Get me a mixtape from Maico Music Shop

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“Fiammetta…”, an awkward tap on my shoulder followed my name.  All the juicy gossips and silly female rantings of my friends ceased to an abrupt silence. I turned around to see Rami, the genius in our school standing there with a bunch of his friends and some of his groupies- some of the girls in the school have assigned themselves as his dedicated entourage, following him around.

I secretly despised Rami, he was an A-student  and he didn’t seem to try hard in school to get all the highest marks. He was too tall for his age and has an aura of a Sultan’s son from some mediterranean city. He was too fictional character to cruise in my real world settings.  I believed he was too privileged to compete with the rest of the hoi polloi.

I secretly adored Rami, he was like just one of those characters from a romantic manga series. He was exciting and strange as that of manga, and demanded a specific way of approaching and  reading him, he stood out a lot from the rest of the books  on the shelves. And I happen to love reading manga.

“Hi” I waved at him, there was a question in my eyes though. With the same eye, I sent out an evil look at his groupies slush cheerleaders who were giggling uncontrollably.  Rami ignored all the attention from his friends, entourages and my friends and approached me. I stood there frozen. He took out a tape that has a Maico Musika Bet seal tied with a pink ribbon on it and handed it to me. “ Will you listen to this? I made a mixtape for you.”  He smiled that sheepish smile of his and left to join his astonished entourage.

Needless to say that I almost grew wings that day, spread them and flew high and fast to my house. Needless to add  that I spent that day listening and re-listening to the songs he made specially for me. I didn’t feel guilty for ignoring my homework and spending the rest of the afternoon listening to it, for I knew he spent much more time on choosing the songs one by one and making the tape.  I still remember the songs by heart. I still remember Rami from time to time and I still remember Maico Musika Bet and all the tapes, CDs and musics we used to get from that shop.

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I was running to get to the subway when my phone buzzed, this annoyingly curious part of me couldn’t wait a little while to take a peek at the Sender ID, sure enough it was from him- the object of my addiction.  Smiling I slide my metro-card just to see my train taking off right then. Now I have that deep scary frown on my face. But who am I to blame but myself for this incident? Certainly not him.

I threw my frustrated self at the nearest seat, checked the schedule of the next train and proceeded with checking the contents of the distracting message from that distracting someone.  It was a playlist of some deep songs with deep lyrics. He sent me a link to the songs. How lazy of him, another part of me mocked his attempt at being romantic or thoughtful, I am not sure which one he was trying to aim and hit. If only Rami would teach him how to win a girl’s heart………

Back in the day, men actually took the effort when they tried to woo a woman, how many of you do you remember Maico Musika Bet or the other music shops in Asmara? How many of you did you make a mixtape or received one? I remember it very well because I used to get a lot of mixtape from my admirers in high school and college.  I loved the thought and the effort mixtape demanded in their making. As such mixtape meant so much and carried deeper meanings of love and adoration. These days, it is just a beep in your phone and that lazy man you are seeing in person or via the web just sends you not the songs but the links to the list of the songs he wants you to hear in his futile attempt to express himself in borrowed lyrics from songs. I don’t usually know whether I should be flattered or dismayed so I just text back a ‘thank you’ emoji, a perfectly lazy response for a lazy form of mixtape or lazy romancing.

Unfaithful Woman

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The shower water is ice cold,

But wouldn’t chill me even it’s a hundred fold.

It was senseless, merciless and restless,

Gushing down on me aimless.

I am still unfaithful woman after the shower.

No absolution for my impurity, when it’s over.

I am still his baby,

To the other, I’m his honey.

Warmed in one’s embrace,

In the other’s I sought solace.

Whispered the same thing twice.

To two ears unsuspecting malice.

I have no dagger in my hand,

Yet,three hearts are bleeding cold, dark blood.

Including mine.

Pretending it’s fine.

Is there a hyssop that cleans the soul?

That erases and forgo the foul?

