The first lesson I learned about ItyoPia coming of age in ItyoPia was that it was a place where I had to relegate Science to the "Not-Applicable" column, or declare it outright unscientific based on lack of scientific evidence that I had to have 2-3 servings of poultry and fish, 2-3 servings of milk or yogurt, 2-4 servings of vegetables and fruits and, Jesus Almighty, 6-11 servings of Cereal a day, every day, just to accomplish the simple act of growing. If there were one iota of truth to all that hullabaloo, I knew I had no prayer! So, I refused to take my marching orders from Science-types, who knew not of what they spake when they gave me the song-and-dance about the "Food-Guide-Pyramid" and told me where each food item came from without telling me where it would come from!
"An-egg-comes-from-a-hen-boys-and-girls," my Science teacher would sing out without missing a single beat. "Nooooo kiddin', Mrs. Einstein, really?" Mrs. Einstein had no clue! She would go on to tout the merits of the "three-essential-food-groups" in an earnest attempt to force me into that cookie-cutter-mold of kids, whose diet was calibrated in compliance with "scientific" truth that was so untrue where I came from. How naļve of Mrs. Einstein! She should have known that I was a breed apart, and that the only part of her beloved "three-essential-dog-and-pony-show" that made sense to me was the "three" since I did eat that many times a day. The rest of her so-dinqEm-essential g'rg'r, I downgraded to . . .what? "Not-Applicable!" What was Mrs. Einstein trying to do anyway, . .start a revolution? "Kids of ItyoPia unite! You got nothing to lose but your 'fruitless' diet!"
My parents were the hands-on favorites to prevail because they were smart enough to preempt subversive activity by feeding me three times a day, and if I had it in my nature to bellyache anyway while my belly was full, they would turn around and say: "issuma Tgab yizotal," and technically, they would be right! See there?
I felt that Mrs. Einstein was hopelessly misguided in her effort to inculcate in the mind of a dependent child in ItyoPia the merits of nutrition, when a dependent child in ItyoPia had no input into what a dependent child in ItyoPia ate! Her rationale may have been to prepare me for future parenthood, but my rationale for dismissing her was far more rational since it had to do with getting there first. Geez, what did I look like worrying about the balanced diet of my future offsprings when I had no guarantees that I'd have the proper sperm-count to produce them in the first place, given the burgeoning number of nourishing foods in my "Not-Applicable" column? . . .Shouldn't Mrs. Einstein have aimed her efforts at parents, who were already parents, my parents, who acted like this "essential-foods-business" was an overrated business that was none of their business?
My day started with breakfast, which consisted of Injera, . .not to be confused with Injera that was served for lunch or dinner, because Injera served for lunch or dinner was lunch or dinner, which had nothing to do with breakfast, even though it was the same Injera. So, how could a growing child tell one meal of Injera from another meal of Injera, you ask? Well, this ain't no Brady Bunch! This was life in ItyoPia, a serious undertaking where my right to know the difference was subordinated to my parents' right to feed me three-different-no-different-meals a day; and if I ever asked what was for dinner, I would be asking for it! Even the time of day was no reliable gauge for telling my lunch from my dinner sometimes, . . . .ingda simeTa especially! Because then, the family Magna Charta,inscribed in the minds of my parents, was modified to push my lunch close to dinner and until such time that ingda was gone! Worse yet, it could be fine-tuned further still to consolidate my lunch and dinner, especially if I was given to "undue" whining! . . .My familiar mother turned into an unfamiliar gourmet ingda simeTa, preparing a smorgasbord of phantasmagoric feast I thought I saw, but couldn't be too sure I saw, because I had no idea she was a bon vivant capable of such pyramidawi variety. Now you saw it, now you didn't! It was loaded onto a tray and was whisked into the salon-bet, where TiyE Adanech sat megderder-ing through an epicurean delight never once giving in to my parents' plea to eat even as she was eating to her heart's content!
