By the mirrors of Babylon…

October 9, 2014 at 5:02 pm 17 comments

Like anybody who has lived here for more than 9 months-straight would tell you, living in America isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. No sir! It isn’t like in the movies at all. The only exception is when they decide to make a movie of your neighbourhood! Then, i.e. when bringing Hollywood to Mohammed becomes necessary for Mohammed can’t afford to live and work in SoCal, you’d be found right smack in the middle – with familiar places and memories that scratch at your heart like a dying pet [ideally a bird with an actual “tiFir”]. And that feeling, that recognition, the pang in the stomach [like a hungry fetus kicking in the womb] is the one “novelty” that never fades.

It’s like a prolonged seduction.. an extended foreplay. It starts on day one, or the 16 hrs before it, when your plane makes a stop in Rome to refuel. You look out the window, and you see [like in a dream – nay a movie] Engineers running about, under the pouring rain, in a yellow & orange reflective safety vest. White men with shaggy hair and some kind of hard-hat – stuff you didn’t know existed outside the silver screen.

Then you feel it when you land at Dulles International airport, cold and distant like a dream. A strange thrill courses in your veins while you walk down the ladder, into the bus, past a lot of terminals, past stairs and side-ways into a hallway before officially, and finally, landing on American soil. A look out the window, the first glimpse into the new world, reveals [airport] workers – black, wide and curly-haired – mulling about. But these aren’t the kinds of black people you are used to. Not the skinny brown men and women with small legs you would recognize anywhere, standing in line with you. These are creamy-color skinned black people of the movies. Black people who remind you of Shaft [in Africa], dark shades of glasses and the word “beQa.. neegro newu yemimeslewu, betam yamral”. Black people with broad shoulders and an attitude! [Avoid making eye-contact lest the animal perceived you as a threat!]

Then you walk out into the cold again. The [airport] shuttle driver is old and, despite your almost ‘tirs melkem’ing on the way up, doesn’t seem to find you inferior. He is friendly and seems happy to take you where you want – for free. You and your host are his only passengers. And he is well advanced in age. Also it’s a cold morning. You feel like apologizing. [You feel like apologizing for everything those first weeks, grateful to have been let in]. But you haven’t found your voice, or courage, yet. He asks where you came from – your host answers. He goes on and on, about the weather, the streets, the somminkorother in a cheerful voice. Then parks the shuttle outside Best Western and wishes you well-stay.

Then [comes] the flight of stairs you climb up, dragging your luggage with you – no Valet in attendance [No thanks to you “Downton Abbey”]. Then the room. Then the pizza delivery, with the Asian guy you coy from and tip generously. Then the life.

You get used to the accents, the suspiciously cheap food – and how it’s ok to throw what you can’t eat [and that plastic bags are like pain, or East Indians, there is simply an endless supply of them without half the demand]. You get to tell apart tans from skin colors. And genuine smiles, which – in America – is no smile at all, from the overly-friendly ones of those fearful to anger you [and bring down a wrath of 400 years on their head]. You even get used to the sinking feeling at recognizing that you and da chunky-monkey brother at the airport aren’t really that different to the white-eye. You get used to the disillusionment. Then the anger. Then the feeling of uselessness [which, coupled with self-doubt and anxiety, robs you of the ability to speak your mind without the fear of not making much sense or being mocked by your audience. To watching your readership drop down to precious hand-ful while you struggle to come up with bright ideas and write them the way you used to]. To knowing that you probably will never belong [or become a writer. Or amount to anything more than what your mother amounted to. To knowing how you were just a big fish in a small pond back home, a used-to-be big fish stuck in a much bigger pond with much bigger – meaner – fishes]. And, finally, to being ok with that. You will get used to it all.