It’s over

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 By Bethelhem Teame
 
“Darling.”  I could tell from his voice he was lifting something heavy. “Are we still on for the weekend?” I could picture him tilting his head to one side while he cradle the phone between his ear and his shoulder, both hands occupied, lifting something up. I smiled. I smiled at the picture in my head. I smiled at how I know him so well. I smiled at our foolishness, his and mine alike; when they diverge together and make up a big foolishness of its kind.  A perfect foolishness, pure and untainted by consciousness. 
 
“I am calling you about that boo, can you pick me up from the station if I reach Newark at 9pm?” I was trying to be at my best behavior, using my most sweet voice ever, to win favors in his eyes. I really didn’t want to take the bus or a taxi from the station so I am using my womanly tricks on him once again. 
 
“Sure babe. Can’t wait to see you.” He is breathing heavy from all the weight he must be carrying, I assumed. He whispered, “I miss you.” and then with a normal pitch, “Call me when you get to New Jersey and I will be there. I got to go now. Kisses.” He started shouting at someone else to be careful with the box and hanged up. 
 
I was still smiling. Smiling at how easy this has been, at how we have managed the distance between us and defied the concept of time to stay together, despite what is said by others around us. Smiling at how we understand each other and are always there for one another. Smiling at how his simple “ I miss you” sent down unfathomably sweet feelings down my back and raised butterflies in my tummy right now. Smiling at how conceited I have become and how brazen I am. I am smiling bitterly at my foolish attempt to ignore the fact that this is over and that I am muffling the voice inside. I am smiling crookedly at how he knew what I knew deep down but nevertheless is dragging it along for a while. I am smiling at how twisted we both are for trying to hold on to something that has been already done, dead, kaput….for a while now. 
 
It has been few weeks now, since the premonitions started to appear to me in the middle of the day and sometimes in the night. I was super busy or pretending to be busy to really sit down and go over the sinking feeling that I am experiencing deep down. What I hate the most is when I lie to myself and ignore the voice inside with loud music, continuous flirting, topics of love,passion and desire and the business of life. Lately, I have started even to mimic the actresses I see on the cinema by singing out loud in the shower while the water is running wild. Anything to silence the voice inside, to avoid the confrontation with myself and bare my soul. Anything. As long as I don’t have to face the truth that my soul knows deep down. 
 
It’s over. I know it very well. My body and mind, however, are in denial. Deep down, there is this disturbing sense that is telling me it is over and there is no going back, unless the world has coined a way to amass back the spilled milk without soiling or reducing it’s original state in the cup. That feeling that notifies you of the alarm sign, before the line on the other end of the phone is dead, before the last kiss is shared, before the door is closed behind and farewell is said, that stomach lurching feeling that shoots in your body and is felt from head to toe, while it spread to your whole system. I felt that feeling and I hid the pain with a coverup smile. 
 
He knows it too but is dragging it along for reasons I don’t know why. Is he, too, singing out loud in the shower to avoid what I am avoiding now? Maybe this is why he is throwing himself at work and denying the truth that is being revealed from his inside. 
 
I picked up the phone to book my ticket for the trip, “ Hello, can I buy a round ticket for…..(I paused briefly) ……Washington D.C.?”  I heard myself change the destination of my trip from New Jersey to DC. Finally. I stopped lying to myself and faced head on the truth we both are trying to avoid.  The good weather and the company of my friends would do me good. After all those people are the very people who have been telling me it won’t work, I need to toast a drink to their perfect foretelling and my premonition that I have been having for the past month, it was over, as it was told and seen before time. 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Darkness, She Wrote

By: Bethelhem Teame

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Is there any other color darker than the black? If indeed there were, she would be the only person eligible to don one.

Head to toe. In black.

Head to toe. In whatever color darker than the black.

Head to toe.

There is no consolation word, no single verse in the all the languages of the world, no solace to comfort the woman who has fought the dark in the darkest hours of the dark times. Nothing can appease her wounded heart. She might have survived the fight with the dark, but she has met and beheld the dark, in all its magnificence and splendor  that now she has internalized darkness and wears only black. I am not sure whether she lives in darkness or darkness lives in her; the line where it ends and she begins has become blur.

