What’s with all your stuff?

I bought a dress the other day. A pretty dress. A pretty dress to make me feel better. Yes, dear reader, I have resorted to shopping as my therapy, i have become a real American. And you thought all along you needed an American passport to become a contributing member of the free society, didntchyaa?! If that was the case, i’m afraid you’re greatly mistaken. If you don’t believe me, please refer to the flat screen box sitting in front of your couch – it will give you all the rules and regulations. The information might not seem apparent, but don’t be alarmed. Just observe your thought process and the action that proceeds it – you will quickly realize that you had actually become an american long ago. The rules and regulations have probably sneaked into your conscious, slowly and quietly, making you confuse who you really are with who you’re told to be.

My new pretty dress did its job, the therapy worked! After having purchased it, walking out the store, i was feeling pretty dame better in the hopes of appearing happy and content to my onlookers ( isn’t that ultimately our whole point – to please, to get approval? From God knows who or why). I don’t think i can say i was surprised by what happened – the feel good effect a thing had on me. The ‘wey gud!’ factor was more the slow realization that i actually resorted to a thing to raise my mood, and untimely my self worth. You see, i had always prided myself on not being materialistic. I use my cellphone until it decides to stop functioning, unlike most “modern” females, i actually have countable number of shoes, and any car will do for transportation as long as it has four wheels. So you see, i’m a pretty average gal, or a not so average gal, depending on how you’re looking at it.

So how did this happen to me? How and When did i lose touch with the ME that didn’t require stuff to actually be satisfied with my life? The more i contemplate about it, the more i realize i’ve unconsciously, slowly, been sucked into the consumerism that rules the great US of A. It seems every TV channel i turn on, every magazine i flip open, every billboard sign i’m bombarded with has finally done it’s job, it has convinced me that i’m not good enough.  Aren’t we always told that we should purchase this and that to be bustier, curvier, prettier, skinnier, happier… worth liking, worth loving? I’ve always attempted to make myself aware of the lies we’re being fed on a daily basis so that a rich, fat, white guy somewhere can make a buck while we, the ordinary, drown in our sorrows that arise from our utter acceptance of the fake. The perfect looking couple cuddled up on their couch, staring at their 60 inch flat screen TV will make you question your average-hight, unaffectionate man and your oh so average 50 inch. The photoshopped Cover girl model will forever remind you of your flawed skin and your fat filled belly. The wholesome happy family running by the beach, ‘summering’ in Hawaii, will keep minding you of all that lacks in your life… it goes on and on and on. But hey, no problem, they have a solution for you – to get you closer to the dream – just go shoppin! That’s right, their ain’t much your hard earned Benjamins can’t do. If you don’t have much of that at the moment, no problem! – demo credit card, men serto yibla.

The fascinating thing is that these images that are being ingrained in our minds occur without our awareness of it. We take them from the imaginary world of some far away perfect world that’s being sold to us to something real, to something to actually strive for, when infact we’re always doomed to fail. Don’t get me wrong i’m not preaching against materialism, far from it. I ain’t that self disciplined, mature or in touch with my “true inner self.” I’ve spent my share of time shopping, attempting to find the perfect pair of shoes to go with that skirt that i bought on sale that looks like the one Cameron Diaz had on while on J-Leno! Yes, i can be average that way too at times. What i’m mentioning here is when the innocent want of looking good and enjoying things changes into questioning ones self worth when there is lack of these stuff. Which by the way is quite unattractive, borderlining dangerous.

You see, it is possible to enjoy stuff without letting it rule ones life, but it seems that’s becoming difficult by the day. We’re always wanting something. Once we have it, we want more of it, a better kind of it, and we won’t stop until we get it. We end up trying to validate who we are, our self worth, by the stuff we possess.The funny part is the obsession with stuff is not only promoted by marketers, but is further perpetuated by the communities we live in. About two weeks back i was complimented on the sunglasses i was wearing by a thirty something year old mother. Taking a quick glance at myself in the nearby mirror i agreed and accepted the compliment. So ‘Marku menden new?” i.e what brand is it? Given her shaky language skills and the traditional attire that decorated her full figure, i have to admit i was taken aback. ‘Eee brandu?‘ that was me with a sort of blank yet amused face. Without giving me a chance, “Michael Kors” new? awekshiw aydel esun, Ye Michele Obama’n libse endewem bezu yiseral…” Thanks to my hubby who spent his teenage years in LA falling into the brand hype, i had recently heard him mention that name. “oh awekut esun, ( fara’wan tefeleg) ehe enkuan esu aydelem.” I wasn’t sure if i should lie or just tell this very much 21st century Ethiopian American mother that what i in fact had on were 7 dollar sunglasses from a sale at NY&Co. I’ve never been a good lier so i stuck with the truth. “Wi tey enji?” she said. I thought i saw a tiny little smirk on her face. Being the nice lady she is though, i think she also felt a little sorry for me and my now not so sexy glasses that were not designed by a name she could barely pronounce.

