Knock-knock-knockin’ on..

February 10, 2009 at 12:17 pm 17 comments

Having been told I must present myself at the US Embassy to give a blood sample the previous afternoon, I’ve set my alarm clock for 06:00 in the morning. I wanted to make it back at the office by the time tea is served at 10:00 a.m, so I left my building before anybody else did, treading as politely as i could, the only form of apology available for the noise my shoes were making!

When, 45 minutes later, I arrived at destination’s end, four rows of the chairs that hold 5 person each were filled with individuals who look good and cold. Their eyes trailed after everybody coming through the embassy’s checkpoint: The [employee ID] badge wearing skinny girls who refused to acknowledge our presence. The badge-wearing young men whose walk reminds one of the slow-motion walk uniformed heroes walk with on TV. And finally the big bways who guard the gate that made gun-fire noises every time its opened. Neatly attired men and a woman who seem to enjoy the attention more than the subject under discussion, and laughed about it with a brief interruption in which one of them called out for the “stand by” and the stand by responded.

I took my place, on the row infront of the hall whose inside wall was bearing part of Lady Liberty’s head and a welcoming note. On my left sat a petit girl whose Motorola mobile phone, whose batteries she complained about later, seem to ring every other minute. On my right is a young man wearing the type of scarf that got Rachel Ray into trouble some months back. Soon we were friends. We started with the cold, the whether change and the respective clinics we went to. We then proceeded to what we were in for. The girl said she was giving blood sample for an immigrant visa which her Eritrean fiancée applied for in her stead. They met in Asmara, she told me, when she was there.

“So you are going as a Refugee” I said, driven to sarcasm by the VIP treatment these people are getting in a supposedly “enemy” territory, “I’ve heard on the news how our government is working over-time to facilitate visas for you guys”.

“I came here three years ago” she said with a shy smile “I am Ethiopian national, only I’ve spent most of my life there. I know how they get treated when they arrive here. But you can’t imagine what type of risk they took before they do. On top of paying twent to fifty thousand ETB to cross the border to Ethiopia, they are leaving their parents for either arrest or fine for helping them escape”.

“50,000 birr to cross to Ethiopia?!” the man sited next to her, who has thus far impressed me as having fallen in love with his official-looking binder, seem to find that information too ridiculous to pass off. “It’s crazy what these people are willing to do to go to America” he continued “They have all the dough they need to make a good life in their own country, but they’d rather pay it to go and be a slave in another. I heard they pay upto two hundred thousand birr to have somebody come here and marry their family out”

The applicant on my right was the first to recover the shock the extravagant amount induced. “Atleast they know what they are getting into!” he replied “I’ve never thought about going to America until I won DV lottery. You know how they say those who don’t want it usually get it. Now, I am told I have to pay eight thousand birr for every member of my family in the form application fee. Eight thousand birr for a family of 5! What’s worse, there isn’t even a guarantee. If I got refused, the money is non-refundable. Let’s say I got the visa, where would I get the ticket Birr for all of us?! My relative owns a private business there, but I can’t ask him to both pay for our tickets and take us in!”.

A whistle, the shaking of heads and a sympathetic teeth-sucking followed. Shocked into humility by the realization that baking in the sun for half a day to get your police certificate, and paying 2,000 or so birr as an authentication and medical fee wasn’t the worst that could happen to one; I offered help in the form of a question: “Can’t you go first and take them later?” I asked.

“There is an expiry date,” he said, hopelessly “It’s as if they are making it impossible for you to go. But offering you the chance so it eats you up your whole life if you don’t use it”

The young man behind us, who confessed to having missed his interview and was told to wait until some official showed up, was trying to lean into the conversation. He appeared to have found the chance now. He told us non-immigrant visas weren’t any better. The government has passed a new law where every organization sponsoring his employees for a trip to America is asked to show an overseas medical insurance coverage of 50,000 USD in blocked account. I was about to ask if that was dollars or Birr when the guy with the fancy binder interrupted.

“Maybe Obama would give us tax-exemption” he said, smiling, “that way, DV lottery would live upto it’s name”

The name, or the promise, seem to cheer up all his hearers except one. She was watching the half a dozen kids, two on the chest of their white adoptive parents, flocking in. “Orphans!” she said, when we registered their presence, “coming to give blood sample, incase their parents died of HIV!”.

