By: Yitbarek Arefe-Aine

Sometime in early April, unbeknownst to the innocent and unsuspecting, a new cyber-gazetta was being readied to insinuate itself into the social psyche of the Ethiopian population on the 'Net.

From the get go, the writers/contributors/editors of SELEDA threw down the gauntlet and roused the Sefiw'in ye-interet hizb by using these $50, multi-syllabic words that would have given Webster a headache to spell much less to pronounce.

Ahh, but the shimoot!

I am sure this sort of unprecedented rise to popularity has been extremely encouraging to all the people involved in SELEDA. While I give 'em their props, and much love, the Ethiopian gene in me started asking a few angebgabi tiyakaywoch: "Manachew, keyet metu, timhirtachew mindinew" .. etc.

I decided to contact them to inquire into their identity, what their intentions were, etc: Questions most of us have endured at one time or another. "Man neh? Yeman lij neh? Le wedefeet min tasebaleh?" (Fellas, you know what I speak of.) When I finally got a reply from the editors it was in the form of a cleverly couched "no comment", which, of course, triggered off my eleh instinct. (Echin yewedal!)

So, for all of you who have ever wondered who the suits behind SELEDA are, I offer the following speculation…

Time: 2200 Hours
Date: June 22, 1999
Location: Hussshh!

Dear Diary:

It's been an interesting day!

I didn't want to have to resort to underhanded tactics to achieve my mission to infiltrate the SELEDA offices, observe the editors' actions, record their words… but they asked for it. In the interest of public service, ("Don't the people have a right to know?") I have endeavored to break through the seemingly impenetrable wall of secrecy the editors have shrouded themselves in.

Let it not be said that it was an easy task, trying to get information from these people. With smugness and insouciance, these SELEDAites yet again refused to satisfy my innate curiosity. What they did not take into account was the zeal with which I would take on my mission. I would be a ye lrgo zinb in their next meeting… the eyes and ears of the Sefiw Hizb, a veritable one man Hizb Dehninet Committee. (60 minutes… move over!)

Having heard through various sources that a meeting of the next TOP TEN LIST was going to be held in _________ (I cannot divulge this information for fear of leaving unprotected those who might be innocent pawns in the hands of asferi SELEDA honchos), I posed as a new contributing writer to the fledgling cyberzine, and arrived at their unmarked building.

I had spent a few days doing research-- and in case some other intrepid soul should decide to follow in my footsteps to infiltrate SELEDA, the tomes I used as preparation are readily obtainable at any bookstore: just ask for "the biggest dictionary and thesaurus you have". Start with the letter A and stop when you've finished the Z's. (Speed reading: helpful.)

Thus prepared, I sallied forth, humming a delightful dirge, utility briefcase in hand.

Evidence gathering is a very tedious and mind-numbing process. (Can I get an 'Amen!' from those who have attempted to reclaim real estate in Ethiopia?) Therefore, I had my trusty camcorder, cleverly concealed in my prescription glasses; my digital recorder in my hollowed-out Lion of Judah ring; my miniaturized scanner built into my Mont Blanc rollerball pen; and some other goodies in case of capture.

As I entered "the building" my heart raced in anticipation. I noticed everyone was being frisked thoroughly before entering the elevator. The husky guard stationed by the elevator banks seemed to also be was on the lookout for some sort of secret handshake that involved intricate hand gesturing. But I had gone prepared. When no one was looking, I sidled into the ATM vestibule, and slid on my phony arm cast.

As I approached the Sentinel of SELEDA, I recognized him as one of the former Posta Beyt fetashotch… obviously a step up in his career. He, however, ever alert, never bothered to even look at me and instead gestured at the Plaster of Paris on my arm and ruminated about how he's going to let me up without performing the ritual secret handshake. I told him I would be happy to perform it with my left hand, but since I was out of practice, would he please go a little slow for me. He looked at me disdainfully, and waved me on. A bastion of security, he ain't!

As I entered the elevator, a lissome young lady who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere looked at me quizzically and demanded to know who I was. (Note the absence of ye egzayr selamta.) Could I bluff her as well? I explained I was "the new writer", and that I had just arrived to attend the meeting.