It looks to me the business of selling stuff, untimely fake happiness and self worth, will forever be profitable. We’re living our lives trying to measure up, constantly trying to “perfect” ourselves, following an ideal that’s designed by people who’re attempting to make money to get their version of the better, fancier, high-end stuff. We’re all chasing something it seems and we think we’ll find it wrapped up in all the stuff we accumulate, but alas, to never find it.

Tena Yistelegn!

I am not an immigrant.

It is only very recently that I accepted the fact that I live in Atlanta, GA. I can’t even believe I’m typing these words -I live in the United States. Oh God, that feels so foreign to me. Back in college, it was simple really, I would confidently declare that “I live in Addis Ababa, I’m just in MA for college ,” just like someone from New York or Ohio would say where they were from if you met them while studying in TX. Besides I had somehow miraculously managed to go back four times during those four years, so it wasn’t like I was faking. I was still an Addis resident. I still had a valid drivers license.

Things are quite different now, I can’t claim to be a resident of Addis Ababa, because i’m not (what an aha moment!). I can’t claim to know the new hot spot that just opened or give you the best direction to get to yegna sefer Kaldi’s, or tell you the best newspaper to read. I haven’t heard gossip from beautiful hostesoch at the hairdresser’s, watched meto’haya, drank coffee from a cini, eaten croissant from Parissean, drank mango juice from London Cafe, taken pictures at sharp photo bet, taken a walk sefer west, watched ETV, taken a blue taxi or listened to live music at Habesha – in 27 months. Yet it was only last week I admitted to myself or anyone else, that I no longer am an Addisababian. It was like I was addicted to the city, my home, and I haven’t been able to recover from the withdrawal. I’m not looking to recover from the addiction because i’ll be moving there soon, like I was doing 2 years ago, like i might be doing 10 years from now.

If there’s one thing I dread more than not living in Addis, it’s living some place else – as an immigrant. I have never viewed myself as an immigrant simply because I wasn’t, I am not, nor will I ever be…? When does one cross the line from being abroad for a purpose to being abroad as an immigrant? I’m not necessarily talking about being an immigrant on paper, but being one in your mind, heart and soul. I don’t think I’ve passed that bridge, and i wonder if i ever will, if i’d ever want to, if i’d ever be able to. When does one just give up on the idea of eventually going back? Doesn’t every immigrant dream of that day, the day when he’ll be home? Or are there those who completely adopt to the new country and claim it as home? (If such lucky souls exist, I’m sorry to say, I do not relate).

There are two chains, you see, that suffocate the immigrant – the ability, a right almost, to romanticize home or utterly understate, diminish it.  If you are the former, as soon as something goes wrong, as soon as you’re treated by others as if you don’t belong, as soon as your light deems, you see that other road, the greener road – you remember home. All of a sudden you view the people you left behind as more friendly, the air fresher, the buna tastier. Weyne Agere! you declare, you forget why you even left in the first place. Maybe if you had stayed you’d have gotten that other job, maybe your business idea might have become a reality, maybe you’d have married that rich guy. But no, you got fooled by all the Hollywood movies you watched, fooled by the bottled-water-drinking, backpack-carrying, shorts-wearing diaspora you saw walking down Bole road, you got fooled fooled fooled. Like someone once said, hiwoten felega hiwot helelebet ager meteh kuch alk!

