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.