So we're supposed to be the diarists
this month, right? How in the world did I get myself caught up in this? I
thought being a diarist would be fun, but that was before I found out what this
issue was on. Class. Class?!!?! Lord, what was I thinking!?
For the past week, I've been thinking
about the best way to start this exchange, since I also found out that I'm going
first. :O( So how do I begin? How do I do this without making any brazen
assumptions about you (which could get me into trouble), and without giving
up too much information about me? Got any ideas!?
Okay...let me try to begin. Come
on ... come on... there's gotta be some angle. What the heck can I possibly
have to say about this? And then it hit me...maybe that's the whole point.
I feel often that I have nothing
to say, or if I did, that no one would be interested in hearing it. The Observer
-- that's what they should call me; not the actor but the audience ... not the
doer, not even the done-unto, at least not directly. Just the one who watches
Back home, it didn't matter who
was in charge; I always felt like an insider on the outside and maybe an outsider
inside. I had barely registered that I was a thinking, feeling person in my
own right when the revolution hit, and it whacked me around in its wake as it
lay waste to so many lives around me. I had no claim either on its triumphant
cadres or its devastated victims...no close member of my immediate family was
elevated to such "greatness" or left riddled with bullet holes at
the foot of some disdainful pawn. Nothing of value gained, little of value
lost -- or so I thought. There were so many around me whose pain was almost
tangible in its severity that I felt ridiculous even thinking about the taste
of fear that had become my constant companion as a young kid facing the world
outside our gates every day. As an even younger child, the excesses of the
rich and well-born were such an abomination when juxtaposed against the abject
poverty of the people living on their doorsteps that I felt I was not entitled
to feel set aside in the minute slights that those more privileged meted out
thoughtlessly. My city -- my country -- my life -- and all of it somehow belonged
less to me than either the victors or the victims. The consequences of some
group were felt most by those of another group, and I was left to survive with
my sanity barely intact in the chaos they left behind.
I am amazed -- this is the first
time I've been able to articulate something that has been on my mind for a long
time. I have finally voiced why I feel simultaneous resentment and deep regret
for what I've lived through during the last three decades. The privileged --
be they the pedigreed, the revolutionaries, the rich negadE's
of today or simply those with guns -- live as they live and leave those of us
in the middle neither the financial nor the emotional resources with which to
subsist, much less thrive. And their recriminations leave me so cold -- their
culpability downplayed (someone else always found to take the blame); their
successes over-emphasized (joyous, magnanimous deeds they have done for their
I hope you know I don't in any way
belittle the very real horrors that many have had to live through. To you this
may sound like the bellyaching of someone who should be thanking her stars that
she was left unscathed -- relatively, that is. I also take nothing away from
those who have done wonders, but where are those wonders now? Is it
relevant if it doesn't last?
Sorry! I am starting on a sour
note, and I really apologize. But the harsh reality of living as an eternal
observer in my own country, and then the unbearably high cost of having to leave
MY beloved country, MY family, MY home all behind in order to finally be the
master of my own destiny -- all of this is uppermost in my mind these days as
the next three decades loom ahead with no solution in sight.
There is much that can be said and
should be said about the lethargy of the middle class of which I count myself
a marginal member -- the middle class's resistance to change of any kind, the
belief in the status quo, the clinging to what is here for fear of what may
come. Much of this contributes to the chaos, as well; and I am willing to take
full responsibility for whatever it is that my 10 year-old self may have done
to deserve the wrath of the revolution -- or the scenes forever carved into
my psyche of the years since. But I do know that being left out of life --
being that damned observer who tastes nothing of the glorious manna nor of the
bitterest 'rEt -- that is a punishment unrecognized and unaccepted
by those who suffer more. And there will always be those who suffer more.
So if a middle class diarist screams
in the forest, does anybody hear?
How's that for a jump start to the
conversation? I bet you were expecting one of those "I come from a family
of five and lived in Addis Abeba all my life" beginnings, right? Well,
welcome to chaos.
I assure you, pleasantries shall
follow. But first, allow me to grab the bull by the horns and respond to the
central theme of your first entry: your alienation from what was happening around
you--both from above and below--while our country was engulfed in a flame that
charred most and drove many into exile.
The unlucky ones who, during the
Great Fire, found themselves on the hearth, by virtue of their pedigree, principles
or pure bad luck, have been scorched, maimed and damaged for life. Yes, most
have learned how to cope and to move on. Many have even excelled. However,
some have lost their ability to feel, others to laugh, and most their enthusiasm.
as you're about to point out the evident contradiction in my claim. Is not
hope a necessary ingredient for success? How can one excel if one does not
believe in the sacrifices of today bearing fruit tomorrow? Can a despondent
soul soar? Well, the aeronautical industry found a solution for that predicament
a while back. The technical term for the discovery is "automatic pilot."
You can ascend, fly at different altitudes and land under any weather conditions
if you operate on that mode. Those who survived and came out of the Great Fire
with first-degree burns have amassed, over the years, an enormous amount of
frequent flyer points using this method.
Those who were exposed to "just
the smoke" experienced varying degrees of discomfort but nonetheless managed
to survive intact.
But, it is at this point that you
and I part ways. What binds both groups (in other words, you and I) to the
same stump in the scorched forest is the loss of the mature tree that extended
its branches over our heads, protecting those around and under it from the sun
and the rain, and from desolation. Yes, its branches did not extend over the
entire nation. Yes, dead twigs did occasionally fall and bump the heads of
those that raised their clenched fists at it. Yes, its leaves had begun to
wilt with negligence and yellow with age.
But once our older siblings had
completed their first lesson in botany, they confidently ran out of the classroom
and performed the most primitive form of forest management on the old tree:
the slash and burn technique. Before they knew how to collect and plant seeds,
before they learnt the art of nurturing, and before they acquired the mature
skill of pruning, they lit their matches and swung their axes. And, with one
fell swoop, the cumulative experience of three generations was obliterated.
shock waves from that blow affected not only our parents and grandparents who
resisted bequeathing our inheritance, but also our elder brothers and sisters
who set fire to the will and the legacy, as well as those of us who were (take
your pick) too young to carry axes or construct a fence around the tree; it
affected, too, those who were born in the last 25 years around the stump.
Then, of course, we have had to
suffer under different forest (or desert?) administrators who try to convince
you (using tactics that range from sweet-talking to hot oiling) that they've
just invented the seed. Your only weapon against such buffoonery is of course
memory. To illustrate: about a quarter of a century ago a government policymaker,
attempting to tackle the stress on the education system wrought primarily by
the population explosion, released a new plan entitled "Sector Review".
Our older brothers and sisters claimed that this plan would benefit the children
of the elite and would keep the rest at a sub-literal level. As an "enemy
of the people," the policymaker was soon executed. Twenty-five years later,
the same generation that tossed the policy and the policymaker on the stake
whipped out a faded copy from the decaying archives and implemented it as a
new solution to the old problem.
How do our older siblings defend
their acts? With two words: good intentions. What do they accuse our parents
and grandparents of committing? Again, two words: bad deeds. What is the combination
that has eluded us? Good deeds.
Have I been harsh and unfair in
my judgment? Have I oversimplified and reduced incredibly complicated situations
and arguments to the size of a pinhead? Do I lack understanding and generosity
of spirit? Did I make all of these facile judgements in order to get your observer
self (ass?) down and dirty here in the pool, Alemé?