And roses. And chocolates. And all kinds of sappy romantic crap with no relevance to either the non-American world, nor love – for that matter. Like that song by Neil Young, for example:
Because I’m still in love with you
I wanna see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.
Why [would there be roses.. and chocolates.. and all kinds of sappy romantic stuff with no relevance to either the non-American world, nor love - for that matter]?! Because it’s Valentine’s Day! I day to honor lovers and love! And Americans are cheerleaders for love!!
Only the other day a colleague of mine, Frankie – Gay, was telling another colleague of mine, Kendra-Lesbian; how he was feeling the blues lately because of an old flame who broke his heart. They were in an open-relationship, he said, but have agreed to let the other one know if/when things start getting serious with somebody else. Apparently, these are the sorts of relationships that involve sex even after the contracting parties have parted ways. So although Frankie and his boyfriend drifted apart, they still managed to have the occasional sex when they can. THEN, suddenly, said Frankie, in a choked up voice; every time he called his old-boyfriend, now a booty-call, his calls started getting dropped. When he finally managed to locate him and pressed for an explanation, the ex came out and said he was in a serious monogamous relationship now. That he has been seeing this guy, “military-type”, while he was dating Frankie; then they have fallen in love at the end of 2011. “Yes”, Frankie added, sounding sad and brave at the same time, “now they are going to get married. And live happily ever after”.
It isn’t the lack of a hint of sarcasm in his self-pitying voice that shocked me, but how he was trying to “sound” happy for an ex-boyfriend who not just cheated on him repeatedly but was treating him like a piece of ass while building a solid [hopefully lasting] life with another guy. He then continued being “happy” for them, sounding rather like Stanford when declaring he doesn’t have anybody to go to the LGBT-prom with despite being on the decorations committee.
While I was pondering over this fact, over the irony of Americans still manageing to keep-up their love-optimism despite adversity [the problem with monogamy, the high divorce rate, the deterioration of family values] and how accepting gay-men seem to be when it comes to being screwed over, the story of Bainbridge Island’s Filipino Indians [otherwise known as "Indipinos"] came on Kuow. These are men and women who made the North West their home and “can trace their roots back to the strawberry farms that once carpeted Bainbridge Island”. One of the women, whose heritage as a Nooksack Tribe member is being questioned now, started talking about how her mother [of Native American origin] and dad [a Filipino farmer] met. “He was driving a 1925 flatbed truck, and saw my mom walking on the side of the street”, she said “and he said to her “Hey.. kid! Where are your parents? Would you like to come pick berries on Bainbridge Island?”. The girl must have run home and told her parents. The grandparents took up the offer, along with other Native families. In time, the story continues, romances sprang up between Filipino men and Native women. And.. “They fell in love with each other working in the fields”.
Now .. hold on a minute! one would protest. “What happened to just getting coupled-with because it was the sensible thing to do? Because it was the expected thing to do? Or because there wasn’t anybody else to hook with?” Why would a couple not declaring to have gone through the process of “falling in love” feel they need to explain more or made feel their relationship was less valid and wholesome than those who can pin-point the moment they realized they were “falling” for this person?
Ofcourse, there is nothing particularly bad about this idea of falling or having to fall in love. Until -that is- it starts creating a dissatisfaction when the butterflies are no longer beating their wings in the stomach. Or make people feel robbed of the ideal when relationships fall short of the myth of what “being in love” feels like [how many movies have we watched, dear reader, where a disappointed heroine cries over pieces of her heart.. life.. dreams.. using the words "but you said you loved me" in accusation?!]. More importantly, until “love” starts being used as an excuse, nay the very reason, for people to mistreat their fellow human beings. Many were the days in which I sat through a “Maury Show” episode where a guy caught cheating on his wife/girlfriend/fiancée is being confronted by the said wife/girlfriend/fiancée on national television. She cries. He denies. The audience boos. He swears he has been wronged. Claims innocence and vows to take the lie-detector test, if he must, to regain her trust. When the results roll in, we learn that he not only fucked the girl’s cousin but 6-9 of her bosom buddies. He has been sending roses to one. Buying rings for the other. Or has built a whole life with a 3rd two cities away. The one thing he has been telling the truth about, a somber-faced – almost reverent – Maury would tell us, to the “Awwww”s of the thus-far-antagonistic audience, was when he claimed to “love” her”.
