After learning I’ve moved to Seattle and sensing all was not well in paradise, an ex-colleague of mine joined facebook and requested for a latest picture of me and my husband’s. “Chris looks good”, her comment read, “yekesa yimselal”. Half annoyed at being reminded that our values are evolving/devolving into values that used to not be ours and half interested (how is it that we seem to excel in catching up to the world on all things superficial; the airlines.. fiber optic broadbands.. the dishing of “peace keeping” squads for troubled neighbours when we can ill-afford to feed ourselves; how .. like all societies full of people with a low-self esteem.. we’ve always been over-eager to show the rest of the world that when it comes to the question of ‘who minus who’, ‘yabarere endemaiyzen’. Is there a wonder our only and consistent achievement seems to be in the field of “rucha”?!), I asked “Is that how ‘abatochachin’ talked about their dinbertegna/balaNtas nowadays? ‘Ahunima… min… Qetno amrobet..?!”
This colleague is a hard-core fan of the “healthy living” mantra; she tries to “eat healthy”, cutting a once a week 1.25 cents bag of potatoe chips from her meal, despite her weekly trips to “atkilt tera” which provides her with a more or less balanced diet of organic foods; despite her dodging animal and diary products twice a week (and “metsom metseleying”, “Qomo masQedesing” on those long seasons of fisleta and asra sidist), despite not owning a car and walking when she can’t get a bus; despite a family of 5 to feed and no serategna to help out and last, but not least, despite her inability to afford to buy meat as much as her kids and husband wants her to anyway [Chris was pleasantly surprised to observe, while he was living in Ethiopia, that this is the funny thing about the poor in America and the poor in abesha-land: we can’t afford to eat unhealthy, and they can’t afford to eat healthy]. Still, in her pursuit to look whatever it is she thinks being skinny would make her look like, the one thing she will probably not stop to think is: Why does she hate being fat so much? More importantly, why does she fear it? [For we hate what we fear, and we fear what we feel in our guts is what we are on the outside, right?].
The fact that we fear it, like some epidemic, some birth deformity, some ‘bemilas yimiders’ curse, there is no question. Cigarettes come with warning labels, anti-smoking campaigns and fines. They come – with cancer! Yet none of it would make you wanna reach for your Marlboro/Rothmans less. However, watch the movie “Feed” and see if you’d wanna go near food for a month to come. None of us are immune to it, either. Unlike race and stupidity, it’s something that can happen to any one of us.
Yet when it’s considered not a nice form for .. say.. whites to make fun of blacks [it IS, Uncle Sam would assure you; a defect/an absence, despite it being a presence and nothing to do with actual presence of color], or tall people at small people, or the ‘aynama’ @ the blind, the sharp-witted at the dull-brained [unless for purely comical purposes); despite all these forms of acceptable social behavior, when it comes to fat people, the one struggle that makes most of us brothers and sisters [more sisters than brothers, perhaps! Metabolism – as everything else in this world- is kinder to men], we are merciless! The fat kid is the bully of the playground on Hollywood movies. A wallstreet banker is a “big fat” liar. It is the fat and the obese, “Sostu tebdel sewoch”, that keep the “proletariat” in bondage [and the proletariat, the skinny mass, who is brave and selfless and who lives within its limits, has nothing to lose but its chains!!]. I’ve even heard a radio “tiri” to Los Angelons when I was there last that started with ‘are you wearing last years shorts? Please don’t make our beautiful city ugly by showing your fat”. An actual radio “lifefa”, I shit you not!
So why do we frown at this common disease, this mighty public enemy, this deformity in the form of a “disability” – of not being able to burn more than you eat?
Is it ..
because we associate fat with eating? And eating with defecting? Is that what fat people remind us of? All that junk around their belly: A big.fat.bag.of…. waste?! Is that why eating is synonymous with guilt, in Ethiopia atleast? A distasteful obligation one has to go through the ritual of “lemonor”?! Kindda like “yeIjj amel yalebet” relative that knocks on your door long after the sun set, a relative whom you can’t trust with the sofa unless you nailed it to the ground, something to be eyed suspiciously and treated with detachment?. Is that why we find eating in the street embarassing? Why we have contests of who ate less than who at the feast table? Why eating after a funeral is a frown-worthy act, almost as vile as not crying, on those close to the dead?!
“Food is mightier than the king”, our proverbs run, “it’s a demi-god we are commissioned to treat with utmost respect”; a demi-god whose ill-treatement (unlike one The Christ) we, and our children, shall pay dearly for. We kiss it (and my brother Tagel kisses the plate it was brought with, it’s a long-standing tradition – I gathered – at “Kerchele”) to show just how grateful we are to have it “sintu yata eyale”. It’s abundance is closely stalked by shortages of past (ours and those of others). Wasting food is, therefore, followed by cursing and the fear of repercussion, oman-ing, mwart-ing, ‘affer yasbelah yabate amlak’.. ‘yeIhil gif’]. We may not have directly been involved in taking food out of the ‘needy’ [the homeless/the fatherless/the window], but the remorse is just as bad. So we freeze what we can’t eat, despite the suggestion on the box to do otherwise, despite the long over due expiry date. Instead of dumping it in the garbage, where it belongs, we keep food around, in the hopes that a day would come when we’d have chance to dump it in/onto ourselves. We hoard the food, and the plastic bag it came in, and the use-and-throw materials that accompanied it. We keep the receipt, and the promotional pieces of paper at it’s back – to use next time we went shopping, so we could save (and fill our fridges) with items that would do no one any good.
That makes the ground work with which we, Ethiopians, come to the “gebeta”. Yet this much, we share with the rest of the world. When we actually eat and are full, we are uncomfortable, and so we hate ourselves [“I am not done when I’m full”, protested the comedian, “I’m done when I hate myself”]. That stuffed feeling that makes us wanna go somewhere and explode? With it comes the desire to throw up, and the smell that follows. The farting, and the smell that follows. We feel we were… pigs [those unclean creatures which the biggest world religions have dismissed ‘unclean’ enough to eat. those animals, who pee where they eat and eat where they pee]. It’s a heavy weight to carry — like a Rosmary’s baby — and you can’t wait for 9 months to get rid of. And then going into the toilet room, the shint/shit bett. Putting your finger in your throat and vomiting. Writhing/wretching/acid/nausea. The smell. The disgust [at yourself]?
Could that be why?!
Is it simply because being fat is an almighty chubby finger pointing, for both us and others, to our un-inhibitions [gluttony, after all, is the 6th sin]? Just as a mattress mucking of the smell of sex reminds us of not people so in love with each other they can’t keep their hands [and some other parts too] off each other, but that they are — vulgar? While we are at it, have you noticed how disgusting the subject of food and sex becomes when you are either full or aren’t in the mood? And how you’d eat anything [almost]/would sleep with anybody [almost] when you are hungry — horny??
Still trying to find out why.