Week 3 (A night at Manderley)

April 9, 2009 at 5:51 pm 7 comments

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.

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Seriously.. God.. why?! To: Mazzi, sistu, Inem, others..

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Totit  |  April 10, 2009 at 2:06 am

    U know abesheet u never fail to crack me up…:)

  • 2. Tazabi  |  April 10, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    You know you have more of a ferenje reaction than abesha. This reminds me of some of my colleagues who grew up overseas and produce an opinion on everything even the sacred like have no respect for elders nor engedoch

  • 3. Mazzi  |  April 10, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Quite an amusing post Abesheet :-).

    Ah…welcome to a life in the Diaspora where all of a sudden you are not just ‘Abesheet’ representing your lonesome self as you always have, but a ‘prototype’ immigrant for every African/Ethiopian woman ;-). I smiled at the notion how Chris’ ex-colleague assumed all that will take for you and his wife to be fast and furious friends is sharing common ‘African’ genes. Hmmm….

    Though you have only been on this side of the universe for few weeks, there is a question I have been meaning to ask you. Judging by some of your memorable blog entries from home, I remember commenting then how despite having never lived in the US before, you had a pretty spot on idea (even more than some people ALREADY living in this culture did) of what life in America might be like. I imagine your readings, TV, the Internet, your marriage to Chris, and extensive Western/American movie exposure played a part in exposing you to what living in America might be like.

    Now that you have had a little bit of opportunity to sample some local life and your environment, and maybe interact with Americans and immigrants around you, do you ever feel like you have been in that place before … like a Déjà Vu feeling? Does it ever feel as though you might have walked the same path before maybe in another life time (or even maybe concurrent life)? Just curious!

    Speaking for myself, after having watched endless American movies when I was home, and easily recognizing some of the famous American cities’ land marks, it was an eerie experience to say the least to finally visit them in person after coming to this side. Often I had found myself standing in the middle of some iconic place, and still wondering if what I am looking at is live or some movie scene from memory still through a TV screen!

    Enjoy discovering your new place and the people around you.

    @Tazabi:

    EndE!! Why on earth does one have to be like “ferenje” to have opinions on anything or everything?!

    Who says being an Abesha is in indirect conflict with being opinionated about things/issues, whether raised back home or in the Diaspora?

    In fact, it is independent thinking being in short supply in our restrictive culture and fear of expressing one’s genuine opinions in our perpetually unstable political environment that hold us back as a people! It is true that we Ethiopians respect and revere our elders and “engedoch” as we should. But that sure does not stop us from having opinions (there is that word again!) about them. Funny how you interpreted Abesheet’s opinions (which she is entitled to) about the people she encountered as disrespect. Apples and oranges.

    Besides, more often than not, we should remember that respect should be earned (by all involved in a two way street) and not automatically awarded to everyone.

  • 4. abesheet  |  April 11, 2009 at 12:25 am

    No, i’m afraid not Mazziye. Everything looks so new and so exotic that I sometime feel like i’m on a vacation i can be jerked back into reality from any time. Like when you were a kid, and have been invited to a happy little house for some kid’s birthday, remember that? When you are there, the thought of going back to your cold, colorless house where your father’s face goes dark with the evening, and where your mother laughs “yeLimimit saQ”, is both hateful and disheartening. Putting gloom on your surrounding. Imagine what you’d feel if you were told you can stay in your little dream land for good — atleast for the night. That’s what being in America feels like. Guess what, i don’t have to leave for atleast two more years.

    This reminds me of some of my colleagues who grew up overseas and produce an opinion on everything even the sacred like have no respect for elders nor engedoch

    Was that an accusation i detected, Tazabi (not very Tazabi-like, is it 😉 ?) Anywho, if you are holding my being opinionated against me, I’m sorry. But such is what i am and i’ve felt it’s better to be opinionated than waiting for others to form your opinion for you. I certainly have respect for my elders, but not when they are acting “unelder-like”. Same goes for Engidoch. I revere Engidoch. As a matter of fact, I revere them so much that when Engidoch come through the door, i’m usually out the “guwada berr”.

    Keep visiting

  • 5. Mazzi  |  April 11, 2009 at 1:34 am

    “Like when you were a kid, and have been
    invited to a happy little house for some kid’s
    birthday, remember that? When you are there,
    the thought of going back to your cold, colorless
    house where your father’s face goes dark with
    the evening, and where your mother laughs
    ‘yeLimimit saQ’, is both hateful and disheartening.
    Putting gloom on your surrounding.”

    Ah the proverbial feeling of my younger days having to go back to the harsh reality that was home/family that awaited me after getting a brief glimpse at a happier and more balanced existence else where (be it my strangely weird in a good way high school or occasionally other people’s happier homes). Story of my younger life.

    So I can totally understand how the newness and the exotic feel this place has at first glance can make one feel like it could easily be taken away … as difficult as it was getting here. Story of my current life! So my heart is never at peace or ‘at home’ to say the least :-(. After all these years of living on this side, I am still anxiously waiting for that feeling of finally ‘being at home’ and sending roots where I prefer to be planted.

    But of course all the newness you are feeling now fades with time, though I can’t say the same about the threat (real or perceived) of being jerked back to reality as we know/knew it ;-).

    So enjoy this ride that feels more like a vacation or dream land for now, but once you are settled well will hopefully feel more like your life for good.

  • 6. Tazabi  |  May 4, 2009 at 4:13 am

    To be a ferenje like is to have negative interpration of most observations. Nothing is sacred. The Ethiopian elite is bent out of shape trying to imitate the Americans in all manners of life and it is a cheap imitation at that.

  • 7. Mazzi  |  May 4, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    I have got news for you Tazabiye….

    Having opinions, and being able to express them is sacred ;-).

    So how is that for you assuming “Nothing is sacred” according to heavily opinionated Ethiopians. Elite mehon alemehonin min ameTaw ezih la’y???

    You seem to have the opinion that “to be a ferenje like is to have a negative interpration of most observations.” A warped opinion if you ask me since you are assuming all ferenjis negatively interpret all that they observe, but an opinion you are entitled to none the less!

    You see, even you are expressing a not so flattering opinion. So maybe we are not so different after all?

    Just saying…

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