She can’t undo what has been done, denying the reality just makes the incident a giant hole inside her heart and mind. A very giant, dark hole. The connection has already been established, saw him flash its darkest smile followed by its dark chuckles that roared in the middle of that dark night. Now she is the only one who recognizes the face of the dark, the real darkness in its truest form, without its mask, without its façade the rest of the world has identified. Only this woman is entitled to wear the black for she truly has seen the real face of the dark.

The woman in the black, cast away her white gown after her encounter with the  dark.  She has chosen to don black after her fight with the dark that soiled the whiteness of her existence and left her scarred. She earned it, the black attire given to her by the dark.  It is hers, she didn’t borrow it as the rest of the world does. It’s a token of his twisted dark love.

When the dark descends again to conquer and ravage, she makes sure, he recognizes her and their night in the dark. The woman in the dark has a question she wants to ask the darkness that swallowed and keep swallowing her friends one by one, one dark day after another dark night.

A confrontation with the dark and the woman in black. A reminder of what has happened that dark night. When dark and darkness befell on the woman now in black and her friends who visit her every night in the dark, whispering to her in the darkest language from beyond the coldest floor of the ocean, the darkest grave of the daunting desert lands, where darkness has them imprisoned and shackled for indefinite time. Their helpless and agonizing cries and shrieking from that dark night replaying in her ears, in the dark attacked by the dark.

The woman in the dark wakes up screaming in the night, surrounded by the dark. She sits by the dark corner in the middle of the night and relives that dark night, when she met darkness and faced the dark.She closes her eyes and everything goes dark. She opens her eyes and sees the dark. She dreams but there also meets the dark.

That dark night when darkness took all of hers and left darkness in her embrace. That’s when the dark started to reside in her, slowly steeping into her true red blood. When they were abandoned, when the world turned a blind eye, a deaf ear, wherever they turn to was pitch dark.  Dark sky. Dark earth. Dark situation. Dark life that made them choose the dark road towards the stairs to the chambers of the darkness and the truly dark. When fear hovered over the dark night, taking his cue, come the dark covered in the shawl of darkness and owned the night with a splendor of a dark knight. Showed no mercy, claimed souls and spilled blood.

Its eyes were glowing in the dark night, the messenger of the darkness that stood before its pack, the darkness in the form of a beast of the night.   It’s teeth and claws were sharp. The fight was over before it began.

When the messenger of darkness growled in the middle of the dark night, ululating victory to the dark, when their helpless cries were muffled by his dark sound, when his claws attacked and his teeth bore into the flesh and spilled blood, darkness favored the sacrificed blood from his dark altar.

His prey were calling each other’s name and God’s. They were calling names of parents and siblings in a desperate attempt to stay alive. In the middle of the deserted land, in the heart of the vast ocean, where darkness rules and commands, their cries of agony and pain, anger and desperation were replaced with groans of anguish at their dark fate that fed them to the hunger of the merciless dark.

The dark came and took what was abandoned, persecuted and oppressed. The dark showed no mercy but demanded blood. The dark cut into their flesh and chewed the bones that have grown cold on the ground. The dark danced on the blood pool of her friends as she lay there injured, blacking in and out of the dark reality that surrounded her dark story and theirs. She could hear her friends agony and anguish, as their bones were being crushed, their blood gushing, life slipping slowly from their bodies, as darkness plucked the roses it found without a gardner or fence in the middle of the dark night.

Darkness couldn’t see clearly in the dark. How else can be explained her existence and survival? Drank from the blood of her friends and a sip of hers, he forgot to collect her soul? In the middle of the darkness that is darker than the dark, laid the woman in the black, closing her eyes for the dark life and fate, in her attempt to erase the face of darkness she has outlined with the faint movements of her broken fingers that were crushed by the dark, when darkness fought her in the dark.

But darkness left her behind in the dark, not because darkness can’t see in the dark as my foolish assumption but because darkness planted a dark seed in the womb of the woman in black. The seed grew inside her and occupied her from inside out. The reminder of her night with the darkness in the dark.

