Table of Contents
Entry 1
Entry 2
Entry 3
Entry 4

From: AlemE
To: Mandefro


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 and witnesses.

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 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 beloved country).

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.



From: Mandefro
To: Aleme

Dear Alemé,

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.

E're…you exclaim, 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.

The 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?




Table of contents Editors' Notes Comments How to Contribute Archives
© Copyright SELEDA Ethiopia,  April 2001.   All Rights Reserved.