Monday, December 27, 2010

My No-Something Projects

The past five years, I've had a series of home projects in mind. They didn't always make the best of sense, and more often that not, they may never see the light of day, but I wanted to do them. One was a no-TV project -- I was supposed to build a projector because I don't have and don't want a TV and if I were to use some gadget for watching movies only, why not have a home theater? The key was that I was supposed to build it myself. Alas, I've only gone as far as reading the DIY manual and acquiring a 15" flat panel.

Another project was the no-couch project. I was obsessed with making sure that everything in my apt was something i could move on my own, so things had to be dismantlable or small. My bed teethered on the edge of breaking this rule, but I didn't want to give the same leeway for a couch. I thought the best thing to do would be to build something of a platform myself, to put a big mattress on it, cover it with a few pillows and make it my couch/day bed. I fell in love with the idea, and completely out of love with the execution of it. So for many years I had no couch. A year ago I was moving apartments and I was about to throw out a shelf when it occurred to me, there it was, my 'platform'! I've since put it face down and thrown a single bed mattress and a bunch of pillows on top of it. Voila, my couch/day bed's finally come to life without breaking my no-couch rule.

I also had this idea that qulet has to have a lazy way of making it, i.e. the no-maqlalating qulet. I was convinced that I could make it with a slow cooker. They use slow cookers to make caramelized onions, so why can't I make qulet with it? I wanted the cooking instruction to be as simple as:

1) chop onions
2) put in slow cooker, mix ingredients; leave for 10 hrs in a well ventilated area, e.g. window sill, porch, etc.
3) consume

When I mentioned my idea, my mom said, 'wey gud.... beysti ... ingidih memoker new'. My friends said, 'wait, why do you have a slow cooker?', or 'what is a slow cooker?'

So a few months ago, I finally tried it. I needed the qulet for a habesha dinner I was planning to host at my place a couple of days later. I documented the process.

Step 1: I chopped as many onions as I could tolerate. The idea was not to chop them too finely. Not to highlight my questionable talents in the chopping department, but the idea here was to chop them as crudely as possible to fit with the 'be-lazy' theme.

Lessons learned from mistake: do not chop the night before, or any hours before, for that matter. It will stink up the place.
Step 2: I mixed the onions with enough berbere and oil, same amount I'd use if Iwere maqlalat-ing this in a pot.

Step 2.5 : Since I live on a floor of an apartment from which if an empty pot fell I could gravely injure a person, I decided that

I shouldn't risk a pot full of hot stuff falling on top of anybody's head. At the same time, I didn't want to give up the idea of getting to cook my onions on my window sill. So I tied up the slow cooker from various directions with climbing gear. In case you've never seen a slow cooker, don't worry, it wasn't a fire hazard.

Step 3: I left it on for something like 10 hours. 6 hours on active cooking and the rest on the setting to keep it warm, because I didn't make it back to my apartment. It looks like qulet, tastes like qulet. The smell, even after the mistake of chopping the onions the night before, was minimal. My dinner subjects ate woT from the slow cooker qulet, and nobody complained ;) I'm satisfied.

If I were to do this again, I'd leave it on active cooking for longer than 6 hours. I would also cook the berbere separately beforehand. Maybe I'll keep a stash of dilih(to be made by a slow-cooker too, doh!)

'till the next project ..

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Five years ago another BILB told me the obvious, 'if you don't have goals, you'll never reach them'.

At the time it didn't help me make goals, except for the part i joked around saying getting goals was my goal. I think I've spent the past five years doing what I'd call 'playing', at best. Slowly, I'm getting goals. Not five year goals, but definitely season goals, and vague 1-2 years goals.

At the beginning of the summer I made a list of things I wanted to do. The summer has officially ended, and here's my report card:

if we go strictly by the wording of the goals i emailed myself : 4 out of 7.
if i was to realistically evaluate my goals and grading: 3.5 out of 6

good surprises: 1
bad surprises: 2

Of the original 7:
1 goal has been moved to the fall.
1.5 to winter/spring and
1 to summer.

And I leave this with a question that's been bugging me all summer but I've not been able to answer. It came from my father who commented that my generation has a curious obsession (he called exactly that, curious) with cameras. "Why do you all take so many pictures?" he asked.

I couldn't tell him it was because I wanted to be a great photographer. I mean I'd not mind if I became one, but I know that I'm not willing to put in the energy and time for it, so I won't become one. If I were to become one because, you know, I've an undiscovered brilliance ... I have no desire to become a photographer as a profession.