"How is it that I'm the last to hear about these things?" she ranted, spitting out the words. "Heads WILL roll." AHA! First clue that maybe the good folks here aren't quite the cohesive team I thought them to be. Hmmm. It only whetted my appetite.

Deciding to continue my brazen subterfuge, I explained I was only informed of the meeting recently, and wasn't sure where I should go. She glared at me as if it offended her that I was still speaking to her. Carelessly, she shrugged her shoulders in the direction of a long hallway that lead to two gargantuan oak doors--the kind you see in 16th century Spanish monasteries. The Boardroom! The SELEDA boardroom! Sweet success, I am in thy hands!

I walked on air down the long hallway, the oak doors beckoning me. But, before I got through the fist verse of "Zarey new dileh", I noticed one of those new fangled Retinal Scan security devices by the doors. Aych! How paranoid are these people, anyway? I HAD to overcome this last obstacle that stood between me and who knows what countless victories which lay behind those doors.

On to hayteyat #2: out came the foldable walking stick, and contacts to give my eyes that milky white film across my eyes, and tinted clip-ons to cover up the ol' specs. Voila! I was ready with my blind man's bluff.

As I shamelessly tap, tap, tapped my way to the door, a very kind and helpful intern offered to assist me to the room. I graciously accepted the proffered arm, and sauntered up to the oak doors. He did his thing with the retinal thing-a-ma-bobby, and I found myself in the inner sanctum of SELEDA faster than you could say Haile GebreSelassie! Victory to the oppressed masses! (Lefa yalew...)

I carefully settled into one of those incredibly comfortable, ergonomically correct, lumbar supporting executive chairs around the conference table. (No wonder all those officials back home are never at their desks when you need to get a document signed… all they've got are those straight back wood chairs, with no lumbar support to boot! Miskins.)

Boy, do these SELEDA people know how to call a meeting… I espied a small buffet table set up in one corner, and was just about to pour myself a cup of coffee from the silver carafe when I heard a youngish sounding voice behind me ask, "Gashe, buna weyess shai lametalot?" (The idea of being called "Gashe" rankled at my very being.) Realizing that I had very nearly blown my blind man's cover, I replied "Buna, lije." Might as well live it up as long as I could.

Giant framed posters of Ethiopian scenery, obviously taken from one of the many Ethiopian Airlines calendars graced the mahogany-paneled walls. The heart-of-pine floors were glossy from fresh wax. The room-size antique Persian rug lay proudly over layers of padding. The pearl and ebony inlaid conference room table was lined with miniature Perrier bottles. And where did these people find so many orchids? I thought: "If my tax dollars are paying for any of  this, I'm starting a revolution!")

The polite intern/errand boy placing a dainty Royal Dalton coffee cup in front of me broke my reverie. It also heralded the writers and editors of SELEDA entering the room to begin the meeting. Hmm. A truly veritable who's who of nobodys. I could not recognize a single soul, except, of course, for that lissome young lass, who had quizzed me in the elevator. She was so busy berating someone over her cell phone that it did not register that I had transformed to a 'blind man'.

First impressions are unique-- you only get one chance to make or receive them. The single most striking impression I was left with as I scanned the room was how serious everyone looked. (Why? Who do they think they are? Abet gura!)

Before the meeting was even called to order, an argument broke out as to what the topic of the next Top Ten List should be… Everyone screamed his/her opinions at the same time.

  • "Why David Letterman would never do a top ten list about SELEDA"

  • "Why Mekuria was not selected to play the part of Mufassa in the Lion King"

  • "Why you will never see the Luge become a popular sport in Ethiopia"

  • "Why we always refer to the stomach when referring to a loved one. i.e hodey, Are we so obsessed with food?!!!"

