Upon partial recovery from jet lag, homesickness, hunger and related
misadventures of COMING TO AMERICA, my lifelong mentors and home-boys-at-large
Teek and Seel hurriedly escorted me to what would be my dorm room and Ground
Zero of my hiwot bamerica.
Sensing I might be hungry (poor guys probably mistook my hormone and preservative free, 126 pound body for "Feed the Children" appeal), these two great souls led me to a great hall, where a rather large food fest was under way. The party seemed to be in full swing, bustling with energized young people darting back and forth between food stations, soda fountains, milk machines and a perpetually in motion conveyor belt.
Overwhelmed by the incoherent fiesta, I began to wonder "Hmmm Now this is a Tuesday, not to mention the second day of school. What is this digis all about?" Before I could complete my train of thought, I was motioned to keep moving by my handlers. I hesitantly followed my all-knowing mentors down the long cafeteria aisle, hypnotized by the sheer quantity and variety of the foodstuff around me. Keeping close distance to Teek and Seel, I began to discreetly mimic each and every one of their moves- all the while saying to myself, "Abo! This must be some serious digis. To top the three types of main courses, what kind of occasion would possibly prompt them to serve five types of sodas, bertukan ena weien chemaki, and three types of milk??!!"
After a few more minutes of dreamy observation, it suddenly occurred to me wait a minute, this ain't no serge, but some sort of a back-to-school celebration to mark the beginning of the school year. Sort of an enquan dhena metachew lunch!!!! "Aye ferenje, yakebetal eko!" Satisfied with my acumen ("ene yarada lij"), and eager to get on with my meal, I sat down to devour all my servings-- giddy with the idea of raiding the pile of donuts and some of the ice-cream I had eyed at the corner of my eyes.
The next day, after the conclusion of my first day of classes, I found myself solo-fending for myself. My TEBakiwoch had gone about their business but had left me with precise instructions on how to get lunch.
However, the directions to what I thought would be to a modest lunch led me directly to the same digis from the previous day. Much to my pleasant surprise, it seemed like the digis was still in full swing!!!! Peering through the tall windows, I could see encore performance of the previous day's festivities. "Now," I reasoned with myself, "Something's not right. They can't keep celebrating forever. Salegabez mechem alkelawtem." So I decided to skip lunch and return for dinner under the auspices of my mentors.
But, hungry and unable to wait for my them, I finally had to go it alone for dinner. When I got to the mess hall I could not believe my eyes! Besemam! The damn digis was still on!!!!!. "Eyemetash tegne yemin yefernge kelde new!" Confused, hungry and homesick, I gave up and went to bed without a meal for almost 24 hours. It took twenty-four hours of pinching hunger before I could swallow my yelegunta and call for an explanation. In going so, I was able to earn a special spot among the yarn spinners for several happy and meaningful years to come. And with that, also, begun my sedet life of perpetual vacillation between hope and despair, joy and dejection, farce and pathos.
Now, umpteen years later, that eager innocence has been overtaken by sly adult wisdom; the "Ye Saint Joe arbegna gofere" has been replaced by a receding hairline (pronouncing the trademark ET pear shaped head); the one-time fragile frame has been buffered by a shapely borche. Moreover, with the passage of time, I have come to accept the curious ways of "green-card" life. Through a carefully stitched cultural assimilation lifejacket I have since learned to keep my head above water. From time to time, however, my neatly stitched lifejacket begins to chafe...as evidenced in a recent parody.
One early weekday morning, I got up to my routine of peddling my ware. My plans called for a day trip to Atlanta to meet with a prospective client. Before boarding the plane though, I had an important mission to accomplish For the past several days, my beautiful wife, friends and foes alike had been making varying comments on the not-so-presentable quality of my shoes. Being the only black pair of dress shoes I own, I had to get them professionally shined before stepping into my client's lobby. After all, friends, I am heading to downtown Atlanta where refined attire and a prestigious degree (preferably from a historically black institution) are the prerequisites to employment. So, this particular morning I promised myself to get to the airport not my usual two minutes before the final boarding call, but early enough to find one of those airport shoeshine spots and get the job done.