Is it because I'm trying to save images for memory's sake? No, I hardly look at my old pictures. I think back of my 1 year experience in Scotland as fondly as other destinations where I've taken hundreds of photos. I have exactly one underexposed photo of my time in Scotland, and even that, i think somebody gave me.

Is it because others like to look at my pictures? Not really. Sometimes it is fun to take pictures of people, but most of the time i find i take pictures of mushrooms, snowy mountain tops and cracks. I don't share most of them.
Maybe because I'v been occupied with other things, or maybe I just can't justify to myself why I should pick my camera, but the number of pictures I've taken all summer is almost the same as what I'd have taken in a week in other years.

Maybe it's just a phase.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

To All the Boys and Men I’ve Loved Before (pt 1)

This isn’t an entry about men I’ve romantically loved before, as the title may imply. It is about men who I love in one way or another. In fact, the first two guys here are in my family. The title is a reference to Willie Nelson’s song, “To all the girls I’ve loved before”, which starts out …

To all the girls I've loved before
Who travelled in and out my door
I'm glad they came along
I dedicate this song
To all the girls I've loved before

This is an entry about boys and men who I’m glad came along in my life. Here are snippets of moments which weren't really monumental, but I remember them like they happened yesterday. Their significance has, in some cases, taken me years to comprehend or apply in my life. In any case, they've stuck with me through the years.

My Father

When I was around 10, I came home with not so impressive grades. In my parents household anything less than 100% is unimpressive. So it wasn’t hard to be unimpressive. What was hard was finding enough plausible excuses to cover so many instances of unimpressiveness. This time I must have given my father some lame excuse, but convoluted enough for him to not want to poke holes into it. He listened. He told me to try harder anyway next time and walked away.

Later we bumped into each other as he walked out of my parent's bedroom, and I from our study room. We were headed to dinner. Out of the blue he said, “Minim bihon min, lela sewin gid yelem, irashin gin atatay ishee?” (“Whatever happens in life, never mind other people, but never fool yourself, ok?”) His face was wearing the brightest of smiles. I was taken aback. I knew he was talking about my grades. But there was nothing accusatory or vilifying in his voice. He said it like one'd say, 'Merry Christmas!' Except there was nothing merry in his message. I just nodded on, probably faking the best confused look I could muster. The truth was that, yes, I could have done better.

To date, when I justify things to myself and people, I stop and wonder if I’m fooling myself. Sometimes I find that I am. Most of the time, I think I still forget to ask myself the question.

My Brother

When I was around twelve, family friends came over for a visit. Their kids' ages matched my older brother’s and mine. We loved having them around. The adults had fun too, so it wasn’t unusual for that family to visit us or for us to visit them for hours on a stretch. That day, I felt like they were at our house for 10 hours. They probably weren't, but it was hours and hours of game, and fun, and more games. When they left, it was close to bed time.

My parents had very strict rules about studying. If you were found loitering before 8-9pm, you were generally asked, ‘hey, what have you studied today?’ That day it was past 9pm. I happily skipped into the study room to probably pick up a fiction before heading to my bed. Lo and behold, there was my brother, sitting at his desk reading school work. At 9pm!

I told him, ‘But you don’t have to, it’s 9pm.’

‘I know.'

‘Do you’ve a test coming up?’


I kept on standing there, completely befuddled. It just didn’t make sense to my 12 yr old mind.

‘It was a fun day. I’ll feel like one day I’ll feel guilty for not having done anything productive on a day like this. I have to read’, he explained, and buried his head back into his books. He didn't look sad, or burdened. It was stated as a matter of fact. You know, that's how life goes ... in his universe!

I watched him for a bit, thought “Crazy!” to myself, and skipped on to my lovely bed.

To date, when I’m having too much fun, I stop and wonder if I should take a break and do something that feels more ‘productive’. Have I used this day/month/year to the fullest, or will I look back and regret it one day? Sometimes I opt do whatever feels fruitful at the time. Sometimes I continue to play.

As each year passes, I’m more and more in awe that a boy at 13 or 14 put this question in my mind. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even remember. I don't see him on a day to day basis anymore. Haven't for over a decade. But I'm sure he still lives his life with the same sense of purpose and responsibility.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Tale of Two Cards

Ever since I stopped living under the same roof as my mother, about a week before my birthday, I receive a card. It’s always this generic, poor quality paper with no particularly meaningful, pre-printed message on it type of card. The cards are generally printed in India or the Middle East. The pictures on them are, for as long as I remember, flowers. To be frank, they are atrocious products.

Whenever I open the envelopes, I can almost imagine the path my mother took to buy, write and send them. I’ve seen those cards being sent to my older siblings. I may even have signed some of them.