He loves her.
Oh he does.
Thank God almighty he does.
So she goes back to crying and hoping he would change. He goes back to screwing with her -and a hand-ful others. And the audience goes home and tuck their pillows underneath their necks with a sigh of relief – hoping that surely, if he loves her, it can’t be that bad!
The error, I think, is in the reading. The machine checks the heart-rate, the contraction of the muscles, the breathing pattern. It tells the expert what the guy “believes” to be true. It does not tell him whether that belief or perception of truth has any relevance to the reality [or not]. Kind of like a guy denying fathering a child because he has been hit on the head and lost his memory. Does that make his tells a lie or his fatherhood any less binding? In short, these guys were probably not lying when they say they love the woman they are being accused of treating un-lovingly. The love they have for her is simply not the kind of love they promised her. Or one she is willing to accept.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not the abesheet I was a year ago when it comes to the subject of “love”. I have been with a guy towards whom I have “pleasurable feeling stemming from an emotional attraction” for 10 months now. Neither did I felt anything less than lucky to be his that first day I met him, actually shed a tear when he told me it’s too bad I smoke because he has a rule about dating women who smoke. And he seems to like being around me, if actions do indeed speak louder than words! [Not that he doesn't tell me he loves me as often as the next [American] man does a woman he harbors “pleasurable feeling stemming from an emotional attraction” for].
Alas.. I am no cheerleader for love. Hell no, I ain’t. My eyes won’t glaze over and I won’t start day-dreaming at the mention of “Titanic”, “The Notebook”, or [sorry kids] “Sleepless in Seattle”. I won’t let romance over-ride reason or believe love is the one noble Idol worth bowing down to and going ooh-ahh about. Neway Debebe’s “Egnaw EnitareQ”, was, after all, the song my dad sang along and wept to when my mother left him for 3 months; tired of the beating and the verbal abuses [to both herself and the kids]. Alas… I do believe C.S. Lewis when he said:
“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. it is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”
Stay warm, my friends.
Haile Selassie Mehari/Mahri ወደ Amharic endeአልteregomew.
መታሰቢያነቱ ለSeble: For how much you disliked Barbara Hare; and how much I loved her.
Photo Courtesy of Blen Tilahun.
If you asked me a year, or even 8 months ago, where my ingredients’ loyalties lie, I would have said I was a “salt” person. I came from a generation of salt eaters, after all. My grandpa, Fitawrari Gebrekristos ErGetye, was… I’m sure of it … a renowned salt eater of his time – you don’t get that “QomTaTa Hamot” from “Yela’am Wotet”!. My father, to whom today’s food [or whatever is left off the guRshas his kids demanded of him the minute he sat at the "geBeta"] pretty much tastes like yesterday’s, took all his bites with a side of “mitmita”. And my mom’s “berbere” still “calls out to the neighbours”, as we say, two years after I packed it in a glass jar and stuck it at the back of my kitchen drawer.
Don’t hold back on the spices, we say, hand over the shakers.. and we will out-do ourselves. Why.. my little brother “Babi” used to have a “taBa” full of “DaTa” with his morning bread at the tender age of 5!! The same “DaTa”, I may add, my colleagues run to the “shint bet” in the pursuit of water for after eating. And, take this, we did it the way no other Ethiopian family did: chegwara-beshita free!!
