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To: DebebE
From: Maritu
Re: Inde Wusha be IgrE


Lmot neber when I read that part about the woman saying, "Ahunm inde wusha be igrish..." I could just imagine the woman making that statement...stylish sash gTm argew asrew...sweater over her neTela, clutching Tena Adam in one hand, a Taliyan borsa with a mefaqia sticking out from it in the other, fanning herself with an imaginary fan. So casually, maybe with a little concern...a little confusion but in total disbelief she says, "Anchi! Ahunim indE wusha.. eh?.. inde wusha begrish...BEGRISH??"

I love it.

Maritu... Maritu...don't make fun of the pen name I chose. It's from that famous poem that appeared on Seleda a while ago...and ever since then I've loved the name. I am one of those Ethiopians who will probably end up naming my children "Shewa-rkabish" or "Atraynesh" to rebel against the plethora of watered down Ethiopian names Diaspora ETs seem to be giving their kids these days...not me, DebE. I am going to swim against that stream. In college, half the African Americans student population had adapted the name "Nkrumah"...Intina Intina-Nkrumah. As one Ethiopian student put it, "Huuuulllluuuum te'Nokrumew arfewital". They, too, as a radical protest I suppose, decided that enough was enough... (reclaiming their identity gini qulqual). Anyway, there were so many Nkrumahs that they then had to hyphenate THAT to tell who was who. ... Michael Johnson, therefore, became Michael Johnson-Nkrumah, who became Michael Johnson-Nkrumah- Kwagyir. Funny thing is that they all called the lone African professor on campus, Dr. Ogunfiditimi Ewegbemi-Shangokoya "Oggie". So, innEm, for all my fukerra, I might end up maqolameTing my son ShewanqoCHew.. "Shawn". Such is the life of a misqilqil.

M'Ts. Ay nuro...nuro kalut...

A couple of days ago, a ferenjie friend of the family died...alone in a hospital. She had kids and friends and grandchildren, and in her heyday she was a woman who was modish and vibrant. The last time I saw her, two days before she died, she had lost weight, her hair had fallen out, she had bed sores all over her delicate skin and her mouth was full of tubes. She died all by herself in a sterile hospital room and I thought, "Damn, I am going back home...I want to die surrounded by family."

Inna milih, are still my hero. You chose the path of a meaningful life. Your mother, I am sure, didn't die in an ICU ward with the TV blaring "Entertainment Tonight", with the hiss of a respirator heaving her chest up and down. And your goremmsa is now a man. Your students adore you...someone benefited directly from your very presence. Not all of us can claim that trophy. It is disconcerting to live just to survive, and America does that to you. Pretty soon you start climbing that corporate ladder and next thing you know, your soul is left dangling on the 3rd rung. Mengistu was right ... Mehal sefari-sm is a drudge. How can we not aspire to something on a higher level? How can we make ourselves content with mediocrity?

By the way, no, I never worked in Ethiopia. Mnew itE! Ye BolEn menged man yngelawedlN?

As someone who has straddled both sides of the fence, what do you think of the ex-pats who come back in droves for Christmas and summer? What is the take from the nuwariw hzb?

I have a theory about the it me or is it "waking up"? You know...from that slumber induced by wanting to forget the past, wanting to disassociate from the various pains that caused our sidet. Did you read that incredible article in last month's Seleda, Reconciliation? To me it signaled the long-awaited "metareq" of a people that long associated the people who hurt them with the country they have tried so hard not to love. It was one of the most profound articles I've read. It is perhaps an indicator of a mass healing of the past and the start of these little steps away from wounds we have picked. Mass psychotherapy.

But then I see the dorks who go back and act like newly made n'uss kebertEs and my heart sinks.

But then I see the kids who go back and hold AIDs babies and paint the walls of orphanages and I remember our qEss's words... "History in Ethiopia," he said, "is always made by a few." And there are these few incredibly stable people with their cherub-faces and dbulbul eyes. Those positivity pills who are so, indEt libelew, emmmminnnnndishiyE.

Do you know the kind of people I am talking about...? So positive and understated...those rare ETs who actually believe they have a stake in the country? Wui simechuN, DebE. Michichit! They are above this incessant crap, and they are quietly leading a movement of decency. They've worked out all their problems and don't look for power to compensate for their lack of a happy childhood and feelings of inferiority/superiority. The tikuss hayloch are somethin' else!

For the first time I think we Ethiopians will learn from the mistakes of the past. I have this feeling that people are starting to say no to crappy behavior and putting out good vibes. And when enough good vibes are put out there, eventually a couple will stick around...and then the couple will be b'zu, and the b'zu will y'bazalu, and soon anger and bitterness and hate and all that good stuff will become passť, then unacceptable.