She writes iTir minTin yalu 2 or 3 points.

  • Inkuan aderesesh.
  • Wish you all the best in what you wish for thx year.
  • I will be thinking of you and will pray for you.


This has been going on for 16 yrs. The brevity amuses me. My parents are never short of mikir. They've enough for all occasion for their children and hell, for anybody else's children. But never inside birthday cards, which appear to be reserved for my existence and my dreams.

Back in the days my mom used to sign the card for herself, that was during a period I used to live w/ my dad. Then it became for both her and my dad. Nowadays, my dad writes a blurb under hers. The underlying message of both blurbs is identical.

This year, a few weeks before my birthday I got an email from my dad that said, ‘I can’t find the address of your current apartment. We need to send you your birthday card. Please send your address immediately!’ My dad still hasn’t figured out how the search box on gmail works. Oh, yay! My generic card’s coming. I emailed my address back immediately, with a thanks in advance.

Exactly a week before my birthday, I opened my mailbox and there was a pale green, yedekakemech envelope with my mom’s handwriting on it. As if I didn’t know what was in it, I rushed to open it. But when I flipped its back there was a glossy postcard from Toulouse, France, stuck perfectly aligned to the back of my beloved envelope. Ok. That’s bizarre. Nobody I know is in Toulouse. I removed the postcard and unsurprisingly, it’s not addressed to me. In fact, it’s way off -- it was destined for Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Upon further examination I noticed that the quality of the envelope my mom sent was so bad that the envelope’s glue had oozed all over the back and it has accidentally adopted other people’s mail. I must have laughed out loud -- a guy to my right checking his box was giving me a funny look. I gathered the rest of my mail ran off to the safety of my apartment as I investigated this further.

In the elevator I saw the word Ethiopia at the back of the postcard … so, um, I read the whole thing. The writer is travelling around in Europe, enjoying eating and making different kinds of European food, and she says she soon plans to go to Ethiopia to visit some guy. Then it says, “I am sure there will be very strange food there.”

Ha ha ha! Those Ethiopians and their strange food! Of all mail, this card hard to be stuck to mine? Seriously, this has been a great birthday gift, Mom.

Eventually I opened the poor, geen envelope. Its glue had defaced my card a bit. But there were the two familiar handwritings. And the good old familiar messages. I took the card and put it in its rightful place, at the center of the middle shelf. It will hang out there for a few weeks, or months, and one day it will join the others in one of my mess piles. I never throw out these cards.

However old I get, however much I may or may not want to face my birthday, every year these cards make me look forward the next.

So, until 2011 ....

p.s. I dropped off the postcard at the postoffice, on its merry way to NC ... I hope the writer found some good Ethio food ;)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I ♥ NY

I am not a fan of the 4 block radius around Times Square. It’s crowded, dirty, filled with mediocre restaurants and retail stores all of which are overpriced and run down. Yet just about every visitor I’ve had explicitly asks to be taken there.

I try to avoid Times Square, but I can’t. It’s on the way to my gym, my favorite Ethiopian restaurant, etc. Every so often, when I’m not too busy quietly cussing out the tourists, it puts a big smile on my face. Frequently, actually. Case point: the photo here. Who doesn't park bumper to bumper in NYC anyway?

I once parked my car in a spot such that by the time we got out of the car to see if all was ok, there really wasn't any space in front or behind. I'm not sure how I made it fit, but who cares, it did. Even then I didn't mean to stop and marvel but my friend, who now lives in Ohio but was once a New Yorker interrupted our conversation to say, 'I'm sorry but I was pretty sure your car wasn't going to fit in there. I just didn't want to say anything so that we'd not interrupt our conversation.' I think I must have asked if he thought that because I was female, as, you know, we’re not expected to park 'well'. The thing is, it happens in Manhattan all the time. You fit your car, your bed, your kitchen, your shoes ...your anything, in small, incredible spaces. Or you die. Ok, maybe it is your bank account that does the dying. Or you just don’t live here. Fit or die!

But I digress.

About a week ago I was rushing through Times Square, and I passed a guy with a boom box and a sign on his neck, like one of those somber people who solicit money with recession themed messages like "I lost my job. I've 4 children and a wife to support. Please help!"

This guy was uncharacteristically more jovial, having the time of his life dancing to his music. His sign said, "Help! I need money for WEED!" Really. The sign was in green for the word 'weed'. I pulled out my Blackberry to take a picture but I wasn’t seeing what I expected to see in my screen. When I looked up I noticed he'd stopped dancing, flipped his sign and was doing a friendly 'no picture' wave. I smiled, waved back and walked on. In this day of telephoto lenses that's silly of him, but I wasn't about to commence a discussion w/ a guy panhandling for weed.

