Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ihud be’iger, Sunday by foot

qas be’qas inqulal be’igru yeheydal… little by little, an egg goes by foot…


After unpacking and showering, I slept most of Day 1.

Above activity was repeated on Day 3.

Accordingly, my Uncle was able to remark gently, complimenting my display of fortitude on Day 2 as our car first inched through the traffic jam of Piassa, and then snaked through the dusty throngs of stuff-hawkers, stuff-shoppers and the occasional donkey or sheep crowding the streets of Merkato --- “You have to be crazy to go to Merkato on your second day in Addis.”


Day 4, Sunday, I took to the streets – be’iger, by foot


My body, Addis roads, diesel fumes, people’s stares, dusty shoes...

How did I become this person, and who is she?

There is nothing like traveling to get to know yourself as a stranger.

And strange fruit this body is, amerikawit, mess of a head of hair, qayo! qayo! (white girl! white girl!), second-hand first-world clothing, damn i stick out like a sore thumb, plump, how i move, heavy, here, and ain’t this the damndest irony of all: ho-nee, wh’err arr you frr-ohm?

i wonder, how are other ferangis made to feel their difference here, their “marked-ness” as other, a kind of nakedness, a vulnerability of being exposed, an objectification of being gazed upon without being fully seen: hey-lo! hey-lo!

not --- “Soo, what are you, anyway?” like in the U.S., questioning my very existence (do you want my species and genus and type?)

but --- “Hey-lo! Wh’err arr you frr-ohm?” …Hey, Stranger, from what lands do you hail? For you are clearly not one of us.

true, sometimes i get --- “habesha nesh?” are you ethiopian? my belonging is uncertain... as ever… (my nose, my forehead, my cheekbones… but my skin color, my dress, my movements) --- “hind? china?

and people stare, people stare, people stare. there are no boundaries, it seems, to me. people see here, they see you, me, on the street here, they stare and they know and they care about who and what they see in a way that is new to me. there are no downy pillows muffling the shared (public, social, societal) reality between me and my neighbor, self and other. we see each other on the streets, we say hello, we ask how we passed the night --- selam adersh? indemin adersh?, all-en, all-en: we are, we are, egzhiabher yemesgen, thanks be to God.

…where is my polite, bourgeois unconscious hiding here??? the one that hides, ignores, pretends she didn’t, doesn’t see? is my shadow in my shadow here?? or is my shadow… constructed in particular contexts to serve others’ ends...?

what happens when i feel the stares of others on my figure is difficult, uncomfortable, to formulate in words… my own self-consciousness has been conditioned to an erasure up to extinction, self-extinguishing, for so long: the fracturing of my being, disassociation, up to the desire to disappear, to be completely annihilated… acts of body and mind turn the self on its loathsome self… bodies battered and bleeding, baring the wounded, borne in suffering, hanging, plump, bruised, left to rotting… gashes gushing, juices oozing… the sentiment for religious release is not, for me, just this, a departure from the harshness of life, and my desire to disappear is not just such a departure either… but it is rather being conditioned to be just barely… and this desire to disappear already implies a disappearance in self-consciousness, a sense of self of nothingness, worthlessness, invisibility and void, a logical conclusion of the double-consciousness that splits the self and causes it to further refract… until left with a vision of self, very slim and silent, gaunt, horrific, shut away in the attics, in the shadows, in the cages … a spectacular silence so unspeakable that it groans and utters in ghastly, unhuman, agonizing cries…  

this is where so-called critical theory gets me…

but what happens when i feel the stares of others on my figure… here… where i appear, and desire to appear, despite my history other-wise… to re-assume my subjectivity amidst this extreme public-ness (& the visibility, legibility of my difference) and (as i perceive it) insularity, to maintain my sense of coherence, there are a few strategies that i have taken:

1. walk straight, head held high, ignore all stares and comments.
2. stare back, nod my head, and say --- “selam, indet newo?” hello, how are things?
3. practice my śamatha meditation:
a. ground down into my body,
b. feel myself, rather than think (and move) conceptually within the shared experience of encounter and intersubjectivity (that is, do my best not to cement my experience verbally in thought, or in its self-consciousness, which takes me out of my experience and imputes a presupposed conceptual framework onto the event; that is, don’t tell a story in my mind about what is happening, the story that i am telling here, about a mixed-up diasporic kid returning to the fatherland to find herself as different),
c. welcome the feelings of being strange,
d. then, reorganize my conceptual scheme:

i am a stranger in this land. but i come from a place, and i know where i’m going. i know myself to reside in a not-knowing. my strange, fierce, beautiful being is like that of a woman from Afar or Harar, or anywhere else. i am me, i am here, here i am, here is me…

and i wonder, how are identity and belonging constantly being negotiated by so-called Ethiopian citizens within the boundaries of the Ethiopian state according to religion, ethnicity, gender, language, region, and so on…?


sila wedefeetu egzhiabher yaweqal… God knows what the future holds…

I left home trying to find my way to the University. There is nothing like getting lost to find yourself, though.

After standing at a roundabout trying to figure which way to go, I made the wrong turn, unknowingly – or, maybe, the right one.

Trudging up a hill, I paused to admire a grand cathedral across the way. Later, looping up around the road past souks and young boys shining old men’s shoes and café terraces crowded with young folks, I saw its cross-peaked spires poking up above the trees. A shady, unpaved dirt road led the way to a gate. It was so inviting that I didn’t think twice. I turned down the path.

Crossing the church’s gates, there was some perceptible change. The grounds of the church felt different. There was a coolness. A calm and peace presided there.

In the center of the grounds was the church: large, grand, beautiful. Trees and a cemetery surrounded the church within the bounds of its gates. People sat, hushed, on low benches beneath trees, some alone in silence; others reading or writing; and some in small groups, speaking together quietly. There were several groups of young women with netela over their heads and shoulders sitting together talking.

After circumambulating the church, I sat down on a bench. While enjoying the breeze, the respite beneath the trees, a young man came and sat nearby. A guide spotting a tourist, he struck conversation like gold.

Still ignorant as to where I was, I asked him the name of the church. “Kidus Selase Betekristian” --- he replied. I gasped, awed.

Having left for the University, I wound up unwittingly at the second-most important church in Ethiopia after St. Mary of Zion, Tsion Maryam Betekristian, in Aksum. The Holy Trinity Cathedral houses the bodily remains of Emperor Haile Selassie along with those of his wife, Empress Menen Asfaw. In the cemeteries, notable Ethiopian artists, politicians, and patriots who died fighting the Italian occupations are buried, along with other citizens. There is also a memorial dedicated to the ministers who were killed in 1974 for opposing the Derg, and a museum with ecclesiastical artifacts.


Only afterwards as I was recounting the magical magnetism of my first walk in Addis to Holy Trinity to my father did he tell me that his mother, my grandmother, is buried there.

Serendipity upon serendipity, out of a Sunday walk. As it is said: 

yerega wetet qibe yemetawal... out of milk left to sit, there is butter...

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