A Web Site For The Young Ethiopian Professional.

    Volume II   Issue III

Thursday January 17 2019

A slow prelude

          It has been two weeks since I spoke with my friend Daniel (I will call him that until the time comes when I can recite his real name). So when I heard his voice I was much enthused, which is rare for me because I often loathe speaking on the phone. Danny had much news for me about the next meeting of our clandestine Ethiopian group. He says there are to be two more individuals joining our regular four. A twenty-two year-old from the east coast who has come to the emerald city to escape his family and parts of himself, and a young new comer from Djibouti. Danny says that he met them at the usual places where men of our persuasion tend to meet. It never fails to amaze me how we find these dark places. After all, many natives often never realize their existence. I tell Danny I am delighted and promise to make this month's meeting more special by preparing dinner and hopefully a couple of bottles of good single molt vodka. Yes, vodka the gayest of drinks; it smoothes away contradictions. Danny seems genuinely delighted and we talk some more about many things. As an imperative we say everything on our mind because there are no others who could ever understand. Two Ethiopians, black men, immigrants, and, yes, homosexual.

          The road to accepting that last thread of my persona has taken all of my twenty-five year existence. No, I was not born in America with this particular infliction, nor did I come to America at a young age. On the contrary I came to the U.S. at the age of fifteen right out of junior high. Back home I attended a private school, where good traditional morals were heavily emphasized. Since my earliest memory, I had a sense that I was different from kids around me, more spirited, emotional, stubborn, and with a propensity for high drama. In school, my behavior never led to any negative consequences until eighth grade when a teacher proclaimed me séta sét. He found my mannerisms effeminate. His rude outburst was a reaction to my constant jokes about his inability to match anything he ever wore. I have always been partial to people with style. The séta sét stigma, however, never really deflected from my popularity in school because most everybody in school had known me since nursery. Then my parents decided that Addis was no longer safe for boy of my age (not with all the afesa by the Qebellé) and decided to send me to the US. I was saddened and expressed my displeasure with adequate drama.

          My parents decided in all their wisdom to send me to my uncle in Dallas, Texas (a God-forsaken place where people think going to a formless strip-mall a life experience - a rude awakening indeed) with a suburban school district that had all the trimmings of a Rockwell painting. The school had a high dose of cheesy Americana, blond football players and a brunette for a home coming queen. It might have been pleasant if it were not for the fact that I was only one of a dozen black students in the school. In addition to my color, my mannerisms, my accent and many other little details made it impossible for me to have any place in the hierarchy of a Texas high school life. I resigned my self to a life of a social recluse. It was all quite tragic. Everyday at lunch time, I would go to the library to drown my self in the only book with information on Ethiopia. I reveled in finding different encyclopedias with different pictures of Addis. Oddly, seeing a picture of modern buildings in Addis gave me a weird sense that I wasn't some backward immigrant.

          My poor uncle was bewildered as to why I had no friends at the end of my freshman year. He often asked why I didn't joined the high school soccer team. He thought that would be a positive outlet; he himself had played soccer in his college years. He had gone to some university in Oklahoma (for the life of me I can't understand how Ethiopians wind up in bewitched places).

          As I paced my self through the rough landscape of my American dream, I learned that if America can offer anything it is the ability to build for oneself a niche of existence. Hence, with the naïve idealism of an adolescent, I set out to find myself (a most American pursuit). I delved into the issue of my identity with an gusto, dissected, from Du Boise to Baldwin, the meaning of being a black man in America. It was all quite daunting. We were not in the pleasant hills of EnToTo Mountains anymore. I decided to acquaint my self with African Americans by trying to befriend the black kids in school, however, my overture was in vain. Afro-centrism hadn't reached this sad corner of black consciousness. Undaunted by the cold reception, I pursued the history of Africa and its people. It is ironic how Ethiopian history seemes so interesting from afar. Back home, those TV specials about Ethiopia's past seemed dull; a long interlude before the much anticipated Talaq Film. In the flat treachery of the Texas landscape, amongst the recent stench of lynch mobs, Adwa resonated with a power that helped me stand still in those most trying early days.

          In those days of searching for an anchor, I drowned my personal life in the drudgery of history. Then, one late Saturday night as I listened to a local NPR station with BBC reports on the fall of the Derg in Addis, I also herd an ad. for a show which came after midnight. The show was called After Hours and as I listened to the broadcast, parts of me that had been fragmented in the deep crevices of my soul began to slowly connect. The show was a gay and lesbian program and it was, as they say, "a breath of fresh air". As the song in the introduction to the show proclaimed, I am who I am and there are no excuses. What I had always known about my self, I had to acknowledge. As I lowered the volume of the radio and placed it close to my ears while lying in bed, I committed to be true to myself no matter what the consequences.

          Soon I graduated from high school. I knew that if I wanted to keep my commitment to my truth, I had to leave my uncle. I decided to go to the University of Washington. Plucking myself from the warm suffocating comfort of Texas to the rainy mess that is Seattle (I don't know why they call it the emerald city, it lacks any luster), weather was the least of my concerns. Seattle seemed a town with a certain openness, a frankness that I liked. The interesting thing about Seattle is that it has a tolerance for sexual minorities and artists, however, with a black population of less than four percent, it doesn't know what to do with ordinary black people. Like Paris in the 40s, Seattle does have an appetite for learned, artistic minorities. My new predicament was an irony: Seattle presented a space to explore my sexuality, however my color became quiet a stumbling block.

          The gay community offered no solace. After all, the gay community was made up of white folks who had built an identity for themselves which had no imprints of multiculturalism. Disillusioned, I went in to a new search. James Baldwin, Fanon , and even early Rimbauld gave me images that I could briefly identify with. However, the lack of Africans like me played on all my insecurities. I tried to forget about my sexuality by immersing my self in the Ethiopian community. I even started dating women. The process of denial plunged me in to a deep depression. I stopped trying to undo me. During this daunting period, I met Daniel. He was truly heaven-sent for his existence made mine more tangible (I was not the only one!). We became dear friends, two Ethiopians trying to construct an identity where there was none. We found powerful examples in the revolutionary works of gay African Americans. The task before us is enormous; we have to give our lives, our love, meaning in an Ethiopian framework. Most in our community prefer to deny our existence, yet, in exile, we are finding ourselves.


Past My Story

 

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