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30 Questions to Dr. Tedla W. Giorgis

SELEDA has oft struggled with family feuds… namely, isn't a feuding family er, the only kind of family? Innante demo! So where the confusion is?

Ostensibly, however, these things matter to people, and the public servants that we are, we solicited the help of resident SELEDA therapist Dr. Tedla to decipher some of this stuff. (Our resident nissiha abat "Uuufff! Yenante neger broccoli-broccoli bloNal!")

1. Is the statute of limitations for revenge Ethiopian style 10 years or 15 years? Depends very much when you immigrated to the US, at the age of 65, 55, 45, 35, 25, 15, or 5. The older the age when one immigrated to the US, the longer the statute of limitations for revenge. But there is a catch. If most of the years in the US were spent in Washington D.C. (aka Kilil 15), then the theory does not hold true (i.e., not statute of limitations but the age one went into sidet.)
2. Let's say your ke fessu yeteTalla cousin is trying to stir up trouble at the monthly annual family edr . How can you diffuse the impending row without bashing his head against the siminto floor?
Be specific with your question. Where is this incident taking place, in Addis or in Washington DC? If it is in Washington DC, you better create an alibi when the social workers from Child Protective Services (with assistance from the police) are interviewing you to ascertain the felony counts they are determining to charges you with. If it is in Addis, you can ask MamitE to clean the bloodstain from the floor, without damaging the genuine Nfas Silk sminito that was. You may also try to take him aside, as to not embarrass him in front of others, and tell him "minew tiliq sew alneberkim ende ?" And, if all fails, you should attend one of my trainings in cross-cultural "helping skills", to learn on how to deal with difficult persons. I will give you a discount!
3. Is blood thicker than water? Yes! Don't ask why. Because that is the way it is and will be, and if you don't believe me, ask your brother.
4. How do you tell your sister that she is marrying a philandering, tostwassa ne'er do well without it sounding harsh? Without holding anything back, make sure to tell her exactly whom you "think" she is marrying. If she still decides to marry him anyway, be supportive.
5. What is the most common cause of family tension in the Ethiopian Diaspora and is it any different from back home? Pressure and anxiety from work and trying to keep up with the "Bekeles". Oh, another one - just a generalization - Ethiopian women appear to acculturate at a faster rate than Ethiopian men. Not only don't real Ethiopian men eat quiche, but they never agree to go to a 7-11 to buy a box of Tampax. No matter how much they have assimilated to the North American culture, there goes the family tension. Some of the prevailing symptoms of the family tension include being irritable with each other, lack of communication, physical violence, lack of trust and mutual respect, etc. Trust me, I have seen a lot of pain and hurt in families in the Diaspora who are going through a lot of problems. The only beneficiaries from this tragedy are the lawyers.
6. What's the best way to show love when you can't necessary say it? What do you mean by "can't"? Bull! You should take ownership and say, "don't want to." Because if you "want", you "can". Man, life is too short. Don't play games. If you do, in the short run, you may think that you are winning the game, but in the long run you lose all the love and caring that you would have gained.
7. The nuclear family: still realistic or ay wedia! Ay wedia!
