Life Lessons from “The Princess Bride”

If you have been a fan of the movie “The Princess Bride” the way I have [the book is even funnier, if you can believe it]: you are likely to use a line from it [although none of us can be the walking talking movie-quote library that Troy is] from time to time. The first of its quotes that is near and dear to the abesheet heart, ofcourse, is: “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something”. I have had a chance to use “It’s not my fault being the biggest and the strongest. I don’t even exercise.” on Troy [or he used it on me, don't remember which] on a Tennis court. Have made friends smile, those friends who tut-tutted my inability to be a silly romantic that [they probably feel] all women are [should be], with “There is nothing better than true love in the whole world. Except a nice MLT. Mutton, lettuce, and tomato when the mutton is nice and lean and the lettuce is nice and crisp” and yelled “Why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it!” when that love turns sour – as loves most often do.

The line: “People in masks cannot be trusted” hasn’t made it to my vocabulary that often. Since I haven’t been or hoped to be a guest at a fancy dress ball [or Halloween] party, I didn’t think there would be an instance in which it would come handy. Then I was asked to wear an Easter Bunny outfit for an office function on April 20. There would be, I was warned, a lot of children, a lot of mothers wanting me to hold their children, and adults behaving like kids. I cannot talk. I cannot laugh. And I can’t bring my hands anywhere near their privates, or even give them hugs unless specifically asked by the person or parent for the purpose of taking pictures.

I was told to look out for ass-grabbers [and alarm security if felt threatened], to make sure the costume stays in place from head to toe and to being inconvenienced by the inability to pee without disrobing. But mostly I was told how hot it was going to be. “My” head, though with a pronounced smile painted on it, was made of fur. A fur head stuffed with all kind of gadgets that would render the human face behind the mask completely invisible. It was also heavy on the shoulder. And since I can’t lift it to drink water without scarring growing children to life; I was meant to suffocate and sweat like the dickens until the allotted brake-time arriveth.

Which I did.

To the casual observer, there I was.. waving, hopping back at every child that pretended to hop at the sight of me and putting both my hands infront of my smiling mouth to show shock or happy surprise. I pretended to blush or gave thumbs up every time somebody hugged me or said they loved me. When kids screamed at the sight of me, or a grown up man walked by me with stiff shoulders (“He doesn’t like Easter bunnies”, wife or girlfriend would explain. The old “I hate rats” syndrome -also a synonym for “I can’t be around rats/clowns because they scare me shitless but I am not man enough to admit it”) I roll hands under my “eyes” to show being hurt. I gave candies. I blew kisses. I protested being lifted by some jocks from the Netherlands with the wild gesture of a bunny short of a bush to dash into. On the inside, however, I was cursing the sweat the was washing my face and burning my eyes.. gnashing the teeth from both the head-ache and the stupidity of some folks and suggesting men and women get bent whenever they act too good to stand beside a fake bunny for the camera. All this.. while wearing a big smile and a happy countenance.

“I will never trust people wearing masks”, I commented, someberly studying my form in the mirror while a security guard/feet guide was busy pinning my shirt under the costume in such a way that nobody would know it was there. That’s when that quote from “The Princess Bride” came to me. I realized I may have erred in assuming the quote was only relevant to people wearing masks and/or those around them. That it may be referring to the masks we wear every day. To one in particular: the smile mask.

You see, deep down, I have always known not to trust people who laugh easily and long. I have viewed it as a defect, either the absence of a functional brain or cover for the dishonest heart. That is why I have always been attracted to people with sour faces and unhappy dispositions. Because they were wearing their hearts on their sleeves, as the saying goes, honest like. Telling passers-by to take it or chuck it.

I haven’t looked favorably at people who laugh easily and long- I said. But I haven’t gone so far as to suppose there was anything particularly sinister about them. That hot afternoon, however, in my smiling head, and furry outfit, I did. True, Americans didn’t choose to wear smiling masks as part of the daily life by choice. What with capitalism, integration and civil rights movement; wearing agreeable masks have become a necessary evil to return home in one piece around here. And …. if we came down to it, isn’t life.. isn’t society … a sort of fancy dress ball; where we go out wearing clothes, looks and attitudes we believe would give a certain impression to onlookers – with “manufactured identities” – as somebody more educated than me called it? Indeed, haven’t we been told by Morgnstern how masks were “terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.”?!

