Date:      Wednesday, May 19, 1999 (6:58 p.m. EST)
To:          Awraris
From:     Sofanit
Subject: I am Ethiopian, Hear Me Roar!

Endemin amesheh, Lij Awraris.

I don't think I will ever be able to look at a baseball game now without wondering if some marketing guy/gal is playing mind games with me. (Thanks for ruining the game for me.)

I have a feeling, Awraris, that the only woman in your office is the receptionist. Why is that, and are the SELEDA editors sanguine with that?? (Why not drag them into this?) Humm. I hope you at least check the batteries on the testosterone-detector once in a while. Don't want you GUYS (ho ho) to die of asphyxiation.

Good to hear from you, and I will try not to get you into trouble with said editor, so I won't go into the subjects we were told to avoid. Does this mean we can't go into personal life dissections? Or analyzing the current war in the horn? What about your thoughts on pre-martial…oh, well. (he, he, he)

As a point of reference, I believe the venerable New York Times pointed out that Centennial "Bomb Central" Park could potentially be a urinal. (I am assuming by your glowing dissertation of downtown that the NYT should not go into the "What-area-will-be-the-next-urinal" prediction business.) Bygones.

I would like to touch upon the main reason why I took on this assignment: I am intrigued with exploring what it is that connects me to the community, and to being Ethiopian.

In the inaugural SELEDA, the article "Initiation" mirrored a lot of what had happened with my grandmother and me.

I've always had ambivalent feelings towards Ethiopia. My family's memories of back home are not always fond. But perhaps it's that mid- life crisis thing… I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be an Ethiopian and about finding what part of me exists because I am Ethiopian. (The "finding my identity" thing.)

I loved growing up in Ethiopia. It has inculcated a moral and familial center in me, no question. I am still unsure about how, during those tumultuous post-revolution years, we could have done the things we did to ourselves. I was angry for a long time, although exactly at whom, I'm still not sure.

Except for Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings, when all of my nine brothers and sisters manage to make it to our parents' home in Maine, I really have had limited interaction with 'the community' since I left Addis. (If you don't count the once in a blue moon sojourns to Boston to eat at an abesha restaurant.) If it existed at all, my Ethiopianess existed in the periphery: I've always had Ethiopian artifacts lying around, and when our athletes won in the 1996 Olympics, I had the obligatory newspaper clippings on my notice board, but there was always, as they say, a disconnect. It is only recently that that disconnect became a full-fledged void.

When my grandmother came to visit my parents from Addis a couple of years ago, I went to see her at the behest of my mother. We'd never been close, so I assumed this would be a quick and painless "hi how are you, yes I've grown" weekend visit.

I ended up staying with her for over a week. The first few days were awkward, needless to say. But over teaching me how to 'siga mezelzel', (although I am a vegetarian) my grandmother and I bonded. We women bond over cooking. It is somewhat quaint, and many a secret has come spilling out over 'shinkurt maQulalat'.

With all that has happened to her and my grandfather in the seventies, my grandmother still has a profound love (almost reverence) for Ethiopia. We talked for what seem like days. I became privy to how she grew up in Asbe Teferi, how she married at ten, about her life in Addis, and, for the first time, about the horrors she went through during the revolution. She lost two sons and her only brother during those 'kewti' times, and she recalls them with such vivacity it's as if it all just happened.

But something in her eyes would change when talked about growing up around Harer, about her family, and about the traditions and customs imposed on Ethiopian women which she seemed to all at once shun and respect.

Awararis… I think being Ethiopian is a spirit. Despite all the angst of today's volcanic political climate, there is a history that I keep hanging on to. I think that over the past couple of years, I have started falling back in love with Ethiopia. It just seems to make sense, without REALLY making sense. I am still angry about the wasted lives and I often wonder about own little genocide which has had lasting repercussions. But I am trying to understand. Without forgiving.

Now, every month or so, I drive to my parents house for Sunday dinner. I usually get there on Saturday night, and cook with the women. I love that part. That's when I get to hear all the family gossip, and where I learn something new … last month it was making 'chiko', and I am in training for the coup de grace- I think August—when my mother's famed Mariam feast commences.

Wow.. I'm late. I have to get going. It's an absolutely stunning spring night, and my friend has offered to grill dinner outside… he gets cranky when I'm late. My tub has yet to be fixed, so I can't even tell you about the nice baths I can take in my turn-of-the-century, cast iron, double-glazed claw foot tub. (Um. What did the SELEDA manifesto for Life Diarist say about flirting?)

