What’s Salad gotta do with it?

August 28, 2008 at 10:22 am

I’m fond of all my friends. I can even say I love some of them. I may not have any problem wishing them to “go your way and prosper” the minute they walked out of my life. May even quote Premier Meles Zenawi and wish them “MenGedun CherQ Yargilachu” if splitting on bad-terms. But I’m there for them when they need me. Giving the sympathatic ear, holding the hands & pointing ways out of the rock & a hard place they might have found themselves stuck in. Not the ‘YeLib” or lasting-friend material. But good while I lasted.

Being fond of my friends, and understanding them, their jams, and the reason for them, however, doesn’t mean I don’t find them weird from time to time (almost as weird as myself, at occassions). My friends scare the crap out of me as well as the next person. Which can give a nasty turn to the sister, for scaring the crap out of everybody was supposed to be her territory.

Take my friend Genet for example. She is one of those with whom I get together whenever an occasion which calls for ganging up against the multitude arises (no “Awet Ne Hafash” for us, Nossar! We order French fries and give the stuff all we got, calling them names and shaking a disappointed head over their stupidity). Genet shares most of my passions, understands the source of my anger & frustrations and respects my opinions (when I’m not being typically “me”, that is). Sociable, graceful, always obliging and infinitely patient, she’s more or less what I wish I could become at her age. This doesn’t mean her individuality alludes me. But a kindred-individual, I’ve always seen her, much smarter than many, and a lot cooler than the undersigned.

Which is why I found it weird when I heard her being chocked up regarding things that don’t seem to matter on more than one occasion.

This friend of mine is a hard-core EPRDF fan. She loves Meles Zenawi, the person, almost as much as I do and would stand by him through thick and thin. A loyalty I’m incapable of producing, certainly not for politicians, but which I respect coz it isn’t anything like the loyalties of hard-core opposition fans I had the misfortune to live and work with. Who would stand before the firing squad before admitting the weaknesses of those they adore or follow. This friend has no problem admitting when the Premier is being a jerk, albeit in selected company, and always wishes he knew better. Her utmost joy, as is mine, however, is chewing the goods over how “those stupid Kinjits” were being a dork.. again. That’s when she and I become a great team. When marching against our mutual enemies! We sit in some cafe, order them fries and be amused over how these people don’t seem to see things in anything but black or white, how they are quick to take the extreme view of anything put to them and are fond of labels. This is something we discuss and wonder over almost every day. So you’d think this friend actually believes that, in life, a gray area exists and labels are a stain on the intelligence.

Which is why the fact that she raised an eyebrow when I spoke fondly of Meles Zenawi after saying the previous day the guy was an idiot and a dictator used to come as a surprise. Yet i kept my disappointment to myself, even when I heard her jokingly say “I thought you hated him” or “So you are back, are you? You don’t hate him anymore”. Not just because I respect my friend. But because when it comes to religion and politics, I’ve always taken an Ethiopian’s word with a grain of salt. We may want to appear above our upbringing in learned company, but not taking politics, race and religion personally [sometimes that of our family’s] is something we aren’t capable of doing.

It would have been alright, too, had it been only about politics. It never is! She and other two friends were having a “salad” for lunch when I walked into their office one day, for example. Me being myself [constitutionally incapable of leaving a place without having my opinion heard, which is a problem my friend advised me over time and again] I asked “Is that advisable? Seems to me you guys are trying to chase the enjera with water. You are bound to starve after an hour”. One of my colleagues laughed, finding the expression, which was in Amharic, cute. The other took my comment as a “meGderder” (i can only imagine), and tried to spoon-feed me a tomatoe. An attempt which I declined saying I’d rather keep what I ate, thank you, perhaps later. My friend neither said “yeAmara” nor “YeGurage”. But I couldn’t help but notice the flushed look on her face and that she appears to be trying to swallow something hard. It wasn’t a tomatoe.

About two months later, me and a couple of friends went out to lunch. While waiting for our orders to come, the same Salad – dressed better – appeared on someone else’s table. “This thing looks good” I said, attempting to fill the gap, “so colorful! If only it wasn’t a bad idea for lunch”. Or something to that effect. My friend started breathing hard again. It’s as if she felt I was trying to attack her or something. After finally managing to untangle whatever was blocking her windpipe, she said she liked it. In a defensive way. “Yeah but it’s tomatoes..” I continued, unabashed, “the ferenjis eat tomatoe-salad before lunch to work an appetite. Same with guys and hangovers. With enjera, you’d only produce acid. Better eat it later”. Her response was we shouldn’t argue over our taste, she likes it and can we drop it.

Some weeks later, I got an unexpected bonus and took my friend out for lunch. “It’s my treat” says I “and we are having that tomatoe salad I know you love”. My friend didn’t say “but I thought that would be chasing the enjera with water” or “we could do without acid for now”. No! she looked surprised and said “But I thought you hated tomatoe salad”. I was too dumbfounded to even protest. That was the first time I looked at my friend as if I was looking at her for the first time. “Hate it?”, I asked, more shocked than annoyed “Either I give the wrong impressions when I talk. Or people willingly misunderstand me, so I’d be easier to label”. This time, I couldn’t figure out why.

So maybe politics and tomatoe Salad are off the table, you’d no doubt conclude. There is no such thing as a perfect friendship. What else is on the menu?!

Well, opinions seem to get to my friend as well. Whether they are about cars, car owners, mobile phones or what some people remind you of, unless she didn’t see eye to eye with you, she gets chocked over them like nobody’s business. I’ve seen her fly into a silent rage because I said one of her close friends’ body used to remind me of a guy’s, that friend of her sister’s must be pin-head for confusing the Amharic alphabet for 2,000 with the name “Yeshi” and when I wondered why people who went to schools for the priviledged don’t seem to score even less than us underpriviledged ones. I’ve noticed all these “flaws”, been scared and amused by them, and finally accepted them. For a picture-perfect friendship exists only in books. And the undersigned wouldn’t have been a character in it, has she tried. Yesterday’s drama, however, was more distressing than usual for there was no way out, literally!

We were riding a taxi to the office, this friend and I. A cousin of a dearly departed friend was the subject of discussion. “I feel sorry for him”, says I. “He maybe difficult to live with, but he’s damn cute!”

“I know!” my friend agreed “when you see him, you see [dead friend], they look exactly alike!”.

I got a sharp eye. For faces, for intentions, for problems. Better than anybody I’ve come across. Which isn’t something to brag about because it’s curses outweigh it’s blessings. Because you tend to see things people don’t want you to see, sometimes are trying hard to hide. But ofcourse you’d get a reputation out of it too, that makes you a little arrogant. I didn’t think the kid resembled his deceased uncle. Not even remotely. But the argument that followed wouldn’t have weighed on my soul as much as it did if my friend had treated the subject with the same ease and detachment I was treating it with. We might even have got a laugh out of it. No!! She started breathing funny, trying to swallow something hard and chocking, all in one move. While I sat there confused, and wondering, if it was she who didn’t know me, or I who never know her.

Well, I guess it’s all part of the [growing] process. Until we all packed our bags and depart from whence we shall not come back. When the world would casually dismiss us with the courteous: “Been nice knowing you, go your way & prosper!”. Or worse yet, “MenGedun cherQ yargilachu”.

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