TO: URBAN ARBENGA
FROM: SUBURBAN GRAZMACH-ESS
Minew Minew jal??? It's Tsom!! No meat, remember?? Tadya minew anjeten tibelaleh?? Inem yanten bilit, aydel??? These askonagn Seleda editors have succeed in getting us to this ghannem of spilling-guts-and-dulet diaries. I take comfort in imagining their 1,000 sigdets for each on of our entries which I'm sure they will be ordered to do. From Hudaday, to Himmamat to History to Hannibal Lectern-like anjet meblat. How did we get here, anteye??
I am so looking forward to details of battlefield exploits from 18th and Columbia Street and mishig memoirs from the Abesha fortress of Meskerem, Fasika and other similar outposts. My daily battle is in Croydon, way down South over London Bridge and the murky Thames River. London's final frontier. Croydon is actually a suburb pretending to be a kebele of London but it's my Plymouth Rock. It's where the pioneer settlers from the Ethiopian Diaspora's first wave into Europe traded country for beads with the natives. It's where we were given government housing on the doorstep of the asylum processing office. Yes, the Home Office building is in Croydon and, after the Maryam church, it's still the best place to be guaranteed a close encounter with a new Ethiopian.
Further North, members of the second and third waves of the Diaspora live as married/cohabiting couples, young families and single professionals. Those who haven't left for the greener money of America, that is. Croydon, in contrast, is now home to a very large azawintoch kibeb of first generation asylum seekers who arrived as groups of related nuclear families and sometimes even a servant in tow!!! (like my Aunt who arrived with her cook and used to be known by the English as the woman with the two husbands!!!) Since those bitter days, that 1970's winter of our discontent, we didn't unpack for years, thinking we would go back tomorrow. To this day, many Croydon Ethiopians have not applied for British citizenship and/or returned to Ethiopia. Pain? Pride? Principles? Don't ask.
Overall, though, I want to tell you that I have not found, in second or third wave Diaspora Ethiopians, a feeling of being lucky to be alive. In my opinion, the refugees of 1974 feel lucky to have beaten the odds by escaping, lucky to survive, and are driven by the need to do well despite/to spite Mengistu. In the early eighties I used to be so happy as a teenager to get away from stuffy old Croydon and finally be "a majority" with other teenage and young Ethiopians from the diaspora's second wave. They used to call us feudal and we used to call them dergies, and I remember their delight in dodging the draft but could never reconcile this glee with their love for Ethiopia AND the revolution. I mean, if you love it, serve it right?? What was this eating with two knives? At the People-to-People concert, the second wave refugees did the protest march outside the gates of the concert hall but, when the concert began, they put down their signs, pulled out their tickets and went in to see it!! Let me tell you, my Croydon Group was absolutely stunned. It was only their great youthful numbers and the Amharic Music in the new and miserable government-granted Ethiopian Community Center that kept us crossing the river. And it was only our contacts with the Rastas, our knowledge of London and our ability to explain Posh and Cockney English and how to beat the welfare system that made us tolerable to them, too. We remain separated by a river of History as unclear and cold as the Thames.
Speaking of history, if any of the Croydon shimagilles hear you talking about being mofer and kenbered by Ethiopian history and, worse yet, feeling inadequate, I fear you would be turned upside down and given a berberay steam bath. What's the matter with you?? Don't you know there's a war on?
And it's soooooo American to measure everything by money and material success. Uruh Temesgen Bel antuh sewye. As far as I'm concerned any Ethiopian between the age of 32 and 42 who has survived without going crazy is a professional. A professional survivor, thank you very much. In addition to living to tell the tale, which is an immense contribution to the country in itself, we can, in addition, contribute to Kilil and country by helping family back home and making babies. That's my theory anyway.
Here in England, there is no blue-collar white-collar minamintay. Blue is both a working class collar and a royal colour. The English busboy and chef in a greasy spoon restaurant have cross-counter discussions on Rosseau, Hadis Alemayehu, Dostoyevski and Birhanu Zerihun all in one breath, never mind the "professional ET's". But I have not heard yetemaroo, befieldachew yemiseroo Habesha having such discussions. What I do hear is the latest political joke and news on who got/is getting:
b) an agelgel
c) deported and
d) a green card.
Ingiliz Ager demo, my dear, comparing pay packets is a complete waste of time. Even as a professional, one's annual income is not that much greater and could even be less than the no-English-speaking-exiled-by-the-auditors Ato Amtatew Beketema who is on welfare in several Kebeles by day and drives a taxi/runs an Ethiopian restaurant by night. Even the "eternal students" in their leather jackets and ankle boots with the zip on the side, and their achir goozo/rejim goozo debates in the University cafeteria, usually have gigs going on the side that keeps them well oiled. Keltew, wefirew, wezam nachew.
Or should I say, wezam nen. Yes, I must confess, I'm an eternal student. I was accepted at the London University School of African and Oriental Studies Geography Department way back in 1998. I am researching the Nile and want to be a "Doctor", despite/to spite Mengistu. I'm late because I keep going off to work for the UN. Neither the UN nor the University is offering my field. Their fields are cold, barren, land-mined and foreign to me everyday. Which field is my field? Well, there are two actually. First, that nice, yetatere, aday abeba-filled gimash gasha on Yeka terara and then that red soil field near the lake in Meki, where I can farm selit, pyrethrum and fish.