Or maybe you didn’t get fooled. Maybe you knew what you were getting into, you had a clear plan – you’d leave home, get all the best things out of Auropa weynem American ager and move back and live the life – arif business kefteh (weynes ante bale seltan new yemtehonew? or a professor at AAU?) habtam honeh, arif sefer arif bet serteh…? But somewhere life turned out to be alright. You could actually get use to *this.* You forgot why you left home in the first place. You got use to the clean streets, the mall, the movies. You got use to your credit card, your nice car, your yearly vacations. Why had you planned on going back there again? You ask yourself – Who wants to be living on dirty streets with all the abuara, with all the poverty staring at you in the face. I mean, you only read yesterday, just yesterday, that millions are starving, young people don’t have jobs, there is no personal freedom, and the country is under strict dictatorship! Life is so expensive that the only ones surviving are the fancy-car-driving, macchiato-sipping, stiletto-wearing, Sheraton-clubbing and kitfo-munching upper class’ers! – you think to yourself – those selfish bastards! Yet somewhere inside of you, you’re not so sure…the old craving of home resurfaces at times. But leaving is too much of a gamble, you tell yourself – I’ve got a good life here- what if things don’t work out according plan?…. no no no… those bastards!

Yes, the immigrant will either romanticize or diminish where he came from. Neither thought will free him from his bondage. The one who romanticizes will one day be harshly awakened. He will realize that not all of his people are as friendly and the buna will somehow taste a bit too strong. The fresh air he imagined will seem a bit polluted… home is just different. He’s been away too long…he’s home…yet a stranger? And the one with diminished, horrible almost, thoughts of home will also face his own dilemma. He’ll live denying any good his country has achieved. He’ll convince himself that he’s lucky to be away from the misery that is Africa, yet goes to bed some nights knowing in his heart of hearts that he still doesn’t belong. This is still not home.

Yes, the immigrant, once having left his home will forever be stuck between two world. No matter where he is, he’ll forever wonder if the other place might have brought more happiness, more satisfaction, more success. And this, dear reader, is where my denial stems from. This is my fear. I am still not an immigrant, I’ve lived the past couple of years having completely and successfully convinced myself that I’m an Addisababian, just away temporarily, heading back soon. I know if I go back now it will be like I never left. But I feel I’m on the edge, on the tip of that line, to becoming an immigrant  – stuck between two worlds, unable to belong to either one.

Decisions Decisions Decisions.

A cheese burger or a Salad, skinny jeans or regular, the rich guy or the funny guy, move to that city  or stay, it goes on and on, decisions decisions decisions. I wish we never had to make them. I wish we could automatically tell which will lead to doom and which to prosperity, to satisfaction. But sadly, we don’t. We use our logic, our belief, our hearts, to make from the most mundane of decisions to life changing ones, and keep our fingers crossed – Lord, let the salad keep me skinny, the jeans curvy, the rich guy satisfied, and the city on my toes.

One of the major factors which makes decision making so dame difficult for most of us, actually i’m pretty confident that it is THE major factor, is that we’re making it in the 21st century. The amount of choices we, the fortunate yet doomed, are provided with today have doubled and quadrupled. Not only do i have to decide between a cheese burger and a salad, but ones i’ve made the painful decision of having the salad, i have to know if i want romaine or spinach, Italian dressing or ranch, blu cheese or feta – whatever happened to ordering salad and just getting SALAD!

As frustrating as not getting a simple salad can be, most of us can live with it, it’s the world we’ve been born into, having countless choices is the norm. If given the choice, we’ll choose having choices. It becomes a problem when the decision we’re making is a life changing one, where on road will lead to prosperity and the other despair. The process at times puts our psychological well being at risk. I believe it to be even worse for the young, where the decisions we make now have the potential to shape the rest of our lives. Dare i say it suffocates young women today more so than men, more so than women of the previous generations?

You see women of our mothers generation more or less had a  general idea of what they wanted, they wanted to finish school ( high school was enough) wanted to marry – a man who had a job, from a good family, a family man himself, they wanted kids. Chances are, that’s how they lived there lives – they didn’t have the “luxury of choice.” I ( probably including most of my peers), on the hand, have never really been sure of what i want. Actually let me rephrase that, I know what I want, the problem is I want it all. Yes, i want a handsome and devoted husband, 3 kids, a phd and look fabulous while i’m at it. And when i turn on the TV everyday, it’s telling me yes, you can have it all, and of course everyday i fall into the illusion – deeper and deeper.