What you don’t get used to is the getting excited when you catch a glimpse of your neighbourhood, places you know and recognize, on tv, movies or magazine. That’s when you get transffered into the silver screen; whence you “cross over” into the other side of the tv; whence your life in America becomes exactly like in the movies. So you will want to jump up, shout, wave your hands in the air – so the camera won’t miss you, so it won’t pass by you, just sweep over you, and say “heyyyyy… that’s me!”. [My store.. my cafe.. my hood]. My home.

It feels that you have, finally, managed to belong.

Or something like that.

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Entry filed under: Latest Posts.

The death of a dog So how about it?

17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. andthree  |  October 9, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    sounds like you have adapted well to babylon sistim 🙂 and nice corner you have got there.

    I remember the Bole airport lounge. Damn, that was a lot of white people. More white people congregated at the same place than I have ever seen in my life. የሰው ነጩ ታየ 🙂

    big fish are overrated. I mean, look at piranhas. All you need is ferocity. True, they hunt in packs. but I wouldn’t mess with even one. Just go for it. Why don’t you try to self-publish on Amazon? I promise to buy (if the price is right 🙂

  • 2. abesheet  |  October 9, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    Ayy andthreeye wondime..

    At’at’afu enji atamiewu alneberem yechegeregn. Gin .. it’s good to know I can count on your hard-earned 9.99.

    The immigrant experience..
    I always tell my [American-born] friends [exotic though however their lives might be] that is the one thing they will never get to experience on this side of the grave. That bewilderment, that novelty, that freshness and wonder to everything you come across. That feeling of walking in the clouds – dejavus of life only lived through the silk screen. That land of wonder America is. [The first bite, the first sight, the realizations] And then the stranger that forces you to become – to yourself. It’s beautiful. It’s breath-taking. And full of pain. I could have done without it, probably. But now that I have gone through it… would I trade it for anything else?

    I don’t think so.

  • 3. andthree  |  October 10, 2014 at 1:34 am

    9:99 sounds fair. degmo ye at’at’af rule ale ende?

    my degree of bewilderment has been leveling off recently because I practically get to do and see the same things everyday.

    Nice observation on the plastic bags.

    And is it Shaft in Africa or Sharp in Africa. Sharp as in the one worn by our mothers and sisters?

  • 4. Erikete  |  October 10, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    what if kebede does not want to be an actor or does not want to live in Socal? haha. Say what? is my response to the other sentences in the paragraphs abesheet.

  • 5. abesheet  |  October 10, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Lol @ Sharp in Africa. It was Shaft. Edit largewu kalku I would dislike it so much it would end up in the trash box biye Edit saladerg wedeAtamiwu lakut. That is why I am still adding stuff to it. “A work in progress”, as they say.

    It’s funny how I have found the courage to wear shorts and run around on tennis fields, hiked mountains infested with Brown Bears and even quit cigarettes after 12 years. But how throwing away plastic bags and cardboard boxes still makes me “groan in spirit”. I wonder if Monrovia won’t be set for months if all abeshas in America were asked to cough up a plastic bag and send it over there in place of a hazmat suit.

  • 6. andthree  |  October 11, 2014 at 4:30 am

    Bravo! ጎበዝ!! ትምባሆ መጠጣት አቆምኩ ነው ያልሽው? 🙂 I imagine that it must have been real hard, going through with it. I am happy for you. And I am pretty sure that it is one of those decisions that you know you won’t regret. I couldn’t resist but make the following pun: 12 years a slave, huh?

    I actually thought that you had a method to the “Sharp”. For some reason, the color of the sharp that was evoked in my mind was black.

    I have worn shorts exactly three times, indoors. Ok, I once took the trash out while wearing shorts. But it seems like people are literally and otherwise attached to their shorts. Even when it is god awful cold and my አይበሉባ is a cracked mess. Not ashamed to admit that I am now a proud owner of a moisturizer (for men 🙂 ) And I am a also a confused-as-to-what-to-do-with-them owner of a sizable number of plastic bags. I was told that I would need them to put the trash in. That’s until they became the trash.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/04/ebola-zaire-peter-piot-outbreak

  • 7. Erikete  |  October 11, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    abesheet one more thing, about the “12 years a slave thing”, I took away whatever makes one a slave and bam not a slave no more. 🙂 I think… or whatever 🙂

  • 8. abesheet  |  October 11, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Erikete.. enatwa..

