Sunday, July 29, 2007

Lam alegn besemay ...

I was talking to Wegesha earlier today and we got onto discussing Ethiopian Airlines. He says that they don’t treat Ethiopians well. Well, I just think they manhandle anybody seated in their Economy class. Then again, according to some material that’s been coming through email lists, a good number of Ethiopians are getting ready to file a class action suit against British Airways for delayed, lost, tarnished luggage and disproportionate compensation and lack of customer service thereafter. I can attest that my qiraqinbo on my way there and doro weT on my way back arrived punctually with Ethiopian Airlines. Gorf siwesd iyasasaqe new ... yemil wey yemil yemimesil teret ale.

So, I had been meaning to write about Ethiopian Airlines since my return but like many stories, it got forgotten. I flew first class on my way to Addis, and yelele tsimen iyashashehu, I came back on economy.

Cloud #9, as the call their first class was, well … delightfully empty, for one thing, but more importantly 100% black. I don’t know when I became a color conscious Ethiopian. Maybe years in the US does that to you, and besides US commercial flights almost never fail to disappoint with their one color business class lineup. This one was a rare sight.

The one thing that was disturbing was that the crew kept referring to me be antuta. ‘yemiTeTa yifeligalu?’ I kept wanting to look back to double check they were indeed referring to me, but like I said, the place was empty. At some point bichegirat my mom disrupted a conversation and ask, “ahun anchi sint ametish hono new yichin ‘irswo’ yemityat’?” The lady responded, ‘ay inema besiraw lemden new’. She easily has 10 years over me (or so I flatter myself). They refused to call me ‘anchi’. Finally my mom and I concluded, not only age, but money buys you ‘antuta’. Adis bahil new … temaru.

As I mentioned earlier I think Ethiopian Airlines manhandles anybody in their economy class. Inen gin yechegerengn was that they manhandled people in the first class, too. Let me explain. First of all, bemigib akuaya inae qoraT habesha negn. By that I mean I eat 10 kinds of vegetables, 8 kinds of cereal, 5 kinds of fruits, 3 kinds of animals and 0 kinds of shell fish. Maybe I’m off by 1 here and there (not about shell fish) but those figures are the universally acknowledged habesha truths.

Ihis? What do they serve in 9-gnaw Damena - Yejib Tila. Mushrooms, as far as I know are for kicking around the backyard and here I was, thousands of feet above the ground stuck with a mushroom on a fancy plate. Of the five courses, none of which fell under the universal habesha amegageb truths, I remember one that had those tiny leafed, thin stemmed things which I unmistakably identified as arem. As a child I remember that growing in wuha yequateru grassy areas during the kiremt season in Addis Ababa. Basically if they think that my ass is going to start eating meno and arem to attain the ‘desired’ level of western sophistication, they’re mistaken. A long time ago I remember Ethiopian Airlines first class had yummy injera as a meal option. Alas, this was one trip where they didn’t have it – and to think we were mid-flight on Fasika.

There were three flight attendants fully dedicated to the 5 people who were in business class. These women were so bored that they’d not let us rest in peace. I kid you not. They’d stop by our seats, “Lemindin new gin yematbelaw?” Lemin? Coz you’re feeding me CHid is why yemalbelaw. So I tried to kick back and sleep. Spacious, at least, you think. No. They kept hovering. Bichegirat every so often mom would nudge me and point at a concerned looking flight attendant to me to ask if she can bring me ‘something else’. Like what, girawa be koba this time? Ok. So the food sucked … for me. Whatever. Idmae le tsom yemaychal yelem. But why couldn’t I at least enjoy the space I paid for in peace?

I know, I know. They need a cloud #4. Bring down the fanciful menu and attention a notch down and I’m game.

(btw, I’m half kidding. It was my experience, and it really wasn't entirely enjoyable but if it seems like it caused me serious grief, it didn’t. It can always be better though :)

Friday, July 20, 2007


As I parked my car this morning, the last words I heard of the news summary on NPR was that EPRDF let opposition leaders out. Sure enough, Ethiopia releases protest leaders, BBC reports.
Three minibuses have reportedly left the prison while the group's supporters whistled and shouted for joy outside.
It's a happy day to be Ethiopian :)

A thumbs up to Meles Zenawi & co. It was painful. It was long and unnecessary, but it's done. yegzer selamta and "thank you" never hurt anyone, so thank you.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Death Penalty

The Ethiopian court sentenced Mengistu H/Mariam, who's currently enjoying luxurious life in exile in Zimbabwe, to life imprisonment instead of the death penalty because it's 'unethical' to kill an aging man. Death penalty at this age would not be 'fair but a vendetta', they reasoned. As opposed to if he was younger where it would be like what, redemption??

Yet somehow seeking death penalty is so ethical for CUD leaders , hmm? Granted they've not been sentenced but it makes me sick to the stomach that they're tried in the same court and in the same manner as a man like Mengistu Hailemariam.

The moral of the story: if you want to be a politician in Ethiopia, make sure you seem like you're old & dying. And befriend Mugabe.

