"...A column for Ethiopian culture, geography, History, literature, music, k'ne, humor, current affairs and the like...."
NUMBER 11 < < < < < For the EEDN community > > > > > > Date: 11-14-93
Selam wd wegenoch! Indemn keremaCu?
A column that was started almost a year ago to bring you varied insight and reminders to the things that make us and keep us as Ethiopians is once more back after a long silence.
A small incident that didn't change anybody's life; but that managed to bring seriousness to an unusually upbeat collective mood of four of us who were determined to have a happy Sunday morning is the basis for today's issue of this column. None of us talked about the incident until solid two weeks had passed. But when we had talked about it, it was after few pitchers of beer and time had taken their toll on our memory of that Sunday morning. Our conclusion may not be relevant to this column but the circumstances surrounding it are at best thought provoking or at worst a mild diversion from your chores this Monday morning.
"Ye' Adisaba Lijoch"
It is an early Fall sunny Sunday morning in the Southern US city of Atlanta, a city which calls itself the "Olympic City" even though there are almost 1000 days before it could host one. It is one of those lazy Sundays where all you want to do is socialize and make a home away from home...meet people and talk about anything....but just feel good. You could even take some unpleasant shots from not-so-friendly people and still manage to feel good. Simply put, it is just one of those days when there looks like there is good in every little thing, however boring or even evil.
Two ambitious young Ethiopian men have opened a cozy store in a good commercial district of this city where a Greek restaurant, a Mexican hangout and a Thai Carryout are but a reminders of how at least on the outside, this once vanquished city isn't ethnic conscious anymore. In a city with a growing Ethiopian community now numbering in thousands, Sunday mornings for most people are almost like Sunday mornings back home.
A Coptic church which is trying to recover from a split among its ranks during a visit by one "Tagay Patriarch" is witnessing an unusual swell in its attendants. The young and not-so-young who were partakers in the ideological dogma that plagued the nation for years have come to this church where traditions of a millennia are revealed in burning incense and melodious chanting. True, most have come here for a different reason for this is the 90s Ethiopia where ethnic fervor has caught the community by surprise and storm. In a very strange way, the Coptic church has become a magnet for Ethiopians who see it as a refuge and a pillar to the lofty notions of national sentiments. A young Coptic priest who hasn't probably led a crowd this strong in a worship service is clearly caught up in this fervor where Christian virtues like charity, praying, fasting and love are mingled with more earthly values as unity of the motherland, peace and, as always, "democracy". The young priest, hopefully aware of his obligations to the Heavenly Maker-but still caught up by the fervor of his parish- preaches, in the accounts of one of the faithful, like a Pentecostal minister. The need to repent, staying away from "unclean physical pleasures" /he called it fornication/ etc. were mingled with a talk in the unity of the children of the land and warnings to the spiritual and worldly evils.
In another part of town, another segment of the community worships the Creator in a church whose style is quiet different from the Coptic. For some strange reasons, and even perhaps for obvious reasons, the Ethiopian Pentecostal church seems to have escaped these ethnic fervor. True, in the parking lot of the church you could see cars of the worshippers flashing the now politically and ethnically incorrect national tri-color and even miniature replicas of crowns of our kings. But somehow seeing an Oromo minister himself married to, brace yourself, a blonde Swede raising his voice as he admonishes, warns and cajoles his parishioners in a heavily accented Amharic and occasionally slipping to the heavenly tongues, one fails to feel the earthly ethnic fervor that have gripped the rest of the community. At least on the surface, this particular group of Ethiopians remind one how the nation looked before all these talk on "neftegna", "tigabegna", "kilil" etc. was forced on the community.
And again, in another part of town, a group of young Ethiopian men play soccer apparently training for an upcoming league match with a local team. For a soccer team plagued by the curse of always being the second best in the annual Ethiopian soccer tournament, the issues of most importance are something like if Aboneh, the ex-national team player, could make it to these matches.
You see, it is these Ethiopians who come to hangout at this store after all these activities. Amidst the Cappuccino and Cafe Latte and the T're S'ga and Tibis and the local gossip and a summary of the geopolitics back home, there is little that this store can't offer. A group of soccer players replenish the carbohydrates and fat they burnt on the fields with kitfo and Tibis. Once in a while, Ethiopian cab drivers drop by for few gurshas of Injera be wet or Tibis. And for an Ethiopian community which has less number of men than women, this store is also occasionally a respectable site of the age old rituals of socializing and fraternizing.
Now that it is a Sunday tradition, you might find yourself and a lot of other Ethiopians dropping by this store for a trivial shopping and of course, the few minutes (maybe hours) of socializing, catching up with the news and simply hanging out. In most accounts, the crowd of this particular Sunday was the usual with perhaps a slightly upbeat mood.
Even the huge outdoor display of Ethiopian artifacts and goods wasn't unusual. Smart businessmen they are, the owners let you display and sell your items at their store provided you give them a good part of your profits. So it was no coincidence that an olive brown-skinned Ethiopian lady, probably in her mid to late thirties, was munching her tortilla chips and greeting all customers with warm smiles and gentle words and pointing them to her good collection of merchandise.
"You see those paintings over there..... I just got them from Adisaba. You could also have a look at the carpets and the T-shirts with H/Selassie's pictures....I got more of them at the back..any size you want...."
