Week 3 (A night at Manderley)
My husband’s ex-colleague is married to a woman who is originally from Côte d’Ivoire. He, the husband, not Chris, has been hoping she and I will strike up a friendship (go out shopping, braid eachother’s hair and have naked pillow fights while our husbands whistled and cheered over a glass of beer..i suppose). The logic is, ofcourse, obvious. We are both from Africa. We are both married to men from a different tribe. We both have kinky hair & are likely to be addicted to shopping. A [logical] reasoning that appaled me. So I’ve been avoiding answering the phone every time the ex-colleague, pressed by his wife, gave my husband a call. And kept sending messages like “so when are you guys coming to visit us?”, “why are you guys avoiding me?”, “does she think she’s too good for us”, etcetera, when the calls got no response.
Still, it’s gotta be done and we decided to do it last night. Carrying a 15$ pie, the most expensive in town, we drove to their house with the intent of surprising them. We were the one who were in for a surprise, however. Their neat little house, furnished extravagantly and complete with a fish tank, was filled with the smell of food and strangers’ voices. The voices belonged to guests who decided to drop on the newly-wed that very night, too. A pastor and his wife: both from Côte d’Ivoire, both speaking bad English, both with more abesha & abesheet in them than meets the eye.
We decided to stick around a bit, dropping pies and departing felt rude even for America. Soon we found ourselves in a dinning room where a steamy pot of rice and various salads were awaiting our descent. We sat around the table and said grace, at the end of which the Protestant Pastor crossed himself in a way that made me wonder who the guy was trying to impress more: us or his God.
You can’t sit across your distant cousins, digging with spoon and fork, and not talk. So after politely dancing around, studying each other’s moves, the pastor came out of his polite shells. And there, sited across me, I saw my uncle-in-law Faris: the know-it-all, dismissive-of-anything-he-hasn’t-came-up-with, “better” half of my aunt’s. Starting with the European cities he’s been to and their exotic cuisine, he went on to shamelessly lecture us what we should and shouldn’t eat (making a disgusted face every time he talked about the ills of “this country” we were in).
His wife, who look over-burdened by the traditional dress she was wearing, seem to have sat at the dinning table for the sole purpose of making us feel guilty for eating. She kept refusing what’s suggested to her, and chewed the little she had on her plate in a way that would impress a Southern Lady. (Proving to me how coming to the feast table and taking pride in not eating isn’t a strictly Ethiopian affair).
The lady of the house, a shy woman whose wig has covered half her face, was the perfect hostess: avoiding our eyes while trying to force feed us. She was switching between English, Côte d’Ivoirish and French: gossiping with her country-woman even after the rest of us have fallen into an awkward silence.
After bidding every one goodbye, and promising to consider his ex-colleague’s proposal to do this every other Wednesday, Chris breathed a sigh of relief and turned to ask how I was. Not too difficult to read what was at the back of his mind. He’s wondering if I wasn’t exhausted from pretending to enjoy my surrounding and if my cheeks weren’t hurting from all the polite smiles already. It must have come as a surprise to him, therefore, when I confessed I was glad we came out. “Really? You liked it?” he asked eagerly, looking both cautious and guilty. “What is there not to like?” I laughed “The food was great. The conversation instructive. He reminded me of my uncle-in-law, she my aunt. I have no intention of doing it again, mind you, but it sure was an adventure that actually made me realize how much I’ve missed home”.
He smiled, happily confused. Even after 9 months of living in Ethiopia, he still doesn’t seem to have gotten used to our [African] ways.