And what a lop-sided scheme it was! TiyE Adanech seldom had a chance to reciprocate for the Royal banqwoT of aynet-woT she was always treated to in our home because our obstructionist parents were there to block it. On those few occasions when we visited her, they would straight-up lie about us and assure TiyE Adanech that we had just eaten!" Wui Adanu, ahun iko belu, mooch!" Then came that look, that quintessentially ItyoPiawi expression so idiosyncratic to ItyoPiawi parents, a series of facial movements skillfully coordinated to stealthily convey a non-verbal message to kids without arousing public suspicion, a pantomime! . .Panto-mom would do her thing surreptitiously and we, trained as we were in the art of discreet public communication, picked up on it right away and found ourselves swearing to Tiye Adanech that "we just ate . . .mooch!" The Magna Charta had changed again! Suddenly, a lie was not a lie but a parental prerogative! Honom, esti try telling a "story" without parental prompt and see if you'll live to tell about it!
I should know! . .In what shall be known as an early sign of a revolutionary spirit in the annals of my history, I once took a notion into my head that I could rebel against a way-of-life that put Injera in my lunch-box. . .again! That day, while the pyramid-kids said grace, I asked Jesus to let me be Jesus for one Godly minute so I could convert my Injera into something else, even if it were to be my "last supper." Jesus, however, wouldn't budge. So, there again was my ubiquitous friend, neatly packed and sealed with motherly love, which was no way for my loving mother to express her motherly love. So, I dumped out my Injera while my sister Qelemwa watched with what appeared to be an approval, an "approval" she would see fit to share with our parents later on.
Father: defftehal woyis aldeffahm, yidffahna bafTimih!
Me: ere aldeffahum!
Father: atwash biyalehu alalkum?
Me: (no response)
Father: demo siTeyiquh melss atseTm?
Me: ishi . .iseTalehu.
Father: ichi na-a-a-a-t Tgab! Demo melss mesTet ameTah?
(Enter Mother) . . .Mother: inE mlew-w-w, issu wushet keman lemede-e-e-e?
Excuse-meee-Woizero-panto-mom, you should talk! . .Not much of a trial, was it? Matters were expedited to lump together indictment, arraignment, trial and sentence in one brief act of judicial malfeasance, all about "disrespecting" Injera. And shortly before sentence was meted out would come that famous speech cloaked in language of slychology and a tone-of-voice that bordered on gentleness suggesting to me, the offender, that the situation may still be negotiable: "mnew batashegr yenE lij, mnalebet indiaw tru lij bthonnn?" Every bit the Dummkopf that I was, I would fall for this disarming tactic again and again! The element of surprise would then be on Father's side and it was precisely at that moment that he would make his Bruce-Lee-thal moves. . .and end up kanfu-dancing on top of my head in an age-defying stunt!
Eventually, Mother-good-cop would intervene to save my hide. Oh, how I loved her for it, . .until, of course, I found out that she too was quite adept at kick-boxing in mid-air while fully clad in heavy armor, a 200-pound yenatoch qemiss spun out of ten acres of cotton. I shuddered to think what Mother would do if she was wearing spandex and wasn't pregnant, which she was more often than not. Ayadars iko new! Her disarming tactics, while couched in the same slychology as Father's, were slightly different. Her thing was: "Qoi abatih yimTa, inE anten alchilim!" Invariably, I would drop my guard believing that she was waiting for her husband. Next thing I knew, here was this huge parachute of yenatoch qemiss dropping down on me out of the sky! . .That my parents believed in "not sparing the rod" was not even noteworthy since that was the case in diffn ItyoPia. Dffn ItyoPia loved their children so much that dffn ItyoPia would kill them before they spoiled them. What was noteworthy was that children of dffn ItyoPia understood the context in which this parental love was expressed and loved their parents to death! Hmm! Unlike today's brats, that "yalmetut lij bequTa yaleqsal-species,". .anger, grudge and suppression blo Freud-ulant neger, . .ere sialfm aynekan! "Not-applicable" in ItyoPia! . . . Forget it Fraud! Oops, excuse the lapsus linguae, make that "Freud."
