Subject: Ke Shinkurtum ke weTum awTaliN
Who dat who said "You may conquer with the sword, but you are conquered by a kiss." Who? Who? So the news of my last entry signifying a metaphorical "emPwa!" to you came as a metaphorical "asssseyyyy!" to me. I never took you for a flatterer, D. If anyone else had written those words I would have dismissed them as trite fugerra from a hyleNa fogarri. But you, you seem like you've solved all your knots. The perfect combination of ye ItyoPPiawi CHewinet bordered with a ferenjie slTun, thanks to the Haight-Ashbury wannabe section of the city you ended up in.
Goodness me, now you are even a bigger hero to me... (I, too, do not dole out meaningless flattery, Debisha. So I mean every word.) Isn't that the perfect combination, though? The "Ferenjized Abesha"? I wish I had coined that phrase, but it was from Life Diaries from way back when.
My friends accuse me of living in "the Biosphere', Debisha. They think I was and still am a very sheltered soul. Although I was resistant to that pigeonholing at first, I am now realizing how true their assessment is. A recent conversation with my cousin cemented this for me...At dinner, I had been going on and on about the Ethiopian spirit of metebaber, deg'net, qn'nent... the way we rally to each other, how we respect the idmE and idmENoch... (my dad never calls people old. They are "idmENoch") So Cousin just looks at me and let's out a M'Tsssss. "Benatish, " he said. "Benatish.. ke izih hilmish indatineshi."
I was genuinely confused by his statement, D. It still stuns me to read stuff you wrote about people who thrive on making people miserable. I am dead serious. "I trip my colleague therefore I am"... Ewwwww! SiyasTellu! I guess I owe my parents a lot. I realize that now...more and more as the years slip on by. They were devoid of cynicism and suspicion. My mother was very emotive about praising people. One "Esu beTam CHewa sew new" from her, and that person to us was canonized to sainthood. My father encouraged us to encourage each other, and to this day I am so proud of my siblings and their achievements. Until my senior year in high school, I seriously thought that everyone who was my parent's age was "tiliq sew".. mentally as well as physically. And I remember the first time my bubble burst about that theory. I was devastated. But my faith in the human spirit, especially Ethiopians', is still so strong, and I have vowed to never utter, "U! YeNa sew kifu new". Never. It would not be fair to all the good people raised me.
You know what annoys the heck out of me? Cynicism. Oooh, it makes me so mad. Yawim, unwarranted cynicism. Sometimes when I am in a crowd of people and someone unnecessarily and gratuitously attacks someone/some concept...indEt ydebireNal meselesh! Moot. BeTam...beqa...hodEn bar-bar ylewal. And I tell the offender exactly what I think. I pointedly ask, "What did you mean by that?" "Do you know this person enough to substantiate your l'il dig at him/her?" Most often the person is shocked because it is so ACCEPTED to throw out negative missives and everyone just put up with it. So, usually, the first reaction is.. "IndE! Yemmanat ferenjie, itE!" Then people get defensive.. "Ere innE mnim maletE alneberm..." (I hate it when they do that. It is so spineless!) And then comes the M'Ts. Like your friends, my friend pity me for not knowing the difference between gratuitous put-downs (which are, APPARENTLY, meant as harmless fun! U U tiyE!) and genuine meanness.
Benatih.. can I tell you a story? It's about my initiation into how words we so casually say impact our thinking. My mother dragged me to one of her church retreats. (Damn, I am so glad those days are over.) This was happening at a college and we were staying in the dorms. We entered the dorms.. typical dorm... concrete walls, berber carpet, two bunk beds... it wasn't the Waldorf, but it was very acceptable. I took one look around and had to comment. "Mommy, it looks like a prison cell, doesn't it?" My mother was in no mood to mollify my prissyness. "I don't know, lijE," she said. "I've never been in a prison cell. I hope, neither have you." IndE! Yemin ferejinet new! I was just making conversation, abo! Anyway, suffice it to say that I learnt from that day on to think before I spilt my words.
