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.
It must have been three weeks ago, I was walking by the seafood-isle at Safeway; which is a store I rarely go to, despite its situation across the street from my building. The creaking floor-boards, the unfriendly sales people and the fact that most of the customer were either Somalis or Ethiopians from my first visit of this store almost three years ago has left a bad taste in my mouth. In the process of passing by the said isle, smiling indulgently to the man behind the counter [the way I do with Child-reach and Plan International canvassers on 4th and Pike], who was asking how he can help me; I felt a sneering coming from the woman who was passing by. I am black, alright? I am pre-wired to sense sneers even where there are not. So I turned to look at her, expecting a white woman wearing a face that says black women’s rightful place is by the poultry isle or at MacDonald’s – pushing a baby in a stroller while laboring under the weight of one.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, upon finding a rather homely looking Hispanic woman. Not your average voodoo-doll sized Hispanic woman, mind you, but just as strange. Jet black hair. Faint mustache. And thick eyebrows that almost made a line, Count Olaf style. The type you won’t ask for directions because her response would be a dumb look and mute smiles.
The big question mark on my face must have made her pause. For she parked her cart next to me and started talking. I was about to wave her away, explaining how I don’t speak Spanish ["Sorry, Doña. Ich kann nicht sprechen sie Spanish"]; when I caught phrases I recognized ["you... doesn't look good honey.. come see me"]. She took a card out of her purse and handed to me. I took it, still straining to understand what she was saying. When I saw the word “Tarot” in boldface letter on the card, I needed no more explanation. “No thank you,” I said cheerfully, handed the card back and walked away.
I may have walked away. But haven’t gone far before I regretted not making sure what it was about my person that didn’t look good to her. For I am like Dean Keaton. I don’t believe in the devil but I’m scared of him. After all, I grew up in a protestant church. And the devil is pretty much the thermometer with which you measured your spirituality back there. Is your path beset on all sides ["by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men"]? Then, Praise the Lord!, your spiritual life is on the right track! If you, on the other hand, are too content, happy at having things going your way.. then you might wanna take a close look at your inward life and see where you went wrong. Comfort is a sign that you have either gotten too chummy with the Prince of Darkness, or your soul has been ensnared by the comforts of this world. For hasn’t the Lord said “as long as you are in this world, you shall have tribulations”?!. You’ve gotta ask yourself a question: “Am I in this world?” Well, are ya, punk?
So I wondered by the break-fast isle. And I wondered by the check-out line. Then I wondered sitted by my bed, watching a movie while attacking a bag of pop-corn. Could she have seen something in my future, I wondered? In my body? In my surrounding? Do I have some hidden disease I need to have checked-out? Were I being stalked by some one or some thing? Am I gonne lose my job? When texting my worries to Troy, he comforted me by suggesting “Probably your finances; which she would cure by taking your money and telling you what you want to hear”. Babi’s Whatsapp response was “I didn’t take you for someone who believes in Voodoo”; resulting in the whole subject of God – and the post For Babi.
Alas.. how else can they explain the violent dreams I kept having every night ever since?
I don’t know if I have mentioned this about me and dreams. But I don’t dream! If I do, twice a year or so, it would either be my father/brother chasing me with a dagger; or some bizarre jumble a keen to an action movie; fast cars.. acrobats.. men I have no hope of landing.
These dreams, however, are clear as day. They speak of blood. And they speak of gore. They speak of desertion. Of betrayal. Of loss. They have snakes in them. They have ghosts in them. They have all kinds of assault weapons in them. They got rape scenes. Murder scenes. And everything hellish in between. Even when I’m not dreaming, I seem to wonder in my sleep why I am not sleeping so well nowadays; worrying about worrying, so to say, knowing sleep is only a veil I can lift at will to step back into my bedroom — unto my anxieties. So by the time I wake up, I feel like I’ve been “BiQil Mefcheting” throughout the night. I’m exhausted and out of sorts. A mute kicking and screaming, in the manner of Pinocchio refusing to take medicine, accompanies me throughout my preparation to go to work; through the bathing, and the doing of the hair and the making of breakfast. “Get up!”. “I don’t want to!”. “Take a shower!”. “But I don’t want to!”. “You gotta go to work!”. “Do I have to?!”. But more importantly, I worry about what the dreams meant. [If I should call home and get it out of Blen]. If I am ever gonne have the kind of sleep I used to have back when my inner-clock nudged me up after 8 hrs of sleep, on the dot. Should I start drinking myself to sleep? Should I ask for prescription pills? Is it going to age me horribly?
Or is this all part of my punishment for walking away? Is that what she wanted? Am I letting her win?
“You worry too much”, I am sure you’d groan, “Your sub-conscious, fertile ground as it has always been for fear and doubt, is playing tricks on you”. “It’s all the pressure of life in America. The purgatory feeling it gives you, the sensation of hanging in space. The reason why you can barely concentrate on chapters of books nowadays. Why your bones want to jump out of your skin every time they failed to answer when you call back home. Your deep-seated fear of having let your family/your country/that ideal – promising – young you down – by not going to school; or not working 16/hrs a day; or not marching out and setting yourself apart.”
But we can never know for sure now, can we?!
You know the temptations of a new relationship that seems to be going well. The private giggles. The dimpled smile at your image in the mirror. The need to stop the “aLafi aGdami” and talk about it. To say: 3 Like a grown-up among children is my beloved among all those I dated. I delight to sit on his couch, and his sense of humor is sweet to my ears. 4 Let him take me to all the places I never dreamt of, To honors I thought were reserved only for the prettiest let his hand over me be firm So i know the earth beneath me isn’t likely to shake [anytime soon]. 5 Strengthen me with patience, refresh me with understanding, for I am faint with cynicism from all the psychos i keep meeting. Etcetera.
But.. being a seasoned woman of the world, who has been through this before and end up wishing “minewu milasen beQoretewu”, you would keep your feelings to yourself; dodge the “L” word and refer to your beau as a “friend” when talking about who you went to watch “The World’s End” with, for example. Keeping your eyes eternally open, you watch and wait: to either be dumped or lied to. When he doesn’t seem to, or feels like the type who may not, you whisper his name among a chosen few. “Mechem..” you would begin, “wondochin mAmen kebad newu” then proceeding with the listing of his “beGo gonoch”; you finalize, with a heart-felt supplication to “Emebrhan”, that you think… you hope … this one is… maybe… a keeper.
Troy is the name of the man to whom my “song of songs” would be dedicated were I the type who goes about comparing a man’s eyes with those of doves, his lips to lilies and his legs to pillars of marble, “set upon sockets of fine gold”. He is a good man. (more…)