SELEDA Ethiopia
Art work by Assegid Gessesse
July 27 2021
Table of Contents
Editors' Note
The Mail
Our Favorite Mail
My Story
...My Permanency
...Drums Beat
...of Sounds
The Gilding...
Keeping... Alive
Heading West...
New York Haven
Life Diaries
"Homes Apart"...
How... Here?
Exiled at Home
Top 10
Isti Wedih...
Back Page
... right thing
Hamsa Lomi

Almost Heaven, New York City

It has only been a few weeks, but already life as I know is changing, sometimes slowly but mostly with spectacular speed. New York will do that to you, regardless of how intent you are in keeping your chiko-menchaka nikkir personality, tenderly tended from the eau-de-toilet (yeah, I said toilet) alleys of Amist-kilo through the ibet-scented fields of rural Massachusetts past the rarefied and rare-to-find fragrant acres of cushy New Jersey, through Washington DC (who has time to think up the right adjectives for DC?!) to here. No one may have been able to wrestle you away from the jean-clad confines of your nonchalant wardrobe, but in New York, you throw those babies off like they were the petroleum by-products of bygone days (remember Tetron?) and gleefully embrace what New York offers. And in New York, there's a li'l somethin' for everyone.

Boot camp ... shaken not stirred. For the timid and retiring wallflower, New York is nothing if not a tall glass of shock therapy with a chaser of real-time assertiveness training, in a cut glass highball edged with crunchy sass...Siga-méda trainers ain't got nothin' on this city. It hasn't even been three weeks in my new home away from home away from home, and I have already stared down some goober misguided enough to roll his eyes at me -- totally unjustified since that was his size 15 shekona resting clumsily upon my sandal-clad, and now irreparably flattened, foot. He backed off, almost even apologized; I limped on, triumphant. Hey, a few irreplaceable toe bones are a small price to pay for some New York respect. In fact, the other people in the bus stop looked at me with something akin to admiration (or was it gas?).

Léba..léba...ere lébalébaléba For the average kis-awlaQi, New York presents at once fabulous challenges and limitless opportunities. On the one hand, every single solitary NY native, from the cherubs in those adorable pre-kindergarten toddler-movers to the diabolical old ladies with walkers, is extremely well trained in armed combat. Go ahead, try to forcibly remove a beloved Pokemon backpack or a Macy's shopping bag from one of these -- if you're lucky, you'll draw back a nub, but a few of you unlucky ones would probably be the startled recipients of a swift and yemayadagim public gelding.

At the same time, though, the number of unwitting New Yorkers on public transportation who wear dazzling necklaces, diamond-studded watches and glittering rings would make any self-respecting awtobus léba salivate. Let me not mislead you; it would take a bit of time to distinguish the real from the faux jewelry ... during that learning period, any attempt to, say, bend down and bite the Rolex on a woman's wrist to check its authenticity will put the léba in the perfect position to have his tongue ripped out. So think twice before buying yourself a ticket on the DV train to klepto-heaven. But wait, all is not lost: in these days of trendy no-snap, no-clasp purses, your Sost-QuTir awtobus experience won't need any upgrading and will undoubtedly score you a bunch of credit and calling cards, a couple of Casio electronic day planners, and if you're lucky, a Palm Vx or two. Not bad for someone whose life may have revolved around waiting for the end-of-the-month booty on a "fragrant" Mercato-bound bus. And there's more...if you work verrrrrry hard and sharpen those skills, you most definitely have a future as a real estate delala.

But that's last month's news.

AlawQim'n ma gedelew? For the clueless tourist, New York is the nicest city in the world, and really does not deserve its harsh reputation. It so pains the native to see you wandering around looking for some landmark unsuccessfully that they take it upon themselves to actually offer to help you. In fact, New Yorkers are so friendly that they appear to consider it the highest insult NOT to give you very detailed directions ("go west two avenues, cross Central Park and walk downtown nine streets") even when they have ABSOLUTELY no idea where the hell you want to go. But they're like that -- faultlessly generous, somehow knowing deep in their hearts that you'd rather walk an extra mile or four than be forced to actually ask anyone else. Besides, what are the chances that anyone knows where you're going, anyway?

