January 1st at 02:45 hrs. That is when flight LH491 would depart Seattle, WA and head [with a 9 hour lay-over at Frankfurt] to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia carrying yours truly and a couple of other passengers who hope to make it to their destination in one piece and paid good money for it.
Yes, 5 years, 9 months and 17 days later – I will be leaving my adopted home and set foot on the land my “etibt” was buried at and all bitter memories made. I did not come to America with 8 bucks in my pocket so it’s only proper that I won’t return home a rich woman. When I left home in March 2009, I left with two thousand of the crispiest… most “tire” American dollars Bank of Ethiopia was willing to sell me after giving my cousin Enu, my mother and my little sister 15,000 birr each for a rainy day [those NGOs aren’t every college graduate’s wet-dream for nothing!].
When I go back three week henceforth, I will go back a woman in debt: owing this bank 48 hundred dollars in credit card debt; that bank 4 thousand in Line of credit, a hefty personal loan of 5,000 from Wells Fargo and a couple of almost-maxed out store cards with February’s phone bill and rent still to come out of my 17 day paid-vacation cheque.
But would I let my Zemedoch know that? Hell no! I will go with my hands full and my luggage shaken and pressed down. Wearing brand name clothes that are understated and overpriced [“kenesu ansesh atitayi”, was the repeated warning of my Virginia Beach cousin], I will walk towards my flesh and blood frenemies with two “shanta”s [and a carry on] full of all the stuff 3,000 US Dollar could buy. Stuff I will distribute among them, all the 39 of them, with a smile I can barely afford on my face. Polos and DG sandals for the men; dresses, perfumes and scarfs for the women; clothes and toys for the children and t-shirts and gadgets for the teenagers.
And while doing this – or preparing for that – is it all the money I got to pay off upon return [the late feels, calls from creditors, the tarnished credit score] that worries/wouldworry me? Nope. It’s the fear that the shoes might not fit. That the dresses might fail to impress. That the perfumes maybe far too many to pass duty free regulations. And the gadgets would be pried out of hand and taken by men at “gumRuk”. That they would say things about me the minute they walked out the door. That that would make my parents bow down their heads on the inside. That all these crap I throw at their faces won’t blind them from seeing that I am, and always will be, a woman who made it to America but failed to make it in America. [Not even as the blogger she was back home, right?. Too bad they don’t have a Sale on the gray-cells at Best Buy].
They say it gets easier with time. [I say isn’t this what we were trying to get away from to begin with?!]
As of 2 pm this afternoon, I am officially a black American citizen [who has “absolutely and entirely renounced and abjured all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen”]
To show for it, I have in my possession:
- a Naturalization Certificate.
- Copy [of a copy of a copy] of President Obama’s congratulation letter – on a White House note-pad if I may add :-)
- A note book on The Constitution and what it means to be an American citizen
- A small flag – seen herewith in the company of my YeFederalist Ethiopia bandira, a miniature Egyptian pyramid – from Egypt; a pen my brother Tagel wove for me while he was in prison (and still not talking to me) a decade or so ago – way before I was married to an American and had any intension of crossing over here – and my favorite sini of all times
- And a golden-emblemed, real classy, folder to hold it all
And all I had to do was read and write “Colombus Day is in October”.
No kidding! That was the reading and writing part – put together!
Infact, the hardest part of the interview wasn’t the reading, the writing or answering 10 out of the 100 questions on American Government and American history I had to memorize. The hardest part was remembering the stuff I put on my application: dates and places of residence; where I worked, when I got divorced and got my green card. [Ofcourse — not lying on your original documents always helps!!]. My interviewer was cute, friendly and non-judgmental. He didn’t scowl even when I mistook my October 30th birthday for 10th of October, “because I am used to writing it like that”, I apologized promptly. Thirty minutes later, I was out the door with a huge smile and an oath-ceremony qetero for the same afternoon.
After the oath ceremony, where I was one of three Oathees ..[Oathers …Oath-takers…] who weren’t surrounded by family and friends [Troy has to go back to work after dropping me there and my cousin was somewhere I don’t want to reach her at] I decided to lift my spirit by treating myself to some organic sandwich and expensive coffee. While eating and waiting for my shoes to dry, I felt melancholic. Not because I won’t be voting tomorrow and save democrats from themselves; or even because I don’t seem to have any “metasebia” of the two important days in my life in America – February 19, 2009 and November 3rd, 2014. But because, despite feeling more at home here than I ever did in Ethiopia; and having worked hard, and waited on pins and needles for the interview appointment for months, to become a citizen; all I can think of, sited in that cozy chair at Panera’s, looking out at the world and the pouring rain, was “Anchi addis abeba mayetun tewsh woyi? Asadgegesh sitefu yetalu atyim woy?”
Maybe it’s too early to tell if I would ever belong.
Or I just may be missing “dulet”.
After coming across the following, and many more photos, on Huffingtonpost, I decided if Cuba can send almost 500 doctors to the wilderness of West Africa to fight Ebola, I can give 100 dollars [from the comfort of my laptop] so another father/husband/brother won’t have to send a loved one to her/his funeral without saying a proper goodbye.
Not to mention how No Ebola in Liberia means No Ebola in Ethiopia!
Think about it.
By the way, did I mention how if you donate today—your gift will be MATCHED $1-for-$1 by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation?? Here is my [matched] gift confirmation for your reference.
No goods or services were provided in exchange for your gift, making it tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
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.