“Well, you know Americans” I said playfully, sensing this was something she felt strongly about, “To them we are creatures of the wild you can’t be too careful with. Animals that may drag germs into the house! It doesn’t matter how bad their economy is, and if the rest of the world knows it, as long as we are begging to enter their country, they reserve the right to treat us as inhumanly as they saw fit”

I’d have continued with my observation in a learned language, and impressed my listeners with my insight into “the evils of poverty” or living in a poverty-striken country: how it makes you voiceless, letting others decide your present and future for you; how you can’t afford to be proud when you are begging for alms, can’t demand as to how you should be treated or not, etcetera, if a small scene hasn’t presented itself in front of us.

Interviewees whose appointments were for 8:00 in the morning were exiting the building at this moment. There wasn’t half the drama I heard one gets to see at the American embassy. There was no fainting, no screaming, no shaking of the hand. No dazed looks from those who sold their earthly property in the hope of entering the promise land. There was only one girl. A young girl between the ages of 19-24. A girl on whose lips the glossy lipstick seem to have dried and cracked. She wasn’t making much noise either. But her eyes were red. The skin underneath looked wet and puffy. A young man we saw crossing himself when passing through the door had his hand on her shoulder. He was laughing a self-conscious laugh. To show us, it seems, he knows how ridiculous this was. “Min yasleQsishal?” he finally said, forced into audibility by our undivided attention, “Gennet aydel!”.

Isn’t it?!, I silently wondered. Why, then, are we pretending as though it is?

Related Post: Nervous for my Nirvana

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Entry filed under: Latest Posts.

Last post on this subject, i promise! Why we don’t have a “Qidus ValenT’inos”

17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. luli  |  February 10, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    We’re pretending, unfortunately, because everything around us screams the virtues of the successful capitalist west. The shiny movies, the skycrapers, the burger and fries (how i used to crave for it when I saw it on TV … (diro diro ahun indih lalsheshew ;)) The house with the white picket fence and 2.5 kids complete with two cars in the garage is a wonderful dream … one you aspire to without even being told to … hollywood will do that to you of course … and so you yearn for something you only ‘know’ through tv, movies, books, relatives, few, very privileged friends who make their way to the ‘states’ during summer and tell you all about how huge just ONE slice of pizza is … how do you escape all these temptations when there is no one around to tell you that the food KILLS, the house, you have to SLAVE for, and the life is for the most part devoid of a lil thing called spice?? i won’t forget something a close family friend told me when i asked him why he was forcing his little kids to fast when it was obvious they weren’t old enough to even understand and his reply ‘ye icecreamina mickey mouse lijoch honew liyadgu eko new’ ;))

  • 2. Mazzi  |  February 10, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Interesting post Abesheet.

    Before you know it, you will find yourself on this side of the ocean, and start observing this ‘Genet’ from close range yourself. I have a sneaking suspicion that you will have one or two opinions about this place :-). ‘Genet’ it isn’t, though we sure all act like it is, but ‘hell’ it isn’t either ;-).

    Some of the ironies you guys were discussing in the waiting room about the length some people would go to see the ‘promised land’ are not that different from what the same folks would still have to face even after they arrive! In theory at least, this ‘Genet’ is a land of opportunity that rewards some who work hard and robs others of their spirit and essence even if they work hard! I guess it varies from person to person, and besides ‘hard work’ and seizing opportunity, luck also has a lot to do with how far someone manages to go the distance.

    After living here for many years, you know what this ‘Genet’ makes me feel like based on my personal experience of trying to make it here? Well… sometimes I feel as if I am like one of those trained dogs racing at some posh looking dog race. I considered myself lucky to be allowed to enter the dog race in the first place, as lots of time and resources had gone into my training for the big race. And upon entering the fancy arena, I admired how swanky, clean, organized, and ‘first world’ the racing tracks seemed.

    Yes I knew that I was expected to run in this race, and run like hell even, chasing some dream (like the artificial giant bone the racing dogs are made to chase around the tracks … an illusive bone that is mechanically and electronically controlled by the invisible hands that be and ALWAYS dragged ahead of them so they can run faster towards it … always thinking that they are bound to catch it one of these days before they run out of energy.)

    In the mean time, they make their owners very rich through betting and the race itself. And when the racing dogs sometimes find themselves tired of running, they assure their weary minds and aching bodies that since they have been allowed into this fancy dog race they are at least running on clean tracks, wearing clean and ritzy dog jerseys, and under almost clearly defined rules to follow. This, they noticed to be in contrast to what they remember running to be in some muddy and dark dog alleys in their ‘old country’ while occasionally dodging ‘tewerwari dingay.’