I have been reading People's History of The United States bit by bit. It's supposed to be the history of America you wont read in school text books. It's depressing. It details how native American populations were exterminated, how the will and culture of black people in America was systematically broken down unpon their arrival to the United States to beat them into submission. One thing I found 'amusing' is that most of the non-wealthy Europeans who originally came to the US apparently came indentured as house servants. They paid for their fare across the Atlantic through the promise of labor to masters who could sell and exchange them as property, much like slaves, except Europeans could eventually win their freedom. This is reminiscent of slavery systems in most of Africa. Fast forward to the present - I always find it amusing when I hear 'real' Americans (i.e. white americans) complain nowadays about there being too many immigrants (i.e. people of questionable color) since these Americans are clearly children of immigrants themselves. Now I'll add to my amusement by thinking of the many indentured European 'pioneers'. At least the Mexicans came as free people - should that count for something? (Me? No. I'm no immigrant. I'm a tourist :-) But I digress ...

So in People's History the manner in which parts of society that didn't own property were literally tortured into submission made it seem like I was reading about most of today's Africa. It's a chronicle of death, violence and betrayal that lead entire communities into seemingly resigned states of political existence.

The real moral of the whole story : the death penalty of any form was moronic, is moronic, will always be moronic.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I was reading a blog entry by Kal Pen where he said that Gogol, his character, did not have cultural struggles in the movie. In his opinion it was Gogol's mother who had ethnocentric issues to resolve.

I saw the movie and it really resonated with me. I am hard pressed to agree with Kal Pen in that his character had no identity conflicts. The one aspect of this movie that resonated so well with me was the idea of a first generation immigrant kid easily finding his niche in America but being unable to share his experience at home with wider America. To take an instance, scenes that followed his white, America girlfriend's first meeting with Gogol's parents were hilarious, but at the same time toe crunching for a viewer like myself that comes from a conservative non-PDA type culture.

Here was this American raised, Indian boy having gone through the typical suburban upbringing, done everything right, heading to an Ivy League school, landing his glamorous city job, and all the shebang that America is said to be great for. He glides through all this in style, albeit the occasional comments thrown in by his dissatisfied mother who thinks her child sees his time more fit to visit his American girlfriend and her family than his own parents. Ultimately he confronted by the death of his father and Indian mourning traditions which he is unable share with his girlfriend.

That mourning moment appears like his character had an Indian revelation but the underlying issue was that he never actually shared his life with his girlfriend. He shared her life with her instead and that is very acceptable and encouraged to/of immigrants in America. He played his American role like a well tuned fiddle to fit and be as invisible as possible within society. Not his fault. Not her fault. Not America's fault. It's just a fact of being an immigrant anywhere.

Sometimes I feel like I have multiple personalities. One that I have with Americans, another one that I have with immigrants in America and finally the my personality with Ethiopians, the last one being the closest to the real me. I'm not deceiving nor fabricating, it's just that I know limitations of my interaction with these different groups, and that's OK by me. But sometimes I realize that my interactions almost seem like work, like I have to actively monitor my boundaries, I am acutely aware of what fits in their world views and not. I wake up every morning and read the African news section of BBC after I keep up with 'normal news' that the rest of America might be reading(or not). My shelf has a pile of Amharic books that'll never be discussed at work or at my next BBQ. I like having another excuse to have a day off from work but beyond that I have no interest in July 4th celebrations and fireworks. Yeah, I can drag myself to somebody's garden cookout, but after all these years I don't look forward to that day even by the tiniest fraction of the way I miss yemeskel demera, buna'na qolo or nifro. True, I enjoy Japaneses cuisine and will take Roti Canai any day, but only because I can't get my qeTen yalech yeQibe shiro be'injera. And no, I don't ever tire of eating that stuff. How does one explain that? One doesn't. One can't. One just goes on to describe how good Roti Canai is. Really, if you haven't already, you should try it.

In Namesake I thought Gogol went through a similar experience. His father's death was a crosspoint of his two cultures. It was a moment he could not shelter his girlfriend from. It was a sombre and very traditional Indian experience which she tried to deal with in an American way. He had to be at home and with his familty, and it wasn't something he could compromise about. Inevitably it brought their relationship to and end.

In a way Kal Pen's right when he says Gogol did not have to struggle with his identity. He was a man in two cultures. He comfortably played both roles well and separately. His take on his father's death was not a choice he had to make - he knew the Indian way the only way to be and his explanation of his behavior was no consolation to his girlfriend. She was was never the one crossing boundaries. He always came to her ... until that point. So maybe he wasn't struggling with his identity, but he was still a victim of it, as was she.

To paraphrase Barak Obama's wife, she noted that human beings have a lot more in common on individual basis than we do as communities. Every day cultural boundaries are being trespassed by many of us. Differences become more noticeable when communities get involved. The plot of Namesake appeasers to be one such case.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Gudifecha - The Movie

Ah, gotta love nothing-to-do weekends. I got to see Gudifecha as well. Ok ... this one I really liked. If you've not seen the movie, beware as this may be a spoiler.