The reality, as harsh as it sounds, is we can’t have it all – we of course don’t realize this, so when we don’t get it all we feel like we’ve failed, that we’re less than, we witness our self worth slowly diminishing. The process of such thinking leads us to stress, depression at its worse.

Thankfully most problems have potential solutions. It was when i was going through such thinking – questioning my self worth – that i run into a book which i felt  answered some of my questions on reducing stress in decision making. The Paradox of Choice by professor Barry Schwartz gives a wonderful insight on how having choices isn’t always beneficial. You see, more choices doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, in fact it seems the exact opposite is true. Having too many choices today has more of a debilitating effect than a liberating one.

This realization has had quite an effect on me – now when i go to the store, i pick up the same laundry detergent i started using years ago, after having randomly picked it – sick of going through all the brands. I don’t give myself a headache trying to decide whether i’ve picked the best one. I ask the women at the restaurant to pick whatever salad she feels is best. I’ve started understanding that i can’t have it all, at least, not all at the same time – i’ve learned to live with that and i believe i’m better off for it. Most importantly i’ve learned to realize that i need to make choices based on what I want and not be dictated by my surrounding.

Living in a capitalist world, our illusion of free choice will most likely continue. Most of us will keep being driven by what the current norm is when making decisions, we will keep putting our deep needs and desires on the side attempting to get it all. At the end of the day isn’t having a broad range of choices better than no choice at all? I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors – Fyodor Dostoyevsky ( Notes from the Underground)

“One’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice, however wild it may be, one’s own fancy worked up at times to frenzy — is that very “most advantageous advantage” which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and against which all systems and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice.”

Tena Yistelegn.

Lessons Learnt.

It has been a little over a year since i last scribbled down my thoughts. I don’t know why i’ve failed to do so – Fear, lack of commitment to this blog ( which i, one time or another, thought was quite a decent idea, lack of time ( i doubt it)… i’m not sure. But a year down the road – here i am, attempting to connect with you – my dear readers, can i call you that? Thanks, i promise, i’m still working on the commitment part.

Oh what a year does! In a year’s time I’ve become a wife, a mother, a football fanatic ( Yes, not soccer), a Lakers fan ( go ahead judge me, i judge myself too), thin, and recently, an admirer of jewelry. Of course some things never change – I still sleep too much, love reading, sweets and coffee, never call my friends and family often enough and still crack up watching FRIENDS.

From all that has been my life this past year, from all that has been said and done, one thing has stood out, one lesson learned, appreciated, loved – Simplicity. I’ve somehow managed to  keep my life ‘relaxed,’ my thoughts less complicated, and embraced the randomness that is life – and somehow, someway, there seem to be more smiles to my day.

Let’s also hope i’ve learnt to incorporate consistency in my life, i wouldn’t want to  lose the few( yet priceless) readers i have for good. I’m of course assuming i haven’t lost you already – the optimism remains :).

Until next time, Tena Yistelegn.

Dignity: What ought to be and what is.

          Dignity is a term that’s used to signify that all human beings have a right to respect and ethical treatment irrespective of their economic, political or cultural background. It is related to both self-respect and the respect we give to others. It’s something every human being deserves whether they are our friend, neighbor, parent or president. It’s also something that we deprive each other of so often, mostly giving respect only to those we deem better, be it cultural, economical or political.

          A recent article on the huffingtonpost (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patrick-galey/flight-et409-exposes-leba_b_438196.html) discussing the racist behavior of some Lebanese individuals towards some Ethiopians was what made me ponder about this idea of dignity and why millions of individuals are depreived of it. When i first read this article, i couldn’t help but be angry – the outrageousness of the situation! Death is one of the few things all human being have in common, it is a reminder of how fragile we are, it’s one of the few times when we should feel true humility, at least that’s what i thought. But, even at such a tragic time, some grievances were seen to be more worthy than others, some heartaches comanded higher priority.

This realization was heartbreaking for me, putting it lightly. It was heartbreaking because i realized the harshness of the reality we currently live in – the huge gap between what ought to be and what is.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 states in Article 1 : “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in spirit of brotherhood.”

You can’t help be baffled both by the  sweetness and bullshitness of it all.  