8. Why are so many of us Ethiopians living abroad still single? Remember the expression "mertaCH yiqeral kemiratCH." Looking for a perfect and ideal spouse can be a form of slow death. I hear a lot of Ethiopian women complaining about the shortage of eligible men, and vice versa. Back in Ethiopia a multitude of significant others, uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc. played an important role in match-making. Unfortunately in the Diaspora community, with the shrinkage of the extended family system, it is each to his/her own. In recent years, many have also resorted to what a friend of mine calls "mail order brides." Unfortunately, at least from what I hear, the longevity of such matrimonies leaves a lot to be desired. But then again, what do I know, I certainly would like to a design a research and collect data. Imagine if the rates of success and satisfaction of such marriages are higher, gudfela, Ethiopian Airlines and the Ghion Hotel will have a field day.
9. How much should you take before you cut someone out of your life? There is no formula. Your heart, soul, the pain you experienced will tell you when and how.
10. Does the hurt inflicted by a close family member ever heal? Yes, with time. And only if one learns the importance of forgiveness - yes, both oneself and others.
11. Let's say your daughter comes to you tomorrow and announces that she is dropping out of the Ivy League school whose tuition you've mortgaged your house against to "find herself"? Is it alright to:
a. MaqleT the UUta and then tell her "Ere yet abash! Find miyareg neger find yargish inna!"?
b. Calmly give her your blessings and then tell her that since this will kill you, your last request is to be buried in the lush grounds of EmmiyE ItyoPPia? Can she arrange that?
c. Look at her the way your father looked at you when you complained that having to marress his Gasha merEt before milking the cows was interfering with your school studies?
d. Just accept it and be grateful she is not strung out on drugs, pregnant and/or dating someone who went to ICS?
e. Other. (Please explain.)
Start with option (a). If that fails to dissuade her from dropping out, follow with option (b). If still you still can't persuade her to continue with her schooling go to (c). And if (c) fails, go to (d). If all fails, go to a shrink like me and pay $125 per hour to understand where you went wrong. Of course, you may need to take out a second mortgage to pay for your therapy. At least while your daughter finds herself, you will hopefully also find yourself. Remember, after years and years of psychoanalysis nothing is guaranteed. Ayadris new!
12. How much of the immigrant ethic is really wanting to live vicariously through your kids and inadvertently setting an impossible standard? The problem is not the "impossible standards". The issue is the "confusing standards" - a mixture of Ethiopian and American. The combination of these two standards have been known to be dysfunctional and, at times, lethal.
13. At what point do we really start appreciating our parents? When we have our own children and they start to play the same game on us. "Satweld bila" - sorry it should be "bedemb bila". Only then do we understand the meaning of being self-centered, know-it-all, selfish, etc.
14. How do you start mending fences with loved ones or should you let old qimoch lie? Qim meyaz only eats you alive. Although extremely difficult, if you learn to forgive, not only you feel good about yourself, but it also allows you to mend fences. I agree, it is "Siyayut yamir, siyizut yidenager."
15. Does love ever triumph over evil? In novels, heh, heh! Just kidding.
16. Why do stepmothers have such a bad rap? Because we never hear the other side of the story. In most cultures stepmothers are vilified, remember the expression "balwelede hodwa."
17. How can siblings or cousins who were on opposite and antagonistic sides of the many different political groups get along twenty-something years later? Continue with the past tradition! Those who belonged to the EPRP shouldn't talk to those who belonged to the EDU. Those who belonged to the TPLF should not talk to those who belonged to MEISON, etc., etc. Twenty-something years later, why change one's stupid habit. The only difference twenty-something years later is, if one chooses to "get along," remember the next generation, and try to be a better role model. Help create a better future, rather than a bitter past. Finally, understand your contributions to the current reality and admit your responsibility.

