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.

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The Mirror and I

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The mirror and I
Looking one another in the eye
Have been asking each other why,
We tear up and cry?
After we kissed our lover goodbye?

I ask the mirror why
Mirror answers back with another why

Why does his taste lingers in my mouth?
His scent fresh in my house?
My toothbrush isn’t cleansing enough
His stain stubborn and tough
Why doesn’t the shower rinse me of him?
I backspace but can never delete him?
Why is it mirror?
That he defies the rules of nature?
Mirror echoes back
Never to reply, but to ask
To pin me down with the same question
As if I don’t already have full plate of confusion

John Tekle must die

Continued from earlier…………

I hate anything sour, bitter and acidic. I don’t really delight in sweets either. But on any given day, I would gladly choose sweets over bitter, sour or the likes. I think this is the main reason I befriended John Tekle, because I know that rotten apples taste sweeter -it was mainly a question of my taste buds, nothing more or less. If I may say so, John Tekle is a pathetic excuse for a human being and needs to be avoided at all costs-not to be befriended under any circumstances- even if your taste buds can’t stand sour and bitter.

What amused me most was the fact that all the other girls agreed to discuss ‘John Tekle’ including any other issues of men in general out in the open. Have I gone mad or is this just insane? Since when do Habesha exes team up against a man, who obviously was playing dirty games and tricks? For me it was like watching a Habesha version of  the Hollywood movie “John Tucker must die” all over again, R-rated and unabridged. Only this time with a slight change in context here and there, and surely the last name is ‘Tekle’ not the famous ,’Tucker’, but regardless it is still a John.

“I want to know how John operates so that I and others can avoid being a victim of another Tekle or Tucker in the future.” She told me between her lunch bites, I had forgotten all about the time difference between the two states.

“Let it go. Forget and forgive. He isn’t worthy of your time and effort. Focus on your new boyfriend.”  I advised her. I was trying to sound cool and composed to the guy who was walking so close by and doing the worst attempt of eavesdropping.

She giggled and asked me if I have a company around. What I like about this girl is that she is so quick and witty. I have no idea how she would fall for a Tekle or a Tucker.

“We decided to be good friends. He is my friend. I have forgiven him but I can’t let him continue on his mission to play with others’ emotions. That is why I am making a fool of myself by trying to reach out to the others who are also involved with him and openly talking about the nature of our relationships with him.  I believe there is a healing, a cure and preventive methods in conversing.”  Her determination deserves a standing ovation but the little selfish me still thinks that forgetting him and moving on is the best remedy for this little situation. Let the other girls who would meet him in the future know him for who he truly is on their own without any sort of guidance from the exes. It is their lives, choices, preferences and matter of taste to be associated with such a person.  We should respect their choices and rights.

“Do you know why I hate breakup songs or songs that are sung to express one’s dying feeling over the other?” I asked her randomly. She giggled and said she doesn’t know the reason. “It is because it is a waste of time, effort and emotion. If you are over someone, then it is over. Why would anyone sing a song of breakup with ridiculous lyrics that goes like….’your smile,I am over it. Your touch, I am over it. I am over it…..bla bla’?”  She couldn’t help but laugh.

“You are one tough cookie, Fiammetta.” She was still laughing as she dropped me a compliment.

In her attempt to write the yellow directory, the new weirdo in my life, is trying to bring together all the women in this man’s life; both his friends, his lovers and a third section of  what he usually refers to as his ‘cousins’. According to her, Habesha men think that Habesha women don’t confide in friends or relatives or exes about their  affairs with a man thus giving the man the freedom to play his amateur Don Juan games while he strings along many women at once.  Habesha men are at liberty to do whatever they want because they know that Habesha exes lack the tradition of maintaining a civil relationship among themselves. One thing that intrigued me most when I came to the United States was the experience I had in sharing a table with two women who had a deep relationship with the same man. One was his high school sweetheart and the other his wife. I remember having an indigestion from the shock of the whole experience and the novelty of the norm of discussing a certain man and the nature of the relationship openly with other women who have had shared his life with him at one time in life. I have prided myself in being unconventional and yet I couldn’t comprehend this concept nor were I able to accept it.   It is still hard for me to picture Habesha exes sitting together and conversing the nature of their relationship openly with the other women in a certain man’s love life. Can you?

