Ethiopian Culture / Ethiopian Identity / Immigrant Life

A Dental Retrospective on Migration Day

I chipped a tooth today. No fault of the tooth. All blame is mine. I was trying to pry out a blade from an old and sticky Swiss Army knife. Thought I’d use my front teeth, concentrate all my jaw-power.  Afterwards, when I felt  grainy bits of something on my tongue, I hoped it was some dried gunk from the metal. Nope, it was bits of my own enamel.

This marks tooth #3. The first was one of my molars, which I chipped trying to open a beer bottle a while back, on a beach if memory serves. The second was one of my lower front, which came in contact with some Krazy Glue while I was trying to open a vial that had glued shut since last I used it. I wanted to put a smashed saucer back together. Months later, my dental hygienist confirmed my suspicions. The Krazy Khemicals dissolved sections of the enamel. And today, this.

Photo Credit: James P. Blair

Photo Credit: James P. Blair

Let it be known, though, that although I’ve said “try”, I did succeed in all three instances. I uncorked the cool brew. I overpowered the Krazy. I pulled out the right blade.

Yet, I feel disappointed. My parts are supposed to be more resistant than this! I come from a long line of strong-toothed people. By any standards, my maternal grandmother should be considered a badass, what with her filed teeth to complement the grid of tattoos up and down the front of her neck. And that smiling Beni-Amer boy on the Ethiopian poster was practically a member of our family, the way he has hugged the walls of her house for as long as I’ve been alive and even made it into the largest family picture we ever took, his pearly whites clear as day in the background. To my knowledge neither of them crossed paths with Colgate, much less floss.

So what if my grandmother’s teeth are actually filed straight, not pointy? So what if it turns out the Beni-Amer boy, unbeknownst to him, has become Eritrean? When something resists, it’s natural to put it to the mouth, to the teeth. They are bone, strongest parts of the body. Yet here I am chipping away year by year.

Well, at least I have something to remember today by. I can say I did something special on this the 21st anniversary of Migration Day and I have something to show for it. It could be more random. Oh wait, it has been more random. I’ve gotten on a plane and, mere hours later, somehow found myself in a brand spanking new everything for a (still) indeterminate duration.

One of the things I made sure to do on my first visit back in 1996 was to make a toothbrush out of the stalks of a garden bush which we literally call brushing wood. Snap off a well aged but not too splintery stalk, cut a ring around the bark about half an inch from one end, peel it off, grind the exposed tip between your molars until it becomes a fine brush, then scrub away. Don’t let the bitter juices escape down your throat and certainly don’t stab your gums and draw blood. The combo does not a flavourful swallow make.

 

2 thoughts on “A Dental Retrospective on Migration Day

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