Well folks, if I’ve been lagging on keeping up with this blog, then even more importantly, I’ve been lagging on the Ishi Bekka Chronicle - our Ethiopia PCV newsletter that I design and edit (in-chief). But I think that after all, I threw together a decent issue, thanks for the most part to my amazing contributors. Maybe with my newfound free time I’ll get back to posting real stuff on this blog. For now, without further ado, here is the new issue of the Ishi…
may 27, 2012. kitfo guest house, addis ababa.
jenny is not a prostitute.
jenny is many things, but she is not a prostitute.
i’m not suggesting that any of you have ever made that mistake, but i have to assume that was exactly the mistake made by mr. martin of cozy place fame.
it used to be i would frequent mr. martin’s cozy place when i went to addis because it’s a quaint guest house style establishment in an off-the-path but decently central location. it has a few rooms that i would even describe as nice. which is why, a month before jenny arrived in addis, i reserved one of those nice rooms for her visit.
then i got to addis the day jenny was to arrive. mr. martin claimed i had never made a reservation. i argued that i had stood on that very spot, leaning over that very reception counter, exactly one month prior, helping his wife fill out the reservation form and write us in on the calendar. he said that wasn’t possible because look, see, the pages are totally blank. i didn’t bring up the fact that the pages were clearly brand new and recently printed, and that it seems preposterous that a busy guest house has an entire month with not a single note on the calendar, while the bookending months are covered with scribbled notes. i let that be and just asked if i could get a room anyway.
the entire place was booked solid for a week by a german tour group.
ahhhhhaha. there it is. the habesha moment. the moment when the guy you thought was so cool, and actually made ethiopians look good for a change, turned out to be just another money hungry hustler who saw a chance to squeeze a few extra birr out of some tourists at the expense of the people he knew would not stand for paying ferenji price. he smiled that smile at me, that idiot smile that they all get when they know they’re fucking you over and there’s nothing you can do about it. that smile of self-satisfaction that – even if me walking away and not buying their wares or paying for their services means they don’t make any money – will linger long after i’m gone because, like baseball in america, inconveniencing ferenji is ethiopia’s pastime.
but mr. martin would make plenty of money today.
no i couldn’t get a room. he says, the place is all booked up, he says. i should have made a reservation, he says.
i tried to gently reiterate that i had most certainly made a reservation. that it would have been silly not to because my wife (it’s just easier that way) was coming to visit from west africa, so of course i made a reservation.
he must have seen in my eyes all the insults i was screaming at him in my brain, which no doubt included calling his wife, his mother, his as yet unconceived daughter, and any female pets he might have, whores.
he suggested that i find a room at the kitfo guest house across the street.
i would soon find out that this was his rebuttal. he was going to get paid, and paid nicely, from this gang of pink skinned socks ‘n’ birkenstocks deutsche bags, and i was going to deal with it. no, sir, he was saying, your wife is a whore.
in the midst of my worst spring ever, this guy was going to ruin one of the rare things about ethiopia that i actually enjoyed – mr. martin’s cozy comfy closet – and he was going to make sure that the only thing that could make it all better – a visit from jenny – would get off to a rough start.
i walked across the street, the median strip of which separates an otherwise respectable neighborhood from what we call “prostitute row”. i crossed the border, marked by a battlefield of lipstick stained nyala cigarette butts that had died the most dishonorable of deaths, crushed out by cheap high heels, the last thing they saw before it all went black was an upskirt shot of a dollar whore’s slightly dented nether regions. into the walled fortress of the kitfo guest house, which could (and should) be translated raw meat hotel, where the restaurant out front looks like the tiki lounge of an off-the-strip las vegas guido joint circa 1979 (ferenji calendar).
though they were overpriced, the rooms didn’t look so bad. at least they didn’t arouse suspicion at first glance. then again, suspicion wasn’t what these rooms were intended to arouse. upon further inspection there were some telltale signs, however. the top blanket was laid over the bed neatly enough, but there was no topsheet underneath, and the fitted sheet was far too small and simply tossed askew over the mattress, as though housekeeping didn’t expect anyone to actually get as far as under the blanket. all the utilities were turned off in the bathrooms until late at night, unless you requested that they be turned on, at which point the staff would begrudgingly do so just until they saw you turn out the light, or heard the shower stop running, suggesting that they don’t expect or appreciate the clients using the facilities until the middle of the night when they will inexplicably be needing to shower for some reason. the most glaringly suspect feature of this hotel was that the toilets were equipped, not with bidets, but with those little hand held spray nozzle extensions you find in western sinks, for helping with the removal of baked-on grease and grime and whatnot. this was possibly the first time i’d seen one attached to a toilet. at first i thought this was overkill. i mean, there was a shower, and there was soap, and toilet paper, and this wasn’t exactly a fancy hotel with fancy clientele or – oh right, it’s for vaginas. it’s for the prostitutes’ dirty disgusting vaginas, that probably have baked-on grease and grime and whatnot.
