Week 1

March 25, 2009 at 3:11 pm 16 comments

While waiting at the airport:
A fellow-traveler (who lived in America for 6 years and seem to have spend those years accumulating hatred towards Mexican Americans, whom he referred to as “Kebtoch” – “Kebtoch nachewu sewu endaimeslush”) warned me about single moms. How I shouldn’t associate with their welfare-Sebssabi-behind unless I wanted them to destroy my life (by sweeping in and taking my husband), etcetera. I’ve had an “aRaaQi, aQgni, astemari” experience with a single mom, a good woman associating with whom wasn’t such a good thing for me. Since what came out of that toxic friendship was what became of BewQetu’s character in his poem “YeHulet Zemen Sewoch”. Not so much in the aging department, although i aged faster than I’d ever age in those two years, but in throwing away all the good things I had to embrace my friend’s silent anger and bitterness; and not noticing the 10 years difference when she started giving me advices using words like “BeNena banchi edme yalu setoch..”).

It’s gotta be admitted though, there are things worse than associating with a single mom. One of these my waiting-room buddy topped his advices with. “You know who you should hang out with?” he asked, sprinkling me with a bit of ‘miRaQ’ while he talks, “married women! That’s who you should limit your extra-curricular activities with.. women like you!”


On the plane:
I sat next to a talkative man who looks like a big-bonned version of Actor Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, Fracture, The Notebook) who told me he and his crew were on their way to Illinnoise. The crew is comprised of three male adults and 6 or 7 teenage boys. They were active members of a youth group of his church, he added, going home from an educational trip to Rwanda (where they were allowed to see how the ‘other half’ lives, and get a reality shock in the process). By cooking for kids in a camp and going down to the river to hand-wash clothes with them. “How nice” I said, looking at the 5/6 blonde boys i felt should be living high and doing drugs that were busy walking around bare-footed, playing mobile games or farting in their sleep, “so there is hope to the world”.

Looking down at the dark world from 3?30?,000 feet was like watching a garden-party between the branches of a tree. The fish was delicious. The waitresses, mostly bored.

23 hours of flight (made 27 by the various authorities in whose door I had to park my luggage and present my self), a night at freezing DC, and a 1 hour drive on the free-way later, I’ve arrived at destination’s end.

Stop. Fwd.

A week and two days later:
I’ve gotten used to taking a bath, sometimes, twice a day; using a machine to wash my ‘yanGet libs’ and having my drinking water come out of a can. I’ve had as much KFC (minus skin) as I can chew, made friends with one of the waitresses at Ihope and tipped a generous 2 dollars for the delivery boy from Pizza Hut; things I promised Babi and Blen I would do (and report the results of).

Alas, the food section of ‘America’s Finest City’ isn’t the only place I showed my mug in. I’ve sat at a corner in Barnes & Noble, with a Frapuccino infront of me, and chuckled at The Teacher’s Version of Jon Stewart’s “America: The book”. I’ve gone out jogging in the middle of the day, and been both surprised and amazed when realizing that nobody seems to find my jogging odd. I no longer look deaf and dumb when everybody seems to offer to help me; when drivers give me precedence however far I am to their car. And made a habit of reaching for the seat belt the minute I got into my husband’s car.

I have done all these things yet none of those things I thought, & were told, I’d be doing by now: have a hard time sleeping due to time difference, miss my mother’s cooking, home! Nay! I sleep like a baby, have no intention of opening my “yeMiGib Shanta” any time soon and, when it comes to “home”, all I remember is the viciousness — the fact that I’ve been treated as a stranger, a “negro”, in my own country.

So, tell me, when did it happen for you? The realization that you aren’t at home, surrounded by people who can look at your face and read your thoughts? When did you stop marveling at how everything (the quite neighborhoods and the rooms in them, the roads/streets/lanes/avenues/Blvds/Pkwys with their intricate traffic lights, the supermarkets and the stocks they boast of) seem to be well thought of and designed to make your life easy? When was it you stopped uttering the word “if this was Ethiopia..”/“if that was in birr” after observing how nobody seems to notice (laugh, “meteQuaQom”, make faces at) the stupid mistakes you make or have found yourself in the “clearance” section of an Old Navy, WalMart, or Payless respectively. When did you, be honest with me now, stop secretly thinking if there is a God in Ethiopia, America must be where He comes to vacation?!


Entry filed under: Latest Posts.