By the way, did I tell you I also feel marooned in order to help my family and earn my injera? (Please don't choose this moment to say it's your turn to cook and ask me, "Tadya min yitebess?") Unlike you, however, I cannot bring myself to use the word PERMANENTLY and I'm still shocked that you did, and so casually. METNAY. Besmeab, Wolde Menfes Kidus. May the devil's ear not hear that word PERMANENT.
Weyne, I have now well and truly turbo-blow-dried your heart. I promise not to be such a lib adriq again and will try to represent Croydon women better by being soft-spoken and submissive in the next letter.
Debdebehin saneb Ket biye sikyalehu,
TO: The Suburban Grazmach-ess
From: The Urban Arbegna
Two days after sending you my debdabe I had a rather enlightening experience. I got into a car accident where a late model SUV ploughed into my kur-kur mekina. The accident was jolting but minimal. However, the social commentary that followed was rather telling. You see, my dear, I was hit by a car full of Ethiopians carrying a freshly slaughtered mukut for Fassika, skinned-to-order from Ashagre's Butcher Shop located in the Northern Suburbs of DC. Esu saibka it turns out that occupants of the late model SUV were Mickey, his wife Seble and his parents Ato Menker and Wzo. Dehab. SO WHAT? U MAY ASK AFTER ALL DC is infested with ETHs ready to indulge for amet bal.... mene yetebes... WELL this family holds a special place in my life.
Twenty-two years ago, Ato Menker took a risky gamble and opened up his house (and heart) to a meskin goromsa. He and his family hid me for four months from the wrath of KEY-SHIBBER. Today, Ato Menker is the equb dagna for the Bete Mariam Yebeteseb Equb that helped me build the house my mother proudly owns in Dessie. Mickey and Seble are your typical professionals of the emerging brilliant bourgeoisie class of Ethiopians (more on brilliant bourgeoisie class of Ethiopians at a later discourse). While Mickey's mother, Wzo. Dehab, is responsible for the renovation of one of the most prominent churches, much like your very own in LONDON, this church serves as a crossroad for ETHs of all ages, incomes, classes and ATTITUDES. Oh, before I forget, Ashagre the butcher (where the prized mukut was purchased) is no stranger either. Asahgre is the leqe-member of the kebele where Ato Menker lived. Ato Ashagre issued me the one piece of document--YEKEBELE METAWQYA that changed my life forever, and ended the extended nightmare that haunted me for three years.
...a nightmare that began when I first walked from Wadla Delanta, Wello, where my mother lived, to Gonder and across the border into Sudan; when I thought my future would be limitlessly bright. But it was not to be. Two years and three refugee camps later, I had to return to Dessie, where I finished my high school at Woizero Sihin. Soon after, I found myself running from the trigger-happy kebele zebegnas and ended up in Addis with Ato Menker. Armed with the new kebele metawqya from Ato Asahagre, I won a scholarship to BAKU, AZERBIJAN in the former Soviet Union. I was supposed to have become a hydraulic engineer in five years. But, like most of my compatriots, the cries for help from our families--who counted themselves among the blessed when they earned fifty cents a day--resonated louder than the faint, distant promise of a university degree, the salary of a yes-man and the security of middle management at Whana Fisash Agelegelot. My decision to ditch school and dabble in the contraband of blue jeans and electronics smuggling allowed my mother and my family to see a sliver of sunlight in the bleakness of their surroundings. So ended my life in the Former Soviet Union and my attempt to join the educated class. After three years of gypsying around Western Europe, I found myself in DC sixteen years ago to begin, for the first time, a life devoid of physical pain and emotional torment
For all practical purposes, my little accident could have easily taken place at Doro Manqia, Popolare or even Gullele where the discourse would have been just as distinctly and genuinely Ethiopian, complete with the intricate politeness and measured gestures. The point is DC offers most of the familiar sights and sounds of the old country without the gunshots and destruction. Now, Grazmache-ess, need I say more about the permanent quality of my life in the District; filled with the familiar and yet continually evolving?
I, like you, long for the scent and sight of an Ethiopia without the violence, misery and poverty from which I fled some twenty years ago. However, to me a prosperous and peaceful Ethiopia is a reckless dream that can cloud my reality. A reality where I hereby remain marooned by the day-to-day fukucha but keep buoyant by the strong legacy of my origin.
Which brings up a rather sore subject....but a mesertawi teyake that has always bothered me about us Abasha immigrants. Unlike many of our peers from India, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nigeria, etc, a disproportionate number of Ethiopians--young and old, rich and poor--desperately hang-on to the romantic notion of an EXODUS back to hager bete. I have always wondered if it is some sort mystical yabash wene and yehager fiker that I don't have, or just a sophomoric gebezenet and kalgna man ale arrogance which is about to have us fight each other into the abyss.
But then again, when I was just about to give up and close the subject as utterly hopeless... there comes GRAZMACH-ess. With your emergence, I am happy to know that we are not, after all, chronically starving and perpetually fighting knuckleheads. We have, as it turned out, our own luminaries that can light a glimmer of hope.
BESMAM! LEBE YASEBWEN INTERNET YAWETAWAL YELALU, BEI ESHI BEZU ALEKAKESKHU. I need guidance. I eagerly wait for you to rescue me from myself.