Here, the shoes break in the woman. Woe be unto she who thinks that the delightful, fashionable, sexy shoes that were fine for car-to-office travel elsewhere will work in the City that Never Stops Walking; the City that, while offering the most exquisite shoes known to womankind, also is home to the most treacherously painful subway corridors, steep staircases, walk-up apartments and hyper-active run-everywhere natives. Hundé; Toré would have some serious competition from the speed walkers here, and even he couldn't walk a step, much less do his famous fast-walk, if he had to wear the torture implements a REAL New York Woman flaps around in. Most days I just stare in awe -- one day, some day ... nah. My momma didn't raise no fools.

Now, I'll admit right here that I have a shoe fetish -- can't remember when it started, but I remember the joy with which I stepped out of the Sasso shoe store in Piassa as a 10 year old with my first almost-grown-up tiny heel shoes. older brother had to literally hold me up since the shiny sole and the eighth-inch heel had me totally unbalanced. Up till that fateful day, I had been condemned to wearing those Darmar bullet-proof unisex brown sandals with rubber soles, (you know the ones with the little holes cut in a floral pattern on top?), handed down from generation to generation of successive suffering masses. But finally, ecstatically, even as I was sliding across the sidewalk in the trusty grip of my brother, I knew then what I know now -- shoe shopping is right up there with religious and other... um...equally exquisite, exhilarating experiences.

But New York did me in. Sadly, after almost sliding under the 19th subway train in a row, and after the Madison Avenue podiatrist I already have on retainer bought matching yachts for herself and her husband, I finally relegated my lifetime collection of luscious shoes to their special altar in my apartment. Now I've started wearing low-heeled brown sandals with rubber soles. Don't...don't you dare even say a word...

"Give me your tired, your weak...your broke, busted and disgusted". Imiyé Liberty is getting a sore arm with all that torch holdin' and greetin'. Wave after wave of the weary who've had it with the latest intrigues of their flawed governments and flopping economies continue to arrive in New York, not unlike the rest of us Exiled Disgruntleds. The latest arrivals are from the former Soviet Union and the rest of the ex-Eastern Bloc, and they're everywhere: the nouveau riche who crowd into Fifth Avenue boutiques where, flush with their ill-gotten gains, they further confirm that money and bad taste are a tremendously bad combination. The nouveau poor who live in the crowded tenements of New Jersey and all five boroughs, and who populate all of the trains, especially those coming from Coney Island. The desperation with which they devour the newspapers written in their mother tongues are painfully reminiscent of our first few years here. Eventually, they too will give way to the next wave, since there will always be another country whose citizens have no choice: my it and leave it.

Asylum for the Ayn-afar. Initially, New York may seem like a lonely place to the new arrival. New Yorkers may be willing to tell you where to go (in every way imaginable) but they're not about to let you tag along with them. So it's a little alienating at first, eating lunch at your desk every day or pressing your askonaN face up against the many bars, cafés and restaurants where the Rich and Raucous seem to be whooping it up every evening. But slowly, you begin to realize that you are no longer under surveillance -- that omnipresent feeling of being under constant scrutiny that we Addis A'bans seem to never shake starts to slowly disappear.

...and for the Aynwan-l'afer. You may not be welcomed with open arms here, but your sick little idiosyncrasies certainly are. No hair, green hair, green nails... green nails hammered into your shaven yet painted green head -- whatever rocks your boat goes here. Walk with your slithering python wrapped around your neck, waist and mohawk hairdo, or escort your multi-pierced dates through the train as you loudly discuss an upcoming ménage à one cares. After a near lifetime of having your every breath recorded, recounted and archived for future use by your community, loved ones and busybody seferteNoch alike, it is liberating to recognize that, here, you can do anything you damn well please. Just the other day I was listening to a fabulous Spanish/Middle Eastern song on my walkman and realized that, if I chose to, I could bop to the irresistible beat up and down the subway platform to my heart's content. I haven't braved it yet -- there is that infernal, internal voice that keeps alerting me to the sheer unEthiopianness of such lax behavior -- but don't be surprised if, one day soon, you see a jubilant, liberated woman, in brown sandals with rubber soles, eyes closed and hands raised blissfully in the air, shimmying and sashaying to a Radio Tarifa CD. You might even want to join in...hey, it's New York.

© Copyright SELEDA Ethiopia,  September 2000.   All Rights Reserved.