Monday, November 5, 2007

Are you Ethiopian?

This past weekend I went to my favorite Ethiopian restaurant (Addis Ababa) in downtown Silver Spring. Every time I go I get asked "are you Ethiopian?" This is how the scene usually goes (and how it went on Saturday night). We entered a crowed restaurant, the hostess comes to me and says something in Amharic. I smile and say hello. She still doesn't get it, then says something else in Amharic pointing to two different tables. I choose one table, my friend says no choosing the other, we sit down. The waitress comes back smiling at me and saying hello to him politely. She gives us menus, I proceed to explain to him the food selection and he just says for me to order whatever is good. The waitress is standing behind him while he says all of this. I place the order, she smiles as I order him an Ethiopian Beer and myself Ethiopian Honey Wine. I think the waitress finally started to pick up on the fact that I was not responding to anyone in Amharic...hmmm.

My friend said the hostess and the other waitresses were taking bets on if I was Ethiopian or not. I said I know, it happens all of the time. It never fails, in DC it is pretty much assumed I am Ethiopian only ocassionally do I get Dominican (I'm not offended, it's kinda cool). Finally, my waitress comes and asks me "are you Ethiopian?" I say no. She looked a little shocked and disappointed. She walked away quickly and that was that. I didn't get anymore big smiles from her all night. sighhhhhhhh I didn't even have a chance to say my proud statement..."I'm in the process of adopting a baby girl from Ethiopia!" I love saying that!

My friend had a huge laugh, made lots of jokes, and said I better learn Amharic fast before I'm accused of not being proud of my heritage. I guess I better find an Amharic class in 2008!

*Sidebar: In my heritage research I found out that DNA from the Fulani tribe shares some of the same DNA from that of Ethiopians some more some less. Maybe when my daughter comes I'll get tested more to find out if we share similar DNAs.


haze said...

LOL. Sounds like you can't win!

I've just enjoyed catching up on your last few posts as I've been offline most of the weekend. Good job on posting every day!

Tami said...

Thanks Haze! It's been tough but fun and it really makes me think! Now wouls you post so I have something to read other than my stuff!

Anonymous said...

I am so glad you posted about this. We were in DC this weekend. We went to Lalibela and the waitress said "I said SELAM when you walked in the door." I said I am sorry I did not hear you. Then I proceeded to explain that I am not Ethiopian. Then she looked at my son and said "he looks Ethiopian." I said, "that's because he is." Then she said "well he looks like you." I told her I have no explanation for that. We did get extra shiro so it was all good.

The next day we were surrounded in the hotel restaurant. The waitresses were a little troubled by the fact Little Y does not speak Amharic. I tried to explain I am trying to learn it and he came home at age 2 and only hears Amharic and Sidamuaffo, but they were a bit perplexed. The hostess told me "we Ethiopians know our own and your eyes, nose and mouth and teeth are Ethiopian!"

A cousin by marriage who happens to be Ethiopian said they probably thought I was one of those Ethiopians trying to deny their heritage.

Gee, I wish my Dad would just take that DNA test! This has been going on since 1979 and it used to be cool. However, now that I am a parent to an Ethiopian child, I can only imagine what it would be like if I still lived in the DC Metro Area.

Tracey said...

People often think I am Ethiopian too. When we were in Ethiopia, people could not believe that my brother and I were not Ethiopian. OTOH, I have had a few Ethiopians tell me that although they think Amara and I look alike, they don't think either one of us looks Ethiopian!
And btw, when I was in the DR, everybody thought I was Dominicana too.
But you know the truth - I am 42% a white girl!

Jocelyn said...

I wish you could have been at the shower too, that would have been fun!! One day we will meet for a playdate somewhere:-0

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said "A cousin by marriage who happens to be Ethiopian said they probably thought I was one of those Ethiopians trying to deny their heritage." very wrong assumption.

Ethiopians are proud on their ancient heritage. The past about 20+ years trouble there will never give them even the slightest impression to deny their at least 3.5- 4.3 million years Glorious history.

Just few examples:
Being the first human being to use tools made of clay, stones, woods and the likes 200 thousands years back (Go to Ethiopia and visit them in museum). Being the mother to the Egyptian civilization. Having the first female international known queen ‘Makeda (Sheba), Ruling the whole of east and horn of Africa and southern Arabia under the Abyssinian Kingdom. Being the oldest Christian nation and being the mother of many other human made results are the best thing to be proud off not deny.

