A home away from home
It was like stepping back into a restaurant in Addis. There was the waiter in cheap “shemiz”, smiling at all the wrong places and trying to show off his English. His friend, and the guy who run the Free WiFi service at the back, was singing loudly along one of Ephrem Tamiru’s 80’s hits and acting as if he owned the place to the uninterested patrons on the two tables: a family of four (where a father was attempting to discipline a daughter by threatening to bring out his belt, while the mother babbled about something she saw or didn’t see in “SanTeeYaaGo”); me & mine. By the time he gave it up and decided to walk home “qess eyale”, our dinner of Tibs and Kitfo has still not come. When it did, it surprised me by tasting better than I expected it to taste. Which, unfortunately, didn’t change the fact that the price was too expensive, that the AmboWuha tasted like it’s already been used and refilled with cold water and there was only one toilet for both the sexes – with a door that doesn’t lock! Not to mention how deserted the restaurant looked for a Friday evening.
However, I still enjoyed every moment of it. Not because Awash [Ethiopian] Restaurant, 4979 El Cajon Blvd – San Diego, proved to be one of the two places in America I can go to whenever I needed going home and seeing my people. Or because I’ve started missing Injera, after repeated attempts to eat healthy made me realize how difficult preparing a meal without “maBaya” was. But because it was the one place I knew I wouldn’t give the impression of being mentaly challenged, intellectually delayed and developmentally disabled — or vice versa.
The last month has been a season of discovery and excitement, with the discovery outweighing the excitement as my Week 2 post would reveal. And the thing that’s been casting shadows on the adventurous spirit has been my apparent inability to understand — English. From the Vietnamese woman to the pregnant Mexican lady trying to push a shopping cart alongside a stroller all the while screaming for her “leMiGib yalanese, leSira yalDerese” son to keep up; be it a shop assistant or a waitress; I have found myself saying “Sorry?”, “I beg your pardon?”, “What was that?!” every time I’m offered help or asked if there was anything else I wanted. With the jokes, I laugh. Laughter is the easiest language in the world; and Americans laugh easily, more so when sex [size or position], drugs [the lack of] and wives [selfishness, stupidity] are discussed. If more than two words (“thank you”, or “excuse me”) are demanded of me, however, I call Chris over and let him do all the talking. I have developed so much doubt and misgivings on my thus-far “alright” English, that I am finally understanding why my country men and women never dared venture out of the herd. Can’t be easy surviving, when you have an inherent objection to learning something new.
Friday evening, however, I was da boss! At home! Among people who know my language, and whose language I recognize without wracking my brain for something resembling the sound. I was so self-possessed and dismissive that it was Chris, the same Chris who has been there once before and was relieved at finding out this was unlike any “MiGib Bett” he knew back in Addis (where he was mistaken for a rich guy by virtue of being half-caucasian), who was stammering and laughing nervously.
It’s good to be home! 🙂
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