I had a certain event that I had to attend last week. I am not at liberty to say what kind of gathering it was or where it was, or else I might have…..to erase your memory of one hour with that neuralyzer,Will Smith, plays with in the MIB franchise. I can tell you the guest list though, as my grandma would put it, it was a collection of ‘ Aboy Fikadu’. Everyone was there to sing praise of their own accomplishments and deeds in life. I shrank in embarrassment for them. This is not how I was raised up. We, the Habesha, are modest and considerate. We never want to advertise ourselves without blinking an eye to start a conversation saying, ‘I did this and that……’ hitting our chest with firm fist and mimicking Tarzan. Never. I was astonished and half-relieved that my grandmother wasn’t there to witness this. She would definitely finish the saying I started earlier, ‘Aboy Fikadu baelom yneadu.’ – its intention to mean that let others, not you, praise your works and deeds, never be the first admirer of your own works. How irritating this Aboy Fikadu must have been to the Habesha society to coin a saying after him, I can vaguely feel the outrage of the Habesha at Aboy Fikadu just by looking at my grandmother’s disgusted expression every time she has to mention his name.
Frankly speaking, our culture has both its pros and cons. It is sad how we were raised to never speak of ourselves and let others do that job for us. I am not saying we should have been allowed to be raging narcissists and be a two-minute commercial of our works at every thirty minutes interval, but honestly our parents could have encouraged us to talk about ourselves at least in our homes and give us the practice we need for when we grow up and decide to travel to both the West and the East.
I was the only one who came back with some of my business card to my home. Everyone else has distributed their cards to everyone else in the gathering while announcing who and what they are plus what they have done. After going on and on for hours about himself, this guy asked casually what my profession was back home, from the way he tossed the question carelessly, I could tell he was expecting to hear that either I was unemployed or a nanny not that a nanny is such a trivial job. But I could tell he wasn’t expecting a professional career in my resume. Quite a jerk was he.
“I worked as a columnist for a newspaper.” I said this gauging his reaction. He almost choked on his beer. He thought I didn’t know what a columnist means.
“For seven years.” I added before he could regain his voice to speak, while he still was in paralysis of astonishment. I wanted to push him while he was still staggering. “Quick! Before he gets up!” my mind was echoing. I am not evil but I wanted to teach at least one of the ‘Aboy Fekadu’ -self-praising and marketing’ people there, the notion of modesty. I gave him my ‘Westernized’ business card that proudly and shamelessly displays my accomplishments, both achieved and pending.
“Then why were you queit the entire evening? You have a lot to be proud of….?” Mr. Fekadu, let’s call him that for convenience sake, asked bewildered. Where he came from, people talk about themselves. A lot. Magnifying their achievements and showing off their medals. It was an alien concept for him or his friends, whom he called over later to the corner where him and I were standing.
I was bombarded with all sorts of questions. Thanks to Google, everyone was going to their phones’ and finding out more about my culture, people and country. Suddenly everyone’s attention was on the meek girl who was listening to everyone else sing their own praises and achievements. That girl stole the spot light and owned the night.
Now grandma is smiling in my mind and whispering this, ‘In the end, modesty wins, my child.’
I could sense her winking knowingly at me.
“ OMG, grandma!” I shout out unintentionally, as I realized that modesty is also an inverted, subtle, covert version of self-praising and self-promoting mechanism. The aim is to capture the attention of the others and that is exactly what I did. We all played a game that night, they just didn’t understand my poker face.
In the end did modesty win? I doubt it. A rose by any other name……….I will let you finish it.