Year the 1st
When trying to explain how people don’t just change overnight, whether in a romantic relationship, the coming into an unexpected fortune or the acquiring of the celebrity status, a man I had reverence for once said that all these catalysts [the other woman, the money, the media publicity] are mere thermometers. There to show what temperature your room has. They neither add to, nor subtract from, what was already there. They just report, so to say, and “bring unto the light of day all that was hidden in darkness, and expose the secret motives of men’s hearts”.
In the final analysis, this man I once revered said that the gaining of the dough, the falling in or out of love, or the 15 minutes of fame aren’t what makes people behave generously, badly, or foolishly. They are mere measurements of what mean-spirited, foolish or generous people we already were. A man who suddenly starts taking to the bottle, for example, when becoming “ditta”, was a closeted alcoholic who didn’t have the means to show his “true colors”. Etc. etc.
And, both you and I, I’m sure, have been told of stories in which Coming to America, the act – not the movie, seemed to have the same effect on many an Ethiopian from poor or middle class families. They have come here for 9 months, the stories go, and when they went back home they have acted as if the ground wasn’t good enough for them. The food tasteless, the infrastructure to be pitied and speaking amharic out of the question. When they finally do, they end up lisping their words in a style widely known to belong to a class of people [more like a “biher” really] infesting [or “occupying”, if you prefer the term] the Eastern outskirts of the city of Addis Ababa, a place otherwise known as — “Bole”.
I loved reading, or atleast being around books, or those who loved them; while young. My joyous Saturdays and Sundays were spent watching movies or listening to audio books my English-teacher dad brought me from the British Council as a reward to something good I did. I never liked going to places or meeting people. I liked nature, the same way I liked music – in theory! Because I am “fidel yeQoterech” arty-type female of the 20’s century, brought up in the middle of the stifling iron & cement walls of the “concrete jungle” and, like every other 21st century urban-bred kid, a breath of fresh air and a walk in the park would do wonders to my rosy cheeks.
And were I asked to dream a perfect future for myself, it would comprise of travelling around the world learning about people and cultures, doing a charitable deed and establishing a teacher’s training college/a publishing house/a library atleast, where writers who would say “something new” in the Ethiopian literary “sphere” would be born.
Again, in theory! Out of theory, I’ve yearned for the mercy of sleep before crossing Qaliti on my way to Awassa, finding the “tefetro wubet” of my country, the lush mountains and the various “azeeirts” that decorated the farm fields [like a “mesob” an Oromo “lijagered” would “mesfat” for her newly-wed friend’s house — with a heart full of untold dreams, a lyric-less song on her lips and fast fingers], monotonous and boring. And if it wasn’t for the mercy of an Addis Neger newspaper, an ipod borrowed from my younger bro, and the little girls and boys you come across here and there who run after the bus, or wave at the bus, or stare at the bus in a strangely detached way or try to offer the passengers of the bus “kelkel” and a sweating bottle of soda in the form of refreshment, I would have had my soul sucked out of me and laid limp there and then.
When it comes to music, I am not generally against it. But I am drawn to it only until I’ve heard it enough to memorize the verses and lines that make it. After that, the only time I scream with discovery after a song is when it plays years after I heard it; shocking me into remembrance and throwing me into nostalgia.
So in theory, I am an admirer of nature and a lover or music [a respector of the equality of the sexes, races, religions; a believer that every child is born innocent + with potential and that every thing created has a beauty the discerning observer won’t miss] – As all people my age and generation should! In reality, I die a thousand deaths and get resurrected a thousand times so I can die a bit more before Mozart’s concerto is over [although I loved the movie “Amadeus”]; stereo-type against men [especially african american men] and fear that every devout muslim has the potential and would have the tendency too, atleast once in his life, to become a suicide bomber.
When it comes to how I prefer to spend my leisurely time, a good book in hand and an access to a life-sustaining fare three times a day [and a place to relieve self if the need arises] is all I ask to complete my life – A la Jerry Maguire. And, ofcourse, I don’t have rosy cheeks. [Except when the Regional Manager at the store I work in stands “guroroye lai”, and watched every movement of the hand that punches the cash register keys– in an attempt, I believe, to see how good I work under [the] pressure [of her presence — in my “ayer megbia/mewcha”?. I make all sorts of mistakes, and in an attempt to show my communicating ability, I jab my Latino customers’ ears with all manners of wrongly pronounced spanish words I gleaned from my Latina co-workers, while they staunchly replied “Is fine” for every one of my question and comment. Still, it’s been observed to me by a colleague that the rosiness of my cheeks, arising from the nervous pumping of blood by the flattering heart, have made my features look somewhat attractive.].
Always choosing smart-ass over popularity, I didn’t have much of a life. More importantly, I never wanted to. Thus, my youth was spent. And thus, my adulthood has dawned.
And now? After a year of living in America, do I find myself tempted to speak less amharic than English? Am I fond of par-taying my “yewezader” cheque on friday nights, recover from hang overs on Saturdays and spend the morning congregating with the in-laws at a local “La Iglesia Ethiopica” — after which I’ll try to either Keep up with the Kardashians or try to find out what happened to the botoxed and bad acting crew of The Young and the Restless on Sundays? Did I discover a more sociable self in me, inclined to mix and match easily?!
The answer is “no”.
It doesn’t mean america hasn’t changed me/or my life in any way. I shower every day, despite worrying it would age me terribly as it seems all the 35 year old white grand mothers I come across on a daily basis. I use Aroma Rice Steamer & Cooker to boil the grain that’s become the staple to most of my meals. I finish my sentences with a very perceptible question mark, like everybody around me does, with a good dose of “[he/she/it] was like” and “or.. whatever .. ” sprinkled in.
That much has changed. But the truth is, I still am the same person I left home a year ago. I neither wear make ups, nor straightened my hair nor try to burn it down with a ‘seded’ of perm. I dress in the same mediocre way I did in Addis. I stay away from social gatherings [be it a “pot luck” on Christmas morning; a birthday dinner on Halloween or wearing something green on Saint Paddy’s day]. And ofcourse I avoid the in-laws at any cost. More importantly, a bit of food, a drama-less break-room and an unabridged audio version of “Mystic River” is all it takes to pronounce my day “joyous”. If, come judgement day, somebody asked me what spending one’s entire life on such unambitious, pathetic, pursuits feels like, my response [in the word of “Comic Book Guy” from “The Simpsons”] would be “LIFE WELL SPENT”!
Alas, I am not the only one! I have thus far met half a dozen Ethiopians and many a Latina/Latino [Is it the “dihinet”, the spicy food or the many words we share that makes the two of us so much alike — even physically?!] who have lived here for 9-25 years and don’t seem to have changed much about their person; their eating habit, their accents, and — in some cases—- even their clothes!
Is it the “abeshawit melkwan, mexicawit qelemuan” thing that stopped me, and them, from morphing into somebody more — American, more adventurous, more focused [or atleast less resigned and less settling]?! Or am I too old/too tainted/ too stubborn to change?
If so, and if fate has seen to it that I live [and yearn to live] the same ole life I had back home all over again, is there a point in living in a strange land, among strange people, doing a mediocre job to get a mediocre cheque & pay the bills one Friday after another?!
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