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Le: Debebe
Ke: Maritu
Negere Gugai: Ere Bati, Bati!


Alehl'N wei?

You are in so many ways what I dream of being ... a qEnTeNa, qoraT ET who sowed his wild oats in Amerika and then retreated back to the motherland when the time came... green card be damned, security blanket wedE wenz, no contingency plan... no "bayhoniss"... just dropped all the trf negeroch and w'lq b'lo heading back to that place we mangoragor about... ToPPia!

Sntu gobez ale! Gobez weldah tadiya mn taderg!

When the "time" comes, I wonder if I will be as brave as you. Everyone I tell my plan to...THE plan of returning back to settle back in the homeland in about 7 years (note the "about", debE...that is the caveat that had made life in exile so discomfortingly comforting)...look at me and release that particular "m'Ts" that makes me want to poke my and/or their eyes out.

Wait, you did it. So why can't I?

Ok. Ok... I am making so many leaps of faith here that, were it not for my heavy tako CHama weighing me down, I would have leapt all the way clear across the universe. I am assuming you are happy with your decision. I am assuming that you are contented with life... pretty much. That you are not mez'ergeffing on the siminto of Selassie every day, cursing the day you left the US of A. Wui... afer s'honlh!

So, again... why can't I be like you? Because, my friend told me, "You, Maritu, are the kind of person who goes into a powerpoint-presentation-aided lecture regarding time management whenever an Ethiopian is 20 minutes late for an appointment with you."

Yes... and?

"And... it's called aneurysm...familiarizer yer l'il self wiiddid."

InnE ml'ew, DebE... I know you read the hellhole diaries... is there any hope for us in the diaspora? Eski iwentun frT-rT... should we just buy vacation homes in newly fashionable kfle hageroch (they are kl'loch now, I hear? Tru...tru... eNam weddenal yhun b'lenal) and let this pipe dream go? Be part-time Ethiopians? Or is there a way we can adapt? How did our parents do it... that lucky bunch that got HRH-sponsored scholarships and left and then came back and readjusted? Did time sit still for them? (By "them" I refer not to the wacko commies, DebE... I mean the "they" of pre-wacko commies. The non-debari, asqeyami commies...)

Hold up! How do I readjust-tiiiii?

Et-t-t-t! InnE setitu! Demmo yihE yaqeteNal?? After all, it IS the country where I was born and raised... yemin yalagbab "can I adapt, can I not?" meTa! Ere wedia! No wonder those who stayed back home judge us with a big spankin' "M'TSSSS"! We have become too... needy.

Sometimes I am overly confident that I will be part of the re exodus that I hear about so often these days... my friends packing up and going home.. home with an H.

Then,... then I re-read Hellhole and hear hellhole-like stories and... I think.... "WeinE... if what happened to the author at the posta bEt happened to me, I would... am I too young to have an aneurysm? How do you dress for an aneurysm? I mean, we all adapted to the life here... pretty much... maybe some of us adapted TOO well. So can we reverse it? SHOULD we reverse it? What part of me do I have to let go in order to fit in back home? IndE! Weine gudE, DebE... what is your threshold for indulging ex-pat mulqiqina?

AfE quriTTTTTTT ybel, lEla CHewata.

M'Ts. Miskeen me.

So, tell me... how did you do it? What do you think of this kind of existential angst? All I want is to go back home and help my country. Eshi? Lelaw nfro new. So, help me.

What do I do? The thought of getting old and dying outside ItyoPPia scares me motionless. Having children and them not knowing what "cinni cinni sebat lomi" is makes me feel like a failure. I am so frightened, DebE, that I am the last line of Ethiopians born in Ethiopia in my family, and that the chasm between my children and their grandparents starts with me and ends with my selfishness.

What do I do?


Le: Maritu
Ke: Debebe
Negere Gugai: Life Dr'idr

Maritu! What a name! The parental perspective always puzzles me. They look at their just-born, shapeless baby and give her a name like Maritu, as if they were cannibals and had tasted her and found out exactly what she tastes like. Really, these names puzzle me. I mean names like Maritu, Tejitu, Birtukan, Tiringo, etc. That they were not wrong in naming you Maritu is indisputable, though, judging by your choice of words. You sure are sweet, Maritu.

But what is a sweet mar like you doing in a country of mar enna wottet , in a country where the two are abundant and overflowing, when we, your poor, wretched cousins, are choking to death with the bitter taste that our lives have of late become? If you came back here and ladled out a bit of you for us, we would sing your generosity, not only smacking our lips but licking our fingers as well. (Now, don't read anything sexual into that. I am too old for that kind of game. At least, I want to believe I am. How does that sound to you? Does it contradict what they taught you in college?) In short, we would worship you. Come back! I say, just pack up and come back. No what if. No procrastination. Come back now, Maritu! Now is the time of homecoming!

I don't, of course, mean that. For all my blunders, I am not a man given to pontificating about what people should or shouldn't do. I think my goremssa, about whom you must know something by now, would corroborate that with some qualifiers.