But, of course, I had to dump my lunch! You would too, if you had the same Injera for breakfast, which tended to sit there in your stomach until it couldn't sit there no mo'. Shoot, if it were not for Newton's gravity, you could conceivably stay full from one single meal of Injera for the rest of your ItyoPiawi life! Where the apple at in my lunch-box, where it at? . . .Well, the apple was at Dejach Balcha! That's where the apple was! Right there on the komedino by my ailing uncle, where my parents put it the day we went to visit him. Upon seeing my uncle, it dawned on me why they never bought me apples. I had never been that sick, that's why they never bought me apples. Healthy? Too bad, . .no apples! How do you like them apples? Only in ItyoPia! . . .That trip to Dejach Balcha would forever be etched in my mind as the day I experienced my first pom, no thanks to my parents! In fact, no sooner had TiyE Adanech handed me one of my parents' apples on the komedino next to my ailing uncle, than Mother had launched into her famous pantomime. "You better not ante asedabi," she said without saying a single word! . . Needless to say, I threw caution to the wind that day and had me my first pom. Yay! . .So what were they gonna do? Throw me out of the Garden of Eden? DinqEm! I went on and sank my teeth into the succulent depth of the forbidden fruit and ahhhhhh! . .Of course, there would be hell to pay, but look, what was good for Adam was good enough for me!
And so it was that I defied the doomsayers of Science and grew without 2-4 servings of stuff a day. As Injera grew on me, without making the slightest fuss, I kept growing as a by-product of life itself, quietly, . .until one fine day, wonder of wonders, I had grown! And DARN if I didn't make my parents proud! Of course, there never was a doubt in their minds that I would grow. Mn godelena demo! . . .2-3 servings of . . .? What the heck was a "serving" anyway? Imagine Mother measuring out just the right "serving" for
each one of us houseful of kids three times a day, throwing into the mix, age, gender and individual caloric requirements. C'mon now, we ain't no ingda, you know! We lived here! Besides, wouldn't that be just a bit too much chemistry for Mother? The closest she had ever come to chemistry was when Father, old enough to be her father too, had decided on her behalf that the chemistry was strong enough to start a family. When he had nipped her in the bud, she still had a year to go before crossing over into that much-coveted realm of higher education; . .that famous milestone of sixth-grade-ministiri!
Poor Mother! With no ministiri under her belt, she would forever be left in limbo, teetering between memar-vs-alememar and afflicted by a strange condition known as dyslexiabissinica that enabled her to write but stopped her dead in her tracks when it came time to read. Like a diligent scribe Mother wrote, but couldn't read a word of what she wrote to save her life. In later years, in one of her rare and treasured letters to Qelemwa, she once wrote: " LijE Qelemwa, QelemE, QelemE, QelemE, QelemE, ehem, QelemE . .!" A whole letter filled with her daughter's name like some punishment, because, mts, she simply had no way of knowing that she had addressed QelemE already in every line after preceding line after . . .! Worse yet, her illustrious letters remained a bone of contention between Mother and daughter throughout the years, because Mother unfailingly chastised QelemE for failing to respond to that all-important gudai she had taken pains to write to her about. QelemE tactfully said: "AldereseNim iko ImamyE!"
What Mother lacked in reading skills, she more than made up for in Math. The budget was sometimes short, but her majet never was. She quietly worked her magic, and voila, there was bermil-full of Teff for yet another month of Injera even as the family size increased, but Father's income remained the same since the shumet kept eluding him. Sure, he had the education, but he would have been better off with the zemed instead. Unfortunately for him, his zemedoch were far from Janhoy and the place where shumet was conferred. They were in Alleltu, where Janhoy was still "ImiyE Menelik." It was rather doubtful that those types of relatives would have helped Father's case with Janhoy by intervening on his behalf and calling Emperor Haile Selassie out of his name: "Abeeeet! ImiyE Menelik, degu negusachn, shumuln, ere shumuln!"
Well, did the shumet ever come? Certainly, it did. Ninety days from pension and thirty days from Derg. Little did my father know that thirty days into his shumet, he would go scrambling for zemed still to have his promotion revoked so he could make it past the sixty days of Derg and into a quiet retirement, but . . . no so fast Father, not so fast! With one stroke of the Royal pen, he had finally arrived, earning the right to be questioned by the Derg along with shumamnt who had been shumamnt throughout their lives. Congratulations Fazer!
"Le-TiyaqE yifelegalu-u-u-u!" . . .What do you know! The old man too would get to eat his Injera out of a lunch-box for a while! . . ."Defftehal woyis aldeffahm . .?"