Sunday, May 13, 2007

Guzo'na Qiraqinbow

I asked my mother for a list of people I should be buying stuff for before I headed back to Ethiopia. It's a strange and inconveniencing meTe (or so I thought) tradition. On first try she came back with 30 plus names, of which around 20 of I was familiar with. Being the meticulous woman that my mom is, she made sure to list next to each name how i was related to each person, their age or a vague approximation of their size.

I still went back for explanations.

Me: 'Who exactly are intina'na intina?'
My mom: 'Your cousin once removed Y's children (you never met Y - she used to live in Z) and her husband, who you've also never met because they got married after you left. Y passed away last year - it had to be AIDS, they call it TB, or something. Lemanignachewim, you should bring something for the kids, even for the baliyew , and also give him money when you see him.
M: 'I give him money?? Min biye? "Selam, inetewaweq ... and here's some money"?'
MM: 'Mts! Anchi yechegeresh is the one possibly awkward minute of giving money? Keep in mind he's to raise two kids by himself. That's chigir! Yawm beTena keqoyelachew aydel? Mtss! Bicha indefelegsh. I'm just suggesting.'

Hmm. Hmmmmmmm!

I met Y's husband and kids at their home.The daughter, who looked around 3 years old, was sitting in a bedroom as I walked in. I waved. Generally an Ethiopian kid who you've never met will look back at you like you're some sort of apparition, or be embarrassed and meshkoramem minamin. This one gave me one of the brightest smiles ever and waved back. By the time we were seated she had come into the room, done her greetings, and started telling us tales of how she saw a doro CHaCHut the other day. She was simply adorable.

Then I also made stops at other places where relatives told me, ' Teqorsh!' (i'm Teyim, doh!), or 'Kesash ... indae balefew amrobish iko neber ?!'(eh ... technically, i was a teenager then and i've actually since gained weight but whatever), and the best one, 'TeCHemadedsh aydel indae?! Weg gud ... yeNa bet setoch iko indih nen! Tolo meCHemaded . Hahaha ....'. (Am I a Wereqet?)

Um. Haha-not! Apparently 'yeNa-bet' setoch don't have thick enough skin, because at some point, given that i'm in my mid twenties, it was kinda beginning to get to me. WTF?!

I think sometimes Ethiopians say random stuff ... just for the hell of it. Yet I remember among the weirdest things when I first got to America were the fake smiles and random, hard to believe, but generally positive comments that people made.

I'd this wrap/skit in college that can only be described by one adjective : ugly. It had all colors imaginable somehow put into its design, or lack of, most would say. My non-American friends made it clear, on the first day, that it was the ugliest thing they'd ever seen. Yay! I decided it'd be my Sunday dress. Then I'd get stopped throughout campus, at least once a day, by some American woman who'd invariably say, 'I luuuv your dress. So unique! Where is it from?' Huh? Seriously.

American random behavior is generally positive but for an outsider it still seems so unnecessary. Now I think I've gotten too Americanized because those comments in Ethiopia seemed even more unnecessary to me. Why bother? What a waste of even small talk. Leaving some of the houses I was thinking of the many hours I spent shopping, my weekends, my after work hours, relatives who helped me do my shopping, their time and energy. It wasn't when I'd to drag my bags halfway across the world. It was ok when I'd to deal with a defiant (rightly so) United representative with my overweight luggage at check-in, or as i saw my 'travel' expenses keep taking on a hike even after I had bought my ticket. When I finally met some people the entire experience seemed more of an exercise of self-torture more than anything.

Then again, when I made stops at households like that of Y's family, I was glad that I had the excuse to meet them. It's like my grandma who insisted that I take back a range of items including lomi and shenkora ageda to my mom in Addis because, 'Ageru yishtetat inji!' (I ate some and left the shenkora after I explained to my grandma I'd be the one who'd eat it in Addis anyway, but delivered the lomi, etc. Eventually I consumed the lomi as well ... oh, well.)

Before my departure to Ethiopia I'd talked to a friend who told me he doesn't do the qiraqinbo. He only gives money to those who he thinks need it. Hmm. What an idea, I'd thought. But I also remember being a kid, and getting little things from family or my parents' friends who'd come to visit. It was actually kinda cool.

So the qiraqinbo tradition will stay in my books. "Ageru indishetachew." Perhaps next time I'll vaguely narrow down my intentions towards kids, and those who seem they could do with monetary support. Vaguely.

I'll also prepare to be all ears, tough ears, for Ethiopian-style small talk.


Nolawi said...

Tobian, had to read this one in two sittings and is probably your longest post ever! from the short time..

ahahaha motkugn at fitish techemadedeh!

about the qiraqimbo.. i could see you r point of it being kool... gin cash has more value.. i think...

does random stuff have sentimental value....

but then again the ethio expats from addis come from a somewhat middle class family... and some of these people have a better life than those in US... so why should we send give money... everytime we go...

celebrate wrote about this

yonas said...

great post! i love your mom, she really hit me with this one: "Anchi yechegeresh is the one possibly awkward minute of giving money?"

the whole gift giving thing gets easier the more you go back. i tend to take cool qiraqinbo for the kids, and give cash to adults (if they really really need it). but i let my mom handle the latter - i still find it too awkward, something i need to work on.

yonas said...

think ... think ... think

Tobian said...


I guess the qiraqinbo should never be viewed as the main thing.

Good to hear you enjoyed my CHemdadanet - at my expense ;-)


German coast guard 'Think' - I'm sinking, hilarious :-)

Aretha Franklin - I'd never paid attention to the lyrics of that song. Is the (only!) white saxophone fella somebody I should know? Is there any significance to his racially isolated appearance? (ok, maybe i'm thinking too much)

Filweha Pundit : yo, somehow i'd missed this blog all this time. I spent the past few days going through it. Very interesting - thanks (not!)