    And when these fancy races seem unbearable sometimes, they remind themselves how lucky they felt to be allowed in the race at the beginning of it all even when they know for sure that it was not always dark and muddy in those alleys they remembered and left behind in the ‘old country’… alleys they find themselves terribly missing sometimes as badly as they miss all the other sunny places they frolicked in while they were bright eyed and bushy tailed pups. These things they sometimes remembered so fondly from distant days when all things seemed possible in their own homes before reality set in, and ‘meqesqesed’ they fleeing instinct all the way to across the oceans. And sometimes, they also allow themselves to enjoy the land across the ocean even if it does not look like the home they left behind.

    But, as a consolation, they live with the knowledge that the fun in life is in the chasing and not so much in attaining. After all, what would ‘The Cayote’ (Wile E. Coyote) and ‘Tom’ do with their lives if ever they finally catch ‘The Roadrunner’ and cunning ‘Jerry’ respectively? The shows would be over then, wouldn’t they? So let the chasing go on I say!

  • 3. Sawel  |  February 11, 2009 at 2:10 am

    Welcome to America Abesheet, but where are you coming at?

  • 4. abesheet  |  February 11, 2009 at 6:09 am

    San Diego, Sawel, when and if I got the visa 🙂 . But thanks in advance for your best wishes.

    Nice to see you again Luli and Mazziye. I was about to write and post “YeAfalgugn tirri” beye Bloggu.

  • 5. Mazzi  |  February 11, 2009 at 6:23 am

    Oh Abesheet, San Diego’s wonderful climate is the closest thing I have come to Addis’ beautiful weather. And it is right on the ocean too!!! The last time I visited some years back, I sure did not want to leave it. Living in a very cold place now, I am officially jealous. I know things will go just fine with your visa thing, and ‘the silent blog reader’ will be one happy fella. Good luck my dear. I wish you all the best.

  • 6. abesheet  |  February 11, 2009 at 6:31 am

    Thank you Mazziye.

    Yeah.. that’s what Chris keeps telling me. How similar the weather in the two places is. But i’d take the cold anytime if i could. Not huge on MuQet. Is there anything more inconvenient in the world than a hot wheather?

  • 7. Eskinder  |  February 11, 2009 at 7:20 am

    TNX Abesheet.

    In my opinion, for a big country like USA. it is unfair to collect poor poeople’s money for nothing. why should one pay a penny for an intervew or whatever

  • 8. Mazzi  |  February 11, 2009 at 7:30 am

    Chris is very right Abesheet about San Diego’s weather being similar to that of Addis. I personally love love Addis’ weather, barring the extreme heat sometimes, and I can’t express how much I especially miss the weather back home around New Year (Meskerem). I die for blue skies, mountainous landscape, green grass, ever green trees, flowers, and wonderful breeze.

    Besides the similar weather, even the mountainous landscape and vegetation in Southern California is so similar to back home! That may not seem that important to you when you are living at home, but once you leave home and start living in a strange place, it starts to bother you sometimes that you can’t even identify the trees, the plants, and flowers as they are all new to you.

    Mountains, hills, and valleys are nature’s wonder that we may take for granted if we grew up around them but definitely sites we miss when they are no longer there! And California’s topography is also similar to that of Addis and its surrounding. Where I live is sooooo flat it feels as though I can see Ethiopia from here! I miss seeing mountains sooo much.

    Southern California indeed has a warm climate, but it sure is not as hot as it is in some other neighboring desert states. Besides, San Diego is right on the ocean, and being able to go to the water when/if it gets hot will make up for it ;-). And, San Diego is a border city with Tehiwana, Mexico so if ever you want to get a bit of ‘third world flavor’ of Mexico, all you have to do is cross the border!

    Though extreme MuQet is just as bad, extreme cold is not picnic either. But trust me, I will take California’s moderate climate any day compared to where I am, and Southern California’s warm weather is even better than Northern California’s cooler climate. So as far as cities go, San Diego is a beautiful place, though a bit expensive compared to the Mid West, and I have no doubt you will like it.

    I wish you well my dear, and enjoy Addis as much as possible since you will have to leave it sometime :-).