Yes, we should respect other people, regardless of how different they are. Yes, we should respect that poor women who helps clean the house. Yes, we should respect the lunatic who thinks he’s better than everyone… yes even him, he does, sadly, fall into the group of category of human beings. But how many of us really do?

The racism shown by some Lebanese towards the grieving Ethiopian families who lost their loved ones on flight ET409, while infuriating, should make us aware of, not only the racism we face as individuals or as a people, but also the countless biases that is within each and every one of us. If you’re Ethiopian and have lived in Ethiopia, i’m willing to bet you’ve seen a woman working as a house-maid being abused within an Ethiopian home. This is a reality that many of us may not feel comfortable admitting, but it is a reality that exist on a daily bases. Most of us might actually even be immune to it, view it as a norm. Haven’t you had that aunt who yells from the top of her lungs at the help because wetu chew becha selehone or betun abuara selemolaw? Yes, it happens, and you know it quite well. It may not be physical abuse, but the mental abuse – the lack of respect – exists. 

The problem of dignity or the lack of, of course  is no way a Lebanese or an Ethiopian problem, it’s a problem we as human beings face. Mere humanness does not seem to suffice for us to render one another as worthy of respect, we attach so many other factors in the equation – money, status, even appearances, that the pure concept of dignity itself is lost. This is something we all have to take into account on a daily bases and do our best to over come. We’re not being asked to love a people, or even to like them, but to simply respect them for what they are – human beings. Of course, if you can show the love, even better – It is, after all, what ought to be.

Practical Dreams…

             Last night i was at very sheek cafe with a friend and her beautiful 18 months old daughter. The place was simple but yet elegant, the lighting gave it a very cozy feeling, and the pastries in the display reminded me of the simple pleasures of life. I greatly admired how the space was decorated and the lighting set up – the three of us where enjoying the place tremendously with two lattes, cookies and a tasty looking tuto.

        Behind every work of art there is always a brilliant and enthusiastic thinker, and i thought of how wonderful it would be to have such a profession in life – to be a maker of things. To create a space so simple but yet give a sense of ease and comfort to people who use it everyday is one of those things which we neglect to appreciate in our everyday lives but which serve us greatly. I thought… oh how wonderful it would be to be able to create things with just my hands and my imagination!

        It got me thinking – maybe i would have loved to become a decorator, a cook, a carpenter, a gardener – as my main profession I mean – maybe I’d have even been great at it. But it doesn’t look like that will ever happen. Growing up in Ethiopia, no one gives you the space to explore these options. I know i can’t speak for everyone, but I’m willing bet that’s the case for the majority of us habeshas. I can almost picture it-  a boy walks home, back from school and enthusiastically declares abaye abaye beka sadeg yemehonewen awkalew. Father says men leje? The boy goes Anati! can’t you just picture the father: leziw new ehe hulu lefate belo arif tefi lejun siyakemsew.  I sure can. Most parents send their kids to school in the hopes providing their kids with greater possibilities and in the Ethiopian reality those possibilities are rarely found in being Anati.

        I wondered how many of us actually dreamed of becoming what we wanted to become. Not only because we weren’t encouraged to explore different possibilities but also because we didn’t even know some possibilities even existed – who knew there were Cryptozoologists! ( incase you didn’t know it’s the study of animals that are not currently empirically proven to exist!) – gize siteref yeluachuhal. What’s more interesting is that most of us don’t quite realize it – it is almost second nature to us Ethiopians to be practical – get a job that brings in the money, the respect, keza demo arif mist/bal

        Well, I guess one of the perks of being in the developed West is the wider pool of possibilities. In the developed West, if basic conditions are met, you can become what it is you really want to be and still be practical and make a living out of it. But as an Ethiopian you know that you can’t aspire to became “the cake boss,” when you know there isn’t enough bread to eat at home. That’s the reality – a not so pleasant one…

      But as i ponder about this reality, sitting on my bed typing these words, i realize something – at the end of the day, i’m grateful, actually happy, i was raised to be practical. I may have been a fabulous home decorator or a sesky anati, but what i currently aspire to become –  my practical dream – shall suffice, because what it will do is contribute to the widening of possibilities for generations to come and narrow the gap between the practical and the dream. In the mean time… i shall soon head back to that cafe and take delight in a cheese cake i had my eyes on.

Until next time, beselam yagenagnen.