So spicy was my thing. Sweets? Not so much. Even back when, for our annual birthday photos, we have been taken to Photo Assefa with the pair of “burtikans”, “mu’z”, a bowl full of fendisha, a cake to center it all and four bottles of soda [two Coca-Cola and two Fanta] to stand guard of the table; I was never THAT into neither the “desta” keremela nor the “CoKa”. Infact, I must still be one of the few Ethiopians whose eyes don’t glaze-over at the prospect of free refills when dining at MacDonalds.
I don’t know if it’s hearing kids who like sugar tend to grow dumber than those who don’t or because the first creamy-topped cake I bit into had a strand of hair that got stuck to the back of my tongue; but I was always willing to give up my slice when it comes to baked goods. The bars of Toblerone chocolate the East-African Manager of our Switzerland supplier used to slip me [so the rest of the Staff doesn't feel left out], while I worked for an importer/exporter company in Ethiopia, were always taken home and spread among the little ones. I took pride in my ability to resist sweets. Saw it as a sign of self-restraint. Even said as much. While my listeners cowered before me, eyes searching the ground for something .. an explanation.. perhaps.. for why they took 6 lamps of sugar with their 1 s’ni-buna ;-).
Things didn’t change for the better after I came to America. Sure, (more…)
Almost 5 years ago to date, I asked Sistu and Mazzi how they manage to go to sleep in America, with all the psychos running around. “You’ll get used to it”, they said, “that’s the trick. You will so get used to it you would stop thinking about it before long”. And I did! I got used to hearing people being stabbed at Pioneer square; yet walked home by [the infamous] Belltown on seasons where the days are short and the nights are long. Made my peace with the idea that I might be shot at, blown to pieces or end up being another tragic number from a freak-accident in this here land of the free and home of the brave. Most of all, I stopped worrying I might see a face that wasn’t there when I look up into the mirror after washing my face. Shit happens, as they say. The best you could do is avoid stepping in it and continue on your way.
This doesn’t mean I still don’t stick to the street lamps when walking home after midnight or don’t get rattled when coming across people who remind me of some creepy character from a book/movie. I do. But I also know there is precious little I can do about it. So I try not to dwell on it unless something triggers the fight-or-flight response in moi. Like the other day, for example.
I was walking up a hill by the Swedish Medical center [an area frequented by doctors, nurses, and many in need - of money, of drugs, of sanity] and this guy who has been waiting for the light to turn green with me strode before me. He was carrying two duffel bags, each crossed from the opposite shoulder he was supporting with both hands. And from those bags, a horrible smell hit my nose. Something dead and rotting. It might easily have been an asparagus induced fart. But when I looked up and noticed how the guy (a) Maybe homeless, but was dressed reasonably well [bringing to mind a skin thick with layers of grime]. (b) Was wearing a hat that seems to help him avoid eye-contact (c) dived into the bushes upon feeling my intense interest on him; I decided the smell must have come from parts of human flesh he is carrying around. “What if”, I wondered, “he is like Secret Skelly, a quiet guy whose closet won’t sprout madness until the day he died. Or that patient from “House”, the serial killer who got sick because of all the human fat he gorged?. I mean it’s not exactly unheard of!! Most serial killers, who are from Seattle, Uh-huh!!, ate and stored left-overs of their [human] victims. What with the economy being what it is and the easy access to synthetic drugs nowadays, feeding on run-away girls would sure save the loser some bucks on food stamps!
I thought about it when I walked up the hill. And I thought about it when I walked down hill. Should I have followed him, I wondered. Show him my suspicion? Alert the cops? Would I see his face on tv someday, say “Look, honey, it’s that guy who loves Asparagus” and find out it was John Wayne Gacy, the “killer clown”, like Paul Teodo later found out?!
Finally, I resigned myself to the fact that there really was nothing I can do. This is America, after all! You can’t accuse people on a whim, or even a justifiable suspicion, of being cannibals untill you saw them tooth-picking human flesh out of their molars. A crime has to be committed. And you better be an eye-witness or a seasoned investigator with a solid evidence, before going blubbering to the police. Until such time, your suspect has a license to offend, and you to sit around with your hands in your lap; sighing helplessly.