Final post – for now Zikr’e Wegayehu – Part II

16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alem  |  March 25, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Abesheet, let me be the first to say welcome to this side of the world! am glad to see you back writing. I have been checking on your blog daily…. now let me go back and read what you wrote:)….

  • […] news-oriented television programs like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart What is the female form of “Banda”? – abesheet.wordpress.com 03/25/2009 While waiting at the airport: A fellow-traveller (who lived in […]

  • 3. Mazzi  |  March 25, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Norr! Norr! Abesheet…. (KemeQemeCHachin bidig billen :-)) Welcome to this side of the ocean….

    “Bandit”….. A female form of “Banda”? Just wondering……

    “When did you fall back in love with the mother land and it’s ways?!”

    Even after all these years of living on this side of the ocean and away from all that is/was familiar, I can say the “mother land” is always in me, all the way down to my bones. So I can safely say I have always been “in love” with the mother land … therefore never having the need to “fall back in love” with it since that requires having “fallen out of love” in the first place. BUT (and a very big but here), I have never loved many many of the mother land’s ways, even when I was living there, let alone after seeing how else life can be!!!

    Another fellow Ethiopian woman blogger from “Don’t Eat My Buchela(s)!” blog said it best once about what it means to be Ethiopian living outside of Ethiopia. She is married to an American, mother of two, and living in China and she once wrote in her blog how though she seems blissfully happy in her life and marriage with her American husband one thing she might miss about him not being Ethiopian is how sometimes she can’t explain to him “…the beautiful melancholy that is being born with an Ethiopian soul.” She has a way of capturing complicated and earnest feelings into simple poetic words sometimes.

    And with all that I love about this place including all the things you described and are amazed over (not to mention for the most part the system and infrastructure works much much better than at home even with all its problems!), I remember leaving a comment on her post to the effect of how I could “completely identify with [her] sentiment after soooooooo many years of living as an Ethiopian in a sea of Americans and other foreign nationals aching for all things Ethiopian … familiar faces, familiar sights, familiar weather, familiar music, familiar everything. With all that is the good the bad and the ugly, how can one explain to a non-Ethiopian what it means/feels to possess an Ethiopian soul and be guided by it?”

    I still feel the same way even now, and I too wish how for all the devout worshiping God gets at home, I wish He decides to up lift Ethiopia and Ethiopians and take a vacation there too and help that poor place get some relief from abject poverty, extreme backwardness compared to first world standards, “CHelemtegNinet” (as you often say), and non stop political chaos with all that it entails. If we can all find at home all the things we love and enjoy on this side, except packaged in the “mother land” context with all that is familiar to us … trust me so many of us would not have crossed and continue to cross all kinds of oceans as often as we do to all corners of the world looking for a system that works.

    I love home and the “mother land” because “the mother land” is me (all of me), but I hate all the things that made me flee it with hopes of settling in a place with relatively more freedom and life changing opportunities for my taste.

    By the way, I STILL say “if only this too is in Ethiopia!” though I have stopped saying long time ago “if that was in birr..” If you do that, you will never buy anything here!

    Greetings to the silent blog reader, and welcome to this side again and great to know you are settling well. Can’t wait to hear your impressions of this place as you stay longer. But since you are starting with beautiful San Diego, you have to know that you have an unfair advantage considering how nice that place is ;-).

  • 4. abesheet  |  March 25, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Ere BegZer Mazziye 🙂 . Nice to see you again. (So sorry for the change in the “baanda/baandeet” title. By the time I’ve decided that was putting ideas into people’s minds and came up with a more practical one, you were typing your response).

    Coming to your comment.. when i say “fall back in love”, it doesn’t mean to imply I’ve fallen out of love with the mother land (have noticed it could be translated that way but didn’t want to change it back to my original statment, and risk opening too many doors none of us would want to go through). It, rather, means when did you stop compare and contrasting, as a “wuleta biss”/”Banda lij” would do, and wholeheartedly embraced (the way we did when they told us there was no other country as Lemm, or people more friendly than ours) the notion “no place like home”. [If you ever had an occasion to doubt it, that is, the way I did in my 9 day stay in San Diego).

    Maybe the new found freedom (of being away from those eyes; judgemental, hateful, almost “bAAed” in quality my fellow Ethiopians have been looking at me with all my life) has gotten into my head and has intoxicated me. It feels more important than anything in the world right now, perhaps because I’ve been its victim more than other [more belonging] Ethiopians! But i know there is an expiry date to it all — the freedom, the impression, the abundance. For America is also a place where you get shot for the siliest of reasons, where dollar rules the country and where “feriha egziabher” is a thing of the past. My books and movies have thought me that, if nothing else.