-Kum ba yaaaaaaa, my Lord-

Listen, I am telling you...there is this secret society in the diaspora of people who have Goodwill. (damn them, they won't let me join...damn them) and they go around quietly making small changes...helping out fellow Ethiopians at their workplaces, sending books back home, establishing community centers, networking between professionals, art groups in several cities, theater, literature (they know poets like FirmayE...)and they are doing all this without no damn commie book and no damn commie nothing. I love them. Moot. Demmo'ko they are so not like the "my halo is brighter than yours" people...Beqa'ko, I call them the Michot People. Mn libelih, debE... Puuuuuzit yalu positivoch. Mn teshaleN?

So, do you sense that? Maybe you should write the definitive book on "How to Re-adapt to Toppia". Sometimes I feel like the colonizers of yesteryear... "We come to civilize you tribes" mentality, and we need a little infusion of humility. But then, I don't feel like some of the lifestyle idiosyncrasies we have learnt in ferenjie hager... s'eat makber, following up, etc., are irrelevant skills. MaletE, we can take the best of both cultures and be one damn superhuman!


Y'honal inji, DebiyE. Ante demmo indemayawq at'hun!

Inna, there a palpable change in the diaspora, lemilew tyaqE (not that you asked or nothing), the answer is yabedech YES!! Now what does that mean? I don't know. IndE, I can't analyze everything. My co-worker has a "mean people suck" bumper sticker on his decrepit l'il VW Bug. Inna innEm that has been my motto. I try to surround myself with people who are not meanies. Inna we hold hands and dance in the wheat fields of the Midwest new maCHawt'h. Major accessory: Rose tinted glasses.

Lela mn tfelgaleh? "Qonjo le qonjo yiseral gojo" blalech eko.

I await your letter be nafqot.


From: Debebe
To: Maritu
Subject: Lest you miss the shnkurt

Your second letter gave me a feeling of deja vu. That is to say, I found it sweet and yet felt that I had had the same sensation before. So I raked my mind for hours and found out that the feeling it gave me was the feeling that my first kiss from a girl had given me decades ago, a million strands of gray hair ago, as the writer Kurt Vonnegut would put it. That girl just kissed me, and I enjoyed the kiss passively, without returning it. You know why? I didn't know how to kiss then.

Can you imagine that? There was a time I didn't know what to do when kissed by a melkeqena like you. So I just let her kiss me. And the pleasure of being kissed by that defar girl was too much for me even to try to reciprocate her sweet gift, however clumsy the kiss would have been. It had rendered me powerless. I still remember those cherry-like lips. I remember the girl, too, her name and everything. She later dropped out of high school and married a ferenj. That's no flattery, Mariye. I mean, what I said about the effect your letter had on me. I am no flatterer. Have never been one. This, therefore, is one more reason for you to think that I am a real hero. Okay?!

All right, I'll let you think of me as a hero. But the fact of the matter is, Mariye, you'd have second thoughts about me if I told you some of the messes I created by coming back to Ethiopia, if I let you flip me like a coin and saw my other side as well. I won't, though. It feels good to be looked up to. I, Debebe, who had a hard time mustering respect even from my little brother as a child, have finally found a lady who thinks highly of me. Woche gud!

You know who my heroes are? I will tell you. They are Chachi Taddesse and Sileshi Demissie. I'm not sure I have spelled their names correctly. Chachi (how I adore her!) is helping a group of street children in Addis Abeba grow up into self-sufficient citizens in an organized and sustainable manner. Sileshi (Gashe Aberra Molla) has taken it upon himself to rid the streets of Addis Abeba of the crocks of shit they are studded with and make the medinna look like the flower it should have looked like, for that, after all, is what its name means, as you know too well. Be like one of them and you, too, will be my heroine. These two are doing a lot of good for their country without burning the bridge that could take them back to the States, that country of much shinkurt. As you know, the Hebrews who were living then (about three thousand years ago) in Egypt clamored for freedom. And Moses said, "Let my people go" and led them out of Egypt. It wasn't, however, too long before they began regretting their bondage in Egypt where there was a lot of shinkurt. That's human nature.

