Posts tagged ‘Ethiopians in America’

“Why Ethiopia stayed behind”

While discussing the temperament of Seattleites (kind of cold, kind of distant, kind of keeping to themselves in a way that borders Xenophobia) with a friend last night, I said something that I never knew I’ve formally thought of before. I said “I think the exposure to different cultures has made Seattleites unable to recognize and appreciate cultural diversity in a heart-felt way. If they knew somebody like you, they assume [I guess] they know all they need to know about you, which makes them less curious to [intimidated, chatty, inquisitive] folks in, say, little old Escondido which [true to its name] is hidden to the outside world except for the Mexican immigrants that cross into its borders by hundreds a day and the little black prostitute girls that come from the other end of the country to cater to their “needs”. When I say I’m from Ethiopia, the first response I get is ‘Oh yeah, I love Ethiopian food!’. And I’m like I’m more than my food, asshole”.

Or something to that effect.

That last phrase lingered on my mind long after the subject changed to the pleasant atmosphere in the coffee shop we were sitting. [Where books lined the walls, coffee machines work tirelessly to produce the unique aroma of that bean life in Seattle would have been harder without, where men and women from different walks of life talk and work on their laptops, holding their hip-ness with an easy grace you can’t master if you were reincarnated as a manican.] The fact that I’m more than my food and how to get that message across to people I meet and deal with on a regular basis [people who can’t recognize the source of my pain or pleasure if it sits on their laps and says “selam” to them] bugged me for a second or two. I wondered how I can make this friend of mine see my country/my culture as an outsider should/would see it. I asked how we, abeshas and abesheets [Ethiopians] appear to the occasional bystander. And in trying to think of an outsider who has seen us, lived among us, and written about us in a way other outsiders can understand, the name Timothy Kalyegria popped into my head.

He is the columnist who wrote the article “Why Ethiopia Stayed Behind”, in a series of dossiers he labeled “The Abyssinian Chronicles”. When the amharic version of his essay on why we stayed behind the rest of Africa first showed up on Addis Admas, back when that newspaper mattered, it showed up under the title “Menaded kalelegachu yihinin tsihuf atanibu”. It’s been a while since this article held the mirror to our faces and made us lash out at the guy holding the mirror. Gone are the days in which the writer was called names starting from “lemma”.. to boundless others on every media an Ethiopian was allowed to write his ill-spelled English on. Which may also be the reason why finding it gave me quite the run around. When I finally located it, I decided I gotta re-post it on my e-shoe box. Because it’s still relevant and useful. And there are those of you who still don’t know it exists.

The Warning Before The Warning (more…)

January 25, 2012 at 2:07 am 46 comments

Week 3 (A night at Manderley)

My husband’s ex-colleague is married to a woman who is originally from Côte d’Ivoire. He, the husband, not Chris, has been hoping she and I will strike up a friendship (go out shopping, braid eachother’s hair and have naked pillow fights while our husbands whistled and cheered over a glass of beer..i suppose). The logic is, ofcourse, obvious. We are both from Africa. We are both married to men from a different tribe. We both have kinky hair & are likely to be addicted to shopping. A [logical] reasoning that appaled me. So I’ve been avoiding answering the phone every time the ex-colleague, pressed by his wife, gave my husband a call. And kept sending messages like “so when are you guys coming to visit us?”, “why are you guys avoiding me?”, “does she think she’s too good for us”, etcetera, when the calls got no response.

Still, it’s gotta be done and we decided to do it last night. Carrying a 15$ pie, the most expensive in town, we drove to their house with the intent of surprising them. We were the one who were in for a surprise, however. Their neat little house, furnished extravagantly and complete with a fish tank, was filled with the smell of food and strangers’ voices. The voices belonged to guests who decided to drop on the newly-wed that very night, too. A pastor and his wife: both from Côte d’Ivoire, both speaking bad English, both with more abesha & abesheet in them than meets the eye.

We decided to stick around a bit, dropping pies and departing felt rude even for America. Soon we found ourselves in a dinning room where a steamy pot of rice and various salads were awaiting our descent. We sat around the table and said grace, at the end of which the Protestant Pastor crossed himself in a way that made me wonder who the guy was trying to impress more: us or his God.

You can’t sit across your distant cousins, digging with spoon and fork, and not talk. So after politely dancing around, studying each other’s moves, the pastor came out of his polite shells. And there, sited across me, I saw my uncle-in-law Faris: the know-it-all, dismissive-of-anything-he-hasn’t-came-up-with, “better” half of my aunt’s. Starting with the European cities he’s been to and their exotic cuisine, he went on to shamelessly lecture us what we should and shouldn’t eat (making a disgusted face every time he talked about the ills of “this country” we were in).

His wife, who look over-burdened by the traditional dress she was wearing, seem to have sat at the dinning table for the sole purpose of making us feel guilty for eating. She kept refusing what’s suggested to her, and chewed the little she had on her plate in a way that would impress a Southern Lady. (Proving to me how coming to the feast table and taking pride in not eating isn’t a strictly Ethiopian affair).

The lady of the house, a shy woman whose wig has covered half her face, was the perfect hostess: avoiding our eyes while trying to force feed us. She was switching between English, Côte d’Ivoirish and French: gossiping with her country-woman even after the rest of us have fallen into an awkward silence.

After bidding every one goodbye, and promising to consider his ex-colleague’s proposal to do this every other Wednesday, Chris breathed a sigh of relief and turned to ask how I was. Not too difficult to read what was at the back of his mind. He’s wondering if I wasn’t exhausted from pretending to enjoy my surrounding and if my cheeks weren’t hurting from all the polite smiles already. It must have come as a surprise to him, therefore, when I confessed I was glad we came out. “Really? You liked it?” he asked eagerly, looking both cautious and guilty. “What is there not to like?” I laughed “The food was great. The conversation instructive. He reminded me of my uncle-in-law, she my aunt. I have no intention of doing it again, mind you, but it sure was an adventure that actually made me realize how much I’ve missed home”.

He smiled, happily confused. Even after 9 months of living in Ethiopia, he still doesn’t seem to have gotten used to our [African] ways.

April 9, 2009 at 5:51 pm 7 comments


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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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