When my soon-to-be landlords told me that there was going to be an Ethiopian lady moving in downstairs in a month, they said it like it was a good thing. I wasn’t exactly thrilled, to say the least. I kind of hoped it wouldn’t happen. I even considered not taking the place, even though it was new and nice. I told myself that I wouldn’t take it since it was the first place I had seen, and you’re not supposed to take the first place you see, but really I was freaked out about the prospect of having a habesha neighbor – something I have never had ever since we left Bole a Bazillion years ago. My landlord’s wife said The new lady is maybe from Somalia, she wasn’t sure. My landlord said No she’s from Ethiopia. Then he looked at me and said Anyway that’s the same place. And I said, No, it’s not the same place. And he said Well but it used to be the same place. Not asking but telling me. And I said No, it never was, we’ve been known to “share” some border areas from time to time throughout our histories but we’ve always been two separate places. All the while secretly praying that she would be from Somalia after all.
Days later – about as long as I could take commuting daily from Oakville to Toronto to look at the trash heap of Toronto housing affectionately termed “affordable” – I decide to take the place. Time goes by, approximate period of one month, during which I get to listen to and feel the nasty vibrations of Bollywood-caliber drama between the couple who are being kicked out of the apartment downstairs (hence my fellow country/regionwoman moving in). Then comes January 1 and stuff quiets down considerably and I’m wondering if they really moved out and if the habesha lady moved in and how will I know either way and well I don’t hear any hollering or smell cigarette smoke coming up through the vents so the Bollywood couple must have left but maybe the habesha lady changed her mind and wait *sniff sniff* *sniff sniff* is that?…it can’t be…am I really smelling what I think I’m smelling….? No way this is toooo cliché!
Shiro enough, I was smelling that distinct mix of berbere and kibe and shinkurt simmering over a low flame for the duration of approximately three episodes of Dexter season 4. I double checked, no, triple checked my nose for accuracy. After all, my landlords upstairs are from Bangladesh, and I know how the food from their land and the food from my land has that overlap thing going on. Perked up in bed, Nubian nose to the air, I closed my big habesha eyes and focused all my powers of concentration on my olfactory powers like some East African squirrel, running the smell against every Ethio kitchen that I’d come across in my life and yep, there was absafirfiringloutely no mistaking the aroma. Verdict: Kulet. And so there it was, I had my answer. UHP* has entered the building.
Matters were not helped by the fact that, of late, I’ve been going through a spell of injera-withdrawal, been analyzing with a friend exactly when the condition kicks in. We settled on an average of three months. It peaks around that time, during which an habesha person will commit violent crime just to get their hands on some injera, then it tapers off and disappears and one can go for up to a year without feeling so much as a pang (case in point: moi). It hasn’t been three months yet for me, so I don’t know where this craving is coming from. And, in this vulnerable moment, to have all this key wot and/or doro wot smell wafting through all three floors of this house? Cruel punishment, cruel cruel. How had I offended Kidist or Kidus Whomever?
Times like these I wish I was one of those uber-outgoing types who can knock on someone’s door and say howdeedoo, yene imebet, what kind of wot you got going there? and pull out a smile and a ten-piece bag of dark injera. Unfortunately, I happen to be going through another common habesha condition, a phase known as I don’t want to have anything to do with habesha people, which is the height of hypocrisy and corkscrewed logic of course since last time I checked I too am habesha people myself and I’m always and forever madly, deeply Oprah-level curious about our joys, trials and tribulations. Might even say I’m…nosy. Stuck between a dist and a hard place, eh? But the world is a small place, and a single-machine laundry room even smaller. Won’t be long before I get my scoop.
*Unidentified Habesha Person