Photography by: 1.Reuters, http://tablet.todayonline.com/world/europe/more-bodies-pulled-wrecked-migrant-boat-italy

                                2.Ahmed Abu-Deraa, For The Times- http://www.latimes.com/world/africa/la-fg-sinai-stolen-lives-20130502-dto-htmlstory.html

What is wrong with Samson? 

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“Delilah!” He called me. Other names finding them too lacking to describe me and my actions. 
“Delilah!” He said it again, this time with emphasis and conviction that brooked no argument. I am perfectly aware of what I have done to deserve this name, I am not that shameless to pretend otherwise. I smiled, but each time he referred me to the Delilah in the Bible, I couldn’t help but shrink with self-inflict guilt that is mashed well with his outright accusation. I hated Delilah from the Bible, well not personally her per se, but at least the traitorous deeds of hers. My friend, of course, was overreacting for accusing me of the same sin as Delilah’s, I prefer to think I didn’t go that far as to sell out his Achilles’ heels and get him killed. It was a minor persuasion on my part that made him confess everything he kept secret for the past years I have known him. Some would even congratulate me and consider me for a position at the CIA, but my friend accuses me of the same sin as Delilah’s. 
 
I grew up hating Delilah, condemning her of her betrayal and unfaithfulness. I kept casting the first stone, every time I turned The Bible to the pages of the Judges and read the story of Samson and Delilah. 
“Delilah!” He called me one more time.
“Samson!” I shouted back. If we are using the Biblical figures to express the situation at hand, then I want to be fair and call him Samson, the other figure equally participant and responsible in the story of love, secrets and betrayal. That seems to stop him in his tracks. He stopped what he was doing and looked me square in the eyes. I challenged him with an intense and steady look that hinted no surrender to the war which is about to break out. 
 
“Excuse me?” His voice was calculated, determined and carried a hint of dark humor. I usually wave the white flag and go on hiding to the docks when he acts all calm before the storm he unleashes and raise the hurricane. Not today though. Today, I am not placing the blame only on Delilah. What is wrong with Samson? Didn’t he ever hear the saying “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me”? Why did he keep going to her and spill his beans, and mind you here, they were no ordinary beans? Is Delilah really the only person to be blamed in this story? The little experience I had with my friend made me see the story in a whole different shade of light. Why was Samson running to her embrace and allow himself to be persuaded and cajoled into giving his most treasured secret, when clearly he knew she was selling off his secrets, which by the way would get him killed? He must have known her intentions from the beginning, that is why he misinformed her in the first place. Delilah isn’t the only felon here, Samson had already decided to gamble his life and ignore his calling. So why blame only her? Because she is Delilah, a woman? 
 
I was quite satisfied with sharing the blame equally between Samson and Delilah, but could never answer what was wrong with Samson that made him gamble his life time and again. Suicidal? I doubt it. 
 
But lately, I have learned not to blame Samson when I met my own Delilah and experience how easy it is to surrender your willpower at the mere sight of him. Because now I started to live outside the compound of theories and jumped into the moving wagon of the practical world. I know now how easily Samson succumbed to the temptation of falling into Delilah’s embrace and still intrust her even though she is trying to sell him out. I know now how his willpower must have betrayed him and he no longer wanted to fight back but surrender willingly. I know now why Samson kept going to Delilah’s house. I understand why Delilah has to stay Delilah in Samson’s life. 
 
Today I blame no one. I cast no stone. I know how it feels to be in Samson’s position while at the same time I could fit in the shoes of Delilah.   But I want to share this with you, if you think you have a Delilah in your life, be it a person, a lover, an addiction, a habit that feeds on your willpower, don’t surrender without a fight. If you must  have, change a gear and switch a lane…….there is a power stronger than Samson’s within you, utilize that power to stay on your feet and avoid your Delilah. 
Pic: Actors who portray Samson and Delilah
(Photo Credit: Joe Alblas) 

To be or not to be Aboy Fekadu…..

