It occurred to me, after 24 hrs of flight, a duty-free shopping rendezvous through Frankfurt airport; a lot of bad airlines food [that I had out of boredom], and plenty of getting up to let a seat-mate [a seat-mate whose capacity for sleep is astounding] make his way to the rest room; it occurred to me that going to a country and living among the “indigenous people” [as we used to call them in my tour-agency employment days] is like being baptised into a new life. It’s not like a walk in the woods. Or a train ride through the country-side. Or even staying long enough to buy keepsakes and take photos, for family and friends, of things you were too busy to notice.
Once you figured out how to negotiate the roads so you can cross just in time to make it alive [the same roads that made you want to change your return date and fly home early the first two weeks, as all Diasporas do, and are a grave reminder how desperate it is to live in a country where no one can afford to say “Abet” on behalf of the average Yohannes], once you watched “Teketai Filega” and betted on who would make it and which judge would send the other one away with what Ama-Englizegna expression, once you got “home-bred” enough to tell a woyala “asgebat ene ezih ga ekemetalehu” and became ok with mixing one part of Rotana liquid-soap to three parts water to make it last longer, it’s hard to go back.
Go back you would try, ofcourse, physically atleast. The packing and the actual flight [to the civilized world] which should prepare you to be entered into the old life – a ritual meant to help you shed the new so you could be sawn into the old seamlessly; you spend it worrying about losing your luggage. You arrive at SEATAC airport; where you are ushered into, kicked about and run around in pursuit of those same luggage full of dirQosh that has been crushed to dust before you [even] left Bole Airport. Then you walk out into the American sky; bizarre and oddly familiar at the same time. You go home, through highways where strangers [man or donkey] don’t jump into to cross over, through industrial complexes whose appearance isn’t as much of an eye sore as every building in Addis seems to be. You recognize the old streets, how “White” America really is [gone are the days in which only brown eyes from black faces would be staring back at you instead of minding the road – as they should – every time you turn to look at something], how none of them would know where you have been and who you have been fighting with only 30 hrs earlier.
Then you stop looping around and give yourself unto the merciful embrace of a confused … drunk-like sleep.
Some 6 hrs later, you wake up. You murmur something meaningless into your partner’s ears, go back to sleep and find out that you were to be re-born into the old life – kicking and screaming – as if your days were rivers of wild waters that has to crush violently to be fitted together.
You go out into the streets, streets with signs – zip codes – and well-kept lawns no one has peed into, like a day hasn’t passed between January 1st and February 2nd, 2015. A shy and bewildered you .. trying to re-pretend to belong here, to be just another working girl standing in line, ordering a Latte – smiling her thankyou at the nice motorist who stopped for her even though he didn’t have to, another Seattlite who knows her way about – keeping the fact [to herself–yourself] that what you wish was to walk back into the old picture where your little sister is always around to go with on your errands, that home was a place where your mom is never too tired to heat you up a wot [with lots of Qibe – to show her love] while retelling the tales you have heard over a rekebot full of buna; that your heart would always belong to the country, a [3rd world] country nonetheless where your father tries to fix all your problems by asking if you need money and where your little brother is only a door away to check on.
Qelemwa, as Abraham “Balageru” Wolde, would say, is Abwara, Tsehai and yeShint bett shita.
It is also a place where (more…)
January 1st at 02:45 hrs. That is when flight LH491 would depart Seattle, WA and head [with a 9 hour lay-over at Frankfurt] to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia carrying yours truly and a couple of other passengers who hope to make it to their destination in one piece and paid good money for it.
Yes, 5 years, 9 months and 17 days later – I will be leaving my adopted home and set foot on the land my “etibt” was buried at and all bitter memories made. I did not come to America with 8 bucks in my pocket so it’s only proper that I won’t return home a rich woman. When I left home in March 2009, I left with two thousand of the crispiest… most “tire” American dollars Bank of Ethiopia was willing to sell me after giving my cousin Enu, my mother and my little sister 15,000 birr each for a rainy day [those NGOs aren’t every college graduate’s wet-dream for nothing!].
When I go back three week henceforth, I will go back a woman in debt: owing this bank 48 hundred dollars in credit card debt; that bank 4 thousand in Line of credit, a hefty personal loan of 5,000 from Wells Fargo and a couple of almost-maxed out store cards with February’s phone bill and rent still to come out of my 17 day paid-vacation cheque.
