Why we don’t have a “Qidus ValenT’inos”

February 13, 2009 at 11:21 am 11 comments

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 🙂 .

Entry filed under: Latest Posts. Tags: , , , , , .

Knock-knock-knockin’ on.. Is he losing it?

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Eskinder  |  February 13, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Copying HLLOWEEN is a good idea.
    Hotels in addis are offering different packages for the day. the cost varies from 300 br to 7000br for one night. I cant understand all this when many relationships are based on some other things other than LOVE (as observed around addis) .

  • 2. luli  |  February 13, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    woyneeee Abesheet … besak motku!!! chefechefshachew eko 🙂 Valentine’s day has always confused me a little … mostly because its SO CLICHE!!! As one of my friends said, after observing a guy carrying a bouquet of flowers to his girlfriend’s place, ‘I wonder how she’d react? surprised litihon new baltebale??’ Girl has a point, i think. I hate the pressure it puts on everyone, especially for those who don’t even know if they’re ‘in love’ … so you get to pretend for that day, just cause common courtesy requires it, and then what? ouffff it has the perfect resemblance to those sheep who jump off the cliff just because the one before them did.

  • 3. Mamitu  |  February 13, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Abesheet, I laughed so much that my stomach hurts. Can you imagine a girl in Ethiopia dating just for the sake of dating with out the ultirior motive of trying to find a Mate, no self respecting man would touch her with a ten foot pole. She is assumed to be ruined.

    And about Valentine’s day, I think you are right about it having a hard time to be adopted in Ethiopia, I can’t imagine an Ethiopian husband in Ethiopia telling his wife he loves her. He probably assumes expressing love is what one does before they are married, he probably says ” Duh!! I loved her enough to marry her, what is the point of me telling her that I love her now that she is my wife”

  • 4. Mazzi  |  February 13, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Abesheet … this post was quite a trip!!!!! How deliciously funny!!! :-).

    The commercialization of romance and the overly choreographed song and dance of lovers for what is expected of them on Valentine’s Day is quite a spectacle to watch even in the West let alone in Ethiopia! How awkward and ‘imposed’ it must feel then when the day is celebrated ‘Western style’ in a country where for the most part ‘romantic love’ has very little to do with ‘dating’ (Abesha style) or marriage. The way you described Abesha way of ‘dating’ is spot on! It was quite humorous :-).

    Marriage in Ethiopia is about a lot of things. It is about tradition, honor, custom, duty, power, religion, convenience, and practicality, responsibility, creating families, social bonds, and organizing communities. It is also a means of gaining respectability in the eyes of the society, maintaining or advancing (or social climbing) of wealth, ethnicity, social class, and political power. It is about all of these…but ‘romantic love,’ … by God, it is NOT!!!!

    And if by some weird chance a couple brought together by their own choice or through an arranged marriage are lucky enough to also have found and enjoy ‘romantic love’ in addition to all what an Ethiopian marriage is supposed to be, then they are more the exception to the rule and definitely not the norm! This does not mean traditional Ethiopians are incapable of enjoying ‘romantic love.’ It is just that their traditional lives force them to be more practical than romantic. Besides, I am a firm believer that more often than not, there are people you love and then there are people you marry, and very rarely are these two people one and the same. Only the lucky few get to have both in one person, Ethiopian or otherwise!

    Even if yezare zemen youngsters of the ‘Findata’ generation in Ethiopia have a bit of freedom to ‘date’ for the sake of or for the fun of ‘dating’ (without the pressure of the relationship having to end in matrimony) the way their parents never did, it still will take another generation before they are free of the expectations their parents will place upon them regarding marriage. So … awkward ‘dating’ and ‘romantic love’ shall remain for while longer while people fumble through the little freedom they have found, and eager they shall be to copy Western practices without thinking whether it applies to them. In the mean time, commerce will capitalize on the notion of ‘romantic love’ as long as there is money to be made.

    By the way, it is true what you said how if ever anyone ‘proposes’ marriage in an Ethiopian ‘dating’ situation, it is indeed the subtle or not so subtle pressure the woman (or her family) puts on the man to marry her and make an honest woman out of her. After all, there is more pressure on women to get married by a certain age or face disgrace for the rest of their lives. Proof: I had an uncle once who was quite the player and the charmer and successful in his career. He loved the ladies without wanting to commit to anyone since he was not particularly eager to get married any time soon (he was having too much fun to be tied down with marriage). The women he ‘dated’ did all the things you mentioned in your post to be the chosen one, his ‘Yebet Emmebet,’ without even knowing that they were not the only contenders. As he got older, however, even he was getting pressured from family to ‘settle down’ and do the responsible thing. So do you know which woman won the contest of becoming his wife in the end? The one who persevered his philandering ways the most and when she had enough ‘proposed’ marriage to him by announcing (through a dramatic letter no less) that she is pregnant by him and if he does not marry her before she starts showing she is going to kill herself. Now how is that for a proposal?!