    That, dearest, was where the question “when” came from. No place else.

  • 5. Mazzi  |  March 25, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    You are right Abesheet…. I think I was typing my previous response before you changed the title, and probably noticed afterwards :-).

    Oh I know you did not mean that you may have fallen out of love with the mother land per se, as that is practically impossible. But I think I understood how at first glance this place can make one wonder how such two contrasts (the so called ‘third world’ vs. ‘first world’) could exist, and we all can claim we share the same planet. I have yet to comprehend that, and not let it break my heart about the state of the majority of the world’s population, and how unfairly resources are distributed and unequally consumed between the haves and the have-nots.

    As for comparing and contrasting … though I found myself gradually doing it less and less within the first year of arriving, I can’t say I stopped completely because my entire family still lives back home. And though I don’t think about myself in home context as much as I used to, I often think about home, my family, and their day to day lives. So I still feel the impact of how things still are back home, for better or for worse, because I hear about them often. Talk about having one foot here and one foot at home. It is not an easy way to live I tell ya…..

    I envy people who have their hearts settled all in one place. You might know what I mean if for what ever reason this thing of mentally & spiritually finding one’s self in two places at once happens to you as well. What I learned the harsh way in my own little life … even if we leave people, places, and circumstances behind back home, sooner than later we find out that sometimes we carry our “issues” with us even when we travel across the oceans to where ever life takes us. A time comes when we might find ourselves noticing some unresolved issue we unknowingly carry lurking in our psyche when we still find ourselves trying to deal with things we thought we escaped by coming here. At least that is what happened to me ;-). But partly that is what helped me grow in leaps and bound as well, so even if it was hard, it was no tall in vain.

    As for the new found freedom you are experiencing (away from prying & judging eyes) … that my dear never gets old! At least not for me! I simply love love the fact that nobody gives a shit what you do on this side (for better or for worse). That is assuming one does not let oneself fall into the same pattern of wanting to please everyone including friends and relatives living on this side, not to mention family still living at home who might want to control long distance. Trust me, I have seen it happen!

    Barring that, however, after growing up under endless numbers of judging eyes back home, the minute I set foot in this country, I wanted to melt into a landscape of “nobody-ness.” Ah… what a freedom that was! Upon arrival many years ago, for the first time in my life, nobody cared who I was, whose daughter I was (my father had a personality larger than life itself that overshadowed everything and everyone), who my people were, what my previous accomplishments were, and what my plans were for the future. It felt as though for once in my life, maybe I could finally do what I want and not what everybody wanted of me. Back at home, I was literally going mad due to all kinds of undue pressure my parents were putting on me (socially and academically), and for more reasons than I care to count, I cold not wait to leave home and be as far away from them as possible. I would have gone crazy otherwise. I can’t say I have made all the right decisions for myself since then, or that I have benefited fully from my new found freedom. My life still has a long way to go before I am even happy with where it is, but I never take the freedom you talked about for granted :-). So if you find your new found freedom to be the most important thing so far, it might be because it truly is! So savor it my dear, and never take it for granted even when it feels lonely sometimes that no one cares what you do.

    “Feriha Egziabher,” that most people have back home, however, might be in short supply on this end coz as you said, the ‘mighty’ dollar rules the joint through and through….unfortunately.

    Anyways, enjoy discovering your new environment and home, and I bet you are already enjoying high speed and easier access to the Internet as well. BeTam sirra yemiyasfeta neger. I am a victim of that, so don’t be like me :-). Happy blogging!

  • 6. abesheet  |  March 28, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    So if you find your new found freedom to be the most important thing so far, it might be because it truly is! So savor it my dear, and never take it for granted even when it feels lonely sometimes that no one cares what you do.

    That’s an interesting observation, Mazzi. Because only a day before i was to leave my office, my colleague and i were going some place. And he was telling me how he went to the Netherlands to live but decided to call it quits after two years. The problem: nobody caring. He told me how the final straw came when he decided to strip and stand outside his window for all passers-by to see (i imagine it was what we call at home a “french window). He said if anybody noticed, they didn’t show it. Simply walked by unruffled. “Addis Ababa bihon ‘abede’ bilo mengedegnaw hulu bereye lai yesebeseb neber”, he added bitterly, “ezia zor bilo yayegn enkuwa yelem.” So he packed his bags and went back home.

