An odd combination of names
My Indian name was “Heavy with food”. Heavy but with food. Got it? 🙂
I’m not Indian, mind you. I’m not even Mexican. I am Ethiopian. [But you probably know that already]. An Ethiopian with an Indian name! It’s one of the “odd combos” that makes this person you have come to know, and read, as abesheet [who also goes by atleast two other known names: A given name, a “bett”/”pet”? name and the aforementioned Indian name that I donned upon myself one bright afternoon while walking by an Uptown Seattle Mexican restaurant with a name so simple it makes you wonder if the owners were real Mexicans or spray-tanned gringos wearing fake handlebar mustaches and over-sized sombreros. “Dos Amigos”, they call it.]. Not to mention the countless other names I opened emails with and are now lost to the world due to my inability to remember all their passwords! [Any news on when we are gonne run out of IP Addresses, guys?!. Seriously this time?!]
The first “odd” combo has gotta do with the above mentioned heaviness; and it’s direct correlation to/with eating. I was a fat Ethiopian. To those of you who consider that expression an “oxymoron”, morons!, I would have you know that we exist. There aren’t many of us. And we try to blend as much as we can with the obese black of America. But we do exist; and our lives are an endless trial and error of attempting to find acceptance in the same society that paid compliments to its neighbours, until very recently, in the form of “weferk! .. amarebih!”.
My “wufret” wasn’t a matter of choice or the result of a variety of bad decisions, however. If given a chance, I would have checked the “tall, dark and handsome” section [without, perhaps, the “dark” part] and attempted to fight my way up the food-chain with a garden full of vegetables leaping in my belly. I would have been more like Netsanet instead of Netsanet being given grief over her inability to be more like me. Netsa [otherwise known as “Qecho”, or “Qotu” or “YeSileshi Ehit”] whose weak cries were the legednary background music of our childhood home, is a 7-month-older cousin who lost her mother immediately after birth and was brought up by my grandmother. The hands that twisted the “tuto” out of her hand – causing the weak cries, and the helpless tears were, I regret to report, mine.
Before you judge my toddler-self harshly, however, I pray you stop and ask why I became the little “tuto”-snatching bully [or a “jambo”, or a “sancho”, or a “Gembo” or any of the other names I grew up hearing myself referred to as] I was in those formative years. The answer, in a word, “Morinaga”. In two words: “Morinaga wetet” – a powder-milk that kept me from screaming the roof down after my mom dropped breast-feeding and me at her mother’s, so she can go back to Hossana and continue working as a telephone operator. The milk would have sufficed to make me quit hollering, I assure you. But my aunts were young and there wasn’t much in the form of entertainment for the youth in those days. Plus potatoe was much cheaper than a fancy milk-powder with a foreign name. So, in their zeal to keep their older sister’s first kid full-bellied and sunny-dispositioned [an older sister who was supporting the family from the little she got], they went above and beyond the call of duty. Ending up over-doing the carbs and out-feeding me [or vice-a-versa].
Do I have Morinaga-beDinich to thank for my healthy lung, the wholesome appetite I enjoyed throughout my life, and a strong bone structure on an arm that is to later become known as “The Hand That Snatchs Netsanet’s Tuto”?! I do!! But what is strangeth and might when all a child, already torn from her mother’s warm bossom, craved for was a sense of belonging?! Netsanet, with her weak voice and twisted arms, didn’t have half the hard-time I did when stepping outside to play. Granted it was a trade off for my rosy cheeks, it wasn’t fun when you seem to inspire a chorus of “Duba.Meret.Qedo.Geba”, even in those with no intention of hurting you, everywhere you go.
Thus… even though I weigh less than I have ever weighed in my life, except maybe my early 20’s, and can see my collar bones if I squinted sideways; I still am a fat girl in my head. I still feel surprised when anything less than a size 14 fits me. Still feel apologetic around tall Ethiopian women with long finger-nails suffering from “chegwara”. And find myself wondering, albeit for a second, if I were the cause of it whenever people behind me laugh uproariously.
My second “odd” combo is that I have a holy fear of being perceived as a boy. This isn’t due to a birth defect on my person or because I claim to have been born in the wrong body [I do not! And I was not!]. My [younger-by-one-year] brother TaGel and I were pretty close until he decided to take the low road by working the numbers [in a way that would embarass “these Chicago guys!”] when it was his turn to go grocery-shopping with one of my aunts at “shola gebeya” – becoming the first juvenile deliquent, jail bird and no-good junkie in our Big Skinny Ethiopian Family. We went to the same school. We dealt with the same kind of bullies [people who hated my dad/kids who disliked fat girls and their little clingy-brothers/boys and girls who were convinced we were “Wolamos” since our folks met in “Debub Ethiopia”]. We also had the same parents, thus the same emotional problems of thinking the rest of the world was out to frown upon our very existence.