This girl, however,  wants to challenge this custom and  wants to talk about it openly and honestly.  Well, I really feel sorry for John Tekle for he seems to have a taste in weird and smart women, but can a woman be smart and actively dating at the same time?  I have lived in a foggy hypnosis till now, hypnotizing myself to believe that I am a smart woman. But sometimes I think that smart woman is just another oxymoron- they can’t both exist as an adjective and a noun together. I mean every woman ceases to be smart when she meets a man. It is like men feed on our smartness and as women, we,  can’t be smart and be in love at the same time. It is like we have to choose one. I have never seen a smart woman in love to this day, if anyone claims they have or they are, I suggest they be honest to themselves just for a split second’s moment and smell the coffee. In the end we all are fools when it comes to love, at least those section of us who blindly and blissfully believe that love is a blind, sarcastic dictator who plays dark jokes on its victims.  Once too many times I have heard love being referred to as a disease, often I have been asked what the symptoms of love are, I neglected to provide the persons with an answer for the fear that I might murder their already sick, weak and bedridden image of love in their heads. I should have advised them to get an antibiotic or vaccine shot against the pink fever of love. I have always assumed that if love is indeed a disease, its fever would be referred to as ‘a pink fever’.

Frankly speaking the stories she has gathered so far have shocked me a bit, apparently he seemed to be copy-pasting the same messages to all the women in his life, including those close and distant ‘cousins’ of his. And what he confided in me as a secret naturally was not a secret anymore, for he has told every other woman in his life the same stories swearing each and every one of us for secrecy  and making us feel somehow special. The story of the first ex was just mind-blowing and nothing like it was reported to me by him. Clever of him to omit some important details and incidents that eventually led to their breakup.

I got to give it to him though, he is really good. In fact very good that he made me want to recruit him into the 007 mission and make him the Habesha version of James Bond. But again I shouldn’t admire him that much for he was beat by the very girl he deceived.  Apparently, he was no match for her. He is playing the game she wants him to play, he is her puppet and she is his master. He is her guinea pig and she is the scientist. He is no longer the master of the game, just one of the players. I salute this girl. Another big check. It is about time John Tekle must die. So as I declined her offer to join the Exes Club, I threw my empty cup in the trash bin with one hand while I checked my beeping phone on the other hand. It was a message from John Tekle,  as I started to read it to her, her phone also buzzed carrying the same message, including the exact typo comma before a full stop at the end of his message.

We laughed a lot, but I know it didn’t reach our hearts. No woman easily comes into terms with betrayal, big or small, but we accepted it with grace this time. As we exchanged our byes for that moment we promised to continue the conversation when she gets off work.

Late in the evening, however shed a different light on my decision to join the girls in the conference call they had prepared. The last thing I want to do is waste my time on a sleazy creature like him, and after examining my heart I found out that I was never emotionally involved while talking to ‘Wedi Tekle’, I am not about to get involved now. I texted her back saying I am not one of his exes for I never was in relationship with him to begin with. We were just friends. I advised her to collect her data as soon as possible without wasting her precious time and effort on him and to rush on writing her book or manual. I reminded her that I would always be her cheerleader and number one fan at the front row of her book signing event when she publishes a manual that exposes the dirty tricks and works of the Habesha John Tekle and his American cousin John Tucker. I concluded my message with a promise to write an article about her, the others and the fateful get together concluding my message with emoji of a hug and kisses.

I sat down at my favorite bistro in Harlem that overlooks a metro station entrance and opened my laptop. I love the atmosphere, the vibe and the activities near the entrance. I could feel my hands shaking with excitement to jot down the strange things that has unfolded earlier,  for a moment there, I thought my whole body was shaking with excitement but it was only from the effect of the vibration of the number 2 or 3 trains that was passing by.

I knew what I wanted to name the article, so I typed the headline  with bold, Georgia font and eighteen font size.

“John Tekle must die…..”

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.