Monday, September 12, 2011

Great Expectations

On Sunday I got a call from a cousin, wishing me happy Ethiopian new year. After he shared what he has been up to, he asked if there was anything new. I told him I planning to leave my job soon, in order to go back to school. He asked if I intended to do it full time. I said, 'yes'. Then he asked, 'Did you ever buy a house indae?' I said, 'No'. Right about here he must have concluded that I am a disappointment, because the interrogation ceased.

He did say I should invite him to my wedding (Another disappointment so far).  He mentioned having talked to one of my brothers, who had recently held a christening for his daughter. Our cousin had complained about not beeing invited. Apparently my brother had responded, 'The christening party you missed is nothing. Some of us have been missing out on weddings!' Since then, my cousin said, he has been wondering it was me or one of my single siblings who got married without telling/inviting others. I laughed, and assured him that I will surely invite him, but there will be no talk of marriage on my turf for another few years

I laughed, because the wedding in question was my cousin's. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


I've been thinking about going back to school and as the expenses I am facing are in the vicinity of 100,000 USD, I have also been looking for scholarships.

Reading the descriptions of scholarships brings an uncomfortable feelings. Merit based ones are easier to confront. Not a big deal, my grades do the talking - sometimes they got me some money, sometimes not. Life goes on. Merit scholarships sometimes become intimidating when they state they're looking for 'exceptional', 'exemplary', 'outstanding', 'visionary' individuals with "demonstrated leadership skills" and ...what not. Their essays ask the candidate to write why s/he thinks they're so special. I'm paraphrasing but that's what it comes down to.

Why do I think I'm special? Actually, I don't ... if I thought I was so special, I don't think I'd go to school at all. At least by my definition, Bill Gates was special ... hence why he quit school which he, appropriately, deemed unnecessary. I am not so special and therefore need further instruction. No?


Then there are the need based ones, which are just plain horrible. Some even have clauses in there that they are meant to be for people with unconventional backgrounds. When you look into blurbs of previous scholarship recipients you see mother of three by age 20, first to attend college in family, endured extreme hardship in life, etc, etc.

Quite frankly, I've had it easy. For my admissions application I wrote essays littered with my Ethiopian background and departure from my homeland at a time of political unrest (it's true ... but it's not like I trekked for days, malnutritioned, hiding behind bushes trying to reach the boarder. My parents bought me an Ethiopian Airlines economy class ticket. I flew with my ex-stewardess aunt, who got us upgraded to first class. For a 14 year old, that was sweet. In fact, as a 30 yr old, I still think that'd be cool.) I wrote of apartheid and struggling in society with language barriers, yaddi yaddi yadda. It felt ok to write in my application, because that was my experience and it has shaped me into the person that I am now. However, it did not crush me. I didn't even inconvenience me. Whatever happened put me in a trajectory that led me to a state of self sufficiency. Yes, I could have done better, or worse. But I'm ok with where I am now.

When it comes to writing my story to convince somebody to part with their money on my behalf, it becomes sticky. Frankly, I think there are a lot of other deserving people out there. I am hard pressed to write an honest, convincing essay that I deserve being funded more than anybody else.

So I'm looking at 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 scholarships and wondering if I want to paint my life in a light that will make me seem like a recovery from the brink of disaster, or lose the chance for funding because I've led a life slightly unconventional by American standards, but otherwise quite ordinary.

Where's the scholarship for ordinary people? Why is it that society always tries to push those on top or bottom higher, but never the middle? Does the middle have to stay there .... forever?

So, should I be top or bottom today? (Naughty, naughty! Get your mind out of the gutter.)

Sunday, June 05, 2011

iExpect, youExpect, weExpect ...

There are at least three 'group mentalities' in my family. The first one, headed by my parents, claims that it's "traditional". The second one, headed by a cousin who we shall call Cuz also claims to be traditional. The third faction is an anarchy. It is headed by everybody who's younger than 50 yrs old. I'm a member and I have been told that we're 'non-traditional'.

Cuz is the master elusive qualities like meqeyayem, hod mebas, menafeq and qir mesegnet. My parents specialize in qir mesegnet and menafeq ... less so on meqeyayem and hod mebas. By my parents are experts on non-communication. They strive for non-communications.

