Subject: Does Ashuq come in Different Flavors?
So… last entry. As they say at Seleda… “tadiyamma
I’ll pray for your absolution, too, DebiyE, so that we can play the harp
together and jump from cloud to cloud when we meet at the Pearly Gates…
assuming that a cruel twist of fate won’t turn me into the wicked witch
of the west. Wui besmeab! DingiT!
You are right… I never had to deal with the pangs of hunger growing up…
and neither did I get to drink anything from a bottle that did not contain fortified
vitamins. (I did, after graduating high school, sneak off to a Tej
bEt… gurmissina. Now THAT was a field trip. I did drink
from something that resembled a bottle, but… you know.. the drunk guy
next to me and my friends kept calling me “Emiyu”.
As in.. “Emiyu… nei esti Tega bei.” IndEt mekon
ychalal tadiya, DebE. And yes, I told him my name was not Emiyu…
wui! His confusion. “Gashe,”
I said to him. “SimE Emiyu adelem. Ke lEla sew gar amatuN
And no, I’ve never tasted ashuq. Can’t
take credit for my upbringing. I can’t brag about it. How can I brag about
something that was my parents’? …neither do I apologize for it.
It was just one of those freaky accidents of birth. I am just grateful that
the Almighty made it possible. What I do brag about is the fortitude of two
parents who loved their children more than life, and who doddered us into being
decent human beings. That had nothing to do with money. It had, however, everything
to do with privilege. They are not the same.
In college I became very good friends with an Ethiopian grad student. Her parents
lived in Gonder. Very modest background. Whenever she got letters from her parents
she’d read them to me. You talk about love! Her father would write her
pages and pages of these incredibly loving letters. … teweN!
And every time I would cry with her after reading his letters. Finally her father
came to visit her, and when he left she and I took him to the airport. I thought
we’d see him to the gate and leave… but my friend and I sat at the
gate long after he got in, and waited until the plane taxied off and eventually
disappeared into the horizon. The way she hugged her daddy… the way he
wiped the tears from his eyes with the edge of his neTela.
Man, that is what’s it’s all about… Love. If we don’t
get it from our parents we should seek it from our children, our spouses, our
siblings.. from SOMEWHERE there has to come a buambuwa of love. To me, that
is the greatest privilege in life… the ability to love with abandon, and
to give love with abandon.
What kind of sinner are you anyway! You’ve never smoked a Gissilla?
Ayiiii! Antem haTyat aleN tilaleh!
I am fascinated by your theory of parenthood. (By the way, I appreciate you
expounding on the tadpole thing, even though I am neither an engineer nor a
computer geek… with all due respect to all of them.) You definitely have
an.. interesting theory, and by the time I got to “You win some, you lose
some” part, I was totally enraptured. Homo sapient supremacy theories
aside (why can’t I imagine you slobbering kisses on anyone), I am certainly
not a perpetuator of the theory that “blood is thicker than water”.
There are a lot of crappy parents. Lots of crappy children. Brothers turn against
each other… Have you seen Salem Mekuria’s spectacular movie, Deluge?
In it, a mother speaks of the implausible pain of seeing her children trying
to kill each other because they belonged to different political parties. Can
it even get any freakier? So, I am under no illusion that sharing genes is the
ultimate arbiter. Theoretically, it just should be easier to get love from your
forbearer. At least society conditions you into thinking that it SHOULD be.
But people have been touched and changed by complete strangers… by teachers,
neighbors, and have come to terms with the people who were the sperm/egg donors.
But the main point is that we all get love from someone. It would be great if
it were from our parents…
No, I don’t have children… but that don’t mean that I don’t
think I should opine with authority about parenthood. Ante demmo!
Don’t confuse me with facts, ale ferenj.
I asked you how you think your goremmsa sees you
because I am curious if he feels your guidance to be successful was enough for
him. I remember my older brother being tough on my younger brother when it came
to schoolwork. Older brother would take hours drumming math into younger brother.
At one point I said to older brother… “Tew.. atCHeqCHiqew…
behuwala yTelehal” I still remember my brother’s response…
“TeltoN sew bihon yishaleNal”. I feel
like you feel the same way about your goremmsa, no?
Is the endgame really your satisfaction and fun you had? What if goremmsa
ended up not being so successful? Would you be proud of his efforts still? What
if he was not bright? Mn meseleh, DebEw… does
paternal obligations end at “guiding” kids- love is optional? Or
are you telling me that BECAUSE you love them you guide them? Are the kids our
trophies, therefore we have a vested interest in their success? What do I know?