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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.

Again, at the crossroads …….

Bethelhem Teame

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Eureka! I have found the reason why I have always been obsessed with New York City.  It is because the city is divided with thousands of crossroads, just like my life. Dark humor. Yet, I have learned to laugh equally at both dark and bright jokes  nature conjures in my life.  Who can cruise life sober; without any madness, aloofness and such humors?

I left the office with no particular destination in my mind or agenda. Let the hasting feet of mine wind me through wherever they might like, as long as they bring me back to the familiar streets of my place. Once there, I think my mind can take over.  One can only hope.

I joined the rushing crowd that was hasting to get by; my steps were quick, matching their styles. In New York City, everyone is rushing, to and from. In New York City, everyone is always multitasking, even in the subway, where I have to listen to my voice messages, eat my breakfast and read the newspaper at the same time. But today I don’t really know why I am rushing like everyone else who is on schedule and perhaps has a destination in mind. Perhaps an annoying habit.

I stood at crossroads, one after another, giving me a split of a second’s chance to consider and move on with my choice in a blink of an eye.  With every corner and block comes a crossroad. That’s when I realized the cause of my deep-rooted affection towards this big city. The life of continuous crossroads. We share the same life soundtrack heavy metal with deep lyrics of crossroads.

At that moment of tragically beautiful realization, New York City winked at me from the shimmering reflection of the windows of the skyscrapers that have turned golden, basking under the warmth and glory of the sun rays that shined down on them. A sight to the sore eyes. Even if the eyes belong to a cynic who questions everything in life.

Misery loves company, they say. That never couldn’t have been any truer than this. I love New York because I feel like we share the same thing in common. I was standing at the crossroads, both literally and metaphorically. New York was standing ahead of me with many more crossroads that have been part of her for so many years now. If I should ever personify New York, I would call her a she.  I love her company as much as she does her crossroads; mind you here, she hasn’t yet disclosed her affection towards me. But I love her all the same.

 But sometimes I despise her too; maybe my emotions are rising from pure envy or confusion. I am not a hater. I am not. That is probably the best attribute I am blessed with. But New York brings that side out of me for some unknown reason.  I loathe how calm she can be, living with so many crossroads, how she has owned the crossroads within her and had turned it into a beauty, a quality, a hallmark. I am afraid our love story is one of those that is on an on-and-off basis, passionate and consuming, destructive and constructive, elevating and demoting, active and passive, pushing and pulling; a love affair that possesses both forms, sides and meaning of an emotion. Full of bittersweet experiences and feelings. That is unpredictable. Confusing. Enervating. Demanding and challenging.

‘Why stay in such a relationship?’ a wise might ask, a good question. Indeed.  I have always asked the same question, time and again, upon witnessing such dysfunctional relationships of others. I am not at liberty to give explanation for such relationships other than mine. It wouldn’t be right. I wouldn’t fully understand the truth behind it either. But I do know this about my relationship and why I stay in it, for the sheer pleasure of feeling alive. The rush of adrenaline. The energy of the ever-busy city and its tenants. The crossroads, both literally and metaphorically, that you have to cross every single minute.  I am alive in pursuing or getting involved in such relationships. I know some of you might be rolling your eyes in disbelieve or irritated at my ridiculous reasoning……..but it is the truth and as the good book says it, the truth shall set me free.

Yet, I am standing at another crossroad. I have only seconds to make up my mind and choose one. I realized all the ways lead to a destination, as long as the direction is right. Still, it feels intimidating to come across a crossroad and choose one, when readily there are four unknown results of your choice that instant and at the finish line. I can never shrug off the feeling that I am overwhelmed with or am filled with after choosing a road, I am filled with questions, questions I can’t answer but could only anticipate; how would my steps be if I had chosen one of the three others? Will it be as confusing, challenging, demanding as this one? I could only go forward with a dawdling heart that keeps questioning the road it has embarked, wishing to know the avenues of the three other streets I haven’t chosen to travel this time.

Here we go again, I am standing at another crossroad…….