She didn't give us a chance as we got down from our car. Four of us, slightly uncomfortable with this upfront advertising, were somehow trying to look responsive. She isn't the classic Harar beauty, but you could tell from her accent that she must be a Harar Hadere. Not that it mattered-- but it is one of those details that somehow get your attention.
It wasn't long before the other two guys were checking and trying out the T-shirts with the late Emperor's pictures. It was a very profound moment by itself given the fact that, of the two guys, one of them had spent seven years of his life in the Dergue's prison as an EPRP member. As I was wondering how change is an inevitable part of our lives, the Harari lady was probably calculating how much profit she could be making on the T-shirts.
"You can also look at those postcards...the ones near the corner." she kept on pointing. "I have postcards and posters from all the 14 kifle hagers...."
Now, wait a minute....14 kifle hagers? Somethings really take a long time to change. Anyways, geopolitics and current affairs apart, it was still comforting to hear familiar figures and terms.
"But....do you happen to have the postcards by the Kilils?" I had said before I knew it.
That apparently interested her, or else she was just being a good businesswomen, she said "If you want them that way, I got'em."
And she couldn't help but keep the conversation alive.
"Did you know that I am from Kilil 13?" she asked.
"No, I didn't. In fact, the only thing that I know about you is that you like tortilla chips.....But...where is Kilil 13, anyway? The only Kilil I know is that of 14...you know...Adisaba," I had said.
"Well Kilil 13 is Harar...special administration..or something like that. We have Amharas, Gurages, Oromos and of course Somalis." she answered.
She obviously enjoyed the conversation but was very aware that business was very important than the ethnic rap.
"That is why those guys proposed a model `confederation` for the Horn," I wanted to say.
"Anyways, you should see those pictures of the kings and the princes," she said as she passed along a whole bunch of good quality Xerox copies of paintings of Abyssinian warriors and aristocrats.
"Who are they?" I asked, mostly playing dumb.
"Oh! these are Amhara kings and princes.. sort of Neftegnas. But I don't know their names....Anyways, aren't you an Amhara yourself? You should know them."
I kept quiet. Not that I was ashamed to tell her of my ethnic make-up, which in fact will put me in at least two Kilils, but rather due to this unfashionable, politically and ethnically incorrect belief that I am first and always an Ethiopian.
The silence didn't go well with her. And I had no illusion that the argument for my case will be liked by her.
"Isn't there any Amhara here? Couldn't any Amhara tell him who these kings are?" she went on asking customers of her display and the store.
Strangely enough, nobody volunteered. But almost every one was curious to see where the conversation was heading to.
After a while, one of the guys went on explaining to the Harari lady that we, "Ye-adisaba Lijoch", prefer to identify ourselves as Ethiopians and only Ethiopians. That, as I had suspected, didn't interest her much.
"You see that is the problem with you-Ye'adisaba Lijoch! You just don't think that there are other people living outside Adisaba," she said. There was bitterness in her words.
"Just wait until we rule you like the Tigrayans!" she warned as the bitterness gave way to threats. But that was heavy. Amazingly enough, it was a Tigrayan friend of mine who quipped "You the 500 or so Haderes want to rule Ethiopia?" It was more of a statement than a question.
"Why not, the Tigreans have done it. You don't think we are that warriors or that the Eritreans wouldn't help us?" she was ranting. I could feel more people joining the crowd of listeners of this rap.
"But...wait a minute...which province you are letting secede this time?" said a sarcastic voice at the back.
"You know what we are going to do? We will make you learn our language," she said sounding more like a fervent politician than a businesswoman.
" I will learn Haderigna if I had a Hadere girlfriend...but, trust me, I wouldn't do it for guerrilla fighters and ethnic war-mongers," said one guy who is obviously versed in inter-ethnic romance and elements of the current geopolitics.
"By the way," it was another lady's voice addressed to the Harari lady, "where are the Harar artifacts and goods? With all these Haile Selassie T-shirts, postcards and paintings, it seems to me that we have only "Neftegna" items."
"The Harar items?" asked the Harari lady. But there was a long pause and a confused, frantic search for them. Almost 5 minutes must have passed before she finally pulled out a set of beautiful necklaces and earrings which she proudly displayed to the crowd of onlookers.
There was a sudden brightness in her eyes as she suddenly realized that the ethnic rap trip she indulged herself and many of us brought so many people to her display. And as a good businesswoman, she recognized what it meant and before all these could change, she gently told us, "GobeZ, belu Aand Aand EKa enkwan gizu InJi........."
I picked a picture of the sullen and withdrawn Prince Alemayehu, who otherwise is known as the son of Emperor Theodros.
"You know, his father was the only pure Amhara king this land ever had," said a bystander.
"You mean...," I had started asking him when I noticed that he already knew what I was going to ask him.
"Yes, you will be amazed. He was the only commoner who ever became an emperor. But all of them had Oromo or Tigrean blood along with Amhara blood. That includes Atse Yohannes, Menelik and Haile Selassie," he explained.
I didn't even want to check the accuracy of the fact which could have a good chance of some exceptions but I couldn't help but feel the immense changes that the past 2-3 years have brought in our collective Ethiopian psyche and the way we interact and communicate with each other.
I was not sure if the signs are encouraging or discouraging. It still was a beautiful Sunday and thoughts of this nature were not very entertaining, after all. Besides, there is always Monday and the rest of the week to worry about these kind of things.