Much to my surprise, I did manage to get to the airport 20 minutes before take-off. As I hurriedly walked down the terminal glancing side to side in search of a shine stand, I passed another Ethiopian guy with whom I delicately exchanged the standard "ET packaged greeting". (The packaged public abesha greeting, of course, being the abbreviated form of ij mensat-a 30 degrees head drop forward, while maintaining a wry smile.)
I giddily spotted a stand and hurriedly stepped into the kitty corner where I suddenly found myself in a state of shock and frozen with horror. Weyew! I was caught off guard. This can't happen to me!!! Egzeabherye, not today I need to have these damned shoes shined!! How was I going to get out of this?
Instead of the standard issue American male- y'know, the bored macho type with a queasy smile who rifles through wise cracks--I was faced with a middle aged abesha woman, complete with one of those red aprons and a brush in hand open for business.
While I am no stranger to being caught between my two worlds, this current incident had taken a reverse twist I suddenly found myself in a dilemma unlike another. Caught between Adam Smith and abesha yeleugenta! I could not imagine sitting high up one of those relic mortuary chairs (why do they always have red velvet covers?), looking down on an abesha lady. A NICE abesha lady with all her middle-age grace, beauty and that trademark Ethiopian demeanor ---shining MY tired-ass shoes!! Ahhh, the day had obviously gotten off to a bad start. Bytereg aykerem ende! But, but.. it's Atlanta not San Jose. I am meeting Charles Shelton, a rather finicky client and a decorated dress fiend who would probably catalog me as a second rate peddler with even less desirable offerings.
Standing there in a state of emotional haze, oscillating between my two worlds, a good minute elapsed before I started to register the "sit down" gestures from the lady. Still, all I could do was shift my weight side to side, and pull back into position the two bags hanging on each side of my shoulders. But soon enough, I composed myself enough to break a smile and bow my head sending that "abeshoch nen" signal with hopes to get a green light to converse in Amarigna.
I then heard the newfound agent of my dilemma saying, "Tekemet", pointing to that ungodly high CHAIR. That was when I impulsively proceeded to take off my shoes to avoid The CHAIR!! The CHAIR that would knock out the last remaining bit of Ethiopian dignity left in me. Imagine, having this poor "setio", a "setio" with a few years on me, shine my shoes while I sit way HIGH up at the expense of my ET sensibility. No, a thousand times no!
That was when my years of cultural survival instinct took over and I quickly reasoned that if I took off my shoes, I could avoid the cultural hazard, AND abide by the laws of yeluegneta, AND retain my age-old ET respect. Yep, who said I couldn't triumph?
After meticulously taking off my shoes and handing them over, I looked around to find a place and a position to pass awkward time. Since the base of The CHAIR was not in use, I took a seat there between two worn off steel shoe rests. Within minutes, my emotional roller coaster had given way to pleasant conversation with my new host. Conversation which traversed the usual course: general complaints about life in America, followed by innocuous personal data exchange.
By then, comfortable and in my element, I started to relax while my shoes were shined to kibur zebegna specs. When she finally placed the shoes under my feet, I was filled with a sense of childish joy and triumph. I had successfully overcome this latest impasse with old-school ET finesse. Satisfied, I began to stand up from the base of The CHAIR while muttering endless words of appreciation and gratitude.
It was then that I heard the unmistakable ripping sound of fabric. Feeling a strange sensation of cool gust up my bottom, I quickly turned around to see a piece of my suit pant caught by the end of a nail that was ominously sticking out of the wooden platform. All I could think of was my mother's favorite saying: Aterf baye aguday!
And so went my day, where every cold gust up my butt became a poignant reminder of the zero-sum game of assimilation