And so I decided, enough with the start-up crap - henceforth, I shall work only for a well-established corporation or for myself. Well, working for myself hasn't worked out so here I am with a well-established company.

I live in the suburbs of Boston and commute to work. It takes a whole god-damn ( am I allowed to swear?) hour to get to work because I have to take a bus and then catch the train. The thing that gets me is that it would take me only 10 minutes on the highway were it not for the infamous Boston bumper-to-bumper traffic. So the choice is between an hour on public transportation or an hour and half on the highway and then finding parking. Oh well, not much of a choice, but I had to complain anyway.

Enough about me, let me ask you this. Leaving home when you were only eight, was it easy for you to fit into school here? Of all the friends and others I have met who have gone to high school here, I have yet to find one who has had a good experience. I suppose it helps to have your family here with you because those who had their family nearby had a relatively better time than those who went to boarding schools. Do you ever wonder what it would have been like if you had grown up in Addis and would you want to go back? I guess it would be somewhat difficult if your strongest memories are of war-planes, tanks, soldiers and bomb scares.

Eshi emete Sirgut, bezihu babeqa yishalal. Ye SELEDA wuqabie gud syameTabgn yihen debdabe bilkew yishalal. I jut got an e-mail about violence and black-eyes and what not…

Be Selam hugni,