A SELEDA EDITORIAL ROUNDUP
Occasionally, and we promise to not make a habit of this, we let some editors pontificate on a subject. Our last attempt at this venture was pitiful… probably because we should have known that the mesqeleNa TiyaqE “Is upper management Authoritarian or Totalitarian?” would not exactly charter new intellectual territory. (The general izihm b’sot, ezam b’sot consensus was that upper management was an inimitable feudo-capitalist monarchical anarchy, that uses parliamentary dictatorship to keep the people down. Hmmm, that was a waste of several thousand brain cells!)
Anyway, this time we asked, “What is your Ethiopia?”… and the results were a little more, indEt inibelew, civilized.
Our artists of the past who have chronicled us, our fathers and our grandmothers… our artists of the present who are watching and recording history… our artists of the future who will paint their own Adwa… to me, our artists are my Ethiopia. The words of their qinE, the red of their paint, the slow click on the shutters of their cameras, the break in their voice when they sing Bati… our artists are holders of our culture. To all artists, you readers, writers, singers; you crooners, scribes and painters; you photographers, filmmakers and actors… you are my Ethiopia because you define me… and because you loved your craft when I didn’t, and because you knew long before me that I’d come back… and rest… and because you give me peace when I hear your poetry, when I sing your songs, when I drown my demons in your art; and because you never turned your back on art… because of these reasons and more, you are MY Ethiopia. Your poems are my Ethiopia. Your canvas is My Ethiopia. From Qidus Yared to Girmay Hiwet to Jorga Mesfin to Robel Kassa… they are my Ethiopia.
A day trip in the Great Ethiopian Rift Valley, with its six lakes, its millions of acacia trees, hundreds of thousands of gazelles, lions, elephants, hippos, and the beautiful Arsi, Sidama, Shoa, Guji, and Gamo people.
Soccer games on a Sunday afternoon by the side of the Jimma road way outside Addis Ababa as the Sun negotiates its slow descent behind the Mogley Mountain.
A beautiful Saturday morning at one of the Cafés on Bole Road savoring the smell of freshly roasted coffee and the hissing sound of an old espresso machine.
A Kremt evening by the side of a kesel midija with all in the family wrapped in their bright white Gabi and talking about the details of everyday Addis Ababa life.
Paulos Gno Gno and Mamo Wudneh's books.
Meskerem days in the Ethiopian highlands as God's hands visit the land with the magic of the bright yellow Adey Abeba.
Tizita and Erikum songs.
The anticipation of breaking 40 days of fasting (whether one likes it or not) by waking up at 6:00 AM.
The small talk of Ato Kassa, the guard at the embassy building next door and his not infrequent advices of "don't drink and smoke."
Moments like these and many many more define what that magical land, Ethiopia, means to me.
My Ethiopia is a land of the majestic mountains, of smiling lips, of undulating hips and dazzling eyes. She is the birthplace of immeasurable beauty, of roaring rivers and yawning canyons...and of thundering falls; a land of enchanting stories as yet untold, of sunlight poured like golden threads from her azure skies.
I love this about my Ethiopia, but not just this.
No, my Ethiopia commands me to love her in all her glory. Looking through her checkered years, I see the cracks, the wrinkles...the scars. I do not turn away from her rotting stench, her unraveling morality, her relentless anger...or the fatality she breeds. Undaunted, she flaunts her unsurpassed poverty, her unrealized potential, and broken dreams…and I acquiesce. I witness and attest to the cowardice she harbors, the avarice she applauds and her celebration of bloodshed. I bow in the face of her intolerance, her belligerence and incomparable sorrows…
And I love her still.
(would that we were all loved thus)
This question is very difficult for me to answer. Ethiopia, the physical place of daily experience, of social belonging is where I am from. I was, in many ways, literally in the heart of Ethiopia. I grew up in Addis, shielded, but aware of a nation that was in the middle of a whirlwind of what we probably still do not completely know.