What I did (returning to Ethiopia) is not as heroic as you seem to think, Mariye. True, it took some korattnet. But I doubt that it was heroic enough to be emulated by you or any other Ethiopian. Frankly speaking, Mariye, this is what happened. I wasn't lucky enough to do something meaningful and make money at the same time in the US of A, unlike many. Yet I needed both: the money and the meaningful life. Who doesn't? So I had to choose between the two. I had to either remain there doing manual work and making money, or come back here and do something I could brag about to my grandchildren later in my old age, however low the pay.

I tell my friends that, if we filled out our exact salaries on some of the forms that we are required to fill out whenever we apply for something, Americans would probably think we've left out a zero by mistake. I mean our salaries are so low, even in birr, that they would have difficulty believing that's all we make after much witta woored for a whole month. At times, even chickchik. Have you ever worked in Ethiopia? I doubt it. Somehow you sound too young to have done that.

So I came back and taught in a two-year college. The salary was a small (verrrrry small) fraction of what I used to make in the States. Having sold my Datsun before I returned, I became a pedestrian ende woosha, as the schoolmate of a nice lady who was once my wife described that mode of transportation once. When she met My Once after many years, that woman asked her, "Ahoonm ende woosha be'grsh new yemthEjiw? (I used the money to buy a concrete-coated mud "house.")

None of that bothered me, though. Not even the amoeba that found my softened intestines too easy to invade and colonize. What bothered me most, Mariye, was the fact that many people had thrown yabesha Chewanet to the dogs and yet hadn't adopted yeferenji sl'TTane, either. So I had difficulty communicating with my own people in our own language. We had no frame of reference, or whatever you call it now. I think the Derg is to blame for that, though I wouldn't classify myself as a real tsela'ae-Derg. Give the Devil his due, is my slogan. (That's a commie word, isn't it? I mean slogan. Never mind, anyway.) All the same, teaching young men and women and making a humble contribution to their overall effort of sweetening up their kosso lives was fun. I have no words to tell you how appreciated my contribution was, at least by my students. And how that lit up my so-so face with a smile.

Of course, I was taken for a lunatic by some, and a US spy by others. Those who thought I had done a crazy thing by coming back believed America to be the heaven on this planet. "Why did you come back?!" they asked in wonder. They didn't seem to have heard that in America your child could grow up to be a pervert, a drug addict or pester you with that strange question, "Dad, do you love me?" (How could a father not love his own child?) Or that s/he takes her/his father to court if given a little abatawee qunTicha. Ayadirs new. These people, unlike me, didn't have to be told in the face, "You guys come over here, marry an American woman and take our jobs." Mot yishalal. How could someone like me, Son of Ato Kurabachew, enjoy life as a stranger in a strange country where his presence is so resented? Where he is not needed more than his body waste is needed? Not to mention their sunless, smoggy skies. You know that Ethiopia, especially Addis Ababa and its environs, has one of the best climates in the world. I remember reading something like that in the National Geographic, anyway.

Do I regret that I came back and let my green card expire? Am I contented with life in Addis Ababa? I will answer these questions in my second letter. For now, however, let me say that I have accomplished two things:

(1) I was able to fulfill all my filial duties to my mother in the last days of her life; I'm talking about duties that no amount of money that I could have sent her would have substituted;

(2) I believe my guidance had a major contribution to the realization of the potentialities of the Ivy Leaguer goremssa; I don't think that formidable brain would have been as productive as it is now if I hadn't come back. In fact, he would have rickety legs, for he was not allowed to bask in the sun until I returned and said, chigir yellem. I cannot imagine what I would have felt if my mother had died in my absence, without me taking her to a hospital or two and asking her what she would like me to buy her or bring her, etc. Or if I had only sent the goremssa clothes and crayon colors, without being close enough to give him all that pep talk that I gave him and believe has helped him, or without ordering him around in English, "Go, fetch me a glass of water."

You know that you could die of thirst in the States if you didn't pronounce that word correctly. Once, I went into one of the chain restaurants in the Northwest and asked the waitress to bring me a glass of wotter. She had difficulty understanding me. So I had to write it down on a piece of paper and show it to her. "Oh, water!" she corrected my Amharic-thickened pronunciation and brought me a glassful. You thought I am digressing. No, I am not, Mariye. I brought that up to illustrate how my coming back helped him learn to say many words correctly at an early age, long before the tongue becomes too self-willed to say English words without any Amharic qlaSe. Now it exhilarates me to know that I didn't come here (after almost a nine-year stay in that country where many young Ethiopians are dying to emigrate to) and become a balager in vain. Do you know why? Because my goremssa is both making money and leading a meaningful life there now. That's what I think, anyway.

As much as I would like to see you in person, Mariye, don't come back until we are at least through our correspondence. Okay? What I hate of all things is to see a little girl cry over her 40 qen eddl. I also hate to be blamed for leading someone like you into making a decision that might be regretted later. That would be irreparable, as the writer of Hellhole Diaries says. By the way, when I say, "I enjoyed reading Hellhole," I don't mean I agree with everything he wrote. Oh no! I thought he was too Americanized before he returned, unlike me. Still, it was interesting to read a gifted writer's description of the life that we (Dare I use the word live?) lead.

Well, I'd better stop here before I, as usual, get carried away by my wild imagination and write things that could compel you to say "Q'llEtam sh'magllE" and thereby become somewhat vinegar to me, or whatever it is that mar turns into when it stops being mar.

Yancheew negn, as they say.

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