Why a refugee and an immigrant won’t sing Michael Bublé’s ‘Home’

Bethelhem T.

It was Sunday morning, but the NYC Subway was as busy and noisy as ever. I was rushing like the Flash to change trains when I missed my connecting train by a split of a second.  And then, I realized I wasn’t the Flash after all; but more like the Barry Allen before the lightning.

Then I heard this song:

“I gotta go home….

Let me go home.

It’ll all be all right

I’ll be home tonight

I’m coming back home…”

A guy with the bluest eyes ever and five o’clock shadow was singing his guts out at the train platform.  His blond man-bun was coiled with a red bandana. His hands were performing magic with the guitar he decorated in different stickers of Celtic crosses. His guitar case open on the floor with a sign that tell his story in a nutshell; that he is a struggling artist who is trying to make a living until he is discovered.

I see why he is a ‘struggling artist’. Because he is freaking insensitive.  He lacks a sixth sense and if he continues on this path he soon would be just a ‘struggling human being’. An art can’t exist without sensitivity.

Many commuters, mainly tourists, gathered around him taking pictures, Snap-Chatting and giving him money. I rolled my eyes in annoyance.

I mean who sings rendition of ‘Home’ by Michael Bublé on a Sunday morning?  That’s beyond rudeness. It’s insensitive.  I headed to the other end of the platform away from him, his voice and that terrible song.

There are so many things wrong with that song from a refugee’s and an immigrant’s point of view.  It’s utopic with streaks of hypocrisy. The lyrics don’t make any sense at all, especially for someone who was forced to immigrate and can’t go home even if he or she wishes, unlike the singer.

I don’t think any  refugee or immigrant would ever sing Michael Bublé’s song or even like it; (unless of course you don’t understand the lyrics and like to jam to its tunes) I don’t think the song was meant to include any member of this section of the community.  For me it just highlights the scope of the trial we face in life’s lot; between those who can relate to the song and those who can’t relate to it.

It reminds me of my grandmother’s famous saying, “Abo zelewos, n’abo zeyblu kebki ybeki.” Roughly translated as the one who has a father cries to make the fatherless cry even more. Listen, for the other half, it is between the rock and the hard place– we are sandwiched between two evils – we can’t go back ‘tonight’ as the singer points it out at the last part of his song.

Clearly the singer and those who can relate to his song don’t know what missing home means. It’s when a son can’t bury his father because home has turned into a death trap. It’s when you let go of a hand  for otherwise a chainsaw would have done that for you.  It’s when you cross the desert, ford the ocean and set off into the jungle to escape from home. It’s when a father is longing for his toddler’s voice and kiss but can’t hold his child because home has become a hell on earth. It is staring at the pictures of your beloved ones for hours as you say your prayers pleading with God to keep them safe and to reunite you once again, to sleep holding their picture only to wake up drenched in sweat because of a nightmare, a fiancé postponing yet his wedding day because he can’t go back home, a sister’s sorrow because she can’t attend her young brother’s wedding day for she knows going home isn’t really an option….

How could a person who isn’t chasing a dream but is chased by oppression, persecution, hunger, death and torture sing this song? In my unsolicited opinion, only a chaser can sing this song, not the chased.

I do burst into tears when I hear this song, not because I am moved but at the irony of the disparity of the reasons that drives us out from our home;  for the chaser and the chased. The overwhelming sense of hiraeth we are engulfed with but has no immediate remedy…..

I put on my earphones and turned the volume to the max, blocking the song and the world around me. Yes, I want to go home. Let me go home, not because I have had my run nor that I am done, but because the evil back home is done and the waves have subdued their rage. Let me go back home to talk about the hypocrisy I saw and heard at the NYC train station, to lampoon Michael Bublé and his green lyrics that needs to mature.

And one more thing if I may, we wouldn’t send the letters home not because they aren’t just enough as the song goes but because we really can’t. Home might not be in the same address we left it before; and our beloved ones might not be there at all to receive or read the letter. So do you see why we can’t sing along?

“And I know just why you could not come along with me, but this was not your dream,” continues the singer to my dismay.

In our case, dream has nothing to do with it. If only the world would know- you can’t possibly imagine or think why our loved ones can’t come along with us. If only you knew, it would have changed your life forever and your dead lyrics would spring to life.

The other half often has a misguided notion of refugees and immigrants that totally disregard the reason why we leave home in the first place…. We are being chased; we aren’t chasing anyone or anything in particular. We heard and obeyed the voice of survival that screamed ‘Run!’ ‘Escape!’ ‘Live!’

