by: H. Teshome
On the first night of my first day at Bible Academy, Techane* swaggered in and rudely interrupted our cowed conversations by rifling through everybody's brand-spanking-new shanTas. He even went through the cleanly laid out pajamas and towels. He spied a brand new Afro meedo, picked it up, and after deliberate study, put it in his pocket and left. But not without taking someone's extra-big towel with him.
A sympathetic sophomore later told us that Techane was in the business of appropriating anything that tickled his fancy. The sophomore also told us that Techane's specialty was hunting for that perfect meedo that could manage his Afro. He wasn't getting anywhere with that mission. Techane was clearly proud of his appearance, even though we all thought he looked exactly like the old Janhoy, right after the Mekele rout-- shell shocked and drawn. But, Techane never walked more than a couple of steps without slowing down to pat down his Afro and looking around, as if expecting all those around him to admire his very unkempt hair. Most people just avoided his gaze, maybe because anything you do in front of him was liable to make him come right to your face and stare at you for a minute or two. It could be very unsettling, but the few bold ones, especially the ones with the muscle to back it up, would just crack up and laugh out loud. You wouldn't see any facial reaction from Techane, but for a frightened young freshman, his face looked like a mental patient's; busy making a mental list of who he wanted to kill the next chance he got....
We learned to avoid Techane at all cost, but there was no running away from Bizu. Bizu was a roommate who had stopped using water on his body right after his Christening. He combed his curly hair sideways "just like Elvis", he said, but we didn't have the heart to remind him that Elvis had a jet black, greasy pompadour. The only thing he had in common with Elvis was the significant amount of grease permanently preserved on his clothes. And just to make things even more interesting, if not less smelly, he would work out vigorously every night before promptly jumping into his unmade bed. A very emboldened roommate of ours once wrote "Gm Shita" on Bizu's mattress and wall, just to let him know that we weren't too thrilled about his peculiarity, but Bizu ran away with it and made funky artwork out of the writings. Little did we know the resident Elvis was an accomplished artist!
We failed to shame him into showering, though something in us stopped him from using our clean clothes to 'launder' his clothes. Bizu was a great believer in osmosis when it came to dirty clothes. He said that burying one's dirty clothes in a basketful of clean laundry would clean the dirty clothes. We subtly nudged him to use the clean bunch in the many other bedrooms, and he complied, thank God. So, every now and then, he would 'hide' his clothes in somebody's bunch of freshly laundered clothes and take his time retrieving the load. After about 24 hours or so, he would go and bring his clothes from the 'dry cleaners', as he put it.
It was Alem's job to play with our minds. Alem, for whatever reason, woke up one day and began conjecturing about how we were all in one big dream... we were all dreaming the lives we were living. Alem thought living, as we knew it, was all a figment of our imagination. I don't think we quite got the immensity of his sudden revelation, but we were for anything that would distract us from the rigors of life at a boarding school. To the 'True Christians' of the student population this was blasphemous. They were, after all, the 'True Christians', living the good Christian life, while awaiting the Ambassador's return. We joked of the coming of Jesus as the 'ambassador's return, but I digress... Telling them that they were actually dreaming their 'dreamy' lives totally knocked them off kilter. The problem was, in our unconscious effort to piss them off, we started to believe in Alem's theory. We became evangelizers of the dream theory.
'Dreaming' our day away would have been fine with us, if it wasn't for Binyam and his merfE, which made real-time dreaming quite impossible. Binyam had a peculiar habit of waking up in the middle of the night, equipping himself with a very sharp merfE, and going around pricking everybody while they slept. That was all he did for about an hour or so every night. Alem and his new acolytes might have thought that we were just dreaming, but there was no getting away from Binyam's merfE, and, trust me, the pain was real for those of us on the receiving end.
But, even if you lucky to avoid Binyam's merfE for one night, there was no getting away from Lakew. Lakew was the one who forced everybody up at 5:45 AM sharp every morning with his high-pitched singing voice. The cold showers-- there were no hot showers at the Academy-- made his voice even shriller, rendering any attempt at ignoring him futile. When it first happened, everybody ran to check out the ruckus and we were shocked to find out that Lakew was walking stark naked and trying out his foTa jraff on anybody stupid enough to get within ten feet of him. The Bee Gees were king then, and Lakew would sing a very bad version of the Bee Gee's latest hit or piss off the zealots by knocking off their favorite mezmur. If he hadn't already lined up one or two freshmen to give him a back rub, the singing/shower session might end after about ten minutes. After the refreshing shower, he would sun himself dry like a very full and satisfied zendo, still in his birthday suit. If that didn't jolt you out of your sleepless haze, you didn't have to fear Binyam's merfE. Nothing would get to you, you lucky bastard.
After such a shock wake-up session, we would wash up and head off for breakfast. 'Man doesn't live by bread alone...': the sign at the door of the cafeteria would always remind you.
In the cafeteria line, people would be complaining about the lack of sleep and who the culprits were for the previous night's misery.
...Techane would still be grooming his hair and looking around himself to make sure nobody was going to muss his Afro.
...Bizu would pat down his very curly hair, making everybody wince from smelling all that stuff, on an empty stomach, no less.
... Alem would talk himself hoarse explaining his 'dreaming' theory until he 'wakes up' to remember the day's math exam and wishes he was really dreaming.
... All the while, Lakew would be practicing the latest Bee Gee's song under his breath.
... Binyam would be making a mental list of his next nightly merfE victims.
After a few seconds, each of them would be checking out the other crazy characters, and mutter, albeit to themselves, 'Mengst yalaweQachew Ibdoch'...
* Names have been changed to protect the author from neurotic confrontations.