a pet peeve
I dread going on vacation from college sometimes. Insane? Highly unlikely,
but it's not impossible. Let me get straight to the point.
* * *
I could smell the woT all the way out to the driveway, and the laughter and
noise was loud enough that even five blocks away, it could probably startle
a fetus out of its mother. As soon as I step into this den of din
this fuafuaté of CHaCHata, I could feel every stare.
It's almost like every single person in that room is a vampire with a wad of
garlic in their throats, and I'm the fresh blood to quench their thirsts. Every
eye opens wide
bulging out of their sockets.
"Saaaamiiiii!!!" screeches the hostess, coming towards me, typical
abesha shash in place, sleeves rolled up, shiriT stained with blotches of neon
yellow and dark burgundy, with onion skins clinging on, thanks to static electricity.
"Meche meTah ke'timihrt bet?"
I know what's next. And already I'm wishing I'd just kept my sorry ass home.
She moves closer and gives me a hug. (So much for deo and cologne. Now I smell
like liver dipped in a bowl of Tej). She kisses me on one cheek, slowly. Please,
God, please let there be one sane person. Keep her quiet. Let her not -
"Timhirt indet new?" she whispered into my ear, as she switched over
to kiss the other cheek.
Oh shit! Too late. I see it coming --
"Yikebdal?" She kissed my other cheek, while manshokashoking that
miserable, miserable word.
Instantly, she pulled back, and with a firm grip on my shoulders gave me an
ear-to-ear grin, eyes QuliCH QuliCHing with cruel mockery.
Yes, people. That, I'm afraid, is IT. The beign of my existence. The yikebdal
phenomenon. I'll elaborate.
Why, oh why, does every Ethiopian in their fortys or thereabouts feel obliged to ask that miserable
question to every college student? Are they toying with me? I can just see it
happening in their heads: "Oh, loookie looookie here! Sami's here from college. Ha! Gosh!
Yet abatu! Agegnehut zare! Afer yibla! BeQelalu yemileQew meslotal, yihe agassess!"
And their eyes sparkle with delight at their new prey, because Lord knows,
they have to rub in the pain
the reality that you don't win anything
in life without having to pay your dues.
As soon as dinner is served, every one takes their seat in the living room,
curiously eyeing me up and down, waiting for me to come join them.
"Saaaaaaami! Na, gosh, na esti kegone teQemTina aCHawtegn!" says
one of Them. He shoos the restless thirteen and fourteen year olds away from
the space next to him on the couch. "Zor belu, inante. Sami yenante ikuya
meselachihu inde! TiliQ sew eko new! Hidu kezi Tifoo! Inena isu yeminaweraw
Please, dear Lord, don't let them get me tonight too!
I have no choice but to go sit next to him. I try and make as much space between
the two of us as possible. He looks me up and down shamelessly with his coke
bottle glasses, and eyes squinted, he pats the couch. "Indeeee! Na Tega
bel inji! ACHawtegn esti, Sami!"
I scoot over hesitantly, the same way a mouse thinks it can get the cheese
out of the trap before it gets it's head chopped off.
"Timhirt indet new?" It's no coincidence that noone is talking. Everyone
is eyeballing me, waiting to hear what I have to say.
"Eh? Minim aylm."
M'ts! The lady in the corner sucks on her lips and shakes her head, while delving
into her helping of azifa. Another one chuckles on the other side. I could almost
see a smirk on her face.
Yet abatu! He thinks we got to where we are easily! Your ass is ours tonight,
Sami, you ingrate, you!
The coke-bottle guy malameTs his gursha and turns again to me. "Eh. Yikebdal?"
And he grins, eyelashes fluttering, eye brows raised.
I just chuckle nervously. This question is the same reason I get nervous ticks
when coming to micro-Addis D.C. when school is out. YES, YIKEBDAL! What the
hell kind of question is that? Go ahead and rub lemon and salt into my wound,
why don't you. And while you're at, drip sulfuric acid onto my forearm with
an eyedropper and ask me
"Eh. Yamal?" The grin and fluttering
eyelashes are optional.
And this is not just limited to friends and family.
Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area. Inside a taxicab. I look over and notice
that the driver is Ethiopian. He looks at me through the rear view mirror. I
give the usual courtesy nod. Yeah, I see you. You're Ethiopian. So is damn near
every other person in this city.
"Abesha neh, yene wendim?" He says, while shifting the gear to drive.
"Ay lereft meTiche new. Lela ketema new yemimarew."
"Ay Tiru new temar. Mindinew yemitaTenaw?"
"Gena alwesenkum." He suddently halts with a screech at an unexpected
red light. He quickly turns around, flashes me a grin, and looking me dead in
Pull over, you insane fool
* * *
Ethiopian wedding. The paragon of character analysis. This is where you'll see
every archetypal Ethiopian you can imagine. The music is playing, everyone is
on the dancefloor. Ay Chiferra!
On my left: the middle aged lady. Designer flowery dress with white high heels.
A contemporary neTela over her shoulders, stating that she's respectably old,
but yet not old enough to lose the hip-ness. She claps coyly, lips pursed, eyes
half-closed, with a half-smile across her face. An almost flirtatious look.
Slowly swinging from side to side with decorum
until that Tilahun track
from the seventies comes
yeah, you know it. The one with the swing and
twist beat. That's when the swinging becomes a bit more animated, the pursed
lips ease up into a shy smile, while the eyes stare up into the ceiling.
On my right: the tipsy gentleman in the very dregs of midlife crisis. And he
always wears a brown suit, doesn't he? With an open collar shirt
you're right, the one with the vertical stripes, the buttons holding on for
dear life as his belly jiggles around over his belt buckle. He instantly jumps
into the middle of the circle and starts jerking and jolting around in fits
that can only be induced by the powers of vodka and gin with a twist of home-brewed
Tej. He looks around with a permanent grin plastered on his face, his face and
shirt drenched with sweat, eyes wide open with an insane twinkle of excitement.
And who does he pick on for a dancing partner? Yup, the lady on my left. The
swinging decorum herself.
I look around while my hands clap on to the rhythm, and notice that other one
character that no wedding would miss: the seventy year old woman who's constantly
on the hunt for a strapping young dreadlocked or braided weTeTe to maCHafer
her into memories of a youth long lost
oops, there she is. IgrE awCHign
I make my way over to the dining table. The cup of soda is kind of warm, but
it'll have to make do for now. I sit down on the abandoned table and loosen
my tie. Someone makes themselves comfortable two seats away. I don't pay them
"Eh mamoush. Puh! Puh! Puh! TiliQ sew mesleh yele inde? Timihirt indet
I turn around, not quite sure if he was talking to me.
The brown-suited aCHafari from the dancefloor was staring at me dead in the
eyes, his coke-bottle glasses steamy from all the sweat and heat, his shirt
drenched with perspiration. He takes a sip from a random cup of Tej, and turned
to me. He almost looked like was in infantile bliss and sheer joy, prepping
himself up for what he was about to say next.
"Eh? Yikebdal aydel?"
I turned around, and with full orchestra backing, the entire adarash broke
out into a rendition of Handel's "Hallelujah":
"Yiiiiiiiiiiiikebdal woy! Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikebdal woy! Yikebdal'woy!
Yikebdal'woy! Yikee-eee-eebdal woy!"
Sopranos! Now altos! Tenors, come in now! And baritones! (Mr. Brown Suit, stay
seated, you're too drunk!) Bass section! From, the top! And again! "Yiiiiiiiiiiikebdal
I'm losing it.