    As long as you are using expressions like “not a slave no mo”, you would remain “attached” to your roots. Drop em and then you can go around singing “Free atlast.. free atlast..I thank God I am free at last”

    Lol @ sharp/shaft. You obviously think me brighter than I actually am. Might even go as far as saying you may have out-grown me, kid. I remember the day I discovered my dad didn’t know the meaning of all the English words in the world. I sat around watching him dazed and confused – unsure what this means. He shrunk a little, I think, appearing considerably less in size. A little sad. A little pathetic. [His “ewQet” being his only redeeming quality] it was like one has lost a family member – or discovered they weren’t really related to one.

    The cigarettes weren’t that hard to give up. Started having chest pains.. then realized 20 bucks a week was something I can hardly afford.. the looking-older-than-one-is fear factor. Now that I no longer have a second job, though, and got about 6 hrs to waste before going to bed, I am realizing [again] that cigarettes were what kept me sane. Won’t be going back to them though. I hope.

    This is my favorite Ebola news.

  • 9. andthree  |  October 11, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Fatu rocks! Now I get the reference to the hazmat suits.

    There is the notion that the goal of parents has to be for their offspring to outgrow them. Within reason, that is.

    Leave it to Abesheet to call me kid and make me feel a decade and odd years younger. አመሰግናለሁ 🙂

    “Won’t be going back to them though. I hope.” You hope?! Among your reasons for quitting, only the chest pains (አይዞሽ 😦 ) look like the ones that may actually keep you from picking up the habit again. Walmart will soon come out with the Great Value brand of cigarettes hence making them lighter on the pockets. And the looking older, don’t worry, we Africans age gracefully. I am speaking from personal experience. Our Chinese roommate was astounded to discover that we were not in our twenties.

    Speaking of Great Value, here is what is says on the label of their table salt “…does not contain iodine, which is essential for human health..” or something like that 🙂

  • 10. abesheet  |  October 11, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    You know.. I don’t know if i would go around bragging I would age gracefully if I had a Chinese for a roommate [Mazzi would know what I’m talking about]. Those things were put on earth to try us. Try us to the limit – and then some. One may argue that is good for the morale. But maybe not so much for the follicle nerves.

  • 11. andthree  |  October 12, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    The roommate thing by itself is a trying one. It is like an exercise in ቻይነት (of him and the other 2 roommates) I cannot rule out an explosion on my part one of these days.

    They aight. They aight.

  • 12. Eriket  |  October 12, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    discovering not being related to one might be impossible it just might take a toll on one’s house/home. I think I have talked too much and I have a feeling u might be tired of me. Sorry, if the word helps. 🙂

  • 13. abesheet  |  October 12, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    No you haven’t, Erkete/Erikete. And I never tire of you, neither here nor on facebook. You remind me of my little sister Blen. You are probably around the same age group too.

  • 14. Erikete  |  October 13, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    yagere’ lig I do not know who told you I was little:). common mistake Lets correct that, I plan to celebrate a birthday a few times not to cross to the above forty and fifty zone:). love u as always

  • 15. abesheet  |  October 14, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Lol. So which faux-49th birthday did we celebrate last week? 🙂

  • 16. Erikete  |  October 15, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Yours? (.) 🙂

  • 17. Scooby  |  October 16, 2014 at 1:02 am

    For me, the most annoying thing about the first few months was the waiters. They just won’t stop asking what else they can do for you long enough for you to actually taste the food and decide if you want anything. Felt like yelling at them to get out of my face. Tehitena sibeza andande yidebral.

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