I am no foreigner to this kind of helplessness, ofcourse. I had it back when I was dating a man who claimed to have lived in the “vampire lifestyle” for 12 years; sucking blood from consenting women’s veins. I have felt it when seeing, one cold evening, a little boy of about 8, sited on an old man’s knees at a deserted bus-stop in Lower Queen Anne. The man may have been one of those grandparents who tried to get on their kid’s nerves by spoiling their grand-children. And the boy may have had a rough day from some other earlier source. But the minute I saw him sitting on the old man’s lap; with a broken look on his face, the kind of quite anger that comes from deep self-hatred.. shame.. and embarrassment; the “pedophile” alert chimed in my head. Needless to say, I did what I can. I gave the old man a dirty look. I smiled at the kid to show him it wasn’t his fault. I lingered around looking visibly suspicious. Then walked all the way home feeling like my heart has hit rock bottom. And one more time after that, when hearing my gun-owner ex-boyfriend spew angry .. hateful words against the government and the people who worked with him. He blogs.. now and then.. saying he sometimes thinks about ending it all. I sincerely hope it is proving therapeutic.
Alas.. America isn’t all fear and loathing. There are things that knock the breath out of you when you stop to think about them. Like the view of Lake washington and the I90 bridge from a nearby hill. Like walking in downtown Seattle in December; where all the trees are shrouded in lights, where the smell of food and music comes at you from every side and where all the pretty girls, wearing boots and expensive jackets, walk by you laughing like they are a band of fairies going out to do merry mischief. There are the general.. tax-payer bestowed.. blessings: The Public Radio. The Public Library. The parks! The Low-Income Public housing, the unemployment-benefits and the various aids [which, I am ashamed to say, 90% of my countrymen and women use and abuse like nobody's business - so much that you appear a fool when refusing to take advantage of it]. And there are those little personal boons that, like all good things, come to you when you least expect them. Like the perfect apartment you are still in love with after a year of living in it. A wonderful boyfriend who makes the perfect pies and takes you home to his family’s to gobble them for thanksgiving. That pre-paid phone you use as an alarm clock, that you kept only because nobody would bid on it on ebay, that seems to never run out of battery.
It’s not the ideal world. But it sure is a wonderful one.
Happy Holidays, my friends!
CAMP HURRICANE POINT Ar Ramadi, Iraq (July 13, 2005) – a food service specialist with Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, serves a Marine at the mess hall here during lunch.
There is one subject on all of American TV [and one movie: "Brothers", featuring Tobey Maguire as a Marine captain suffering from PTSD] that would make me break into tears; despite the time of day, the company I’m in or context. It’s “our boys in the military”, as they call them: American Men and women fighting and dying abroad in the service of their country.
My ex-husband Chris used to be a Marine shortly before I met him. So short, infact, his crewcut ["medium fade", I discovered it was called later] hasn’t grown back to normal the first time he came to visit me. He made a point of making his bed the minute he got up. Shaved clean every morning. And fold his clothes in tiny rolls, for space saving.
He took pride in the smallest job he can get. Sat outside for hours to hear the neighbourhood kids play and ate everything that was given him with wonderment. What he didn’t do was sleep much. He had a back-pain that he got from a basketball game in Camp Lejeune. He has fallen on his shoulder and broken a bone there, but it was located in a place where the touching of it may mess up his whole vertebrae. So the doctors told him they would have to either operate on him and risk paralyzing him for life. Or prescribe him pills to help him curb the pain.
When it came to sleeping, the pills didn’t help much. Two to three hours a night was the best he could get, if that. It wasn’t unusual for me to see his face brightened by the light from his computer screen when going to sleep, and find him glued to the same screen when I wake up in the morning. If he has fallen asleep on the couch sometime in the night, the TV would have to still be on; showing an early morning weight-loss commercial or jewelry collections from the home-shopping network.
