Date:        Thursday, August 19, 1999 (1:47 p.m. EST)
To:            Biruk
From:        Sergut
Subject:    The Good Ferengized-Abesha Man

Tena ina dehninetun lante yargew, Lij Biruk!

I had visions, horrible visions, of the SELEDA seif descending swiftly over your defar head. Ere beigziabiher! I was this close to dialing ZeTegn-asre-and. My favorite excuse was: The dog ate my computer. The dog eats my computer all the time, too, so I understand. Say it with pride and dignity.

So, Mr. Tour Guide (a.k.a., Flat-foot, Mall-rat, and Darth-mall), I know well the duties of the America yalew zemed. Straddling the fence between two worlds is not so easy. Am there. Doing that! Aren't we all? I hope that the wedding was fun and not just a lot of work. I have the impression, though, that the men get the best end of the stick at ye-Abesha sergs. I have been a bridesmaid twice now, and on each occasion, I remember catching myself deep in the throes of flat, square-toed footgear envy. The groomsmen must have found my staring contests with their patent leather shoes a little dubious, or simply assumed I was playing the part of the ayn-afar Abesha girl to the hilt. I am sorry to say, however, that I have yet to be privy to that private world of Tela meTmeq, Tej meTal, and shinkurt maqulalat with my hair in a neTela shash and the bonding that must naturally happen.

Sometimes, when I think about my grandmother's doro-waT, or how she TiT-meftels while she watches TV, or the way she kneads bread with her fragile, aged hands - when I watch her doing all this - I think to myself, "Better get in there with her and learn her moya before it is too late." Just writing about it weighs my heart down with the sorrow of the inevitability of "too late." In many ways, my grandmother is Ethiopia to me - home, love, understanding, wisdom, history, humor, sine-siri'at, moya

So [not to belabor the subject or anything], the meaning of being Ethiopian is as complex, individual and familiar as there are Ethiopians alive and dead since the beginning of our collective history - - be that history retold on the shores of Abay or in the arms of a first/second/third generation mother anywhere outside of Home - - biyé lidemdimew.

Moving on….

I couldn't help but feel sympathy (tinishim behon) for your recent need to juggle family and a rough work schedule. I do feel your pain. You know, another case of, "iza neberkugn, arigéwalehu" [giggle], and recently, too. But the past couple of weeks, I have been coasting, enjoying the easy work-load at the office and horsing around with sh'rk colleagues.

My office environment is atypical on many levels. The people are quirky and representative of all but one continent (I still contend and am in the process of organizing a movement to menTeK the title of  'Continent' away from Europe). Although we are now part of a larger conglomerate, we used to be a tiny company of about 15 permanent employees and some 20 to 25 consultants. As I mentioned before, our work involves international development in the education arena. I have been in this field now for some years and have been completely and irrevocably disillusioned about Western efforts to aid our people.

I listen to my colleagues spout the key-phrase du jour - curriculum development, sustainability, girls' and women's education, decentralization, and community participation - and wonder what the hell they have been doing on that continent for over 50 years if we can still see school houses built out of sticks and mud and school children too malnutritioned to care about their school work, not to mention that they are more often than not in tattered clothes and bare foot.

Every few years, the United States Agency for Development (USAID) comes under fire by the US Congress. The problem is that Congress believes that the US spends too much money on foreign aid and is looking to do away with USAID as a whole. Proponents of the Agency always flounder about trying to come up with a viable response to Congress so that their gravy train does not dry up.

The argument that consistently wins over Congress is the following: "Ninety cents out of every dollar that we budget in aid to the developing world (the new PC euphemism for the Third World or 'those poor bastards') comes back to American pockets." As an insider, and moreover one who is privy to the numbers, I can see just how true that is. When we hire consultants or what we refer to as "experts in the field," we hire Americans first and foremost.

My particular project is involved in education in Africa and it never ceases to amaze me just how easily African experts are marginalized. At a meeting not too long ago we were talking about hiring consultants to act as resource people at a particular workshop. The team was asked to suggest the names of experts in various fields and for about forty-five minutes I sat there and listened as names (almost exclusively white Americans') were called out. I should mention here that I'm the only non-white person on my team and as such, I really didn't want to be the one to point out their appalling lack of professional deference for experts other than to those of European descent.