18. Is there a twelve-step program somewhere out there to help squash the animosity that's so common amongst stepsiblings and instill some luv? No, because it is part of growing up as siblings. They might outgrow the sibling rivalry, and if they don't, you guessed it, there is always group psychotherapy. Of course, group rates are cheaper.
19. Can I call my older brother WondimGashE and my older sister ShenkorE and still have a hierarchy-free relationship with them? No! Try and you are sure to fail.
20. Should talaqoch still retain their perks and privileges in Diaspora families? Why/Why not? Now that I am experiencing middle age, my wish and my answer is a firm yes. And again, yes, my response to this question is purely based on self-interest. Others might say Meslohal. Who cares, at this age, I should know what I want. But then again, I haven't taken my anti-psychotic medications for the last three days, and my delusions are coming back.
21. Should I tell my brother if I bust his wife mamageting with another man? What do I do if he gets mad at me? Yes and no. I really don't know. On the one hand he is after all your brother and you might feel compelled to tell him. On the other hand, it is none of your business, and he may be doing the same thing. I will pray for you so that you don't get in a type of a mess where "you are damned if you do and damned if you don't."
22. What course of action should I take if my family decides to ostracize me because I decide to marry outside my immediate community (different river, religion, country, ethnicity, town, high school...)? Stay firmly and loyal to your spouse.
23. My older brother's four-year-old regularly beats his venerating three-year-old-cousin (that's my son) during family get-togethers. My brother thinks it's funny. I don't. I've already done the ferenj thing (but to no avail!) and tried to talk to my bully nephew. He's already showing the same traits as his chiko paternal MenzE grandfather. What ought I do? Wallop the imp? Whack his father? Pour some cognac in the bully's TuTo? Boycott family gatherings? The cognac in the TuTo route is very tempting, however, you want a lasting solution. My recommendation is to tell your older brother that if that little twerp doesn't stop beating his cousin, you are going to bring out all your brother's skeletons out of the closet. In other words, blackmail him. Dirty, yes, but it works.
24. How do I deal with an adult sibling that steals regularly from his/her job? Tew belew, tew belew, embi kale mekera _________ (fill in the blank!)
25. My husband and I have a son who'll begin first grade next September. We recently stopped talking to one another because we always have violent clashes over the selection of Mamush's school. My husband feels it's more important for Mamush to go to public school where there are many international students and people of color. I think it's important for Mamush to go to a private school to excel in this country, even if he's the only black kid in the whole school. Hakim Tedla, ibakoten gelaglun and tell us I'm right. Sorry, you are wrong. I side with your husband (not because he is a man!). Surely, you don't want Mamush to grow with a racial identity crisis that he has to deal with when he is 17. Remember, there are excellent public schools. Of course, it all depends on the neighborhood you live in. Although there are many pros and cons to this debate, as long as the public school is a good one, Mamush's exposure to the real world can serve him well in the future.
26. Exactly how much family strife comes to your professional attention (as opposed to your personal involvement where that negereNa wanted to do an ambaguaro in your own guaro!!)? Does the Diaspora community seek "professional" counseling for family altercations? Not really. At times I get referrals for marital counseling. However, from time to time I get referrals from the Courts, for mandatory family counseling. By that time, I can guarantee you there have been many ambaguaros that resulted in domestic violence. Sad, but a realty.
27. "NuzazE" and "yenefs abbat" - professionally speaking, do they have value? Does the Diaspora community use them? Yes, in case a "diqala" appears during the NuzazE reading. Not only can it be embarrassing, but it can also complicate matters regarding who is going to get what. Regarding yenefs abbat for the community in Diaspora, yes, it can be helpful. But if you can't find one, you can always buy one, namely a psychologist.
28. People fight, then one kills the other. Then the killer commits suicide. Is this a pattern that holds above the statistical norm for the Ethiopian culture, or does this murder suicide rate match the American rate? This is not a fair comparison, because there is hardly an established statistical data for Ethiopian norms in this area. However, remember the expression "Suicide is the sincerest form of self-criticism."

29. Do we have dignity, or do we have tender egos? Or in other words - "esachew bizereTeTu yterfalu wey?" Both! And they are/can be a lethal combination.
30. Do Ethiopians have faith in the future? Do feuds happen because people believe the future holds less promise than today, or do they happen because the future is so important that people are willing to fight to destroy the present and the past? Ethiopians are in Diaspora because of the their faith in the future. Feuds take place to control the future. Unfortunately, in the process of feuding to control the future, they destroy the present and distort the past. What the feuding parties don't understand is that the past and present do contribute to what the future will be. If only we understood that the past, the present, and the future is today. Gebachihu ymilew!
[Dr. Tedla is author of Understanding and Surviving Depression, Alcohol & Drugs: A Personal Guide for Ethiopians. For information about his book and about dealing with discord in the family, please send email to Giorgistw@aol.com. He may also be reached via mail: P.O. Box 73145, Washington, D.C. 20056-3145. And by phone: (202) 671-1212.]
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