  • 9. Mazzi  |  February 11, 2009 at 7:37 am

    Oops! Above, I meant to say Tijuana, Mexico. I can not spell that city’s name properly to save my life 🙂

  • 10. Inem  |  February 11, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Abesheet, a nice post once again. A relative of mine had barked at the consular section worker “birrEn melsu!” eyalech, when denied the coveted visa for incomprehensible reasons. I agree with Eskinder, there is no dub yemil fairness from the mighty America. I find The DV regulations to be quite descriminative to the poor yager sew. Only those who have either money, abedari and sponsor could go. Sintu yihon yarba qen idelun eyamarere yeqerew?
    San diego is the only place I would be happy to live in America. I was very much impressed by the surrounding beauty and the beautiful weather. Mazzi, inem Etiti beredeN eyalku menor selchitoNal. I also would love to see mountains around. When I made a similar complaint one friend had teasingly said to me “itibtih enToTo new inde yeteqeberew?”. A habitat with a changing surrounding scenery is always appealing to me. Abesheet, I wish you all the best in San Diego .

  • 11. Bee  |  February 11, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Selam!

    Good Morning to you.

    Thanks for your comments and thoughts! I’m always open for advice!

    -Beiftu

  • 12. Mazzi  |  February 11, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Inem, It sure is not fun ‘Ettete beredeN iyalu menor’ in some cold climate, so all the more reason why Abesheet’s future home (God willing) San Diego sounds like a cool place right about now. And mountains are sure something! They create wonderful ‘leAyn marefia yemihon’ landscape that is sorely missed when they are not there.

    Once when my friends and I were driving somewhere in North California, we reached a spot on the highway with a spectacular view ahead where the extensive ocean shore in the not so far distance meets the rocky foot of some near by mountain. The sound of the crashing waves on the rocky mountain base was truly something. It was extra special that the sun was also about to set and the sky had an intense orange glow to it. What a breath taking image that was, and one of my most memorable moments ever. Ocean shores, crashing waves, sandy beaches, and mountains…. what magnificent nature wonders!

    The only cool thing about living on the flat plains of the Mid West is it makes driving a breeze, though terribly dull landscape wise. Oh well….’Nuro kalut meQabir yimoQal’ tebilo yelle? Hulum indaregut new I guess.

    Abesheet we will hear your impression of San Diego once you set foot there, and I have no doubt you will like it :-).

  • 13. Scooby  |  February 12, 2009 at 8:00 am

    Two hundred grand sounds sweet deal! `I wonder how much you get for countries in EU? ~_~

  • 14. abesheet  |  February 12, 2009 at 8:26 am

    Mazziye:
    Hmm. You made it sound so so delicious. So far, the only prospect of going to America that appealed to me (besides being together with my better half) is “starting anew”. I admit I shall never be completely healed. [I have the type of mind that “melQems” only the bad news: serial killers, the evil HMO does and old men whose brain got fried in the sun]. But now i atleast know I would be surrounded by luxurious climate while dealing with them :).

    Bee:
    You are most welcome. And anytime!. Cute photo, by the way. Love the fur!

    Inem:
    I agree in toto. Although, when seeing it from their angle, I can understand why they would want a DV Lottery winner to pay a little extra. I mean, imagine how much money he or she would spend if they tried to make it on their own. Yetyelele! 700 or so dollars sounds like a peanut compared to that. What’s more, Chris has assured me that’s close to the amount he paid to process my paper. It maybe America, but not charity! [Or so they may have felt]

    By the way, it’s the recent “yeminzari lewt” that brought it to 8,500 something birr. Not that that makes much difference to him who has none to begin with.

    I wonder how much you get for countries in EU? ~_~

    Well, Scoob, you know the $ to £ ratio. Do the maths 😉 .

  • 15. Mazzi  |  February 12, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Your statement “I have the type of mind that ‘melQems’ only the bad news” sounds very familiar to me too. I have been formally accused of such tendencies (being a horrible cynic sometimes who easily taps to and sees through mostly the negative aspects of life than the positive ones) multiple times by few of my “the glass is half full” type of friends with undying spirits of optimism. Though I envy them for being expert optimists about life, sometimes I can’t help being the way I am. Can’t people see there is a lot of unfair $hit going around the world starting from right under our noses to all the way to the other side of the globe?!

    That said, however, I see their point of how even in the middle of the madness, there is always something to be enjoyed and celebrated. And as far as that goes, I totally agree with them! Growth and a bit of maturity that came at a high cost has also taught me that it is precisely because of the fleeting nature of life and the unpredictable and imminent nature of madness we are bound to face in life that we should learn to cease small moments of wonder and pleasures in life. And besides being reunited with your “better half,” being surrounded by Southern California’s luxurious climate while dealing with the challenges of “starting anew” in a new country (God willing) will make all the difference.