While I am at it (at metekosing questions at you…twa-twa-twa),
do you feel that you are raising your daughter any differently? Or does she
have you wrapped around her little fingers? Ay-hey-hey, Debisha. I am the first
daughter, and I know the subtle manipulations. (Tee hee.) WeinE..
innE ahun mn ebalalew…? I’ll talk to you about this
after having kids and see if my smarminess has ebbed. Besides, what was all
that about blood not being thicker than water? A stranger can praise you with
all the exaltation befitting a king/queen… but why does the absence of
a parent’s approval sear so much pain in so many people? Ere
teweN… misqilqilllllllllll new negeru.
You hit the nail on the head with “Be hager qeld yelem”.
(I heard an azmari sing “Be hager inna mist qeld yelem..”
but we’ll abbreviate here.) THAT, dear Debebe, is the crux
of the situation. Be hager qeld yelem. And as we Diasporaed
Ets start waking up to that realization, I am filled with optimism, hope and
incredibly overpowering love for the country and people. Thanks to the new filfal
ET-Americans, it is no longer acceptable to cross certain lines of indecency;
we have learnt to speak out against wrong and embrace and slobber over good;
we don’t confuse the personal with the political; “ke
technocracy inna meritocracy gar wedifit!
Wedefit!” new CHewataw. Loving life is back in vogue. And
I am a disciple of loving life, making it a better place in what little way
You know who my hero is… besides you, Debisha. Ante demmo..
indatakorfeN. It is people like sister Jember Teferra
and her program to help people be self-sufficient. She made me believe in the
power of a grassroots movement. I hear about people like her and I ask myself,
how could I possibly do nothing to alleviate pain? And what I’ve learnt
from this pozetative kids is that connecting the dead nerves to Ethiopia starts
at a very visceral level. Taking paper, books and pencils when they go back
home instead of cheap make up and cheap perfume. They’ve set up old-style
edrs and equbs and support the ethiopian community Associations in their cities.
Their connection is on a very basic level. DebiE,
it is so beautiful that it makes me want to cry. So many of us have lost that
beauty and responsibility. It is so devastatingly honest and bare and pure…
Most of all, so powerful.
So, back to me. Eventually, the call of home will be stronger than the comforts
of America, and I will head back home. I am more determined now. Even if I fail
at readjustment and come crawling back to the Alfalfa fields, I would be less
than my father’s daughter if I did not try. You know what? I wonder if
all the people who exited Ethiopia who are my parent’s age will spend
the rest of THEIR lives in yebada hager? Will they go back only to be buried?
It’s when I see that chasm, of our parents who are choosing not to return,
that I know there is a lot of work left. But one step at a time.
Oh, DebE… when I come back, I have to have a car. I mean I love walking
and all, and I love the idea of not polluting the country, but… wui
benatih! IndEt teblo? What if I run into your ex-wife’s
friend… “Inezih.. ke Amerika mimeTut.. indE wusha…”
And then she’ll pity me like your expatriate friend pities you. Gud
lifela new. I promise to give you a lift whenever you want. Save
your mullah so that your daughter can get a better education.
Tell me more about the “Ethio-Parent School”, ebakih. It sounds
like something I need to know about. A bunch of my friends are small-time investors
in a school in Addis. A school that sells bonds as investments. What a genius
idea! Capitalism rocks, man. Why did your generation hate capitalism? Mn
aynetoch nachiehu? :-)
Soooooooooooo, yenE gEta… we’ve ruminated
about coming back home, and I have so enjoyed this. There was stuff that had
not yet crystallized in my mind and you’ve helped me clear up things.
My reasons for coming back might have started off as purely selfish, but now
I know that it is an obligation. A friend of mine went to Addis for vacation
right after making partner at a very toney law firm. She was supposed to be
there for a month. She ended up staying more than four months, working with
women and law. She is someone I never thought could be so “hagerE
Ityoppia”… Cyber hamEt indyhonibN inji,
said friend was a fast track, high roller chick, deeply- very deeply- entrenched
in NY life. She’s a freakin’ partner at a huge law firm and she
is my age!! Next thing I know she is planning a trip home… the rest is
an amazing piece o’ history. I am awed. Another friend, the same thing…
he went back for a few weeks, next thing I know he is now looking for a fulltime
position in Addis! Hello! And another, and another… soon there shall be
plenty. Yemanachew itE! So, we are a-comin’
back. We hope we will not embarrass you.
I am so glad I got to do Life Diaries with you, DebbE. It was an honor. Thank
you for your incredible letters and your encouragement. Contentment? Ah, that
elusive contentment… you found it. So will I.
