Impressed as I was with your choice of pseudonym (my Ethiopian history is not great, but I HAVE heard of the great Gelawdios), I've decided to choose an equally auspicious one -- so for the purposes of this chronicle of our lives, you may call me Makeda.
So where to begin? I, too, was asked by our persuasive SELEDA Editors to participate in Life Diaries, and in retrospect, I wonder if I was wrong in not holding out for more than the gift certificate to Macy's, the free weekend in New York City and the gold Lalibela cross were offered to me as incentive. (I'm curious: what did you get?)
I live on the East Coast and work in what is generally known as "Development": I work in education, often traveling to different developing countries in a valiant attempt to help improve both the quantity and quality of education. It's rewarding work, but also a tremendous challenge -- I can't complain, though, since I adore it.
Thanks to the wonders of electronic media, I write to you today from the shores of a sea far from the East Coast of the US where, looking out the window, I see more shades of blue in the sea than I can find words to describe. It is perhaps poetic justice that all I do is look at that sea, since each day is spent in the bureaucratic meetings of ministries of education, regional departments and school administrations. Oh, well, can't have everything (where would I put it?).
I was impressed when our tortur .um .. I mean, our hosts from SELEDA told me that you were an artist. If I were ever to come into some unexpected fortune (it can happen, you know; sometimes life does imitate art -- even movies), I would love to spend my days taking black and white photographs of people and landscapes. On alternate days, I dream of sitting by the sea and writing satirical fiction -- could be that's what I'm doing now ;-)). Unfortunately, those dreams will have to wait while those damn bills get paid (are we allowed to say that?) [The Editors respond: Makeda, please. This is a respectable forum. You can't say 'bills'.] In any case, all this to say that I admire anyone willing and able to work on their art, so hopefully over these next few exchanges you will be willing to share insights about your particular passion.
So what else can I tell you about myself? I was born and raised in Addis in a family of five, joined the exodus of those of us who were both lucky and unlucky enough to leave, finished my studies in the US, and have now been here long enough to answer the inevitable question of "Lemehonu, sint amet honesh?" with the noncommittal "Ay, Qoyehu". I was thrilled when I read the first issue of SELEDA, and then the second. Though I didn't know anything about it, didn't know the people working on it, it responded to my thirst for a magazine, e-zine, whatever, that spoke to the hybrid I have become over time -- always an Ethiopian but also someone who has had the time and luxury to incorporate into my identity those elements of American life that have appealed to me. At times, I feel at home in both environments, and I thank my stars. At other times, it's as though neither side appreciates what else I bring, and I end up feeling alienated from both. Overall, though, I am at peace with the person I've become, and have learned to seek out those who are equally tolerant of the new me -- a self-made person who has come into being over the years.
Wow, I just realized I've been writing on and on. To tell you the truth, i am using this as the perfect excuse to procrastinate -- every minute I spend writing here means avoiding writing my official reports. It's all about tradeoffs in the end. Sometimes, it feels like all of life is about tradeoffs but that philosophizing I'll leave for later.
So, Gelawdios (may I call you Gelaw, Gill, Dios? Just kidding -- my pet peeve in the States is how many people are fixated on abbreviating so-called foreign names) .so Artist Gelawdios, the pressure from our venerable Editors to be witty and clever has been huge and I fear I may have failed -- over to you now for the save.
Ke akbirot gar,
Wednesday, June 16, 1999 (4:09 p.m. EST)
Before I venture forth, permit me to compliment you on your selection of an indeed most auspicious pseudonym. The symbolic significance of "Makeda" and "Gelawdios" chronicling tidbits of their lives on the internet across time and azure seas blew my mind. Pray forgive the following brazen and incredibly pompous digression. I hope to soon perform the introductory rites.
Lucky girl that she was, Makeda, daughter of a dragon slayer, didnt have to confront past and present demons as Papa had slain them all before she was born. Well, what can I say? The temporary absence of chiraks (a necessary ingredient that has, alas, eluded us) afforded stability, tranquility and prosperity to her reign. In that most enviable of environments, an insatiable lust for knowledge and self-discovery burgeoned in her bosom. Thenceforth, Makeda became an extremely rare (perhaps, unique) example in history and ancient and medieval literature of a young woman on a quest for wisdom (Gilgamesh, Buddha, Ulysses and Galahad wede gon!). After the celebrated visit to the sage of Jerusalemlike Makeda from the East Coast in Developmentshe incorporated "foreign" elements into her identity and became Azeb for Ethiopians, Bilqis for Arabs and Sheba in the Hebrew Bible. During her journey, she too must have felt at once alienated and at home. Potomac or the Red Sea is there really a difference?
Gelawdios (son of Emperor Lebne-Dengel) on the other hand, grew up witnessing his fathers and his countrys humiliation, despair and near defeat. The Emperor, fledmost of the time, incognitofrom amba to amba from the invincible Ahmed Gragn and his army. By the time Lebne-Dengel died on Amba Debre Damo, Gelawdios patrimony was almost non-existent. And yet, within a short time, Gelawdios and his supporters miraculously vanquished their foe with the support of Gelawdios' mother, the Dowager Empress Seble-Wongel, and 400 well-armed Portuguese soldiers. Then, in order to piece together his fractured self, he salvaged and repaired the charred chronicles of his illustrious ancestors. The loss and destruction that he saw throughout his life strengthened his resolve to regain and restore his inheritance to its former glory.
It is therefore befitting that as Makeda sails toward the horizon seeking Enlightenment, and as Gelawdios rummages the dark caverns rescuing neglected heirlooms, they nevertheless manage to crisscross paths in cybermeda. Three cheers and a toast for Makeda and Gelawdios (and for the Editors of SELEDA, while we're at it)!
Unfortunately, all this backward leaping across millennia has taxed my rather ancient processor (not to mention my 1960s hard disk)! I will therefore sign out before I crash. And, yes, you may call me Dios.
P.S. Just realized that the entire entry turned out to be a digression. Oh, Makeda, deliver me from the wrath of the SELEDA seif.