Alas.. after that day.. people who smile easily I no longer saw as men and women trying to live in peace with their neighbors or even folks trying to sell something. I started seeing them as men and women who aren’t showing their real emotions. [Neighbors who may be hiding a "finger", a sneer, a dagger]. Exaggeration much, as Blen would say? Maybe. But let us say you were walking down a dark alley and you see a man wearing a mask walking towards you. Then another chap… wearing a smile. Who are you likely to want to forge alliances with in the hope of saving your hide?! Dark stranger #2, right?. Alas the first guy may have easily been burnt by acid. The second… who knows what he was burnt with?

Me? I will take my chances with the first guy. Unless.. ofcourse.. he started with “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

In which case, “there’s usually only one thing you can do. .. Go through his clothes and look for loose change.”

May 16, 2014 at 8:13 pm 4 comments

Nana-na-na-nah

I don’t know if you had the pleasure, the pure [if short-lived] ecstasy, of knowing you have saved a life. I have. A kid of about 11. Burn victim. From down South. His folks were too poor to accompany him to Addis. And my colleagues, most of them single women in their early 30s, were worried they may not have enough to spare for birthing a child. So i offered mine. “As long as I have somebody to drive me back”, I said. Got a soda out of it. Not to mention a free weight measurement, which wasn’t easy back then [there was a pharmacy near Ghion hotel with a scale; but who needs the looks].

Having your blood donation rejected can’t be called the exact opposite of that feeling. But it does come close. It makes you feel … dirty. Like you are carrying something tainted. A good Samaritan being snickered at by those he/she tried to save. That has happened to me too, 3 months after I came to america. I have still not found a job. So decided to do this. “Risk of
Malaria infection”, they said. Gotta wait for 3 years before my blood cells could be considered safe for consumption.

So when I heard how gallons of blood donated by blacks, blacks like me, was secretly dumped in Israel; I have understood the source of their pain. These were quickly followed by riots. News of violence and drug addiction being rampant among Felashas in the “Promise Land”. Of identity-loss. And Netanyahu!

I knew, then, [that] this was no run-of-the-mill fear of a malaria infection. But a race-infection. Or, to quote John Kerry, an “Apartheid”-like disease.

So.. this is for Liya [with her long hair, "ar yegemete tirs" - as Tagel would call it - and D-cup size breast - even at Junior High], to Dawit, and Tigist: My childhood friends and fellow suffers of Gash Alemayehu’s “kichina” kiray bet. “Abro Adeg”s who left Ethiopia for Israel when I was in grade 8. I remember your pride at standing out; at being separate [but unequal] from us. Was Donald Sterling telling the truth when he said you guys are being treated like mere “dogs” nowadays? If so, I guess being plain “Gondere” doesn’t sound that bad now. Huh?

[Yes. I am a mean-spirited little person].

On a serious note though…
I guess .. maybe.. that is what home is: the place you won’t have your blood donation rejected for reasons of inferiority.

May 4, 2014 at 3:28 pm 2 comments

Loveship, Hateship

Not sure how many Ethiopians use the term “Where I come from” as a “crutch”. I do, or so says Troy, every time I come across: somebody complaining they don’t have a washer/drier in their unit/when I gotta throw away a box of expired eggs/a carton of sour milk or when I, once again, mistake 5 am for 11 am [11 am for 5 am]. I laugh and explain how “where i come from” the day begins at 6:00 am, not midnight, and how I still am in an “Addis State of Mind”.

The speaker, who has thus far probably assumed I was another angry black woman from the deep south, would usually end up asking “So where is home?”

I say Ethiopia. East Africa. Next to Kenya, yes. Then we discuss what great athletes they have before the question of how long I have lived here, why I hardly seem to have any accent and how I found America ensues.

What I haven’t done, atleast conciously, is ask myself that very same question. Where home, my home, really was. Then came my N-400 Naturalization application, with it’s demand to “Renounce or give up citizenship in or allegiance to all other countries” if given a chance to become an American. That day I asked the question [So where is home, really].

I still haven’t found a satisfactory answer for it.

Is home the place where you grow up being told by all those that pass by that [since] you do not look like us. [That] You weren’t one of us. [Thus] You may not belong with us?!

Is home the place you were born in?
That country you fled from?
That land where you were mentally and/or physically abused and emotionally drained?

Is home that particular place [you look back at nostalgically]?
That particular person [who gave you this vision of who you could become]?
That song [which still sends a ripple among your insides]?

Or is home some place else?

The following won’t help you answer that question, it didn’t [help] me! But it has brought back all the rage and pain I used to feel; rage and pain that still induces the desire to throw up every time I came across most abesha men [and avoid the company of a certain type of abesha woman - beteskiyan sami.. tswami.. tselai]. Visit 800 Days in Ethiopia to read more, or apologize to the writer on all our behalf.