Ke talaq akbrot gar,
Subject: Yes, you’d better come and unleash it!
My Dear Cyber Partner:
I now know for sure that you cannot not come back to your enat ager. There
is a love puppy in you that’s whining to be unleashed. Your dimbushie
arms are itching to hug some people here, in more ways than one. I hope I will
be among the first to
be hugged by them. Your pent-up love, which is like a cow’s udder full
of milk, needs an outlet. Do me a favor, though. Fling your veil for me before
you come back so that I will be able to come to Bole and welcome you. I ask
that of you because I know you are not Maritu, though you are definitely mar.
In case you are interested in learning from the experiences of one who came
back about 20 years ago, here below are a few.
When I first returned, I thought in English and conversed in Amharic. A tricky
thing to do. So, one day, I asked the manager of a Laundromat, an attractive
woman in her thirties then, nege tikefetalachihu?
There upon, her lovely face turned into a dark, threatening cloud and she thundered
at me, “Siyayuwot tiliq sew yimeslalu gin…!”
I had of course translated the question, “Would you be open tomorrow?”
literally and had thus inadvertently become a qilletam sew.
You can imagine the awkward situation I found myself in as a result, and the
effort I had to exert to convince the woman that I hadn’t intended anything
Another time I was invited to lunch at an acquaintance’s at 12:00 noon.
So I was at her house exactly at the appointed time. But she and her sisters
were yet busy preparing the lunch. And I ended up being in their way. They didn’t
know what to do with me. I will never forget the inconvenience I caused that
day for about one hour, by which time the lunch was finally ready. Mar, time
is relative here. When a person says, “Come at noon,” what determines
noon is not necessarily your wristwatch, however accurate it might be, but the
person’s level of modernization. I found out later that I was actually
lucky that the lunch was ready even after one hour. At times, noon could mean
2:00 in the afternoon. No kidding.
One day I had gone to Mercato to buy something. There I ran into one of my
students in the Extension Program at the two-year college where I taught English.
So I invited her to have a cup of coffee or something with me. I of course made
the offer purely out of courtesy, as I was used to doing in the States. But
she had apparently misunderstood my intentions. “I can’t. I live
around here, you know? Bayhon lela qen ewoTalihalehu,”
said she. Mar, I, your hero, loved my teaching profession so much that, however
lecherous I was at the time, I did not fool around with my female students.
I believe that even those colleagues of mine who had chosen to be my detractors
would corroborate this for me. Besides, that particular young lady was not at
all my type. You must be very careful whom you treat to coffee, lunch or Tej,
in case you feel like going again to that Tej bet where your gurmissina had
strayed you to and you were addressed as Emiyu, Mar. You must always be careful
that you do not tantalize some fool by just being the loving person I now know
you are. A fellow assistant lecturer had that problem. She loved people. So
far as she was concerned, all her male colleagues were her brothers, and the
female ones her sisters. Having misunderstood her pure, admirable gesture, a
goat of an assistant lecturer and his crony treated her to some beera one evening
and deliberately made her overstay with them until 9:00PM, jawing about this
and that. Then, when she insisted that they split, he blurted out his peasant’s
request. Did I say “request”? No, he didn’t even do that.
He commanded her outright to spend the night with him. And his crony tried hard
to implore her into giving in to the “request.” Fiyelus ishee, enen
beTam yegeremeN yeguadeNaw. I cannot forget how disgusted I was with those educated
but uncultured men when she told me on the next day how they had called her
names and were incredibly rude to her.
Incidentally, you are making me pontificate, though I had said in my first
letter to you that I don’t like to do that. What do you say to that? You
also made me forget that you and I were engaged in an exercise that’s
meant to be published in the e-zine, Seleda, so much so that I wrote freely
about that segment of society that I was disgusted with when I was in the States
until I heard that eardrum-piercing whistle from the Editors. Anchi
You’ve told me that you are a melke qenna. And when an Ethiopian lady
admits that, in a blatant contravention of her bahil, I can imagine what she
looks like. I mean you must be really gorgeous. But would that be an asset or
a liability when you come back here? I think it’s worth being discussed
thoroughly ahead of time. There is a gorgeous lady who is a high-ranking government
official here. She is highly educated, too. You know what I say to myself every
time I see her on TV? I say, “I wonder if those working with and under
her become all eyes and miss out on the knowledge that she could impart to them
and the instructions she gives them, as I would if I were one of them.”
I hope your physical beauty won’t overshadow your inner beauty: your platonic
love and qum neger. I really hope so, Mar.
