The Money & the irony
Has anyone asked you to tell them what the label on your jacket or t-shirt reads without looking at it? I have! On my second job interview of almost 10 years ago. And guess what, I didn’t have the faintest idea (in my defense, the jacket had been lying around in my mother’s closet for years, as neglected and familiar as a girl in your neighborhood you wouldn’t take notice of until somebody told you she’s got herself a hunk of a boyfriend and only had a tiny badge on it’s front pocket that read “New Port”). Fortunately, the guy who did the interview found my one true ability (of blabbering myself to dizziness) fascinating that he let the error slide and offered me the job.
The realization still mini-haunts me though, the fact that I seem to be wearing clothes I feel I know as well as the back of my hand but make my head ache in their strange unfamiliarity if I took a good look at them. Gives you the kind of sick feeling trying to decipher the connection between a name and an object that is not referred to by the type of sound it produces (like ‘meow’ or “fwafwate”) doesn’t it?!. It does me! Used to have this same absurd feeling when trying to imagine what the universe would have looked (or felt) like with neither living, or non living things in/on it in my early teens.
Now, I don’t know if that is where dejavu’s come from, or I was having moments of perfect clarity, or absolute insanity. But such was my reaction to the word “Lamchiew endikefil hig yasgedidal” (a word transcribed boldly on the face of the paper money I’ve been using all my life) whose existence I was unaware of before I heard some other loser fail to answer it on a ‘tiyaqena mels wudider’ ETV used to sponsor a few years ago (a ‘tiyaqena mels’ that used to be far more challenging than the one they have these days, and actually gave the correct answer to questions it forwards to it’s contestants. Yeap, the screen may have looked fancier, but it’s the same powers that are at work behind it; the powers that live off the knowledge of 25 years ago and the politics of the ‘iyapa’ times. Bold people! Dumb people! The only kind of people, it seems, with any hope of success in our beloved mother land. Granted you and I will probably have another name for it: a ‘regress’, perhaps, of our societal value!).
Alas! My reverence for the paper money (the person, not it’s derivational value .. if ‘derivational value’ is the word I want) has older, more personal roots. My uncle Solomon, who was considered as a sort of ‘hero’ among the Ethiopian and Somali community in Djibouti (where he fled ‘babuur tentelatilo’ at the age of 13 after assuming he’s stabbed a man, who not only refused to pay his mother a rent but dared insult the great lady, ‘fatally’) was sent to prison under the allegation of defying it’s very glory. This was back in the day when anybody found hanging outside his door after the clock ticked 12:00 spent a night at the local “police tabia”. He was back in Addis after an absence of almost 20 years and, as “Aregahign Worash” and his infamous “abiyotawi zefen’s were the only form of entertainment that presented themselves on ETV, took his brothers out on the town. Where, after talking this and that, he got started on the subject of a certain French woman who skipped the country taking his only child with her, not leaving so much as a mailing address to keep in touch through. A subject, in short, that brings out the worst in him.
His attitude didn’t sit well with the rest of the customers who found him fascinating at first, when he was buying & talking about all his exploits; intimidating, when he started calling the girls names (which he did anyone with a wig extension on her hair, which simply was ‘happening’ at that time) then plain vulgar (when he stopped giving a shit what they thought of him).
A few days later, my other uncle got a call from “keftegna”: His out-of-town brother was in jail, with nothing but the shirt on his back, and serious allegations of burning the paper money of the country (of which two pieces were found in his trouser) that, if proved, could send him to prison for a long time to come. Solomon, ofcourse, said the same people who called in the cops were the ones who robbed & then framed him; that he is done with ‘this’ country and these people (including the family that got too tired of his wild ways in just a few weeks) who he felt were treating him like a fucking outsider, and upon his release left the country cussing and swearing never to return. A promise he kept even in death, where only a video of his funeral was promised to his relatives by those Ethiopians whose ill-treatment he was too much of an ‘abesha’ to put up with. Or so legend has it.
So I needn’t be told how our country spends hard earned gold to have every one of them printed to have my heart break whenever I see them papers disfigured by ‘mastaweshas’ to either self or receivers, protests and/or long lines of mathematical calculations. Not to mention the gums, the rude plasters and staplers one finds stuck on them. I even fancy our paper money seems to be the only thing, next to those poor ‘woyalas’ on minibuses (about whom even journalists make dumb and degrading jokes on national radio) that Ethiopians of all age, sex, race and religious affiliation take part in the abuse of. Infact, next to bank tellers, the same ‘woyalas’ we mistreat indiscriminately seem to be the only class of people who treat our paper money with any respect. [Kind of like fellow sufferers, perhaps?!] Maybe because they are only too aware it’s the lack of this very commodity that makes them suffer, mostly silently, through all types of abuse in a long and hard day but also because they are the ones who face shit if the look of one appears lacking in grace to any one traveler (who, as we know, is only too eager to polish his ‘Woyala’-abusing skills for the benefit of smiling & approving fellow travelers).
1.The worst form of destitution is lacking food; the worst of sins is killing a man
2.Even if the poor man lacks something to eat, he never lacks what he pays for tax
3.When I am wanting something to eat, my baby cuts teeth
4.The impoverished has no companion
5.He who has money can have his ways in the heavens
6.Begging from the rich is better than borrowing from the poor
7.Once wealthy [they] do not respect others
8.The rich person [counts] on his wealth; the poor one [counts] on his labor
9.I have no goat, I do not quarrel with a lynx
10.Do not crave, what you can’t get
Entry filed under: Latest Posts.