i’m sure that with their last breaths, as they looked up at those battle-scarred bargain bin steak drapes through stained underpants, sheer from overuse, not by design, those nyala cigarette butts thanked the proprietors of the kitfo guest house for providing spray nozzles so the chain smoking whores out front could hose off their undercarriage once in a great while. then they enjoyed what i have been begging for for nearly two years: a swift crushing death beneath ethiopia’s crusty heel.
of course the whorehouse atmosphere at the kitfo didn’t quite click all the way into place until jenny and i spent the majority of our early morning trying to cuddle and enjoy sleeping in together to the soothing sounds of a man aggressively negotiating a price for the “services” he was audibly partaking in all goddamn night.
in case you’re wondering…
one american dollar: 18.3 ethiopian birr
one loosey nyala cigarette: 1 birr
a room for the night at the kitfo guest house: 250birr
a vagina for the night at the kitfo guest house: 30birr
spending my first night with jenny in months at a thin-walled whorehouse on a mattress with no sheets: priceless.
* * * *
stay tuned for our next episode:
lions and tigers and bears… who cares?
may 26, 2012.
8:30pm global standard time. 2:30pm ethiopian time. 20:30 hours, military time.
along with jenny, the time finally arrives in which i can no longer ignore my need for a fucking watch.
jenny: hey, where are you?
dave: downtown, hanging out with nikki and some people. wait, are you here already?
jenny: yeah, it’s like 8:30.
dave: i thought your flight arrived at 20:00. that’s –
jenny, nikki, diane, chelsea, ben, and about half the habesha in the room: 8 o’clock!… moron.
dave: aaaaaaaaaghhhhhiiii am a moron.
* * * *
stay tuned for our next episode:
common sense isn’t all that common.
september 21, 2012. redwood city, ca
american journalism finally kills the english language.
i live in a country of approximately 80 million people.
in my experience, 0.1% of those i have met can properly conjugate the english verb to go.
the other 99.9% demand to know “where are you go?!”
oh, ethiopia. this country begins teaching its school-going youth entirely in english starting in the ninth grade. this of course means they expect all children attending high school to be fluent in english.
not even close.
what can you expect, really?
the school schedule covers the typical blocks of time – five days a week from late january to early june, then again from early september to late december – but children only attend for three hours a day. any national holiday is a reasonable excuse to take a full week of school off. any local holiday is as well, and guess what? every day of the ethiopian calendar is assigned a patron saint. st george day is an excuse to knock off a few days, george being ethiopia’s patron saint, and reigning over one day a month. a town’s local patron saint’s day is an excuse, and each family is free to select their own saint(s), whose days are also an excuse. if there is an athletic competition, citywide celebration, or a particularly sunny day, that’s an excuse, but who needs excuses? most children who attend school – in that they are within the boundaries of the campus – do not attend school in that they sit in a classroom where a teacher attempts to impart knowledge on them. further more, after the tenth grade, all students take aptitude tests. the results of those tests dictate which subjects they can study in university. anyone who fails that test outright is sent to teachers’ college, where they are trained to become teachers. applying logical principles to this strategy, we can assume that each class of teachers yields a class of future teachers less intelligent than they, so on and so on, ad infinitum, until… i don’t even know. idiot supernova (band name, called it!)?
what i do know, is that every now and again i get a clear signal that america is – albeit more slowly, and through different tactics – taking that same trajectory.
so it was on the night of september 21, 2012. as jenny and i enjoyed our last evening back in california with friends and family and a few beers…
* * * *
it used to be a rule in journalism. don’t bury the lead.
that means: tell your readers what they’re about to be reading, otherwise, you insinuate that there is nothing important to read. these days, that rule has been flipped on its head. scroll through huffPo, daily beast, or any other news aggregation site, and enlighten yourself of current events through gripping headlines like REALLY?!, and at it again…, and he said it. admittedly, this is an equally effective way to draw readers in. don’t tell them anything about what lies inside, simply give them a hyperbolic reaction to what lies inside. or, even better, lie about what lies inside. the shocking truth about why your favorite soda is literally killing you right now links to a single line of text: everyone knows sodas are full of unhealthy sweeteners, but who can resist treating themselves to an ice cold, bubbly beverage once in a while? this followed by a slideshow of ten soft drinks the writer saw at the store this morning, accompanied by articulate captions like “RC cola, still?!” and “coke. love it or hate it, it’s a classic”. well written, dipshit. i hope you’re getting paid amply for that contribution to the dumbing down of the american public. if it’s not instagrams and google images of the ten shiniest things a particular “writer” saw on the way to work, it’s scare pieces about how we all have eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, COPD, crohn’s disease, sexual inadequacies, marital inadequacies, or wheat allergies. and let’s cut out the terrifying moment that changed their lives forever: horrifying giant monster came out of nowhere during pleasant family vacation to the everglades. how officials plan to stop this rare menace. it’s an alligator. i already know it’s an alligator. it’s always an alligator. you know how i know? because they were in the everglades. if the story is from florida, it’s an alligator. if it’s from california, it’s a mountain lion. if it’s from anywhere else, it’s a bear. i don’t need to read the story, and i don’t care! if these rubes were so horrified by seeing an alligator in the everglades they should have stayed the fuck out of the everglades in the first place.