But finally, I had had enough and briefly asked them why no one was suggesting Africans to act as experts at this workshop. It was, after all, about Africans and for Africans. Immediately there was a nodding of heads and murmurs of, "of course, of course." Then, dutifully, they started suggesting African experts, but much to my - I don't know - shock? amusement? bemusement?, they started using the phrase "articulate African," as a qualifier. "So-and-so would be good for this session. He is an articulate African." I kid you not! I sat there, mouth agape, and found myself imagining those words tattooed across my forehead. Articulate African? To mean what? That there are so few of us articulate Africans that it is an actual criteria they have to actively impose? It's sort of like when on TV you see a barely comprehensible Slovak hacking the English language to pieces in an interview but no one thinks to subtitle his squawks; whereas, if the interviewee should be a Latino, an Asian, or even one of those articulate Africans, you will still see the subtitles, right?

Sorry, I didn't mean to digress so, but I had to get that off my chest. One of the few drawbacks of working where I do is having to witness things like that first hand. But then, irasen lemababel, I break open our benefits package book and all is well with my world again.

Before I put in the final arat neTib, lenegheru, who is this lib ye-mitiserq, manenetua yaltaweqe shenkorit? [You didn't think I had forgotten, did you???] Whoever the lady is, sounds like you've got the love jones (yefiKir Yohannes??) bad. I gather - from the accolades - that she's an Abesha sistah. As a point of interest (mine and apparently our belew b'goradé editors at SELEDA) have you ever dated outside of the Ethiopian pool of potentials? I must admit that I have and I will go even further into risky waters and admit that I have entertained thoughts of even marrying (weyné!) a ferenge. In some ways, I suppose because my initial kiddie-pool of potentials was limited to ferengies, I am more comfortable with the idea of marrying a Ferengized-Abesha boy or even a ferenge (gasp!) rather than Mr. Ethiopia himself. First of all, the thought of dating Mr. Ethiopia I find a little intimidating. I may have mentioned earlier that my grasp of the language is at best elementary and as a language person, I would find myself constantly at a distinct mental disadvantage trying to figure out if he means what he is saying or did I actually miss the deeper meaning of the double-speak to which our language lends itself so well.

Naturally, choice 'A', the Ferengized-Abesha boy is the ultimate dream. Who wouldn't choose the best of both worlds? The trouble is finding a Ferengized-Abesha is not as simple as one would like. One has to take into consideration several things, the least of which is not the degrees to which this potential mate has become Ferengized. For example, is he going to be just as into his family as I am or would he view them as a liability? Is the final straw going to come in the form of one too many leKsos or because he exceeded his 100-hour annual limit watching seasonal sports? And finally, and perhaps most importantly, is he going to be a thrill seeker - you know, the ultimate ferenge type who has to go bungie jumping or climb to the peak of some distant mountain range - in the dead of winter - at the edge of the Siberian wasteland.

The man who's ferengized perfectly enough for me will dig the sounds of Sting just as deeply as he would Mahamoud's Tizita. He would build a life for himself here, but never give up the hope of going home and setting up base in Ethiopia. He would understand why it is important to bring up bilingual children, to teach them our culture and sine-siri'at. He wouldn't be ashamed to wear kuta to church sometimes or get into the kitchen and whip up something, even if he has to follow a recipe book that calls for cream of tartar. He wouldn't think I am too aggressive simply because I can speak my mind. He would understand (without kurfia and gilmiCHa from me) why he needs to take me out on St. Valentine's Day and why we should honor Christmas on both December 25th and January 7th. And, most importantly, he would be comfortable enough in both worlds to be himself.

There was a time when my mother's wish for me for a "good Abesha husband" used to put this far-away look in my eyes, and a nostalgic smile on my face. Now, a few miles down the road, whenever she makes her wishes for me, I tell her not to bother God with the details but to simply put out the word to Him to send me a GOOD man, arat-neTib::!

I see I've gone over the two-page limit and as I live in as much fear of the omniscient powers of our SELEDA editors as have all our predecessors, so, I must stop here and say: "Back to you, Biruk."