    Now, standing butt-naked to grab a passerby’s attention is no doubt a little too extreme. But the naked truth behind it can not be ignored. That my ex-colleague’s solitude was eating away his sanity. Bihonim.. bihonim.. ende egna ager hulu sewu yehulu sewu baleGudai/aRaaQi/aQgni or gelamach sihon tinish yibezal.

  • 7. Mazzi  |  March 28, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Many Abeshas in the US who for the most part live among other Abeshas in some small or large tight knit communities (mainly in large urban centers) sometimes pretty much live the kind of life they left behind back home. By that I mean families living under the same roof still operating the same way, and Abesha neighbors living in the same units or near by being as close as the ones we remember at home. This can come in handy especially in times of difficulties or sharing responsibilities like baby sitting. On the negative side, however, everyone and their mothers caring in TOO MUCH detail about what others around them do from the most personal to the most public aspect of life turns me off because more often than not it is accompanied with competition and judgment. Those kinds of Abeshas might not know the full extent of this thing of ‘nobody giving a shit’ about what you do as much as others like myself who live so far away from any established Abesha community.

    At first, I mourned not living near any established Abesha community for many years when for some time me and one another die hard Eritrean fellow raised in Kenya were the only Abeshas I knew in 30 mile radius from campus. It felt lonely compared to the life I knew. Living in a tight knit community can be the best when many aspects of life are shared for the better, but can be just as bad when everyone is into everyone’s business and privacy and individuality are concept most can’t even identify if they hit them on the face. But my other foreign national friends and I created our own little community unit that was a bit more personal than the cold American kind we were living in and made the best out of our situation in making our college years interesting. Even if I missed some of the closeness I liked and missed, in time I found out I could use this new found freedom away from prying and judging eyes to my advantage like never before. I developed all kinds of interests especially travelling to places near and far where I did not have to ask anyone’s permission to go as far as a bus, a train, a plane and later on my car could take me, stay out as late and as long as I wanted, visit whom ever I wanted and live pretty much which ever damn way I wished as long as I could afford it. All these things I could not have done as a woman at any age living in Ethiopia under our restrictive culture. That was a major compensation for what I may have lacked by not living in the kind of community I was used to.

    In times of trouble, however, I have felt many a times what it truly means to live away from loved ones or even a familiar community that would have rallied around me. Few years back, I had a health crisis where I had to go through a major surgery with weeks of home recovery time past hospital stay. At the time, I lived in campus apartment complex with a none-American roommate who pretty much subscribed to not caring about the people who live around her including me her roommate. That was fine for the most part until I was going to be bed ridden for few weeks. I was hoping to have my mother come over from home for few weeks to help me out in the house, and though she had come more than once before to visit me, this time around the embassy people denied her a visa saying me needing her here on account of going through surgery does not warrant a trip and she might be using that as a cover to come to the US once again to search for a job instead. The attendant at the US embassy told my mother how people have surgeries every day in America and my case was not unique. That time, I was really heart broken and so was my Mom. So, I went through the whole ordeal of recovering alone with friends who checked on me when they could. And in the apartment once I got home from the hospital, my ‘I don’t care about anyone else but myself’ roommate … enkwan litiredagn yiqirinna wihha enkwan alaqebelechigNim the entire time I was home bound!! She went about her business as usual and was even annoyed when my other African friends who lived near by had to stop by often to make sure I had what I needed in the house. They brought me cooked food since I could not cook for myself. Since the community in general does not care either way what one does, the role few selected close friends, family members around, or spouses play in enriching one’s life is immeasurable. So hold on to your beloved who cares for you, never take his presence in your life for granted, and few close friends you will soon make around you. The rest of them won’t care either way! So I can empathize with your colleague who felt severely alienated in the Netherlands, which is one of the weird European countries that is out there in its liberalism and could come across very cold to those of us not used to the idea.

    I guess in the end, it is all about balance. Too much of anything is not good for anyone. Living under a microscope where every one of our moves is scrutinized is not fun as much as being left alone to a point of neglect and intense loneliness.

    I have lived in my current apartment for few years with neighbors on both sides. But for the life of me, I know I would not be able to identify many of them in a police line up if I was forced with the exception of the little girl who lives next door and often plays right outside my door. What does that tell you about how much people don’t care?!