Sometimes I wonder what tourists see in NYC, or what people think of me when I say I’m from New York. Maybe it’s me. When somebody tells me they’re from Waxahachie, TX I think I immediately think … I’m not sure what I think, but if I was to be brutally honest with myself, I think some bearing in my brain reorients itself a little bit. Mind you, I’ve no idea what’s in Waxahachie, TX other than the fact that it’s an important train hub. I’ve never even been to the entire state of TX.

A few years ago I went to Alaska with a friend for a race. After the race we’d about a week where we had little purpose and hardly a tangible destination. Sometimes we drove; sometime we boarded random boats stopping at random towns, random restaurants, glaciers and mountains, which they’d surely call hills.

This was in the post-Sara Palin era and we weren’t really sure what Americans in the Last Frontier were like. As the only two black people in almost any scene we entered, we stuck out like … black, sore thumbs. People were friendly. Check. We expected that.

People asked where we were from. We’d say, ‘New York’. Almost always this question followed, ‘The city or the state?’ We said the city. Then they got excited. They’d either say that they want to visit, or in a good number of the cases, that they’ve already been there. And that they loved it! Ok, not ‘check’.

We started off assuming they were being polite, but they’d chat on and on, telling us what they did, from Times Square to Liberty Island. The most surprising of all was when they told us that New Yorkers were nice. We laughed. One guy was the captain of a boat we were on.

He tried again, ‘No, really. It’s a pleasant place. My wife and I have been there a couple of times already. We will happily do a third visit if we get time and money.’ We laughed more. My friend said to him, ‘I guess at this point I’m wondering if we’re talking about the same city. New Yorkers are many things, but pleasant is just not a typical adjective to describe the place or the poeple. New Yorkers don’t … talk.’

He thought for a bit, and he said, ‘New Yorkers always seem to walk with a purpose. But if you manage to stop them, they’re very polite and helpful.’

We agreed. If I’m walking in Times Square, I’m not there to chitchat. I’m in a rush to get the hell out of there to a destination. I’d never enter that domain if I wasn’t short for time and if I didn’t have a destination beyond it. If you manage to stop me, even if I’ve no clue what you’re asking, I’ll likely pull out my blackberry and look up stuff for you. If you manage to stop me.

I guess I forget the first time I liked NYC. It was after my second visit to the city. My first visit was a day tirp on a gloomy day. I got dumped form a bus full of college kids. I looked at the grey buildings, grey sky, grey streets and wondered, why on earth do people want to live or visit here. I stayed away from the city for the next 3 years.

My second visit was to see the same friend with whom I went to Alaska. She’d finished school and moved to NYC. I took the bus to Port Authority. When I stepped out of the bus terminal at 9pm, Times Square was lit bright as daylight. The place was buzzing like Merkato at noon. When I finally managed to take my eyes off the lights shooting up into the sky, there was a group of familiar faces hopping and yelling, ‘You made it!’ Yes, I had.

Times Square, I guess you’re not so bad.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Wizard of Oz, Chopsticks, Suicide, etc.

I was told by a person I met recently that for most things in life, I have ‘platforms and policies’. I think what he politely meant was that I’m highly, if not too opinionated. I’d probably have a black/white view on chopsticks. Come to think of it, I do think disposable chopsticks are wasteful. Does the damage caused onto trees to produce them outweigh the environmental damage from plastic utensils? I’ll check.

Moving on, my take on suicide has been ‘no’ for a while. And don’t worry, it still is, and it was never really about me anyway. I somewhat understand why people may attempt failed suicides (Apparently, to get attention. It would not at all have worked in my family, but hey. My mom would have dragged my ass to the ICU of Yekatit 12 Hospital to show me injured soldiers and ask, ‘ihis, hiwot aschegeresh …?’). I just don’t get the ones who succeed (unless it was an accidental success on a botched attempt, or under a sentence of life imprisonment.) Why not just walk to any country/place and restart a new life under a new identity? Just walk. No, this didn’t occur to me after I grew to be more resourceful. I used to think this when I was 15.

As I get older, I’m realizing that life can get you really down. If you’ve a somewhat normal life, you can pull all faculties and resources to a focus, you can turn it back around. At least that’s been the case in my life so far. At some point, the knowledge and belief in that I can always make things OK were, in themselves, a big comfort.

As I grow even more older, I’m beginning to feel that there’s something sad about this kind of comfort, in believing that I will always eventually be OK. If the Wizard of Oz had to be written over and over again, and Dorothy was always to land safe and to find a new set friends, again and again, how long would it have remained wondrous and fun?