Good night, Awraris. (What do the 'ferenjies' call you? Awra? A-Man?)


p.s. Don't put pressure on me to find typos! Listen, you obviously haven't read the part in the manifesto that clearly states Life Diaries is supposed to be casual in tone and style…Why can't you follow simple directions? (Abet tenkol!) I have a feeling the editors ('esteemed', are they?) are busying themselves slashing your tires as we speak. (Ene endehon yelehubetim…) Sorry, A.

Date:        Thursday, May 20, 1999 (1:22 a.m. EST)
To:           Sofanit
From:      Awraris
Subject: Checking the Manifesto on Flirting Rules and Regulations

Emebaytaye…Gid yelem. Atsefa emelisalehu.

Good evening.. actually, it's one in the morning, so good morning, as the case may be.

I try to have the ferenjies call me Mr. Boss Man, but it has not caught on yet. So, I insist they call me Awraris. No abbreviated nothing. (At least I got that part right in the now-famous "Top Ten Signs You have Become a Ferenjie.")

I was waiting for a tart comment about the gender skew at my work. I realize there is nothing I can say to redeem myself, so I won't try. Actually, marketing and PR are one of the few fields that tolerate a lot of women honchos. And I'm sure once we become a conglomerate, we will have at least one, no, TWO women big wigs--preferably from all –chick schools—join our sanctum. (You think I can get a better rate if I buy all four tires at once?….)

I enjoyed reading you last post, and I've spent hours thinking about your conclusion about Ethiopian-ness being a spiritual connection. I've been trying to figure out how I fit into the community, myself. Like you, my interaction with Ethiopians has been limited to family, and lately, I've been taking into stock why. And why I still feel that, even after 20 plus years in this country, I still feel a part of me is missing.

That connection to home was, for me, nurtured by my father, who now lives in Zaire. When we moved to the States, I was 14, full of hormones, and not too pleased I had left my friends and family back home. Boarding school was an absolute nightmare. (Multiply all the horror stories you've heard about them ten fold. While they offer you great opportunities, they all have built-in eccentricities that breed contempt.) I had a hell of a time adjusting, especially when I was very nearly the only person of color in the whole school/town. My father helped me hang on to the values of honor and 'sine serat' of back home, which kept me from a lot of the dregs of American high schools.

I can honestly say I had close to zero contact with the Ethiopian community when I was in college and graduate school. (except for family once or twice a year.) So, you are right. There must be a spiritual kinship that we have with the country. Filed in the very rear of our psyche must be a reservoir where all childhood memories of 'belonging' are stored. So, what makes us want to keep 'coming back home?'

I have begun going to the Ethiopian Orthodox church here. (There are two, I only know the Mariam one.) There is a small group of us trying to understand the 'kidasay', so we have tapes and instruction books. The church, Sofanit, is shrouded with all kinds of mystery… very fascinating, and very difficult to understand sometimes. It's a delicate balance of tradition and spirituality. I know I don't understand all of it; all I know is the peace of mind I get when I am there.

I've also started reading Ethiopian history (they forgot to cover that in high school), and continue to be amazed by our rich history. It has helped me focus on what aspects of being an Ethiopian I really like. We come from a long line of proud people. It's hard to get lost in the current political mess; that in being mired in it will eventually lead to losing our souls. I have never had a full grasp on the political aspect of our culture, and may be it is time that I did. But I find comfort in the fact that we are a resilient people, and that one day we will be able to pragmatically go back to channel the spirit of our forefathers/mothers. I think that's what happened to you with your grandmother, and with the author of "initiation".

Hopefully, the political climate in Ethiopia will be steady enough so that a lot more of us can invest in businesses there. There is a concern of young Ethiopian stockbrokers I've heard about who are drawing up plans to explore stock markets in Ethiopia. The last I talked to one of them, they were studying the Chinese market, and the characteristics of incorporating such a blatantly "free market" concept in a not-so-free economic and political environment. So, when I become despondent about the current mess we are in, and the seemingly endless warfare and desperation, I hold on to the practical economic oasis such as this and the legacy of leaders such as Atse Menelik to give me hope.

I am a fan of SELEDA, (and not just because my windshields were not busted into last night by angered editors) and I am sure would have agreed to be a diarist even without any additional threats looming above me. Mostly because I believe it captures the new renaissance of Ethiopian-ness for a lot of us who have had that "disconnect." But without the myopia of 70's political fervor.

I hope you get your tub fixed soon. (Ehem…hopefully before this assignment ends… May I remind you that we are also supposed to describe "every day activities" on this forum?) ;-) Can you put jet streams in it and transform it to a Jacuzzi? (See how the male mind works?) OK. I'm going to end this here before I get cyber slapped. It's way past my bedtime. And I have a breakfast meeting I still have not prepared for.

Tell me more about your wonderful life, (sans any descriptions of bath takings). Especially curious to hear more about prissy all-girl educational institutions.



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