Posts tagged ‘Life in America’

This… American life

Almost 5 years ago to date, I asked Sistu and Mazzi how they manage to go to sleep in America, with all the psychos running around. “You’ll get used to it”, they said, “that’s the trick. You will so get used to it you would stop thinking about it before long”. And I did! I got used to hearing people being stabbed at Pioneer square; yet walked home by [the infamous] Belltown on seasons where the days are short and the nights are long. Made my peace with the idea that I might be shot at, blown to pieces or end up being another tragic number from a freak-accident in this here land of the free and home of the brave. Most of all, I stopped worrying I might see a face that wasn’t there when I look up into the mirror after washing my face. Shit happens, as they say. The best you could do is avoid stepping in it and continue on your way.

This doesn’t mean I still don’t stick to the street lamps when walking home after midnight or don’t get rattled when coming across people who remind me of some creepy character from a book/movie. I do. But I also know there is precious little I can do about it. So I try not to dwell on it unless something triggers the fight-or-flight response in moi. Like the other day, for example.

I was walking up a hill by the Swedish Medical center [an area frequented by doctors, nurses, and many in need – of money, of drugs, of sanity] and this guy who has been waiting for the light to turn green with me strode before me. He was carrying two duffel bags, each crossed from the opposite shoulder he was supporting with both hands. And from those bags, a horrible smell hit my nose. Something dead and rotting. It might easily have been an asparagus induced fart. But when I looked up and noticed how the guy (a) Maybe homeless, but was dressed reasonably well [bringing to mind a skin thick with layers of grime]. (b) Was wearing a hat that seems to help him avoid eye-contact (c) dived into the bushes upon feeling my intense interest on him; I decided the smell must have come from parts of human flesh he is carrying around. “What if”, I wondered, “he is like Secret Skelly, a quiet guy whose closet won’t sprout madness until the day he died. Or that patient from “House”, the serial killer who got sick because of all the human fat he gorged?. I mean it’s not exactly unheard of!! Most serial killers, who are from Seattle, Uh-huh!!, ate and stored left-overs of their [human] victims. What with the economy being what it is and the easy access to synthetic drugs nowadays, feeding on run-away girls would sure save the loser some bucks on food stamps!

I thought about it when I walked up the hill. And I thought about it when I walked down hill. Should I have followed him, I wondered. Show him my suspicion? Alert the cops? Would I see his face on tv someday, say “Look, honey, it’s that guy who loves Asparagus” and find out it was John Wayne Gacy, the “killer clown”, like Paul Teodo later found out?!

Finally, I resigned myself to the fact that there really was nothing I can do. This is America, after all! You can’t accuse people on a whim, or even a justifiable suspicion, of being cannibals untill you saw them tooth-picking human flesh out of their molars. A crime has to be committed. And you better be an eye-witness or a seasoned investigator with a solid evidence, before going blubbering to the police. Until such time, your suspect has a license to offend, and you to sit around with your hands in your lap; sighing helplessly.

I am no foreigner to this kind of helplessness, ofcourse. I had it back when I was dating a man who claimed to have lived in the “vampire lifestyle” for 12 years; sucking blood from consenting women’s veins. I have felt it when seeing, one cold evening, a little boy of about 8, sited on an old man’s knees at a deserted bus-stop in Lower Queen Anne. The man may have been one of those grandparents who tried to get on their kid’s nerves by spoiling their grand-children. And the boy may have had a rough day from some other earlier source. But the minute I saw him sitting on the old man’s lap; with a broken look on his face, the kind of quite anger that comes from deep self-hatred.. shame.. and embarrassment; the “pedophile” alert chimed in my head. Needless to say, I did what I can. I gave the old man a dirty look. I smiled at the kid to show him it wasn’t his fault. I lingered around looking visibly suspicious. Then walked all the way home feeling like my heart has hit rock bottom. And one more time after that, when hearing my gun-owner ex-boyfriend spew angry .. hateful words against the government and the people who worked with him. He blogs.. now and then.. saying he sometimes thinks about ending it all. I sincerely hope it is proving therapeutic.

Alas.. America isn’t all fear and loathing. There are things that knock the breath out of you when you stop to think about them. Like the view of Lake washington and the I90 bridge from a nearby hill. Like walking in downtown Seattle in December; where all the trees are shrouded in lights, where the smell of food and music comes at you from every side and where all the pretty girls, wearing boots and expensive jackets, walk by you laughing like they are a band of fairies going out to do merry mischief. There are the general.. tax-payer bestowed.. blessings: The Public Radio. The Public Library. The parks! The Low-Income Public housing, the unemployment-benefits and the various aids [which, I am ashamed to say, 90% of my countrymen and women use and abuse like nobody’s business – so much that you appear a fool when refusing to take advantage of it]. And there are those little personal boons that, like all good things, come to you when you least expect them. Like the perfect apartment you are still in love with after a year of living in it. A wonderful boyfriend who makes the perfect pies and takes you home to his family’s to gobble them for thanksgiving. That pre-paid phone you use as an alarm clock, that you kept only because nobody would bid on it on ebay, that seems to never run out of battery.

It’s not the ideal world. But it sure is a wonderful one.

Happy Holidays, my friends!

December 1, 2013 at 10:36 pm 4 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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