  • 5. Sawel  |  February 14, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    I’ve always enjoyed your comments… Seriously I sometimes feel like you’re a moral teacher.but are you for real?

  • 6. sewiyew  |  February 15, 2009 at 8:51 am

    So an abesha guy is always in love? betam eye opening observation, it used to bug me how some guys are near death in love to a gal they barely know.

    This phenomena can be warranted in some cases and not in others: A few acquaintances who married abesha girls did so with very short ‘dating’ period. All married a girl they either met through work or church, in all cases they spent a lot of non-dating time getting to know each other casually, and when they finally expressed interest it was in no uncertain terms. It is sort of like the lioness who stays perfectly still until the very last moment, and when she acts its an all out attack.

    The newer generation, findata (lol) would consider this kirfifina, and probably their intentions don’t stretch as far as wedding her. still they might express the same heavy emotions that others only do so after lots of soul searching. I heard someone call this drive through romance, or something like that.

  • 7. Mazzi  |  February 15, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    Lol Sawel, that was funny :-)!!

    “Moral teacher” reminded me of my “Gibregeb astemariwoch” from my years of Catholic schooling back in Addis when I was a kid. I sure hope I don’t sound like them in my comments!

    I have spent a good part of my adult life rebelling against most of what I was taught in Catholic school (how just about everything is a sin mantra :-(), so I sure hope I do not come across as ‘preachy’!! If I do, it sure is not my intention :-\. I just enjoy many of Abesheet’s musings and posts, and sometimes can’t resist the temptation to leave comments on her blog. Fortunately, she has been gracious enough to indulge me in that as well. So I guess “[I am] for real” ;-).

    Thank you for enjoying my comments though.

  • 8. abesheet  |  February 16, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Well, ladies and Gents:

    I’m glad you are all here to hear me make my confession 🙂 .

    Saturday morning promised out to be hectic for the undersigned. Before going home to my parent’s in the afternoon, I have to have my hair done at the saloon that is usually packed on Saturdays (worse then on Valentine’s afternoon) and buy myself something so I do not appear in shabby clothes for the interview this week.

    Nothing I hate more than shopping for myself. The thought of shopping for myself alone, however, gives me all kinds of anxiety and/or panic attacks. The problem isn’t just walking self-consciously around in unfriendly territory. I have a tendency to let sales people bully/embarrass/make me feel guilty into buying stuff I know I have no use for. And ofcourse the full-length mirrors I avoid looking at every chance I got never did service to my self esteem.

    And so it proved. I tried four outfits I didn’t like. The ones I like were either too small or two big. And too expensive. [Kemeche wedih newu, enantew, 570 birr leTop yikefel yejemerew?!]. And so, I paid 140 birr for a skirt I thought I fancied until I saw it in the sunlight outside, and with down-trodden feet and bowed head, I preceded to the “taxi terra” next to Tana Shopping center. I couldn’t make up my mind whether to go to Piassa and find what I can afford, or pay the swarming shops at “Haya Hulet” a visit for something that didn’t look too cheap. Not to mention how I was going to make it in time for the hair saloon, where I am likely to get my Saturday brunch from and if I will be standing on my feet by the end of the day. The visit to the family, whence I planned to sneak out photos and invitations from my mother’s closet (she hasn’t been told of the interview yet) ofcourse, I have to postpone to Sunday morning.

    “Valentine’s day my butt”, I remember muttering bitterly under my breath, “I would consider it romantic if I could get cold water to wash with when I get home”. For our condominum hasen’t seen water before midnight in the last two weeks.

    Alas, the gods, or a friendly Saint somewhere, has decided that wasn’t how my day comes to close that weekend. While standing infront of the Mini-bus “Dirdir” where “Woyalas” were announcing “Kazanchis/tiQur Anbessa/Bole Tele” as destination’s end, I heard a noise I distinctly remember as my mobile phone’s. I put my hand in my bag and dug it out. It was a land-phone whose number I recognized as the one I’ve received calls from in the past. “Hello?” I said, almost breathless with excitement.

    I was asked if i were the undersigned.

    I confirmed I was.

    “I’m calling from ‘Wannaw Post Bet'” continued the young woman, “You’ve got a package from America. Take down the number and don’t forget to come today. Anytime before 6:00 p.m. today“.

    The package, you see, had a “valentine merchandise” on it. And the darling girl, being of romantic disposition, didn’t want me to miss-out on my valentine’s day surprise. Kismet, atilum?!