  • 8. RiRi  |  March 28, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    It’s great to have you back! As much as i loved your posts from Addis, i must admit i’m a lot more excited to hear about your experiences in the US… i’ll be tuning in 🙂 Thanks abesheet. I promise to actually comment next time – i just felt like dropping in now…

  • 9. Sawel  |  March 30, 2009 at 6:12 am

    you seem an interesting person and you got a lot to tell. Hey i gotta a great idea! do you have a blog?
    What’s up? how’s life in uncle Sam’s hands? i can see that you’re fallin in love with San Diego. I wish i could live there too since i hate the weather in Seattle(it’s so rainy and grey most of the time). Have a great journey and keep on bloggin sista!

  • 10. Girum  |  March 31, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Good to hear ur arrival

  • 11. Mazzi  |  April 1, 2009 at 2:03 am

    @Sawel: Ya I tend to be opinionated about a lot of things and often have something to say about the many aspects of life’s journeys. And if ever I get my act together and finally channel the blog that is lurking in me, I would be pleased to have you as a reader. In the mean time, I am honored Abesheet lets me leave my two cents about many topics on her blog, and thanks for appreciating my comments.

    @Abesheet: Much obliged for sharing Fiqir Eske Meqabir’s (Wogayehu endeterekew) mp3 audio files, and your friend Daniel for sending them to you. Please keep them coming. What timeless classic treasures they are, so thank you.

  • 12. abesheet  |  April 2, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Nothing more I love than reading your, and sistu’s, comments. They are LeEgre Mebrat, LeMenGedem birhan.

    Honored to have you here.

  • 13. sistu  |  April 6, 2009 at 4:23 am

    Abeet, Inquan dena gebash! You were sorely missed, its nice to read you again. and happy to be back commenting too:)

    You seem to have had a nice trip. And the advice from your fellow traveler… I wonder if Mexicans offer similar advice about us at their airports (or at the Texan border. Mexican anbabi indemaynorish tesfa alegn).
    I don’t think I have yet experienced the things you have been warned about either…although the migib shanta thing.. lol. But I haven’t yet stopped the currency minizare in my head, especially when it comes to those shoes and clothes. How can I not acknowledge to myself that I am about to wear yesidist meto birr chama? It ups the self-esteem a little. People say you will never spend your money if you keep doing dollar wede birr thing, but then again whats wrong with not spending? But Abesheet, vicious to inat ager ethio? Abeety chekenshibat iko. I can almost hear her saying ‘ancheem inde lela, lemedsh wey kelala”.

    Lol about your 3?30?,000 feet. I also have no sense of distance even on land adelem kesemay. I hear its an African thing. That is my excuse for holding on to it anyway.

  • 14. abesheet  |  April 6, 2009 at 4:43 am

    But Abesheet, vicious to inat ager ethio? Abeety chekenshibat iko. I can almost hear her saying ‘ancheem inde lela, lemedsh wey kelala”.

    Lol. I stand admonished sistu. I meant the viciousness of my fellow Ethiopians. But again, that may have been the source of my unhappiness and the “minch” from which my love/hate relationship with the motherland “memenchet” from all along: Confusing the people with the country and the country with the people. I don’t remember an instant in which I said “AngeTen LeKara” when it comes to the motherland and, in the same breath, swore “Degmo LeAbesha” despisefully as many of my country women do. Enat Ager and YeNat Ager Lijoch have always been YeAnnd santim getsita for me. So when i’m pissed off @ them, i get pissed off at “satimar yastemarechign” old lady in tattered clothes in my head. [Meles would know what i’m talking about.]

    Anywho, darling, it’s awesome seeing you again. Visited Poketalk yet? Twittered?!

  • 15. tpeace  |  April 9, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    welcome to amarica miss abesheet 🙂

    when i first realized i wasn’t home was when i tried to be friendly back to the americans in my first 2 months in the US and felt completely awkward and socially incompetent, or when i went to home depot and saw the doors hanging on shelves and boulders being sold per kilo. that’s when i knew i wasn’t home.

    then i started making where i was home and i loved it. so no – i didn’t miss my mom’s cooking (however sacrilegious that sounds) cos i had a fully funded buffet with yetemeTatene migib 5mins walk away. i stopped comparing the conversion to birr but i remained conscientious of expenses.

    Please do keep blogging about your cultural-shock experiences!!

  • 16. Chiraq  |  April 10, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Abesheet: check your gmail account (abesheet@gmail.com, right?).

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