The verbal battle got so intense that at one point the woman on my left began to pound the table with her Via Spiga pumps, a la Kruschev, demanding to be heard. This friendly gesture sent the coffee I had been called Gashe for flying out of my hands until it found a home on the lovely rug. No one paid attention-- especially to my agonized cry of pain. Left to my own devises, I looked down and was horrified to discover that my Lion of Judah ring, which, if you remember, housed the digital tape recorder, was soaked in Starbucks coffee. So, asides from giving me first-degree burns, the Big Spill had also effectively shorted out my electronic apparatus. Hmm. Was this all worth it???

While I was distracted, one of the SELEDA boys stormed out of the meeting in a huff, furiously swinging a Polo man-purse about his shoulders. In so doing, he managed to slam the bag into my face, effectively ensuring the uselessness of my spectacle camcorder! (Who are these feral beasts?) Well, that meant I was truly blind. (Don't forget these were prescription glasses with a pin hole video camera built into it.)

At least I still had my Mont Blanc scanner pen, I comforted myself. All I had to do was pass it over any document I could get my hands on. I didn't need to see to do this. All I needed were my ears and my pen.

Finally, someone called out that order was needed and that an attendance sheet was going to be passed around.. (What is this? A Kebele meeting??) And, the same person announced, would everyone please be more respectful of the Tileq Sew who was attending the meeting. They meant me, those twerps! I fumed quietly.

…Yakety yak, yadda yadda yadda, blah, blah blah etc...

Remember I initially said that they use $50, multi-syllabic, unpronounceable words in print? Well, in person it is even worse. It's almost as if someone had condensed the dictionary into pill form and fed it to this batch. ("That's a pulchritudinous tie? Armani?"… "I feel the second paragraph is enchantingly fulgent. Brava!"… "Skookum job on that piece on peripatetic Ethios and their dissonant dreams.") Besimeab!

AND THEN, the internal bickering: "No, I don't want to write about the benefits of badminton as a means of socializing with coworkers"; "Hey, I already did the golf article last month"; "Can I get a larger expense account? I want to attend, I mean, cover the Ethiopian Soccer Tournament"; "...What do you mean when you say 'there's no such thing as barbecue kitfo' ??!!"; "You know, I hated you in high school, and I hate you now!"

The tenor of the meeting remained edgy until the final decision for the Top Ten List for July was finalized, but by then the whole room had become electrified as fodder for another month for the masses to chew and cud over was analyzed. Half chewed pencils flooded the table, over-moussed coiffs got mussed, tempers flared... 

Next topic up for discussion: upcoming planned vacation for the staff. VACATION?? Lemme see… April, May, June, July, four months and already they're thinking VACATION??

One editor-type announced he will be traveling to Washington DC to see first- hand if it was really Addis Abeba West. (It is.) Another was going camping in Yosemite. Yet another was heading off to a self-awareness retreat in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. ("I need to be one with myself again".) THIS from people who brought us the first Top Ten list about being Ferenjies?? Wey alemawek!

I hurried back to my cramped quarters, exhilarated to have returned back to real life, undetected, in one piece and with a few documents I had managed to pilfer from an open file cabinet. (My Mont Blanc pen was rendered useless as one of those nitwits, who, during a heated argument about the proper usage of  "éclat", had snatched it and stirred his coffee with it!" C'est ne pas possible! I'm exhausted, dear Diary. But exhilarated! I have finally broken SELEDA.

Date: June 23, 1999
Time: 1300 Hours
Place: My cramped quarters

Dear Diary:

As sure as rain, there was yet another snide, smug, sarcastic, ego-bruising email from the editors awaiting me this morning. Pride prevents me from disclosing the contents verbatim. However, suffice it to say those Sultans of Loquacity have won this battle: apparently, they had been tipped off about my subterfuge! These insidiously devious SELEDA-ites knew of my coming and had played me for a fool!

The war has just started! Heed my words: I will arise once again like the phoenix and retake the day. I still have a few resources yet, so who knows? For now, I'll lick my wounds and in the words of Bob Marley ,"...He who run away, come back to fight another day".

Or, in SELEDA-speak, "A derelict and prodigal infantryman who has exercised egregious profilgacy by once forsaking the war, shall inevitably and without equivocation recrudesce to the battlefield."