Uffffff! Beqa. Let's you and I start a movement, Debisha. The No Gossip, No Cynicism, No Backstabbing, No Gratuitous Put Downs, No Shitty Behavior Club. Mn ymeslihal? Inzen'T eski. Hulach'nm teqaqfen "ante t'bss anchi t'bsh"... Hug, hug. Kiss Kiss.
You had me wondering... what would my father say if I asked him if he loved me?
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading your entry. It was so...bicha beTam dess aleN. You would fit in so in that club, anteyEwa. The shockingly honest way you talk... the direct path you take to make a point. I nominate you as president of Club Goodwill. I am not bolstering you up as a flawless being, trust me. But I sense a directness and honesty that is often under-appreciated, or dismissed as ebdet. Do you ever wonder what your goremssa thinks about you? Do parents ever think about that? Have you ever asked him, "Have I raised you well, Son?" Or, better yet, have you ever asked him if he loves you? "Son, do you love me?" Wuyiii. Dess sitilu. I wonder if the relationship between a father and a son is as complicated as that between a mother and a daughter.
Smal'N, we ETs are supposed to be comfort creatures...I sense you are not at all bullshitting me about being content with what you have. I don't know too many people who are content. Do you even know how lucky you are? You are on a totally different plateau eko. Meanwhile at the ranch, I am your typical, shallow "Wui Tsehai indymetaN" chick. Erassen taz'bE CHershalehu. I just like things to look nice and pretty, so sign me up for the Addis beautification project there. I'll bring in some delphiniums and plant them all around those signs on the walls I remember so well.. "Ezi gnb gar meSedadat kilkil new." Hey, you know I did my part to beautify my sefer. You know I had to attend those qebellE meeting things to get an exit visa. (i taught English, DebE, to people who were struggling with Ha, Hu, Hee. The guy who was registering me at the qebellE took one look at my jeans and t-shirt...our ZebeNa in tow escorting me...and decided that I couldn't possibly speak AmariNa well enough to teach MESERETE TMHRT!!...which I thought that was pretty ballsy, if not tremendously presumptuous.)
But, talk about your students loving you. Moot, my students loved me. They used to bring me food and, one time, qrarri. One student in particular kept on impressing me...he would cover his exercise book with Addis Zemen and clear plastic and come to class in clean, obviously freshly pressed clothes. He'd sit in the very front and repeat attentively, "aaae...bee...cee...di". The others would tease him mercilessly... "Ante. ZarE demmo abreqriqeh new yemeTahew..."
Anyway, one day the qebellE goons came to the house to inform me that I was scheduled for Tsdat Zemecha. Well, they told the zebeNa because we were not at home. It was the annual Christmas Party at the ECA. So, when we came back he gave my parents the message. "Tsdat zemecha?" my mother says. "IndE.. innE lijE nSuh nat." It took some turjuman to decipher what the Tsdat Zemecha meant. Anyway, that Sunday, I went to the qebellE decked in sneakers and shorts and a tank top, WITH a lunch box and koda full of juice. My mother kissed me bye and saw me to the door. 'Ingidih adera," she said to the ZebeNa who was accompanying me to the Zemecha site. I waved goodbye to my mom and my siblings from the gate. My sister and brothers waved back hesitantly and mom dabbed her eyes with tissue.
At the Zemecha sight the main coordinating dude, you know....he dismissed the ZebeNa. So there I was all alone. We dug a ditch clean for hours and then picked up qushasha from around a stream. I heard a lot of balegE words, DebE. I tried not to listen, but ... (Listen, DebEW...I was once on the receiving end of a qunTiCHa when I dared called my brother nifTam... so... woah, some of the vocab of my fellow aSjiwoch was....TeweN.) Anyway, by the end of the day I had shared my lunch with my new friends, and we had all drunk my juice from my koda. They affectionately called me "Anchi molQaQa.. bcha hagershn twejalesh". Then we all went back to the qebellE headquarters and got a little certificate and a commie lecture from the WeTat KomitE abaloch. I never understood a word they said, by the way. I just knew how to say "Inashenifalen".