On Being Hated

As our end of service approaches, and we get nearer and nearer to home and questions and Ethiopian storytime, I think it’s an appropriate time for some gritty honesty, for my own sake. Lately I’ve limited myself to hints, but the problem has become all-encompassing, comparable to the sorts of sun-blocking storm clouds that hang over Mt. Soloda in our rainy season, and I know I should share before coming home—I guess so that, well, you believe me, and do so while it’s happening. So that you know it has never been hyperbole.

“I’ve never felt so disrespected in my life” is a line I know I’ve heard before, fielded and responded to before, in conversations with family and friends. Something happens at work, at the store, in a board meeting, and you can’t forget it. This isolated moment hangs there in your mind and your heart, for weeks, maybe months, and you try to set it loose to be forgotten and overcome.

I want you to know what it looks like to be a foreigner and a woman, to be a target for unceasing ostracism and contempt. To be a foreigner and a woman living in Ethiopia.

At least twice a week I go through a bout of misery. A deep hopelessness resulting in bitter anger. That statement—I’ve never felt so disrespected in my life—is not an isolated, once-in-a-blue-moon moment for us female volunteers. It has become our state of being. Every other day, at the very least, for the past 21 months, I have been sexually harassed. Men have licked their lips, kissed the air, stared at my breasts, invited me alone to their homes (we’ve been told that in Ethiopian culture, if a single man invites a woman alone to his home, it means the likes of Come sleep with me), asked about my sex life, professed their love for me, gawked at me for half hours like I’m a poster, described my features in inappropriate detail, called me sexy, etc. And I come home feeling like a used object on a broken shelf.

The male volunteers will never quite understand this. They support us dearly, and listen well—and they sometimes see it happen—but they’ll never fully feel it as their own. It will rarely ever be directed towards them. They’ll always be the supporters, not the ones needing the support and not wanting to ask for it.

What this means is: when, weekly, I vent and cry to Daniel about the particular sexual harassment I’ve been given that week, I end up feeling relieved in the moment—for having told him, and for how he soothes and encourages me, lifts me up—but gradually, gradually I end up feeling like an awful individual. I struggle with the questions: Am I an awful volunteer? Am I becoming a horrible person? Am I so full of hate—and how is he not? Am I so weak, so thin-skinned? Could I be exaggerating this somehow? Is it even a problem, or is it only in my head? Shouldn’t I be over it by now? Will I be like this when we go home, too? (more…)

April 27, 2014 at 4:38 am 6 comments

If I Coulda, I Woulda

The following is in answer to all those who ask me:

When I’m going home to visit my family.
[Without the humiliation of telling my two dozens cousins, and/or their kids, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” when they show up, smiling and expectant, to say "Enkuwan LeAgerish abeQash"]

Why I’m not going to school.
[While also paying for my rent. Keeping my sanity, my hours and the man I am in a relationship with].

Which I’m going to do first: Petition my sister or bring my parents to visit.
[Without committing a crime - bank robbery .. lying on my taxes; or doing something illegal - prostitution.. being paid to marry somebody LeVisa or marrying somebody LeMoney].

March 14, 2014 at 4:00 pm 3 comments

Living a little – A LOT!

You have heard the expression, “live a little”. There won’t be a more appropriate expression especially when you are pulling an “abesha” and start trying to save on, say, a paper towel by waiting for it to dry before applying it to a wet surface. Or when you roll your eyes at the price of a plate of raw fish that looks like a smidge on an otherwise clean and fancy plate.

“Live a little!”, you are told, “[spend that money, take that risk, break loose from that bondage - and go crazy - for once]. Yetabatu! zelalem ayinor“.

But what happens when you live a little – a lot!? When “living a little” becomes the rule instead of the exception and the “beal” treat becomes an “azebot” regular you pile on yourself with the vigor of a ram let loose in the mountains [a death-row inmate walking feet-deep in sand?! Or an Ethiopian finding himself infront of a buffet full of fancy food and nobody to watch him eat]. What happens when your plate no longer tastes good without that extra spoon of butter?! When Starbuck’s Caffè Americano becomes the drug you can’t start your day without?! When a weekend doesn’t feel like a weekend without a party to go to?!

Do you live, the way I do, in guilt – waiting for the day you’d be forced to pay for it [by God, or whoever holds the ledger on sins and excesses] with “tirff”?!

Or do you become American: entitled, dissatisfied and always pushing the envelope a little bit further?!

March 7, 2014 at 9:26 pm Leave a comment

There Will Be Candy!

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.

February 14, 2014 at 5:36 pm 3 comments

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