To my little sister:
It was a hot and humid evening, we were eating Peking Duck while you were being born in the hospital across the street...in Peking, China. You were born, ye buhè let and were given an exotic Chinese name, Dong Tai Yang - "the east sun". It all sounds like its out of a movie right? Well, that's your life.
I knew I was in deep trouble when the baby whose diapers I used to change was already giving me fashion advice at six. My standard uniform of wrangler jeans, my dad's white dress shirt and Adidas were not ready for any changes. We were ten years apart and of course shared a room, which was meticulously decorated by you. I vividly remember you waking up one morning to tell me about a crazy dream that you had. You were on the back of your preschool pal's motorcycle...wearing tight jeans and speel CHama. You were definitely always way ahead of all of us!
You were one of those kids who was just always there when we were trying to do things...like drive the car or have a secret party, and somehow the parents would catch wind of the various activities. It was as though you just didn't approve of the madness.
When I left the country in 1980, leaving you as a seven year old, I feared that I would come home one day to find you as the leader of the Kinet squad, singing revolutionary songs at the top of your lungs. Although at the same time I remember thinking that you were beyond all that. After that point, in my mind you were the lucky child that was able to stay home with our parents while we were banished to life in America. You would write sweet letters in you curly-Q Lycèe handwriting with your list of demands - the special items that would deplete my measly paychecks. It made me sad that I missed out on watching you grow up - I always blamed the political situation at home for the long separation from my family.
To my big sister:
Even though I had to look at old pictures to have memories of us living together before you left for the States, I clearly remember writing you letters with lists of things to send to me. I was very excited to receive my cowgirl Barbie that winked! Well, Igzihaber yisTish.
I was showing mom a black and white picture of us the other day. You were probably fourteen or fifteen which made me about four or five…. You were kneeling down and I was sitting on your back with a big bump on my forehead. I always explained to my friends that the bump resulted from "Ehete ke geregeda ga agaCHtagne new!" even though I didn't recall how it had happened. Don't ask me where I got that explanation. Yaltaweqe, yeqoye qim!
I realize that I do not have a clear memory of when I grew up with you. How sad, but I assume it resulted from our age difference and your leaving at such an early age. Difficult for anyone to realize at that point that this separation would create such a big gap between siblings in many families!
I only remember a few occasions that we shared before you left for the States. Not glorious ones, but they were quite a happening for a six or seven year old. One major event I remember was when I got spanked at Soderè because I scratched your friend's face; your friend tried to, by my definition medfeq me in the swimming pool while teaching me to swim.
Other repetitive scenes I recall were watching you and your friends hanging out with your boyfriends; if I am not mistaken, you were drinking beer, mixed it with Sprite so couldn't recognize the content. I also remember a series of rejections when I tried to participate in your social life. You used to hide from me to sneak out and go to the movies…
No wonder my mind does not want to remember those times!
I have to mention your friend's olive Baby Fiat. I would have done anything to get a ride in it. I also remember that you were in jail for few days because you didn't go to the a self at the Qebelè … .
At this point, I don't know if I am confusing events I actually recall or stories that I have heard about you. After you left for the States, pictures you sent were the only links I had with you, until of course the major adjustment to both our lives when our parents decide to reunite us by sending me to you…hmm, that was quite an experience, I might say!
To my little sister:
I was nervous about this new plan of having you live with me for several years until you started college. I really didn't have much time to prepare myself mentally. I had just turned 26, living the single life in San Francisco and had a roommate to whom I had to explain the whole situation. Luckily, it was someone I had known since college and who knew me well. The last time I had seen you was several years before when you had come for a short trip. I remember I kept looking at you... and seeing myself at that awkward age when you don't quiet fit in your body. You must have been 12 or 13.
At 16, you were eager and ready to come to America. That surprised me the most. I left kicking and screaming at 17 and you just seemed unaffected by having to leave home. I basically cried every night during my first year here.
I remember the first few weeks as being awkward for us. You had to get to school, take the bus and do a lot of things on your own. I had to think about cooking well-balanced meals, and learning to take care of a teenager. It was a difficult time for us both. Several months after you arrived, the big San Francisco earthquake of 1989 hit. You were at home alone, I was at work in a tall building; I couldn't believe it was happening.
I was constantly evaluating my job as the "role" model. That was the most challenging part of my new job as "guardian." I resented, at times, the fact that I had to hold back or restrain myself somehow, I had to adjust my life to accommodate yours. As you know, talaq mehon yhew new, tset bilo meQebel new.
I never had to worry about you academically. You were always studying or reading and the teachers just raved about you! In spite of the fact that English was your third language, you were doing very well. I truly enjoyed going to the PTA conferences. I was so proud. In terms of your social life though, I felt like I was failing. You just did not want to spend any time with "Americans"...which is a bit difficult to do when you are in America. There wasn't much I could do to entertain you. The most animated you would get would be when one of your friends from high school in Addis would call....you just went crazy. It took you about a year to adjust and to start enjoying yourself a bit. It makes sense. I think we all went through that.