Anyhoo... meeting was over, and there by the warka just inside the qebellE gate was the zebeNa waiting to escort me back home. I said bye to my new friends and skipped back home. My mother hugged me and welcomed me back... short hug... had to go take off the work clothes and take a shower... and at dinner I told the family all about my day. They stood in rapt attention, all except my father who was concentrating on my certificate.
Finally he looked up at me... Why on the certificate, he asked me, was my name written in English while all the rest of the stuff was in AmariNa?
WeinE... DebeE... silefelif zm alkeN? Well, you wanted to learn more about me... yhEw! I am just a simple soul, with simple dreams. I just want to matter and share the happiness I have been unfairly given a lot of.
The Maritu article poem can be found here.... So, Debisha... eski impress me some more.
Subject: Semay dem Mesele
Thank you, Mar. By the way, I read that poem. The writer, Fassil, must be more haTiateNa than I, but the kind I enjoy reading. I had a couple of my friends read it, too. One found it to be hilarious, even as I did. But the other one, who is religious, thought it was somewhat lacking in chewanet. Thank you! You are slowly but surely getting me addicted both to your letters and Seleda. I don't know what I'd do after the fourth entry. I might, like the main character in Love During the Time of Cholera, ask you not to stop. Maybe that's exactly what I need, as I am at present addicted to nothing under the sun, being a teetotaler and a non-smoker. Not out of chewanet, of course, but because I have already had my lifetime quota of both timbaho and beera. Yes, I have smoked all the brands except Gissila and have drunk not only out of melekias, but straight out of the Termoos as well. It's been six years now since I quit them both, to the chagrin of my dipsomaniac friends.
Going back to this funny addiction to the letters of a lady who grew up as a molqaqa (I'm of course using it as affectionately, or even more, as your colleagues of the Tsidat zemecha used it) who grew up without ever tasting ashuq, my staple food when I was a child; without ever feeling the pangs of real hunger, as I had many a day; but who wants to come back and do something meaningful for her country all the same. Do you know the poem, semay dem messele linega new letu, chnq new Tb new kanchi meleyetu? You're gonna make me sing it. Wait a minute, not only that. There is also another one. Tey mannesh tey mannesh, yetegna sew alle tiqesqshalesh. And all that when I should instead be praying for absolution for my myriad sins.
About father-son relationships. I am afraid I am too Ethiopian to ask my son those questions. I mean questions like, "Do you love me?" and "What do you think about the way I raised you, Son?" Frankly speaking, I am not sure I care much about what he feels about the way I raised him. To me, it was fun to guide him and help him realize his potential. Not just imparting knowledge, mind you. If that were all that I had done for him, he wouldn't have been able to surpass me as he did. The knowledge that a small, bright child really needs you helps, too.
I remember reading somewhere that it is our obligations that help us keep going even when we feel like saying, ahunnis.... Have you read Ye'issr BEtu Abessa by Aberra Jembere? In that book, Balambarass Mahiteme Selassie, a man of letters known to be very generous as well, sick and tired of languishing behind bars, prays for death. What I'm trying to say is that whatever my son felt about it, the very experience of raising him was fun as far as I am concerned. It was an end in itself. If he has appreciated it, well and good. (Actually, I have reason to believe that he has.) But if not, all I say is "You win some, you lose some."
I wish you had asked me what I feel about him instead. I hope you won't take this (what follows) as an insult to your intelligence. As a rule, we men love our children only if we have raised them, giving them guidance and abatawee qunticha, unlike women, who carry their children in their wombs, suckle them, clean up their mess, etc. and cannot, therefore, easily detach themselves from their offspring. Ours is no different from what the tadpole does. You know what the tadpole does, don't you? Well, maybe I should tell you, in case you are just an engineer, a computer scientist or something like that and do not, therefore, know much about nature. (I say that with due respect to all engineers and computer scientists.) It sprays its sperm on the eggs laid by the female that are waiting for its indispensable service and then disappears from the scene. Equally, a dog squints at the puppy it itself has fathered with puzzlement and indifference. It shows no sign of acknowledgment of its paternity. No father-son relationship. No abatawee qunticha. No notin', as the many Nkrumahs you went to college with would put it. You might say, "Wait a minute, but those are only animals!" If you said that, I wouldn't know how to respond to it other than to ask you, "Don't you think you are manifesting an untenable homo sapiens supremacy by saying that?"
