Posts tagged ‘Childhood Memories’

“Hard Times” – The Ethiopian version

Menelik the 2nd, that’s where I went for my high school studies! It had a big library that you actually had to walk in on tiptoe, and had all the books you can think of. And more often than not, their Amharic version too. It had “Yehulet Ketemoch Wog”, “Don Quixote” and “Pinocchio”. It even had “Eri Bey Agre”.

I’ve had occasions to re-read the first three, lots of times. But the last I only read once. I don’t remember much of the story. All I ever looked in a book back in those days was ‘he says, she says’. Which must be why I never forgot “YeMiyaQatil FiQir”. There were too many “minu.. minaminu”s in that book, and ofcourse it was forbidden, which gives it an almost legendary quality :-). So there was no way I could pay attention to anything anybody said in “Eri Bey Agere”, it not being exactly a romantic saga. But one thing stuck.

Now, I am not one of those people who forget things easily. I don’t forget faces, I do not forget kindness and I do not forget words, especially those said with bad intention. But there are a couple of times in my life that I remember vividly.

I remember seeing a soldier, for example, before I hit my 6th birthday. We don’t celebrate birthdays back then, by the way. We, like the Jews, “observed” them. Which means we were forced to wear our best clothes and get dragged, mostly unwilling, to “Aseffa Photo Bet” where we have our (my younger-by-1-year brother and I) photos taken infront of a tiny table filled with biscuits, orange and banana; all guarded by two candles – each representing a birthday boy and his older sister wearing the longest face a child that age could wear.

I do not remember the soldier’s face. He is but like a vision fleeting by, a distant yet familiar sound. My aunts must have said something about him or I wouldn’t have noticed him. He passed by us, handsome in his uniform, and walked down the street to what in my grandparent’s village is still called “Captain Demissie gibi”. I assume there used to live a Captain Demissie there, although I never knew him and never remembered to ask. The houses in the “gibi” looked glorious enough, like the morning sun, amidst the ruin they were standing. It had a small “meda’ that was surrounded by trees, where we used to go to watch football matches among the boys.

The demarcation was clear in those days. Girls brought “kirosh” to Home Economics class (or ‘baltina’, as it was called) and boys “megaz”. Both wept whenever a teacher ordered them to sit on a table with the opposite sex as a punishment and a brother and sister pretended not to know one another when they met in the school ground. They certainly walked home separately, each followed by or following their respective loud mouthed “hero”, and upon arriving where they would be met by the door and get burdened with the frustrations and hopes of their parents. Yes, we had teachers who called our mothers names; wore jackets with arm patches on them and took naps while we were busy finishing our class works. But they believed they could change the world and we admired them for it and hoped to one day be like them. Afterwards, everyone went his/her own way. The teachers, to their lounge. The girls, to their “pepsi” or “abarosh”. And the boys, to either the football fields or to the backyards of the school where they play “qumar” [beSantim] or jump over the fence to go watch an Indian movie. [Postcards of Indian movie stars’ photos were ‘the gift of the day’ too :-)]

So I saw the soldier. I saw him walk tall and dignified by us. We must have been near a music shop and Hirut Bekele must have been singing “eyiw mekenetun endet new dimqetu”. Because it was in my late teens that I heard the song again and cried for almost half an hour. Never knowing why. That song affects me the same way these days as it did then. I’m still fogged about it. But I can see my soldier were I to close my eyes. Looking tall and dignified… smiling perhaps. Smiling for the little girl that was being dragged by her young, careless and talkative aunts. Maybe dead!

The other memory I have is the time in which my mom got a ride from her [male] classmate. She used to go to an evening school to finish 12th grade although she earned almost as much as him, finish only 9th grade she might have. But my father, the teacher and ‘disciple of change’, wouldn’t have it any other way. THAT was where she knew the chauffeur from. He bought us “ocholoni” from a “suq bederet”, made my mom (who was much older than him) laugh by teasing me as his wife-to-be, making my little heart wild with happiness.

It was the most fun I had next to a visit to my grandma’s. As home was not the place for fun, in those days. Home was a place you go to because you must. It was a place you get a sick feeling in the stomach when contemplating returning to it after birthdays or a visit to your grandma’s warm house, which was full of uncles and aunts who were young and loud. We were running late, that evening, so a free ride from any taxi was a blessing to my mom. However, she knew how my dad would take the news so, on our way out, she warned me “Not a word about this to your father!”. Full and exhilarated, I said ‘sure thing’.

A few days later, I asked her to do something for me and she refused. Must have felt blackmail was in order because I said, “if you don’t do this, amma telling on you”. I’ve never seen my mom look so angry! She wasn’t blackmailed, no sir!!. She took me by the arm and beat me to dust. She’s never done so much as lay her hands on me before that. Beating-the-kids was on my dad’s job description, not hers. She cried “le eNante bayhon nuro”! She nursed! She baked the “enjera”` and cooked the “wot”! Beating she left for he who wears the trouser in the house. Although she did wear trousers. And looked good in them. Had one of those bodies that never go out of fashion while there is breath in the African man’s body!

But that day she beat me, savagely and indignantly! I couldn’t understand why the trick didn’t work. It was disappointing and bewildering. But, learn I did, who [still] was in charge. Never opened my mouth about the taxi!!

A year or two later, I broke a bottle. (more…)

April 17, 2008 at 7:42 am 2 comments


The blogger tries to think outside the box, or wonder why she sometimes can't.

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"I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint." - Antonio Salieri, from the movie "Amadeus"

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