But like a cruel, unfulfilled Yin and Yang complementarity, I am now outside the heart of Ethiopia, but find Ethiopia the center of much of my existence. Ethiopia questions my morality, my sense of destiny and history, my ambitions and future dreams. The longer I stay away, people and place grow even more abstracted and distilled, losing their organic wholeness. Ethiopia becomes a duty - to zemedazmad, to culture, to language, to political rapprochement, to institutions and persons under real or imagined attack.
And yet, just when I feel that Ethiopia has become nothing more than a consuming abstraction, memories flitter through - of deep azure cloudless blue skies against equally deep green forested hills, of the full throaty laughter of peasants in complete surrender to the joy of the moment, of grandfathers enjoying the serenity of a magnificent mefaqiya in their sons' city home, of the hopelessly eternally hopeful little kids up at the crack of dawn to polish shoes and sculpt a better tomorrow for themselves out of the skin-cracking Addis morning chill.
For me, the diasporaed me, Ethiopia has become as opportunity to always learn something new about something new - about religion, language, history, politics, love, geography, etcetera etcetera etcetera...
If nothing else, Ethiopia is an eternal inspiration to discover myself.
"M'Ts. Ay, igzer baililet new!" When the neighbors son dies of "pneumonia"
"Min, yihegnawin? Min lihun bileh?" When you try and buy a pack of "Hiwot" from Shemsu, the neighborhood souq honcho.
The green, gold, and red Tiletoch beye'neTelawina jenow come Meskerem 1 ...revolutions and politics have never been more subtle and embittered.
The comforting smell of qibE in bilqaToch, in hair, and on skin ...
The generic ye'shai birCHiqo with the crooked mamamesia mankia ... not to mention the qimem shai and ambasha ... igzio!
The listro that tries to cajole and swindle me out of one more simooni, while smiling knowingly and eyes sparkling with anticipation.…
That I can walk anywhere and not get lost; and IF I do, the right path is only one friendly be'ageCH-tiqoma away ... "izichihu gar nata!"
That's my little niche in Ethiopia ... the comforting constants.
The early, enchanting solitary prayer of EmetiyE, wrapped in her private yetefteletele neTela, rehearsing her Dawit and working her rosary at the crack of dawn … My mother, the spellbinding sight of her spirit preparing to walk the long walk to QulibE…My father, wrapped in the cocoon of his aged gabi,eTan, and wisdom, relishing at best he can, his Ethiopia away from home…
My mother’s selets, my brother’s koltafanet, my father humbled on the celestial siminto of Urayel…
That space between my Creator and my family. That is my Ethiopia.
I long labored over this moment, to answer fully what should be such a simple question: What is your Ethiopia? Well, my Ethiopia never was - maybe never had been - but, perhaps, could one day become that yenat hod to which I return after an odyssey away in far away lands, on turbulent seas, with strange people and stranger customs, still. Ethiopia is my childhood home (where I fashioned dist out of her soft red mud), now nothing more than a chimera burnt like an after image onto the silver screen of my over imaginative mind's eye. Ethiopia is a place, like a mirage, that insists on disappearing when I reach out, again and again, to find her with my blind woman's touch and feel what it is to be Ethiopian. Now I'm clinging to the pride, now I'm clinging to the upheaval, now I'm clinging to other people's spoken words of their Ethiopia in all her unsightly and magnificent splendor - but all I know is that I'm clinging, like one clings to the memory of a lover lost at sea or in battle. My Ethiopia, on good days and bad, is that hope that glimmers at me at the end of a long, dark tunnel I'm convinced is leading me home.
My Ethiopia is about strolling down Addis Abeba for the first time in 10 years and casually buying some copies of Addis Zemen printed over 30 years
ago from a street vendor .... "le mastwawesha". My Ethiopia is about
browsing the Addis Zemen back in my apartment thousands of miles away and
finding myself staring in shock at the obituary of the grandfather I had
never met. My Ethiopia is about finding myself face to face with history as
I read of the battles he fought against the Italians and all the Italian
Generals he killed. My Ethiopia is about living so many years as an
irrelevant alien with a hard-to-pronounce name floating around anonymously
and invisibly and in minutes finding myself personally rooted in a proud
history of a proud country. My Ethiopia is about my identity.