Date:       Tuesday, August 24, 1999 (2:32 p.m. EST)
To:          Sergut
From:      Biruk
Subject:   About my Ideal Woman....

Selamta le weizerit Sergut:

LeTenash ende-min alesh? I am very happy that you accepted my apology and much flattered by the title you bestowed upon my humble self. Even though I would have preferred a Ras or some such higher title, I will take a 'Lij' any time, convinced that despite your modest claim that you might be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to 'double-speak', you really did not mean "Biruk hiTsanu computerun wuishaw yebelabet."

I read with much interest about the Mr. Right you are looking for. I must admit that the notion of a 'ferengized abesha' somewhat puzzles me. I would think that anybody who has lived in this country for a certain amount of time would become perforce ferenge-ized without even applying himself/herself hard to assimilate. But then again, I can see how a person who, say, resides in the Washington DC area can live without any contact with the 'ferenge' world for an extended period of time.

Like you, I suppose, I would find a 'ferengized abesha' woman to be my dream girl. But then what would a 'ferengized abesha' woman be like? Certainly, she would have to be bale moya who would ban her husband from the kitchen; she wouldn't mind ye baluan eger maTeb when he comes home tired from work; or walk a step behind her hubby or show deference to his decisions, and of course possess that quaint beauty Ethiopian women are known for. I am sure you will say that's all abesha and does not leave any room for the ferenge part. You would be right, and that has got to come from her ambition and will to succeed in the white world, corporate or otherwise.

Not to disappoint the seif-wielding editors at SELEDA and to answer your question, I have to say yes, I have, in the past, dated ferenges ; but no, I have never been in a serious relationship with one. As a matter of fact, I don't even date them anymore.

The very first dating experience I had with a white woman was beTam ye-miyabeshq. The second, third, fourth, etc were not much better. All my experiences with ferenges have had a common theme. Basically, what would invariably happen was that the woman would be very interested in a relationship but would insist on keeping it secret. You have to remember, I spent a good deal of my early years in the US at a very conservative small college in a tiny town in New Hampshire. Apparently, most of the women felt that they had a 'reputation' to protect within the confines of the small student body. It was in a way amusing to see the changes in their behavior whenever we went on a trip to a big city where they could easily become anonymous.

I guess that was the first racist attitude I encountered in a very personal way; hence my decision not to ever bother with dating  ferenge women again. It was a humiliating experience, one I would not care to repeat. Regardless of where one is, the issue of race will always crop up.  And so I would be doing a disservice to myself and any children I might have were I to marry a white woman and bring them up in this kind of environment. Why go through all the unnecessary aggravation when one can simply find an abesha woman and live happily ever after?

The problem is also not only from the ferenge side, but also from ours. I know a couple of people who avoid seeing their family because they are married or are going out with a ferenge. It seems like one has to compromise his or her beliefs and identity, or at the very least subsume one's identity within the dominant culture to have a successful relationship.

I don't know if I will ever be able to do that.

Besides, romancing a ferenge woman can never be like lib yemitserq qonjiten mashkormem!! By the way, I would be very glad to tell you who the 'Abesha sistah' is, but she had me swear not to reveal her identity. Too bad. Be-mariam asm'lagnalech.

While we are on this topic, have your 'dating ferenges' experiences been positive?

Anyway, coming to a big town like Boston was a very welcome relief because of the large community of Ethiopians. At the very least, I could eat ye-abesha migb anytime I wanted and socialize ke hager sewoch gar, etc.

Keza behuala

It is interesting that you mention close to 90% of the aid money comes back to Americans. I know a couple of people way back in the '80s who quit working for the aid agencies back home because they were disgusted by the excessive overhead expenses these agencies incur. It is unconscionable to collect that kind of money in the name of poor starving people, and spend it on ridiculous amount of compensation for the administrators. It also doesn't make sense to give development aid or loan to poor countries but then demand that the contractors be from the donor country. Oh well, what can one do? "Ke-dehna kaltewoldek ke-dehna teTega" endilu, we all look after ourselves and look to our benefit packages to feel better….

Bei eshi, etye Sergut, I have to run to a meeting and I am sure the SELEDA editors beTam endaqorefu, so without much delay I send my Selamta and this letter, and as you say "Back to you!"