Mar, I would have asked you to tell me about mother-daughter relationships in your turn. But as formidable as your knowledge of many things seems to be, I doubt that you know much about the subject. In fact, I doubt that you have mothered a child yet. You should, though, as you seem to have a lot that you can give to a small one. After all, you are puzzzzit yalsh positive, to use your own delicious diction. And I really respect your determination to be of use to your compatriots. I mean it. Actually, I now know that I am corresponding with a magnanimous, kind soul.
As regards heroes, I should have mentioned
the Austrian was a famous film actor in all the German-speaking countries until he decided to come to Ethiopia and establish the NGO known as People to People and made a big difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the remote parts of the country. He's affectionately referred to by many here as "Father." There are also others who are working hard to ease our burden. I only hope you will join them soon. Who knows, maybe I will be your menged Teraggi, facilitator, or whatever you want to call it.
Another great soul I should tell you about is a woman who not too long ago offered to buy our national bicyclists all the bicycles they needed. This was what had happened: The sportsmen had gone to Cairo to participate in some competition without the bicycles needed for the competition because the Ethiopian Airlines had somehow failed to transport their bicycles. When this Ethiopian lady found out what had happened, she offered to buy the bicycles from Cairo, saying (note carefully her words, Mar) b'agger qeld yellem. I forgot her name. All the same, she has a special place in my heart. Actually, I could find her name by calling the Bicycle Federation.
As regards contentment, I really don't know what to say. For about 17 years I worked for an organization that used to send its employees abroad once in a while for crash courses. So I, too, had the opportunity to go to such countries as Holland, Germany, South Africa and others, where I enjoyed the food and said to myself, "I would have been able to eat such good food all the time if I hadn't returned from the States." You see, even if you could afford it, it is difficult to find in Ethiopia a maidservant who could cook you very good, balanced food. It is difficult even to find some of the fruit and vegetables that I got to eat in these developed countries, and even in nearby Nairobi and Kampala. Whenever I fall ill and find it difficult to get satisfactory medical help, I cannot help but regret that I came back to my developing country. Otherwise, I can say that I am contented with what I have. After all, the sun shines on us long before it does on your city. And it is much warmer than the sun in the skies of the Northwest (where I spent almost nine years) and of the Midwest (where you now live). This is no sour grapes, Mariye, but the sheer fact that the air is less polluted than the air in the States ought to also make life in Addis more desirable.
But your question is too difficult to answer with a simple "Yes" or "No." One thing I am dead sure of is that something in me would have died if I had chosen to remain in the States and become a taxi driver or work in a Safeway store year in and year out, instead of coming back and being of some use to my compatriots at least for a short period of time. That is the main reason that I pity my good friend who comes back to Ethiopia once in a while and pities me.
By the way, I have enough money to buy a small, old car even now. But I don't really see the need. I would rather spend my money on getting some of the "books" I have scribbled published, or save it and send my bright daughter to a good school. She is now in Grade Eight. But as of this coming September, I want her to attend either Nazareth Girls' School or a new school they call "Ethio-Parents' School." That's more heroic, isn't it (smile)?
By the way, is it at Nazareth, the Lycee or ICS that you went to school, Mar?
What you wrote about the final lonely days of the woman who was close to your family is certainly depressing. I agree with you, dying surrounded by your loved ones would make a big difference. I believe one is truly dying, like the death of all flesh, whereas the other one is only passing away. That's how I look at it, anyway.
Mar, could you elaborate more on the word aneurysm. I don't think I have really grasped its meaning. And what exactly does the M'Ts in what you and I are doing now stand for?