I used to try giving him back massages, nag him to buy pillows that would put less stress on his shoulder, and wonder why he takes his sweet time about checking mail every evening. I never saw signs of depressions on him. He didn’t like talking about his past, true. But was always cheerful and willing to lend a hand. Easy to laugh. Hesitant to judge. Averse to confrontation. Everything, in short, that I wasn’t. Knowing what a tough life he had, I thought it took a super-human strength to accomplish what he did. And said as much. Here was a man who not only served in the military, in the business of stepping on explosions and dealing with flying limbs; but been discharged with Honor. Has then gone to school, working 3 jobs at times. Graduated in Computer Programming. Gotten himself a job as a Junior Programmer with a publishing house that was 4 blocks from where we lived. Within 2 years of moving back to America, he’s petitioned his wife successfully, then rented us a one bedroom apartment at the cushiest part of Escondido. We had breakfasts together on Sundays. And could afford to go to the movies once a week. His parents lived on a walking distance. He hang out with sister every once in a while. And his brother drove over from San Francisco every other month. I could understand his not being able to sleep for more than 2 hours in the 9 months he spend in Ethiopia; among people who didn’t speak his language and whose culture he didn’t understand. But what else can a man want?!
I learned the error of my assumption after discovering his marijuana stash one night while he was out “checking mail”. When I wept for like half an hour, saying that i wasn’t going to be married to a man who may not live long enough to have a future with me; he poured the whole thing in the toilet and called me over to see it go down the drain. Then he sat me down, held my hand and told me, with red hot tears burning his eyes, why he felt the need to hide his marijuana dependence to me. How it wasn’t the back pain keeping him up half the night. But what he saw back there! And the “nightmares”. And the “ghosts”. Nightmares, ghosts and stories he can’t bring himself to talk about.
I have tried to ask him once, ofcourse, the first time we met. I have said, with an embarrassing eagerness, “So you were in the military. Have you killed anybody?”. He was doing his British Sailor accent and making me cackle like a young chick. When I asked that question, his body become tense and I felt the air between us freeze. “I don’t wanna talk about it”, he said quietly. And we never really did.
His friends have, ofcouse, came up. Life in the barracks. Meal time at the mess halls [the military dining room]. Age and ethnic diversity. Once, when talking about 9/11, which was the reason why he enlisted the second time, he said how his older brother gave him a hug when coming to see him off and said, in a tearful voice, something like “thank you for defending our country”. I’ve never seen Chris look more grave or mature than I saw him then. “People”, he chuckled bitterly, “Have no fucking clue. They hear all this crap on TV and think…”.
He’s told me how most men and women in the military don’t feel like heroes. How their days are haunted by the life they have gotten themselves into and the things they have left back home. How harsh weather and living arrangements; stern military rules [a life of servitude - of saying "Yes Sir" and "No Sir" to superiors who only adress you using your rank], extreme punishments for doing something simple as over-sleeping and the barrack [social] life they are forced to be a part of, were the least of their problems.
When they aren’t being shot at, blown to pieces or walking among natives they are there to liberate who hate their very existence, they fret about their families back home. Even a hint of something going wrong in a beloved’s voice sends them into weeks of dark depression. School suddenly becomes this most important thing in their lives. They spend, every moment of their free time, talking about what they were gonne do when they git done: Go to school. Get a job. Marry their girlfriend. Go shooting hoops with their kid. Live in a place where all you hear is nature sounds and can eat off the fruit of the land.
He’s mentioned, mournfully, how ill-prepared most are for the life that awaited them there. How mistakes and regrets eat their sanities alive. How devastating betrayal is. And how unbearable life gets when they come home and realize the country they gave their lives [and sanity] for hasn’t got a place for them. Or worse, wants to brush them aside and forget about them. How he understands why most eventually end up where they do: the streets. Mental institutions. As latest victim of suicide on a coroner’s report sheet.
And so.. this Veterans day.. I’d like to support the American troops. I hope they bring their boys back home. Soon.