But would I let my Zemedoch know that? Hell no! I will go with my hands full and my luggage shaken and pressed down. Wearing brand name clothes that are understated and overpriced [“kenesu ansesh atitayi”, was the repeated warning of my Virginia Beach cousin], I will walk towards my flesh and blood frenemies with two “shanta”s [and a carry on] full of all the stuff 3,000 US Dollar could buy. Stuff I will distribute among them, all the 39 of them, with a smile I can barely afford on my face. Polos and DG sandals for the men; dresses, perfumes and scarfs for the women; clothes and toys for the children and t-shirts and gadgets for the teenagers.
And while doing this – or preparing for that – is it all the money I got to pay off upon return [the late feels, calls from creditors, the tarnished credit score] that worries/wouldworry me? Nope. It’s the fear that the shoes might not fit. That the dresses might fail to impress. That the perfumes maybe far too many to pass duty free regulations. And the gadgets would be pried out of hand and taken by men at “gumRuk”. That they would say things about me the minute they walked out the door. That that would make my parents bow down their heads on the inside. That all these crap I throw at their faces won’t blind them from seeing that I am, and always will be, a woman who made it to America but failed to make it in America. [Not even as the blogger she was back home, right?. Too bad they don’t have a Sale on the gray-cells at Best Buy].
They say it gets easier with time. [I say isn’t this what we were trying to get away from to begin with?!]
As of 2 pm this afternoon, I am officially a black American citizen [who has “absolutely and entirely renounced and abjured all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen”]
To show for it, I have in my possession:
- a Naturalization Certificate.
- Copy [of a copy of a copy] of President Obama’s congratulation letter – on a White House note-pad if I may add :-)
- A note book on The Constitution and what it means to be an American citizen
- A small flag – seen herewith in the company of my YeFederalist Ethiopia bandira, a miniature Egyptian pyramid – from Egypt; a pen my brother Tagel wove for me while he was in prison (and still not talking to me) a decade or so ago – way before I was married to an American and had any intension of crossing over here – and my favorite sini of all times
- And a golden-emblemed, real classy, folder to hold it all
And all I had to do was read and write “Colombus Day is in October”.
No kidding! That was the reading and writing part – put together!
Infact, the hardest part of the interview wasn’t the reading, the writing or answering 10 out of the 100 questions on American Government and American history I had to memorize. The hardest part was remembering the stuff I put on my application: dates and places of residence; where I worked, when I got divorced and got my green card. [Ofcourse — not lying on your original documents always helps!!]. My interviewer was cute, friendly and non-judgmental. He didn’t scowl even when I mistook my October 30th birthday for 10th of October, “because I am used to writing it like that”, I apologized promptly. Thirty minutes later, I was out the door with a huge smile and an oath-ceremony qetero for the same afternoon.
After the oath ceremony, where I was one of three Oathees ..[Oathers …Oath-takers…] who weren’t surrounded by family and friends [Troy has to go back to work after dropping me there and my cousin was somewhere I don’t want to reach her at] I decided to lift my spirit by treating myself to some organic sandwich and expensive coffee. While eating and waiting for my shoes to dry, I felt melancholic. Not because I won’t be voting tomorrow and save democrats from themselves; or even because I don’t seem to have any “metasebia” of the two important days in my life in America – February 19, 2009 and November 3rd, 2014. But because, despite feeling more at home here than I ever did in Ethiopia; and having worked hard, and waited on pins and needles for the interview appointment for months, to become a citizen; all I can think of, sited in that cozy chair at Panera’s, looking out at the world and the pouring rain, was “Anchi addis abeba mayetun tewsh woyi? Asadgegesh sitefu yetalu atyim woy?”
Maybe it’s too early to tell if I would ever belong.
Or I just may be missing “dulet”.
After coming across the following, and many more photos, on Huffingtonpost, I decided if Cuba can send almost 500 doctors to the wilderness of West Africa to fight Ebola, I can give 100 dollars [from the comfort of my laptop] so another father/husband/brother won’t have to send a loved one to her/his funeral without saying a proper goodbye.
Not to mention how No Ebola in Liberia means No Ebola in Ethiopia!
Think about it.
By the way, did I mention how if you donate today—your gift will be MATCHED $1-for-$1 by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation?? Here is my [matched] gift confirmation for your reference.
No goods or services were provided in exchange for your gift, making it tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.