There were times that I, too, like the Hebrews, had said to myself, "Minew egren besseberew." The only difference is that I never missed the comfort that the States had offered me. I mean it, Mariye. I think the fact that I spent the first six years of my stay in the States in a city where simple life was in vogue has something to do with it. It was a city where being intellectual and leading a life like that of the hippies, some of whom went to college with us, was a fad throughout the years I was there. Only pimps dressed smartly and bought fancy cars. As I wrote you in my first letter, when I came back home, I found many of the people I knew, including my relatives, deprived of that thing we call yabesha Chewanet, without the benefit of yeferenj silTanE that at least compels you to thank people for all the favors they do you. And, as the writer of Hellhole Diaries says, some Ethiopians are so tenkolegna that they go out of their way to make things more difficult for you than they would have been otherwise. That seems to be their forte. It seems like they say, "I trip my colleagues; therefore, I am." The sadism I have seen in some of my ex-colleagues, especially at the two-year college, is shocking and disheartening. The very fact that you come back and do certain things more efficiently than they have done it for years makes you a target for their calumny and character assassination. These people are devoid of all emotion...they seem to be, anyway. They seldom scowl at you or speak harshly to you. But they are very good at stabbing you in the back. It's only long after you've hit the ground, bleeding profusely, that you discover what's happened to you. It is such tenkol that made me regret that I came back to this talk land. I regretted that I came back also when a very close relative of mine once sent me a 50-dollar note from the States, as if I were a panhandler. "If only I hadn't come back to this yeqollo hager, my pride wouldn't be wounded so," said I. In short, I would like you to know that there indeed were times when I regretted that I came back. But I am pretty sure that something inside me could have died if I hadn't come back. Wait until you come here and see me, Mariye. I tell you, even at my age (almost 56) I have sparkling eyes. I have a big smile. If I had remained there just to make money, however, I am one hundred percent sure that I would have had dead eyes and a miserable-looking, crestfallen face. Luckily or unluckily for me, it has been many years since I discovered that "a person's life does not consist in the abundance of his/her possessions." That, of course, is from the Bible, which I read even now, though I am not what you would call, "a religious man."

I know about those do-good Ethiopians who come here, give much-needed medical help and return to the States. I have heard about the ones that donate PCs and books, too. And I salute them all. I think these and others (Professor Tilahun Yilma, for instance) would have liked to do more if the environment were more conducive for them to do so.

There is an Ethiopian with whom I went to college in the States. Since the ouster of the military government, he has come back about three times. And though he is basically a nice guy, I know he pities me. I see the pity in his eyes. I, however, doubt that he knows that I pity him, too. You know why? After he has earned a BA from a state university, he is a taxi driver. And has been so for more than two decades. No, there's no way I could ever feel inferior to people like that. I mean people who think they were born just to make money, however they make it. I would die of ennui if I were one of them. Yet I enjoy seeing these old friends of mine and exchanging jokes with them or talking about the good old days nostalgically.

I also know of an Ethiopian who has come back and established his own business, to the chagrin of many who have come to know him, including me. He is a mean qejqaja know-it-all with no sense of morality. He has no sense of dignity, either. Yet he is educated. I wish I could tell you his name, but I can't.

Mar, how come you didn't tell me more about yourself other than the fact that you are itching to return to Ethiopia? It's okay, though. I think sometimes it is more interesting to read between the lines of letters like yours and imagine the writer in one's mind. And my mind has already begun giving you shape. I see a young lady with a lot of education and a good-paying job. A lady who was brought up being told about such female giants as the Queen of Sheba, Joan of Arc, Etege Taitu, etc. So, however comfortable life in the States is for her, there is no opportunity for her to be a heroine. That's you, isn't it? If my guess is not very far from the real you, learn from Chachi and do something for your country. Come here once in a while and ladle out your mar for us.

For instance, if you're a professor in a college, you could come during your sabbatical and do something meaningful. But don't, for heaven's sake, do what I did. Haven't you heard that I now have difficulty getting even an entry visa from the Embassy of the US of A to attend my son's graduation and wedding? Why? Simply because I didn't find a way to get that goddamn green card renewed. I shouldn't have let that happen, even though I am not crazy about living in the States. I should have come there once in a while, gotten it renewed and scurried back to my concrete-coated mud "house" with running water in it. You see, as long as I get to take a shower and eat three meals a day, I lift my eyes toward heaven and thank Providence, burping and fondling my potbelly. I still don't miss owning a car. I am not sure I need one, either, as taxis are readily available in Addis Ababa. I still don't regret that I am not living in the States, fending off unwanted passes. Well, that probably would be no problem for me any longer, for I am now a burnt-out old man -- giving off light to the less fortunate? Yes, to a certain extent. But mainly sinning in full gear. I tell you, I have broken all the commandments in the Book, like Zorba the Greek.

I read that article titled, "Reconciliation." Thank you for suggesting it. It is written both beautifully and thoughtfully. Could you also give me the website address of the poem that was a source to your nice penname.

Betollo Tsafi!

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