Case point: one of my siblings just had a baby. Cuz somehow didn't find out that the wifey was preggers until a week or so before the delivery date. Cuz says "akaki zeraf! Why wasn't I told?" Now Cuz has gone into a self-prescribed state of seclusion. The sibling in question swears that he shared the news with him .Current theory about the miscommunication that is being floated by my parents is that the aforementioned sibling told Cuz that wifey was 'expecting', in English, and that the message was lost in translation with Cuz wondeirng, "mindin yihon yemitiTebiqew?" This is no joke.

So now with this damage done, some meqeyem was thrown in some qiyame way, etc, etc. My parents, like all sane people, place the blame on the sibling with the new baby. "Why does he have to tell people, including us, that he is expecting? Yemayasfelig zena!" my father explains. That's setting up people for sadness.


"He should never have told us either", my father explains.

"So you only want to hear after the baby pops out?"

"Yes, yeqerew were new ... god forbid if something goes wrong it will just make people worry."

"But I'd rather know what's going on through poeple's lives so that, for example, I don't ask them when they plan to have a baby in casual conversation and hurt them. "

My father protests that he never asks people about having children.

So I pick the "When are you getting married?" question that he has asked in the past, "What if I had a boyfriend and he died. You'll still be asking me why I am not getting married because you've no idea what's going on in my life and you don't want to know."

At this point I hear my father yelling to my mom, "Hey, don't you want the phone back?"

She tells him no, or something, because he's back, changing the subject. I start laughing.

"So you're stuck with this conversation."

"Yes, it's not very fruitful is it?"

No. A few min later I set him free by demanding to talk to my mom. While talking to my mom, my phone card craps out. As was instructed by my mother ("Dimtsshin semtenal, lela ayasfeligim?"), I don't call back.

Relieved but still agitated, I call a friend to rant. She laughs and asks, "Wait, you called your dad on Father's Day to yell at him?".

Today is Father's Day?


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Damn You St. Valentine!

There are discriminations and there are discriminations. For many years I was in denial that sexism or racism affected me at work. To date, I maintain that sometimes they do, but on a daily basis, they don't. But there is one kind of discrimination which has affected me since day 1 of my employment, that I have come to mind more and more over the years: being single (let this encompass being childless as well.)

I work in a company that is very child friendly. Some people work from home once a week to stay with their kids. We have infinite sick days that apply to child sick days as well, so long as the #of days used per week doesn't raise eyebrows. Many parents come and leave work on their children's schedule with no questions asked. Having said that, only less than 10% of the company is female so most of the married guys are likely making their wives take on most of the child rearing responsibilities.

Imagine my surprise when I've instances where I've told my work that I couldn't flex my schedule on say, a Friday evening, and that conversation showed up in my one of my reviews as 'Sometimes your team members feel that you're not flexible with your schedule.' My reaction was, and if I had a kid and I'd to leave every evening at 5pm to pick up my kid, would anybody complain?

A perfect example of when this was blatant was this past Valentines day. Our team broke into two to work on two deliverables, both due on Valentine's Day. To assist with collaboration, we split the team by geography. The younger crowd (Team Singles), working out of a more urban setting, ended up one one, and the older crowd, people with families (Team Married) living and working out of a suburbs office in another.

Team Married got a headstart with a pre-existing document, which meant that from the get go, Team Singles was behind. That gave Team Single a furious fist week by the end of which both teams were on equal grounds. In fact, in terms of quality of product, Team Singles was ahead. Well and good, you'd think.

On the day of the deliverable, Valentines Day, thing fell apart. On Monday morning, Team Married requested to take one of our team members. We asked why, they said they felt that they were a bit behind. Ok? We gave them one person, immediately realizing that, shit, we didn't plan on losing a person so we're adding a few hours per/person on our team for that day. A slightly late day, we think. That's alright.

Come 5pm, Team Married, except for the person we gave them, is out the door (7pm is a regular end of work day). "Oh, I promised I'd take my wife to dinner.", they said, one after another. Are they kidding me? (OK. For a moment here, let's examine this same scenario if I was to show up and claim, "sorry, my guy is taking me out for diner" ... I wonder how much sympathy I'd have received. It just doesn't sound as "forgivable".) So Team Single acquired another couple of hours per head since we had to finish our document and theirs.

In the end, the deliverables were sent out in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, with some of the Team Singles members clocking 18 hrs for that day (following a 90 hr previous week). I know that doctors and lawyers routinely have long weeks, but there's a good reason I'm not one of those. And the last thing I expected in my career choice was for being single to work against me.