So we can’t go back home. At least, not tonight.


Habesha and the gas station epidemic.

Bethelhem T.

Fresh out of the boat, as a Habesha moving to another country, the Google and its various services mean nothing to you. For some reason you prefer to avoid the search engines and networking with others like the plague. You spot your kind and you stay glued to them for better or worse.

For a while, your map, guide, bank, insurance, 911, Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz and the Google will be none other than yours truly the Habeshas you first encounter in your new country. And if you win a favor in their eyes, they will give you the book that holds all the life hacks and tips they learned before you. But this is if you didn’t challenge them with difficult questions and didn’t associate with others who aren’t from us. If you venture out, they banish you from their community. Your banishment from the Habesha community could be a blessing in disguise for that book has led so many astray, its cons weighting more than its pros.

I admit that the gossip mill that is run by the wind of the Habeshas in diaspora is cutthroat and fiercely fast, so staying connected with them would get you news of so many unnecessary things in your inbox- fresh and fast. This is what happens when technology is misused and abused at the wrong hands of a community who consider gossip as the second ingredient in making coffee and drinking it.

But on the other hand, news of job openings, sales and clearances notifications, shortcut to destinations and transportation, and other knowhow are sorted and distributed by the Habeshas especially in the first week of your arrival or maybe longer if you are too little too slow like someone I know.

The 11th commandment of the Habesha society is: Thou shall not venture out and taste the waters by yourself. This has been incorporated into our belief system; so we stay caged even though the doors are open and the opportunities are vast.

Have you ever wondered why most Habeshas first start working at a gas station? I used to wonder if Habeshas receive their second visas at a gas station or if it was part of some secret honor code to uphold in our community in diaspora. In some areas, it seems it is mandatory or else your Habesha card will be revoked.

Last year, I saw a friend of mine working at a gas station during my visit to Washington D.C. He has two degrees one in Accounting and the other in Economics. He was one of the cool kids who two-timed women all the time but still was charming.

It’s all about the bills here,” he stops for a while and continues to say “I can’t afford to have a dream right now.” He smiles and I forget my next question. Damn! he still got it.

This is the only thing you can do here,” he said as he fumbled with his fingers. “Our degrees mean nothing here.”

Says who?

The Habesha community who have been here before us?

I don’t look down on jobs nor do I degrade any kind of work.  By all means do what you are doing wholeheartedly or halfheartedly- whichever keeps your heart at peace.  No ill feelings intended in writing this article but I seriously want to ask questions that have been bothering me ever since I saw my friend working at the gas station. Your opinions and experiences are welcomed here. What is the cause of this epidemic?

The person who first welcomes us to their homes influence our mentality towards our lives in diaspora; to conquer or to be conquered starts in the brain with the information we are fed by the people who we first meet and interact with. We internalize their experience and follow the paths they embarked. Uniformity is our hallmark, for heaven’s sake!

Lady Luck smiled down on me to have me surrounded with ambitious people and persons who love to challenge life and all its formulas. They reinforced in me what I have grew up hearing, ‘the sky is the limit……go and become.’  My degree didn’t seem to be a factor in determining what I wanted to do and be- I know this form of thinking is so unHabesha of me- but many of my peeps considered my application to an Ivy League school a suicide. A Mission Impossible. But those who were around me told me to go for it and I did.

Someone thought I was too naïve to want to pursue my masters in the same field of study as my B.A., he then offered his unsolicited advice to tone down my ambitions in life and perhaps change my career path to medicine or nursing since that is the most lucrative career here. Someone else offered to speak to his boss to hire me at a gas station and I was told to forget entertaining the idea of a job in my profession. But my favorite moment came when someone offered to show me how to log into a computer, and he also wild guessed that the one thing that must have impressed me most in U.S. is the opportunity to drink soda any time I want. Dude please!  I still thank God for the calmness that covered me that particular moment when all I wanted to do was turn green and go the Hulk on him, I wanted to tore him into pieces and glue him back with some common sense and humility. Somebody tell that boy I didn’t pop out of the cave as he did.

Just because my uncle came here with a ten-grade education level and couldn’t find any other job  but at a gas station doesn’t mean that I have to go through the same process. Although they have your interest at heart, the Habesha community don’t won’t you to venture out and explore. So we keep passing the torch of the gas station job and fear of challenging the status quo to the new-comers as we recite the eleventh commandment in our hearts; Thou shall not venture out and taste the waters by yourself.

Please protect yourself from this epidemic and venture out, that’s the antidote.

Please share your experience and ideas on this topic on the comment section. Thank you.