TaGel’s clinginess, however, wasn’t limited to his desire to be where I was all his waking hours. He demand to eat whatever I was eating. And whined whenever I was bought something he hasn’t also got: clothes for example. So – instead of doing what makes sense – make him wear a girl’s dress and see if he likes it; my parents thought it better to buy us clothes that were less gender-specific: pairs of matching pants and sweathers with stripes.
I knew wearing boyish-clothes wasn’t going to compliment my appearance; what with my kinky hair, my continuous presence at soccer “gitmiyas” our school had with the kids from “Misrak AteQalai” [where Binyam “Eyayu” Teshager plays, wearing the coveted #8] and the 5th graders I always fought with after school for trying to pick on my little bro; I was already feeling like a tom-boy. But I didn’t mind. Plus I wasn’t really picked on for wearing a boy’s clothing [these were the days in which ‘festals’ were used in place of bags, and kids walked bare-feet – or limping from a strap-less sandal, to school]. My class mates probably saw me for what I was: a no-nonsense girl with a lot of scratches on her face, a brooding attitude and a smart head on her shoulders. They may have been either resenteful or intimidated by me. Not [gender] confused. But, then, land-line phones became the thing to have at home and my mom, a proud member of “The Ethiopian Telecommunications Authority”, stood first in line to pick one up. [A decision she would later regret when all the “gorebet” girls lurked around our house waiting for the phone to ring, effectively denying us the chance to say “yelechim”, “tesastewal” or “melisewu yidewulu”. Or when wrong numbers were translated as signs of extra-marital liaisons by my father].
The first few times I picked the phone, with my heart beating in my throat and the hands shaking from all the adrenalin, and got mistaken for “TaGel” [by virtue of our voices kinda .. sorta.. not-really sounding alike], I was too excited to make the connection between that and my pants-wearing/short-hair sporting/boy-fighting off-phone persona. After months of answering to my little brother’s name, however, I took – NOT the logical step of deciding his voice must sound like a girl’s but that I must sound like a boy.
Therefore, despite being told repeatedly that I have a sexy voice; and despite the various phone calls my ex-colleagues used to get from their male-friends digging for an info about “silk mitanesawa”/”demtsiwa yemiyamrew lij”; not to mention being asked to help host a show on Fana Radio years ago; I still spend hours infront of the mirror trying to see myself from all angles and decide I can’t be mistaken for a young man with a face whose scars have almost healed, whose features are less brooding and whose head is no longer filled with ideas/ideals but the desire to take it easy on his/myself and enjoy whatever is left of his/my life.
My third “odd” combo is that I can be both timid and bold as they come. Together with my tendency to blurt out opinions that would hard-press the local “Beche” to come up with, and naming non-living things and forming emotional attachments to them, this odd “quality” of mine used to both fascinate and amuse my College class-mates. Many were the days in which we have to lift our butts off of our “dingai” to walk to an instructor’s office and ask for a favor. And while the most fidgety and eager to beat it if things didn’t turn out as expected; I can be the first to barge in with a smile and be all talkative when nobody else appears willing to put knuckles to doors. This ability of mine to step forward when the stepping-forward needs to be done may be the reason why I have never been to an interview I haven’t gotten a job offer from yet. Or why I was called, by the first guy I dated after my divorce, “both inhibited and sexually aggressive”. He didn’t explain himself. But I figured it must be a good thing as the observation was followed by a goofy smile and a desire to linger around.
Here is hoping my luck would hold. And that your Cinco de Mayo or Fasika was more eventful than was mine.
For those of you who haven’t been to my twitter account and read my “introduction”, or got more time to spare, here are an assortment of “odd-combo”-names I can pass-by that occurred to me while writing the above [self-indulgent] thesis on my unique-ness [that may not be so unique to me if you are Ethiopian and/or human].
A believer and an Agnostic.
An angry feminist who can’t function without a man around.
Lover of nature. But also a home girl who hates going home.
Despises hippies but loves colors.
A gay-agenda-bashing liberal.
A big government loving individualist.
A rebel and an upholder of the law.
A righteous judge and a sympathetic jury.
and last, but not least,
The real Benjamin-Button. I felt, behaved and lived like an old man when I was 14; all bent and wrinkled from the weight of the world on my shoulders. Now, two decades later, I feel like I have been given a shot at living my life the way it should have been lived in my teenage years; after having observed how Americans live their lives as if they have only got one [life to live]. And that maybe so did I.
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