here’s a headline for ya: entire family of morons mercifully eaten by majestic prehistoric reptile. daves all across masha, ethiopia breathed a sigh of relief.
i could go on and on about my many linguistic pet peeves: the gross misuse of the phrase it’s all i can do to…, or the painful overuse of the word literally, or the teaching of students to put two spaces after a punctuation mark when MLA formatting clearly states to use as many spaces after a punctuation mark as you would put between words in the sentence. yes, i notice these things, and yes, it bothers me… and yes, i am slowly becoming my sophomore AP english teacher whether i like it or not.
here’s something else i picked up in sophomore english class: in formal writing, avoid contractions. typically, as a rule i don’t follow that rule. i’m an advocate for informal writing. injecting a bit of style into a piece of writing turns it into art. just ask e e cummings, who also put as many spaces between words, punctuation marks, and lines as he damn well pleased, capitalized letters seemingly at random, and wrote poetry that has no equal. i don’t hate contractions. i don’t hate the word y’all… when chelsea says it. chelsea gets to say it because she’s a southern belle with a lovely country drawl. y’all just sounds right when she says it. when someone from venice beach says it, it’s nails on a chalkboard.
why on earth am i going on about all this, you might ask.
because on the evening of september 21, 2012 i picked up the redwood city daily, and the headline of the front page included the word may’ve. as in OJ simpson may’ve been wrongly accused. i shouldn’t have called it a word. it is not.
for years i have dismissed the downward spiral of the american dialect with a snarky comment here and there, but i cannot overlook this.
i do not accept this “evolution” of language. i will look the other way on a lot of things, but when our headlines use words like may’ve we may’ve jumped the shark. we’ve nuked the fridge. we finally pushed the boulder over the hill, and it’s gotten away from us at a frightening speed.
the next day, i flew back to ethiopia.
i carry on with life in a country that thinks simply yelling FINE!!? at your back as you walk past, constitutes a american greeting. a country where kids sit outside in the grass chewing on garbage during class time and blurt out such sound bytes as “you money give me!” while i walk to work.
at work i get online and check out what AOL today thinks is news this morning, as i wait for my email to load on masha’s blazing fast internet connection (.18kbs per second? slow down trigger!). i’m not expecting the headlines to be intellectual fare – i save that for more respectable sites – hell, i just witnessed a professional journalist headline a newspaper with the word may’ve. at this point, i’m not even expecting the headlines to read as though they were written by a sober, literate person, over the age of ten.
i am expecting them to be stupid.
but not this stupid:
i don’t know why she had to swallow. i didn’t read the article. i don’t know what she had to swallow, or where she got it. i don’t know why AOL couldn’t find a picture of this woman wearing more than a one sleeve plunge neck fishnet shirt, or why they chose to place a photograph of a pile of phallic loaves of bread standing at attention below a photograph of this woman dressed like a porn star next to a headline that insinuates possibly decades of expertise in the field of swallowing, and i certainly don’t know what the fuck a traffic referee is. all i know is: whatever she’s swallowing, apparently she’s been swallowing it since she was ten years old, and her experience with swallowing whatever it was she swallowed affected the purchase of her new house. i sincerely hope it resulted in a discount.
in six months, ethiopia’s contractual death grip on my life is released. where do i go from here?
a person with as many linguistic pet peeves as myself… do i return to a country that allows headlines like why she had to swallow…, do i give up and stay in a country that memorizes the sounds what is your name, but has no idea what those sounds mean when shouted at a person who speaks english… or do i pursue other?
i would love to get a job as a writer somewhere, or even to publish my own stuff, but how? every day i scroll through “news” and various other published forms of the written word – alec baldwin explains the debt ceiling, mario batali op-eds about gun control laws, why men cheat written by some bitter old bag who was recently cheated on, huffPo ranks 50 public domain pictures of colleges we may’ve heard of, all infested with typos, glaring grammatical errors, improper word use – i scroll further, past the “related articles” – kDash finally wears opaque clothing, still manages to show entire world vagina, breaking science news: one easy trick to get flat abs today! – further… past hundreds of reader comments – obama is literally sodomizing the entire country with communist ideas, the GOP is literally raping the economy with upper class tax breaks – finally the little scroll bar on the side of my browser window hits bottom. contact us. contribute. jobs.
i click jobs. nothing lower than managing editor for divorce section: ten years experience required. ten years experience at what? being a managing editor for a divorce periodical? where the hell do i get that and why would i want it? i’m bitter enough without that experience, thank you.
i click contribute. as usual i’m greeted by the message: all unsolicited material will be disregarded. unsolicited mail and email will be thrown away, unread.
good lord. what may’ve i to swallow to get a writing gig around here?
that master’s program in australia looks better every day.
i may’ve too learn me an knew contraction:
* * * *
stay tuned for our next episode:
hey jugdish, what if i got my nose pierced? wouldn’t that be hot?