Your high school graduation was a high point. I was so happy to have our parents there and to just be able to hand over my big responsibility. It was a sigh of relief that you made it in one piece. It felt like it was a major accomplishment even though we had plenty of hard times.
The next move was sending you off to college. You were pretty confident when it came to choosing colleges. Of course you would want to go to the most expensive school. It made sense you wanted to go to a small school. I wanted you to go to the state school that was offering you a scholarship, very "parent like" attitude. You can't blame me for that…I had to adopt that role to make it through those times.
To my big sister:
Aye America! I think the biggest problem when I came to you was that Aregash, our serategna, did not come with me. Can I just leave it at that? Hm, maybe not…Memories from my first year living with you - running up the hill after the bus every morning beza be-bird, going out with your friends to bars where I could not stand the music, going on "short trail" walks. Do you know what that translates to for someone who just got to the States: CHaka wusT laltaweqe gizé meramed!
The hardest part about moving to the US and living with you was adapting to my new lifestyle after being apart for almost ten years. Living with you and your roommate, my new adopted parents, was quite a change of environment. We were back to sharing a room, even sharing the same futon! Since I didn't remember how it felt to have a sister, it was exciting to get reacquainted with you, but I was uncertain about the outcome. Our interactions were strange at the beginning because I thought you were too Ferenj for me. You listened to ye Ferenj zefen. Your close friends were all ferenj with their ye Ferenj Qeld!! My new lifestyle thus became a daily challenge in this new atmosphere, making my DC escapades to meet my old high school friends from Addis just heavenly.
Nevertheless, I had great memories of spending time with you and getting to know you better with time. I enjoyed just hanging out with you, going shopping or to the movies (though taking me for a jog in the hills of San Francisco was not the best idea). I know I was a pain when you tried to encourage me to try different dishes at ethnic restaurants…Memarin yemessele neger yelem! I laugh at all the hand- me-down outfits I got from your closet; you definitely had a cool style that impressed me!
Things between us were going quite all right until the house chores (which were not included in my previous lifestyle) came between us. Who was going to do the dishes and take out the trash? Who was going to do the laundry and clean the bath tub? I don't think I realized that I was supposed to be involved in these activities.
Well, if house chores put distance between us, school assignments, especially in my English class, brought us together! How do you expect someone coming from a French school to write in English a four-page typed essay on, "What you mean when you say 'I know'," for my Theory of Knowledge class? I remember you helping me through these times, reading and correcting my essays over and over again. It was pretty cool to take you to my school to meet my teachers and friends. Everyone was quite taken by my "hip sister!"
I realize my "hip sister" may have had some confusion between acting as a sister and a mother! I assume it was quite a handful to have a teenager in her life. Hey, congratulations, you did a great job! You got me through my couple years in the States, which are very crucial to getting a good start and to follow the right path. You gave me advice, guidance, and most importantly, freedom to make my own decisions at a very young age! And that confidence you had in me is what has led me to where I am.
By the way, when the earthquake hit, I was watching TV after school and had no idea what had happened until I saw people rushing out and decided to check it out. I didn't know what an earthquake was supposed to be like then; well, I do now.
"The End"To my little sister:
Ten years later, I would ask myself: Is that really my baby sister - looking sophisticated, wearing a beautiful suit, hair wonderfully coiffed - talking to grown ups. And are they actually listening to her and reading her expert opinion in her reports? Wow...it was impressive!
It is wonderful to be your sister again and not your pseudo parent. It truly is so much nicer and I do feel closer to you now. The ten years between us have evaporated somewhere; I feel like we are contemporaries. We have both ended up working in the health field and have many friends in common. Living bi-coastally and seeing each other two to three times a year is not ideal though. We need to remedy that somehow.
Although I am the oldest, you have taken that position in the family. Le-sim bicha new talaQ yemibalew. I am and have been willing to relinquish that position. It's your turn. I'll just sit back and watch.
To my big sister:
Recently, when I visited relatives in Addis, they asked "Ihitish indét nat?" and I responded "BeTam dehna nat."
Then came, "tinegageralachu?" and "lie new ye mitnorut?" Oops, I haven't seen my sister since the last holiday. We're back to living apart even though we get in touch often over the phone and meet a few times a year over the holidays. It's not the same as living in the same city and being able to go out for coffee or drinks after work, or hang out on weekends.
Even though we have erased the gap between us while we were kids, the current geographic distance frightens me from time to time as we get involved in our separate lives with our respective partners and get settled in at different corners of the country. Yes, we have gotten closer as sisters and friends, but as we grow older and have kids, let's take time to imagine what it would be like to see all our kids playing iQa- iQa in the same ghibi.
Let's make that a goal.