Ethiopian Culture / Immigrant Life / Language / Popular Culture / Writing and Reading

bayte-what?

Sew le sew, the longest-running drama series in the history of Ethiopian Television I’m told, is over. I’m sad but I’m also glad. It had pretty much taken over my life. In true soap opera style, a plot line that could be resolved in534346_1376277655943420_603583262_n ten minutes stretches out over many episodes, conversations that could be over in three minutes take thirteen, misunderstandings that could be resolved by a single line take hours to resolve, so getting through all 140 of episodes was a long long journey, but one that I really loved in the end.

Within minutes of starting the first episode, I was totally overwhelmed by the pure joy of watching a really good show where everyone looked and sounded like me and where the women weren’t basically walking stick figures (though they sure do get pregnant a lot and miss really obvious clues!) and where they were just people living their lives in the most dramatic way, not token characters of color on some show where they barely get a story line. Sure, there were plot turns that made no sense/were too easy, and I’m sorry to say but I there were many moments where I thanked my lucky stars to not be a female navigating Ethiopian society, (it’s ironic that the most independent, tough and smartest women on the show are the two prostitutes Beti and Koli) but the production, writing and performance quality made me really proud. It’s a hundred times better than what I remember Ethio movies and tv shows being like.

But what I really came away with from watching Sew le Sew (besides permanent crushes on Frezer and Biniam, in that order, which can be reversed if Biniam visits a dentist sometime), was a rediscovery of the beauty of the Amharic language. Even when some scenes seemed to go on and on and on (grow a pair already, Biruk!) I still could not ignore just how awesome Amharic is. It’s as if my brain was full of dormant Amharic files that got activated by watching hours of Amharic TV. I’ve rediscovered an appreciation for the beauty of the language, and use as much of it as I can whenever I can. Nothing compares to the way it just hits the spot when you want to say something, anything. It’s like a nice juicy gursha of injera every time. So, thank you, dear writers, for reintroducing me to my language.

Now that’s it’s all over, someone needs to make a video of all the times the characters look really shocked for about a minute, then slowly say the word ‘min‘ (“What?!”) Too much, too funny!

BEST scene: Season 4, Part 106 (10:20-14:00) Between Kurabachew (Surafel Teka) and Koli (don’t know the actress’ name). I could watch that scene again and again every day for eternity. The way she just flipped the whole situation on its head and left Kura speechless was priceless. As a side note, Kurabachew’s arc was the most intriguing to watch. So, just as an expression of how that scene kicked ass, I include a translation below.

A little background: Kurabachew, a gangster, has tricked Koli, a prostitute, into getting in a taxi with him by telling her that her usual driver had a family emergency. Kurabachew wants to know where Koli’s friend Beti, another prostitute, is hiding. He has been ordered to kill Beti because she is a key witness against his mega-evil boss Asnake (the guy on the treadmill in the previous scene). Koli doesn’t know that Kurabachew is the gangster that’s looking for Beti.

KOLI

(laughing)

…No that’s not it. Today, my Kuwaiti friend who spends money without a care is coming to visit me. That’s why I’m looking all fine and cheerful, to make him happy.

KURABACHEW

Oh so you’re going to live it up on a throne of dough.

KOLI

It’s like that. Don’t worry, I won’t live it up by myself. I’ll get you both get taken care of, ok? [meaning Kurabachew and the cabbie]

KURABACHEW

Oh, not for me. Your line of work, there’s more harm than gain –

KOLI

 No no. That doesn’t apply to me and Beti. We know exactly how to get away.

(To cabbie)

Friend, I told you to go by the other road. You’ve gone in the wrong direction.

KURABACHEW

Calm down, don’t worry. We’ll get there.

KOLI

No, I didn’t tell you to go this way.

KURABACHEW

Calm down.

KOLI

Friend, I don’t have time.

(To cabbie)

Hey you, stop the car!

KURABACHEW

So don’t shout.

KOLI

Make him stop!

KURABACHEW

(To cabbie)

You, stop the car.

KOLI

Come on, stop the car.

(To both)

Don’t you feel bad?

(Tries the door)

Come on, stop it.

(Tries the door again).

KURABACHEW

Can’t get out of the car.

KOLI

I don’t understand.

KURABACHEW

What I’ve told you isn’t the truth. We’re the ones who told your driver that his kid was hurt.

KOLI

Why?

KURABACHEW

(To cabbie)

Wait outside.

Cabbie gets out of the car.

(To Koli)

Don’t worry, my sweet. I have no business with you. What I want is for you to tell me where Beti is hiding and where her sister goes to school.

KOLI

(Chuckles)

Oh it’s you. About you, Beti has told me everything very carefully.

KURABACHEW

What I want to know now is not what she told you, but the place where she’s hiding.

KOLI

You know what’s amazing? I won’t tell you.

KURABACHEW

Are you joking?

KOLI

Absolutely not. The one who’s joking is you.

KURABACHEW

Listen. I’ll kill you!

KOLI

No waaaay! Like actually kill, kill?

KURABACHEW

You!

KOLI

Don’t you raise your hand. You know what’s amazing? You know a mouse? You won’t even kill a mouse.

KURABACHEW

Son-of-a-man!

KOLI reaches over the driver’s seat and honks the horn.

What, what’re you doing? Are you right in the head?

KOLI

You see, you see right? There’s nothing you can do here. So call your chauffeur and make him drive this car.

KURABACHEW

Where am I supposed to take you?

KOLI

All this boasting and you don’t even know where you’re taking me, where you’re going to kill me?

KURABACHEW

Watch here. Me, my boss, and the other guys know no mercy. Those like you who try to be brave end up being nothing more than stories, ok?

KOLI

So what am I telling you? Take me away and turn me into a pretty story. That’s what I said. Call your chauffeur and let’s go.

KURABACHEW

Wait. What do you have to back you up that you’re being so brave?

KOLI

Well you could have found that out if you’d hit me, right?

KURABACHEW

How so?

KOLI

Listen, just because you bug out your eyes and I’m a female you think “oh she’ll be scared”, that’s why you do all this posing? Well, I’m not telling you anything.

KURABACHEW

Listen-

KOLI

Let me tell you one thing. Even if you find Beti there’s nothing you can do to her. If you know what’s good for you, you’d let us help you figure out your own escape plan.

KURABACHEW

That much?

KOLI

Yeah. Now if you call the chauffeur and go in the direction I tell you, I can show you exactly how to make your escape. Go on. Call him.

Of course, even if you don’t speak Amharic it’s obvious that the spirit of the scene doesn’t really come alive in English. But I just wanted to put it out there nevertheless. Which makes me wish the series had English subtitles, to reach a wider audience. Who knows, maybe if I feel inspired I’ll take on that project, one lifetime at a time?

I hear the nation is voting for their favorite cast members. For me, the BEST actor award should go to…Hana Yohanes! Luv you Sosi gurl, all the women should all have your spirit!

Sosna reading her boyfriend's email to a woman he thinks is his lover but is actually Sosna posing as his lover...whaaa?

Sosna reading her boyfriend’s email to a woman he thinks is his lover but is actually Sosna posing as his lover…whaaa?

And of course, all bow down to the great Abebe Balcha! If I never see his snaky tongue again it’ll be too soon.

Another day at work for Asnake: nearly chocking Detective Frezer's sister to death.

Another day at work for Asnake: nearly chocking Detective Frezer’s niece to death.

Finally, can someone tell me what on earth is the meaning of: ‘baytewar’  ??

2 thoughts on “bayte-what?

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