I read that article about ferenjized Abesha, Mar. Whether we like it or not,
people like you and I are ferenjized Abesha. You,
much more so. So coming back to Ethiopia and getting married to a typical Abesha
man with little or no exposure to the Western way of life would inevitably result
in the worst form of all loneliness __ a huge, ice-cold loneliness without being
alone. You wouldn’t be able to be his best friend. Nor could he be yours,
however nice he might be. My ex-wife was a nice person. And she was devoted
to me. But she was not, and could not be, my best friend. Her response to the
attempts I made repeatedly at making her so was, Lela wond alwodedhu.
What you said about seeing one’s son as a trophy is quite interesting.
I wonder if I have given my gobez son the impression that all that I cared about
was that he be an intellectual success. I think you will have to lower me by
a notch or two on that point from the high pedestal you have placed me. Even
though I didn’t mascheneq him as your older brother probably did to your
younger brother, I am not sure I have ever let him know (not by saying so of
course) that I loved him for the simple reason that he was my son, success or
no success. You know what troubles me most now? The knowledge that he is a budda,
a mind reader. Come to think of it, all that I was doing was trying hard to
achieve my aborted goal of being a real scholar through him, vicariously. What
are you, anyway __ a psychoanalyst or a psychotherapist? Wait a minute, though.
I don’t think you’d lower me even by a notch, if you knew that I
grew up under an unimaginably cruel stepfather until I went to a boarding school
at the age of six. By the way, I understand what you meant about your parents,
Mar. They gave you more than what their money could buy for you. You sure are
lucky. People like you need a god that they can thank, if they don’t already
have one. But could miskeen Debe be blamed for not giving his children what
he himself was not given? Shouldn’t he instead be applauded for being
a friend to both of them? Yes, I was like a friend to the goremssa, who, by
the way, is getting married right at this moment in an American city. How come
I am not at the serg? You’d better forward that question to the white
woman at the Embassy who refused to give me an entry visa. (You know what, Mar?
I have never filled out a DV Lottery form.) Anyway, when he turned 17 and was
a student in Grade Twelve, lots of calls began to come in for him. And almost
all of them were from young ladies. So I said to him, “By the way, if
this particular girl I take messages from for you so often is your sweetheart,
the rest of us can find something to do every other Sunday and leave the house
to you, if you want it.” Isn’t that heroic (smile)? He really laughed
when I made him that offer and assured me that the whole thing was purely platonic.
The same is true about my daughter. Mar, I will, at the outset, admit that your
guess that I am not the type that goes around and gives his children a big smooch
on the cheeks is correct. But once in a while we walk hand-in-hand in down town
Piazza and I horseplay with her. Isn’t that good enough? I mean, compared
to the way my close relatives Ato Aytenfissu and Ato Manmektot raise their children?
As regards contentment, I don’t know what to say, Mariye. I wish I had
had a book or two published. Better yet, I wish I had invented or discovered
something (other than the only discovery I have made so far when I was sixteen
and taking my quarterly bath in our old tin bathtub. I am of course referring
to that silly source of sexual pleasure that the lucky boys actually discover
at an earlier age). In other words, I wish I had screamed “Eureka!”
at least once in my life, for we are here to do something that would make the
world a better place to live in. Not just to eat, drink and be merry. Otherwise,
I think I am somewhat contented.
I chose to use the qualifier (somewhat) because I haven’t yet stopped
wishing that I were taller, more handsome and living with a puzzzzzt
yalech positive lady like you, who thinks I am a hero and who
has finally become my heroine. I also wish I could find a good doctor for my
left ear. If the name of a man who has such a long list of wishes can be written
under the rubric “Those Contented with their Lives,” write mine
down, please. If the fact that I do not miss living in the States, just making
money, can qualify me to be referred to as a “contented man,” I
have no objection whatsoever. I forgot to tell you this in my third letter:
the actress Jane Fonda was my heroine when I was in the States. Even though
she made millions of dollars as one of the superstars of Hollywood, she gave
away most of it either to the poor or to support some noble cause. Did you know
that she used to drive an old car when I was there? When asked why she was so
into simple life, she said, “How could I justify a lifestyle that takes
a million dollars a year?” or something like that. You know that she,
like you, was raised by loving parents, don’t you? I wonder what she is
doing now. I salute you wherever you are, beautiful, kind-hearted Jane!
I salute you, too, Puzztiye! I am flattered that
my arambana qobbo tales about my life amid death (a.k.a.
abject poverty) has somehow helped you arrive at the right decision.
Looking forward to welcoming you at the Bole Airport,
Min gizem yancheew.
P.S. Thank you very much for sending me those website addresses. I will read