In the honor of the approaching the end of my third decade, here’s a new platform/policy: paradoxically, it’s not all OK to be OK.

Not that there’s an alternative.

“When I get older, I will be stronger; they’ll call me freedom ….”

Oh, and I don’t rally like K’naan.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lady At the Corner

She disappears during winter. Otherwise, every morning at around 9am, she stands at the same corner with her luggage in tow. Her neTela gave away her identity. Let’s call her Itye Lady. Her luggage is generally two or three small bags. She reminds me of the mothers at meneharia (yes, I’ve been there!) They pack small bags, even plastic bags. It’s as if they’re not going to miss the place they’re leaving behind, or like their destination is temporary. Leyismula packing. You cant tell if they’re going home or going away. Like Itye Lady.

If you didn’t see her at that corner everyday, you could think that she just came back from a shopping spree. Except it’s 9am. In Manhattan’s unofficial embassy district. And the bags don't exactly look very new. When I first moved to the area I attempted to say hello. No response. For the sake of yilugnta, for weeks I figured I should at least bow my head. Nope, no acknowledgement. I even suspected if maybe she wasn’t habesha. But there was the neTela draped on her shoulder like a Sunday betekiristian tesalami.

Eventually, telemamedin. I went about doing my business. Every so often I’d look out for her. Seasons came and passed. I noticed she wasn’t there during inclement weather, or the winter months. She’s not there at 7am. But any weekday between 9 – 10am, that corner can count on her presence.

I don’t know when I decided what her story should be, but after wondering what brings her there I’d concluded that her son (son, not daughter, I don’t know why) had told her years ago that he’d pick her up at this corner, but never showed up. So every day since that day, she comes to that corner, ready to go wherever he’s going. Yeah, I made it up., but it suited me.

This morning I left my apartment closer to 10am. Late for work. Again. I figured I should find some Spanish audio to practice with during my walk. I was fidgeting to find the right track with both ears plugged when I heard, “yisemashal?” coming from behind me.

I turned around. Lo and behold, Itye Lady was talking to me!

I said, ‘awo’, as retraced my steps back to her.

“yigebashal?” she asked again.

Saqe meTa. It’s like when habeshoch ask in the street, “Habesha nesh?” Over the years I’ve learned to answer with a straight face, ‘aydelehum. Antes?’ You’d think that’d stop them there. No, they get confused for a bit, then u see their face light up and they’ll ask, ‘Amarigna tawqialesh?’. I don’t tire, I fire back, ‘Ay alawqim, antes?’

I was tempted to start my game with Itye Lady, but considering this momentous occasion, I decided to play CHewa instead.

“awo, yigebagnal”.

“yihenin awCHiw’, she said pointing to my earphones. I took out one ear. “wedelela, yemayhon neger yimerashal. Tiru aydelem”

So here I’m thinking that’s an odd way to phrase the issue but she must mean the traffic, that I’ll accidentally walk into oncoming traffic while distracted by what I’m listening to. Or that I’ll miss a warming horn or yell. Anyway, all I said was, ‘Ahhhh…’.

“Be igziabher tamgnalesh?’ she asked. Aha! I see, said the blind man. I see.

I don’t know why, I said ‘awo aminalehu’.

“ke igziabher yineTilishal! Blela bekul yiwesdishal …. “ At this point I’d started retreating, with my fakest of fake pleasant smiles on.

“Ishi, ishi … ameseginalehu … belu dehna yiwalu ….”

I bolted.

A block later I put on the Spanish audio I was looking for.

13 minutes later when I reached my office, I realized yebaTun yeQotun silesetiyewa sasib, I actually didn’t hear much of the audio.

I mean, Itye Lady …. talked!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


This is probably not the most 'thoughtful' of posts after such an extended absence, but I never claimed I was/am/will be thoughtful.

But I came to remember ... a few months ago, at a birthday dinner with Ethiopians, we went over some unfortunate yet hilarious confusion that arose when one mixed English and Amharic in the same sentence. The trigger was when one guy said, 'Qesar ...'. A girl asked, 'Qes min?', which cracked me up because I thought she said 'ye Qes min?' Next thing we know we're pointing fingers at each other to figure out who started the "corrupted" message. We concluded with the understanding that 'Caesar Salad' will probably never be translated into Amharic in menues. Ever.

One word let to another and a friend pointed out that if you said 'Arizona' quickly over and over, you'll hear something else in Amharic. I'll let you try it.

The translation of that meaning comes to something like, 'we're full of crap.'

Arizona & and your new immigration law : yeah, you're full of crap!