    If Chris is a California native, then he may take for granted all the natural beauty that he grew up around, and it might not amaze him as easily as it would a new observer. There is nothing I can’t tell you that he has not told you already, so I hope “Lij leEnatwa miT astemarech” endemayhonibiN. Besides, like every corner of this country, California has its own issues as well, and it sure ain’t ‘the garden of Eden’ on this side of the hemisphere. Life is a bit more expensive in CA compared to other parts of the country, and making ends meet or owning one’s home might not be as easy as other places. And as beautiful as its mountains are, let’s face it, mountains are visible scars of earth’s crest resulting from violent volcanoes of recent and distant pasts and seismic shifting of earth tectonic plates over time.

    It feels as though the earth is constantly moving from underneath California’s midir, and for that reason that region is prone to occasional earth quakes. It is also prone to horrendous wild fires due to summer’s dry season or even arson (fires started deliberately or by accident). But such dangers are what precisely make that region and its natural beauty more precious! It makes it more fragile and dynamic in my eyes.

    Nothing is static in California from the people, to the weather, to Holly Wood, and all the varying ways of life. Besides, all places/states/regions here have their issues. The North/North Eastern states have their severe snowy, icy, and cold weather; the flat plains have their severe tornadoes (a weather phenomenon I had never even heard of let alone experience until I set foot here); the southern states have hurricanes and thunderstorms; and states near any major body of water deal with occasional severe flooding. So if no one is spared from one natural disaster or another regardless of place of residence, I would rather live by the ocean in a warm climate any day! As far as first places to land as a new immigrant, Chris will do well by bringing you to sunny California.

    Going to a beautiful, expansive, sandy, not so crowded, and scenic beach on an ocean shore on a warm (not hot mind you!) and sunny day is like a religious experience to me. Few times, I was lucky enough to be on the beach (at different places) at dawn or dusk when the place is almost deserted. In those moments, I usually just stand or sit still on the wet sand just reflecting, while feeling the wet sand between my toes that is slowly being washed by the current. There is nothing like the ocean and some expansive shore that makes me feel so so small, smaller than one grain of sand that I am standing on. The horizon where the ocean meets the sky reminds me of the cosmos out and makes me feel even smaller compared to the ginormous universe we live in but often forget. So when I feel like my problems are taking over my life, I remind myself how small the ocean makes me feel and how much smaller then my problems must seem in comparison even if they feel so huge to me at the time. I always feel better about myself and life in general after visiting the ocean, and I wonder if I will start taking it for granted if I lived in a place by the shore.

    Though I don’t know if you will love living near the ocean, I hope you will never take it for granted, and the natural beauty that you will be surrounded with continues to bring you joy while you sort out life’s problems in your new home (God willing) :-).

    Besides your impressively extensive knowledge of America, having Chris to cushion your initial transition to this place will make all the difference. Once the newness and excitement of your reunion wears out, however, you both will have to bounce back to reality and quickly join the madness of the rat race that no one (except the elite) are spared from in this country. But I think you guys will manage just fine!

    Those of us who hit the ground running at such a young age (and alone I might add!) upon our first arrival to this far from ‘Genet’ but not quite ‘Gehaneb’ land (without any ‘better halves’ or well situated ‘zemeds’ to cushion our abrupt transitions), are still nursing our scabbing wounds from the initial impact. Any day now, we hope to heal completely after all these years. Fate decided that the likes of me end up in a snowy and cold part of this country, and years later I am still stuck with the occasional trips to sunny parts to adequately remind myself what life was like in a warm climate year round (the cold in Kiremt back home does not even come close to being considered real cold compared to the climate here, so I consider Kiremt back home still warm weather :-)).

    So Abesheet dear, you have so much to look forward to about your transition, and having Chris by your side will make things much much easier. Since you are realistic about many of the not so flattering aspects of life in America underneath the glitter, I think you will do just fine in adjusting much quicker than many other less informed or misinformed new immigrants. Once you get used to life here, I bet it is going to feel as if you had lived here in another life time :-). So I wish you well, and new adventures are always medicine to the soul that needs occasional rude awakenings so we don’t take living and being alive for granted.

    Ok I think I have said enough for one day, don’t you think? So I will shut up ;-).

  • 16. sewiyew  |  February 15, 2009 at 9:41 am

    I dream every day of the time when i’ll move back home. I sorta feel guilty that so many people want to come here and maybe i’m not seeing something they all are. I hope I fulfill whatever purpose it is that I have in this land, so that when I go back I won’t look back.

    i apologize for the confessional nature of my post.

  • 17. Need help with my checklist « My e-Shoe Box  |  February 20, 2009 at 10:44 am

    […] Posts: Knock-knock-knockin’ on Nervous for my […]

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