There was a weird scene that had 2 ferenj girls and the main character sitting on nicely mawed lawn, pointing and chuckling at a magazine. The audience does not get to hear their conversation. The scene appears out of nowhere and has no follow up. Very disconnected. At the end the director explains he was trying to create contrast for the end of the movie where the main character was forced to resort to traditional medicine for an abortion. He said the same dilemma if faced by somebody from the countryside would not be as disturbing, but for a girl whose world view was so much wider (he called it 'modern' which, of course, bothers me) and had all resources to afford her better medical treatment was unable to get treatment because it's illegal in Ethiopia (he failed short of pointing out the legality issue - I don't know if that was intentional). The idea was good, but it doesn't make the scene any less weird.

During a shimgilina scene where the father was being asked for his daughters hand in marriage, the father asks back the amalajoch, 'habt nibretus?' It cracked me up. It's so true - there's an awkward obsession with wealth and ancestry in our culture. I was raised to respect self-made people ... easily reinforced in my family as my parents had no 'tiliq sew' ties. A few golden times I have seen my father mention the fact that his father was a farmer in the midst of conversations where people revel in 'Tiru zer minzar'. Very inappropriate, but oh, so pleasing.

During my last visit to Ethiopia an elderly lady started quizzing me about my family. "Yeman lij nesh?" it started. What a weird question, what if i'm an orphan? I stammered. "Ay welajochish ineman nachew malete new?", she clarified. I was wondering if she taught I didn't speak Amharic well at that point. I could not bring myself to give her any answer that would satisfy tradition. I gave her my father's full name and my mom's full name. There was an awkward silence in the room. My friend who had been sitting next to me felt the need to intervene. She gave details of my parents' careers. In the end the lady said, 'Ere? Ay ine inkuan alawqachewim'. I was setting there thinking, 'Well then I can assure you my parents sure like hell don't know you.' I vaguely felt evil, but I really dislike 'who's your daddy?' and 'how much money?' questions. If it seems naughty or crude to say in bed then it should not be uttered outside under any context ;-)

Scenes I liked
- the hand washing at the trad medicine lady's home
- any scene that had the second doctor (minus the part where he spoke English - which he spoke darn well, I might add) he really played the part of a doctor well, i thought. very convincing.
- the "man neh?" tebel scene with Yoseph. Hilarious.
- the "beyesus sim" tselot scene with Yoseph. Hilarious.
- most of the lighting in the movie. It shows they put effort.

I can't believe the two main characters kissed on screen. Damn. When did I become so conservative?

My First Time ...

... watching an Ethiopian movie was today. Well, it was really yesterday and today. Yesterday I couldn't keep my eyes open long enough to finish it so technically the end was today. In all due fairness, I hope this doesn't make it seem like it failed to captivate my attention. I started watching the movie at around 12:30AM and as an early bloomer arogit, that was way past my bed time.

That and the movie didn't captivate me. Ok. That was a very round about way of admitting that I was bored.

It was called Semayawi Feres. When I bought it I asked the sales lady at the movie store to suggest the best two habesha movies. She didn't bat an eylid when she picked Semayawi Feres and Gudifecha. After I bought the movies her selection was endoresed by a random second and third.

I have not yet seen Gudifecha, but of Semayawi Feres I have to ask/note:

a) Why 'Semayawi Feres'? The plot is about a development document regarding Abay. I didn't see any feres nor anything that reminded me of blue in the movie, literally and figuratively. Does Semayawi Feres have a symbolic significance in our clutre that i'm unaware of?

b) What's with the background music in the midst of a dialogue? Like I said, kalegizeye arjichaleu and I sure like hell couldn't hear some of the stuff that was being said. Thank god for the subtitles in English, which brings me onto my third question ...

c) What's with the English (not the subtitles ... which I wasn't expecting but whatever. In fact I've to give mad props for some of the semi-normal translations) all over the place? Guramayle Amarigna is so 20th scentury ... even by Ethiopian calender. I mean, habesha set pleading with her man, 'pliss, iskindirye, pliiiiiiiiiis ... ", right in front of Tis Abay? Abay aTint binorew'na biQeber, meqabru wust yigelabeT neber.

d) so the theme can be summed up as, some engineer devised a way to perform controlled evaporation from the Nile to generate precipitation. He came form London to present his findings to the Ethiopian government, but there're bad guys who want to intercept his work. Somewhere in there it's implied that the guy has only one copy of the document even though he sports his laptop on a field trip. So the part I don't get is, to what end were the 'bad' guys itching to get their hands on this 'study'?

e) I found it interesting that the main female character, Firehiwot, was imprisoned for having written provocative material that irked the government. Absence of freedom of speech in a movie plot ... I can dig that.

f) There was a car in one of the scenes that undoubtedly was the worst air pollution offender I'd ever seen - worse than Trenta quatros and lonchinas back home. If that was a statement being made by the producers, mad props. If not, that car needs to be banned off movie sets and all roads.

'nuff for today.