To: Yetinayet From: Adey Subject: That thing they call love…
I am not sure what to make of your desire to wear a skirt and go singing from house to house but this is America. I am sure there is a group or association to provide you with support and allow you to celebrate you. On a more serious note, reading your description makes me a little sad. I left Ethiopia, a month before my fifth birthday and without getting into unnecessary detail, let's just say that was many, many years ago. I am sad that I have never had the opportunity to celebrate Enkutatash or Gena in Ethiopia.
Despite the fact that I think it is a complete waste of money, I see why habeshoch in this country insist on recreating the type of weddings they have in Ethiopia here (except for here the exorbitant dollar figure is in U.S. dollars). I guess it is the same longing I have to receive Adey Abeba's on my birthday… it is just keeping a part of our collective identity alive. I do agree with you though that some of the words may need reworking. I am not big on the whole, I will obey thing. Yes, that would be the feminist in me rearing its head again.
As for your question regarding the idea of one man - many wives (which I believe is called polygamy) it is fine by me, IF all the parties in the arrangement are happy. But in many countries in which polygamy exists, it is based on the premise that the man is the dominant figure and women are subservient – economically, socially and sexually. Now in the reverse…
I know that adoption is not a quick shortcut. The pains of carrying and delivering a child are nine months, the raising of a child is the work of a lifetime. (I should start writing for Hallmark!) Anyway, I hear what you are saying. I am not intending to adopt so that I can get out of carrying a child and going through labor. Actually, I always like trying something new at least once and would be up to the challenge. But I really believe that we as human beings and specifically as abeshoch owe something to our community. How each individual defines the community and their responsibility is up to them. I have read the statistics of the number of children that will be orphaned by the combined ravages of war, famine and AIDS. I know that I have a home and lots of love. I just do not feel like that love is reserved for "my seed." I feel no inherent desire to replicate myself. If I give one of these children the benefit of the love and opportunity I was given, maybe he or she might do the same thing and one day….
As for a theory to explain all this. I am with you. I vote for the earthworm theory. People have an inherent desire to replicate and since it takes two to tango we, much like peacocks, plum our feathers and we strut our stuff!
I am not sure that young Ethiopians are not getting married because of pride, I think its more like being a kid in a candy store, so many choices, its hard to pick just one! The trend towards getting married later and later is not limited to us. People are taking the time to pursue higher education and establishing their careers. Anyway, I imagine it must take time to save up for that platinum-Tifanny's-pear-shaped-diamond…(Just kidding).
As I end this e-mail, I feel like I should leave delivering a pearl of wisdom. Lacking that, I will paraphrase Emily Dickinson who said of love that it is the anterior to life, posterior to death, the initial of creation, and the exponent of breath.
I think the same could be said about family – you wouldn't be here with one and you survive what life brings your way because of it.
And on that note I shall say …Ciao,
PS to your PS : I am a legal assistant at an immigration law firm until Friday and then I am off to a new job as a lobbyist/advocate for immigrant rights.
To: Adey Abeba
Dear Adey Abeba,
I hear you are under the weather. I'm sorry. I, not knowing the nature of your ailment nor your physical location, could not suggest a remedy for you, but I am tempted to ask that you go around picking up eucalyptus leaves, boil and inhale the vapors. No? Well, that was just another of those Addis Ababa cures for the common cold or a stuffy nose. Can you blame me if I am taken with the idea that the perfect cure for what ails "Spring Flower" is the sweet aroma of eucalyptus?
When you tell me that Emily Dickinson believes love existed before, and exists after life, it brings to mind this notion "western" or "westernized" women have that "loving" somebody and "falling in love with" somebody are two different things. Imagine poor old Yetinayet - welged, welged-ing down the street and - hot damn! - if he doesn't fall into a puddle of love! Wearing his freshly pressed chemise too! Now, it's all ruined! He'd turn around to see if some poor soul fell in with him, ready to do the heroic thing and…
But seriously though, I question whether this semantic hair splitting exists in other languages. The most Amharic can manage is "wededkush" vs "fqr yezognal" (love has seized me). On second thoughts, maybe Amharic too believes love exists outside of the "lover" and the "lovee"… Imagine that - love as this disembodied entity hovering independent of any two or more interacting human beings. Many think it is this sweet thing that will just take over your life, "…take away your everything, make everybody feel high…" as brother Bob would put it. Perhaps many more believe it is this harsh task master, cracking its whip, and calling upon the poor soul to submit, submit, submit….. Wouldn't that be a humdinger of an exam question? "Does love exist independent of living souls? Discuss!"
So, what do I know about family? Honestly, my experience is that of someone who grew up IN a family, and not as someone who ever started or headed (er.. I mean CO-headed - I keep forgetting I am speaking to a feminist of sorts) one. So, beyond the idealistic pontificating of what we may wish "family" to be, personal experience tells me these things about what family is. Family means parents who have an unceasing capacity to sacrifice. Family means the sibling fights about who this yeCerq kwas (rag ball) belongs to. Family means a stern father whose silences you dread infinitely more than his occasional yeqebeto grfiya (your good ol' fashioned ass whippin'). Family means a mother who goes to Merkato after a long day of work to get you the toy you wanted. Family also means long delicious hours of delirious fun making the stupidest sounds with your brothers and sisters. Family includes crazy uncles, haughty aunts, hip cousins. Family means old ladies sitting for hours talking about seemingly ancient stuff until they catch you - and then you endure stories of the greatness of your grandpa, or greatgrandpa or your distant zemed Grazmach so-and-so's exploits at Segele, or Anchim, or Adwa or Maichew or the hills of Lasta during the fascist resistance. Family means someone making sure you do your homework, that you wash up, that you are polite to the lady who sells the kindling, that you deliver the buhae dabo s all over town, that you do your segdet on Easter Friday. Family is where we learn what the "straight and narrow" is before we are put firmly on it.
In many societies, family is also that one central institution that defines you in terms of everybody else. There is this scene that a good friend of mine reminded me of. It is in Be'alu Girma's masterpiece, "Ke Admas Bashager" (Beyond the Horizon). The hero is this guy who has returned after an educational stint in the west. He has read the western classics, listened to lectures, admired artwork. His brother has never left Ethiopia, in fact still lives in the countryside. The brother is visiting, and the two are chatting. In a fit of introspective muse, our hero starts to question who he is. His brother, after a mystified pause, brings him right back to earth. "What kind of question is this? Aren't you so's and so's son? So and so's nephew? So and so's cousin?"
Yes, family used to define us completely, ergo the question "yeman lij new?" We, the enlightened we, the "educated" emigrant types, do not have the ability to delight in just being a part of the extended family. It is interesting that you and I have spent the previous exchanges on the question of starting MY family. The experiences we value have become strictly personal. Therefore, having and raising children is primarily a matter of whether "I" can afford it. In the old extended family, that would never be an issue. We believe weddings are perhaps too lavish, forgetting that "our guests" are mostly in fact "the family" (and I ain't talkin' about no Signor Riccobuono of the Atlanta Mafia). Even getting married, we believe, requires that "I" fall in love. It's all about me, me, me…..
So somewhere between eucalyptus leaves and puddles of love, the battle of Adwa and the Atlanta Mafia, I leave you to ponder about what family is outside the borders of personal romantic gratification. Until then, I remain, hopelessly confused and unabashedly proud of it.