Ethiopian Identity / Immigrant Life / Teaching in Wenzhou / Travel: China

Look: Diaspora!

Somehow the staring is more tolerable when it is directed at you after you return from a place where everyone may not have thought like you but certainly looked like you, and where the stares were of a knowing nature, rather than blank and expressionless.

The silliness, absurdity, even the pathetic nature of it becomes clearer. Whereas, before, you might have experienced minor enragements with each glance back and prolonged blank stare, you now just chuckle inside and pity them, and think – boy if you only knew.

It’s lost its’ sting, it’s power to affront. You barely even clock it anymore. Having been recently reminded that you have a place of your own too, where you belong just as much as the next person, it stops affecting you. You start owning your space in a way you hadn’t before – your own 66lbs of space in the middle of all the foreignness.

The food seems all right too. Perhaps it’s the renewed novelty of it? Perhaps it’s the disappointment of having found out that the foods you craved for, fantasized about, and ate again and again in your imagination, failed to hit the spot in actuality. You’re not sure if the spot moved, or if the food changed. No matter where you ate it – at a restaurant, at your uncle’s, at your aunt’s, your grandma’s – you found, to your surprise, that you could stop eating after a reasonable amount. You got tired of it. Never saw that coming! You found that the impulse – irresistible, as you remember it, in your very blood – to just keep consuming all that traditional goodness had slipped away without your noticing. When it happened, it’s hard to say.

Is it connected with those whose absence you felt more strongly than the real presence of those who still breathed around you? Was it them – the missing – their very being, that you had been consuming all along without realizing it? Mistaking their body and person for the particular texture, smell, taste and sound of the particular food in your mouth?

Whatever the case, the food did not satisfy anymore, and the drink managed only a little bit better, although getting drunk became a fruitless, hopeless enterprise. Could blame it on the altitude, except the situation there is actually reversed. It should have been dead easy, high up on a mountaintop plateau as we were.

So the food lost its’ punch. The craving was shown to have been a phantom all along, and – horror of horrors – an insistence on loving the food anyway and gorging yourself led to acid reflux and heartburn. The “diaspora” injera, on the other hand (such as that to be found in Ethio-concentrated areas like Toronto and Washington D.C), is still an appealing idea, again, in your imagination.

Could it be that your taste for the adapted, diluted, reconfigured “home” food” has deposed that for the pure, the original? Seven years is a long time, long enough to take on a new lover, whose qualities – initially a draw because they resembled those of the first love – become beloved in and of themselves, exactly for what they are and not for what they imitate.

“Diaspora” is what they call us now. A few years from now, it will have changed. For now, “Diaspora” it is. Even the Diaspora takes pleasure in calling the likes of you and me “Diaspora”. The joy is in the double-irony of it. We even have a traffic roundabout dedicated to our memory.

Endless is the irony of dedicating a traffic roundabout to a country’s prodigal sons and daughters.

Funded by the locals (non-Diasporas), much to their annoyance, I hear. I’ve always liked the word. Diaspora. It’s particular Latin majesty, the sound, look of it, as vast as that which it signifies. Add it to an equally statuesque word like “Ethiopian”, and you’ve got a combination to blow your mind, to cause anyone clamor to belong.

Ethiopian Diaspora.

Amongst us, of course, there is no need to add the marker “Ethiopian”. It’s a given. It’s the other added quality, the flavor of Diaspora, which we’re after. And it’s that certain flavor with which we fling it at each other which is so delicious; the dismissive yet affectionate push/pull in the tone of its’ utterance. An acceptances lies within its implied rejection, no matter the context of its usage. We push each other off and hold tight in the same breath, in the same word.

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