Why we don’t have a “Qidus ValenT’inos”
Valentine’s Day is one of those days that gives me the “ickys”. It’s not [just] because I do not see it as an Ethiopian holiday. Or because I am a cynic who hears “deceit” every time the word “love” is mentioned (yes, if you scratch me you’ll find a hopeless dreamer who had her head hanked out of the clouds by cruel men and God). Or because it feels more showy than seeing a “Qen’tegna” brother walking with a huge parcel on Christmas morning. But because it is done for the same reason engagement rings are being worn in Ethiopian nowadays, “lelaw yaderegew ayiQribegn” bemalet.
Surafel Wondimu, of “Seifu YeMastaweQiya Derejit”, is one of those people who wouldn’t suffer from the “icky” feeling come February 14. In response to his audience asking why he kept bothering them with a concept that isn’t “ager BeQel”, he explained how he isn’t calling the Holy Man’s name because the ferenjis are calling it. But because it’s his firm belief lovers deserve to have one day, out of 365, in which they can celebrate their good fortune. He tried to elaborate this by giving an example. “I have a friend” he said “who is preparing to ask his girlfriend ‘taGebignalesh?’ the day after tomorrow..”.
I cringed at this. [As I do every time a DJ-something disgraced us with his presence on one of the FMs. When I hear Birhanu Digaffe, of Degaffe Mastaweqiya Dirjit, read an English letter from his various Ethiopian fans on an Amharic program which supposedly attempts to help College-youth swap their experiences. And every time my late-to-the-coming-Rastafarian neighbour plays Bob Marley in a way that makes you wonder if “those crazy Baldheads” that need a chasing out of town live anywhere near].
An Ethiopian guy “popping the question” feels as detached from [Ethiopian] reality as the behaviors the above media people are trying to cultivate in the youth. Where I come from, when a girl and a guy are dating, it’s “understood” where they intend (or atleast are pretending) for it to go. Dating is not, and has a long way to go before being, what it is in the west: where you try people, like an outfit, until you make up your mind about which one fits best. It is a subtle agreement, with consequences. She is expecting to one day be wed. And brother-man is playing along.
These expectations are displayed in her attempts to take over and be incharge of his house: The hiring and firing of the maid servant. The Sunday-morning after-church routine of separating which clothes should be washed and which shouldn’t. The trying to make him quit smoking and/or save. The “Equbs meGbatings” and purchase of furniture. All these are warnings, warnings that the little lady is trying to show her “iron hand underneath the silken glove”, shameless exhibitions of the “bett emebet” dream.
The territory isn’t only domestic, however. It extends to the antagonizing of friends, the trying to sweeten the family and to behaving in a “Balebet” manner every time a pretty girl came around [the putting of the hands in his arm, the fixing of his shemiz or kerebat, the laughing out loud and faking intimacy]. All part of one and the same deal: holy matrimony!
The big question, more often than not, comes from the female contracting party. In the form of dropping hints. Then refusing sex. Then making his life miserable with arguing over totally unrelated subjects. And finally asking out right and giving an ultimatum: “Wesin! Qen Quret!“. If he, by some mischance, wanted to do it first, it would hardly be a surprise worth screaming and clutching the heart over. The engagement ring, as noted earlier, comes after the wedding; when the girl has had enough of the “shimuts” about how everybody else is wearing it nowadays.
Point # 2: Ethiopians don’t fall in love. Because they’ve been “in love” all along! “Ewedshalehu”/”Afeqrishalehu” isn’t the time taking confession a man is told to assess his feelings before mouthing in Ethiopia. Many say the word within the first few week, before they knew the color of your eyes, as they say (not that it can be anything but brown). “Yene Fiqir”, he calls you, “moQ” silew. Here is how the “logic” goes: if he doesn’t love you, he hates you. And if he hates you, there isn’t an earthly reason to make him stay. So if a guy is dating a girl for more than a few weeks, his “being in love” is taken for grated by all concerned (she, her family, her friends). If he does something unloving, it’s because of some problem he has (“simetuun yemeglets chiger alebet”). Or because his friends or family didn’t want you to be together. [And the dumb infant is too refined to protest.]
Thus cheatings, break ups and a relationship that didn’t end in marriage embarrasses and disillusions Ethiopians more than they embarrass and disillusion women of the west. Inspite of the “dirom wond..” reference, the girl is always blamed, openly or secretly. “She must have done something” her family and friends would decide. Has either nagged him or failed to please him. Even in cases where he cheated and broke her heart: she’s expected to exercise patience. Pretend she didn’t care. Get pregnant! Anything!! In love and war, all is fair. Why should she go empty handed? With nothing to show for her efforts? Without a compensation for lost youth and/or time?!
Alas, it’s not only the women around her that blame her. She does too. Hold her hand and ask her to tell you how she’s taking it, and you’d see her break into tears. Then she’d start tearing herself in an attempt to understand where she went wrong.
“What’s that got to do with anything?!”, my romantically-disposed readers may ask, “And what’s wrong with letting our youngsters go out in red once a year, celebrating love and exchanging roses [ene ‘California Abeba Bet’ min sertew yiblu?!]”.
Nothing wrong! Love is the greatest thing in the world “except for a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe.” [as Billy Crystal’s character would say in “The Princess Bride”]. But, since we are in the business of copying, I’d rather we copy Halloween. It, atleast, coincides with my birthday.
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone 🙂 .