    And what was in it?

    A rose-ribboned American Greetings card with: “To my Wife with Special Love: YESTERDAY, TODAY, FOREVER.” written on it and a stuffed puppy fetching a chocolate heart using it’s mouth.

    How did I take it? Well.. I didn’t find the dress. Were starving by the time I got home, not less than 4 hours later. And the water didn’t show up until 1:00 a.m. this morning. But.. the smile was still in my heart and the journey around town was conducted on light feet. Happy feet. The winged-feet of a woman — loved!

    So maybe there is something to this Valentine’s day after all. Or maybe that’s not the point. So long as there are men who love you and puppies to deliver their hearts to you, every day is a Valentine’s day.

    For now 🙂 .

  • 9. Mazzi  |  February 17, 2009 at 8:00 am

    It is so sweet Abesheet how a Valentine’s Day care package sent from Chris (and a package that even arrived on time) ended up being the highlight of your other wise hectic V-day after all. But like you said, it is really not even about the care package being Valentine’s related is it? Rather, it is about the love that it represents even if it was received on any other ordinary day.

    The knowledge and feeling of being genuinely loved is indeed a great sentiment that could undeniably make a woman’s heart smile and give her “happy/winged-feet” on any ordinary day let alone on an otherwise difficult errand-filled Valentine’s day :-). Isn’t that what matters in the end?

    So good to hear how the cute card and gift you received evoked a romantic feeling after all, reminded you of the love you share with the ‘silent blog reader,’ and made you feel special in the end :-).

    Way to go Chris!

  • 10. abesheet  |  February 17, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    It sure is, Mazziye. However silly that makes us sometimes look, a woman will always be a woman I guess. [I have a feeling you are becoming a favorite commentor of my ‘silent blog reader’s 😉 ]

    “Moral teacher” reminded me of my “Gibregeb astemariwoch” from my years of Catholic schooling back in Addis when I was a kid. I sure hope I don’t sound like them in my comments!

    Lol Moral teachers! Isn’t everybody else, in Ethiopia? My younger brother Tagel started school at the tender age of 4. Not because that was normal back in then but because a “Qess” beat him with his “alenga” for slacking with his AaBuGiDa and my dad heard about it. I remember that drama vividly. Although most of the dramas perpetrated by my father are the type that go to the grave with you. He came spewing fire, i believe the term is, in mid-“fiDel Qotera” at the local “Qebele” and gave the priest a tongue-whopping the old man ain’t likely to forget before forcing us out and dragging our unwilling feet on the “Korekonch” with yeteBetesu or nearly “netela chamas”: he still fuming mad, we so confused! Ahun ahun, i am glad we had a tougher time growing up than kids of this generation. Atleast, we can tell the difference between right and wrong [the abesha version] and what didn’t kill us made us strong. With their spoilt butt, I’m not so sure.

  • 11. Mazzi  |  February 17, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    A woman will always be a woman indeed, probably more sentimental about ‘matters of the heart’ than any man will ever be. Cliché I know, but most likely true :-). And ah, let me tell you, men know how to manipulate this little fact to their advantage, and even melt the heart of the most cynic woman (ain’t this the truth Chris?) 🙂

    As for moral teachers in Ethiopia, it sure feels like everybody is!!! Parents, teachers, neighbors, clergy men, or any other religious figures. Of course Quessoch being some of the prominent ones especially since they used to be (probably still are) the first teacher authority figures a young child was/is most likely to face upon starting school. I can’t believe how any Quess will find it easy to whip a four your old child with Alenga, over learning fidel at that! Gees, I don’t know what sick pleasure some adults derive from the beating of young children. I could never understand that. And my Catholic school teachers found very creative ways of beating or punishing young students, sometimes in the most sadistic ways, for the most trivial of reasons in the name of teaching morals! They made an art out of coming up with creative punishments a child is never likely to forget in his/her life. How sad I was to find out how this phenomenon is almost universal to all Catholic schools all over (not just in Ethiopia of course) as if the Pope himself was dictating it from the top! Sick bastards. (Old Catholic school wounds speaking here :-)).

    But like you said, what did not kill us only made us stronger indeed. And though I sure am not fond of the tough up bringing I had both at the home front and school front, at least it helped me in knowing right from wrong (Ethiopian style) and strengthen my character for all the challenges ahead I could not have anticipated ahead in my journey. I don’t know if kids of today’s generation, who are more pampered than we ever were, are learning as many life lessons and as early as we did the way we had to out of necessity. They might find it harder to face the real world down the line. I have seen it happen already in younger kids I know who are friends and family. I guess they will learn their life lessons in other ways…. Oh well, what matters is they learn the lessons they need eventually, lessons that will help them navigate their adult lives.

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