Even in recent time, Ethiopians were the first able to defeat the colonizers from the boarder defending their nation and gave the world the sense of believe that they also can fight against operation and colonization. Ethiopia played big roles for the African independency from colonization. That is why Addis is became the headquarter and the symbol of Africa. Even Nelson Mandela had lived in Ethiopia while getting a Military training against Apartheid. Read his book and you will know more about Ethiopians how he was shocked witnessing the unexpected as a black person that gave him happiness and pride when he saw the king and the entire nation was living the way the whites were elsewhere. King H.S was the first African totally and equally accepted and treated by Europeans and all over the world. Watch the video when he arrived in US during JFK time.

There are millions of reasons Ethiopians have to be proud in their heritage instead of deny as you said. What is happening today in Ethiopia which is a less worthy event is happening in a fraction of one second frame time duration comparing the country glorious thousands years history. Less that one second unattractive event cannot make anyone to deny the thousands years proud events.

After all, Ethiopia owns and uses the highest treasure for thousands years which is her unique and the only Alphabets Africa (Black people) have as Arabic is from Arabia. So, your cousin must be less than the average Ethiopians know very little and only the recent unattractive stories about Ethiopia.

Saying that Ethiopians are respectful to anyone. They have own culture and behaviour that would be different than the rest of Africa. Because of they are not colonized and sold as slaves because of they defended themselves with high price, they are always close people among each other. They know who is Habesha (Ethiopian) or not just by looking and observing behaviours. Most blacks that are mixed with white race look to them as Habesha thinking Habeshas are the product of blacks and whites long times a go. If you are black have a white race in you, then be prepared that you will be always mistakes as a Habesaha (Ethiopian). If you don’t like to be treated that way, don’t be around them.

Tami: I like most of your points of views. I also like your writing style.

By the way you learning Amharic means you are learning the language uses the only Alphabets Africa has. Not only Ethiopia but also Africa and the wider international community see the Ethiopian Alphabet one of the few precious human kind treasures/heritages must be protected and well developed.

Anonymous said...

The cousin's point was that she had encountered Ethiopians who pretend they are not from Ethiopia. I have never met any that have done that. But yes, I did share her point of view. I guess we all have them.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said

"If you are black have a white race in you, then be prepared that you will be always mistakes as a Habesaha (Ethiopian). If you don’t like to be treated that way, don’t be around them."

Me thinks you missed my point. Those of us who do not have the privilege of knowing our heritage for the last 2000 years plus and who have only recently been able to unravel part of the mystery through DNA testing, may find it very frustrating not to be able to know where our ancestors came from. We don't have any issue with Ethiopians, we have an issue with not knowing if there is a connection or not.

If you are constantly being asked if you belong to a certain group as I have for the last 28 years you would like to be able to say yes or no with certainty. As I mentioned, it would be cool to know. Unfortunately for those of us whose ancestors got here courtesy of the middle passage it just isn't that easy.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tami: Thanks for giving this opportunity.

Hello anonymous,

I can imagine your point how it could be important if the human made DNA technology after laboratory telling you by somebody else exactly who really you are.

My dear sis/bro,

How you look like from the outside is how you are made off by nature from inside. A fig tree looks just a fig tree, a mountain looks just a mountain, a Mercedes car look just a Mercedes, a horse looks just a horse, a gorilla monkey looks just a gorilla, a Habesha looks habesha (Ethiopian), an Arab looks Arab, a Chinese look Chinese and so on. If someone looks naturally as a beautiful/handsome habesha, then she/he belongs to the Habesha. DNA, which is a human made product, shows not only where you belong to but also how unique and different you are even from your very close family members. That means, your DNA idea will never point you the exact spot where you belong. It might tell you for instance in western Africa which is almost the size of US and thousands Tribes are living there that would make the situation even complicated.

I tell you one thing. Last month the beautiful B. went to Ethiopia with her 71 members including her M and .F. You know what she said among the others “she felt Ethiopia is her second home. She has been all over the world. But she never even went to anywhere with deep spirit the way she came to Ethiopia.” Because she found herself with the same natural look among the millions of Ethiopians look like her naturally. Ethiopians also treated her, as she was one of them without asking her DNA to prove it. Why DNA. She looks the same as they are naturally. Nature created her and them almost identically/closely that need no human assistance to prove it with DNA.

Having said that I respect what you are doing and I wish you all the best. But the same time if you look like an Ethiopian, give a chance your natural out look to accept and live up to it. Ethiopians don’t need your DNA to accept you fully as you are one of them But they need you as a human being created naturally the way they are and most importantly your behaviour towards them, others and yourself.

Thanks for giving this opportunity to discuss issues with my Sis/bro. out there.

Anonymous said...

FWIW Anonymous,

When I traveled to Ethiopia it did feel like home. So on that point, I agree.


Tracey said...

Funny, but I felt incredibly comfortable in Ethiopia too, like it was home. From the moment I got on the Ethiopian air flight, I felt in my element. Now of course I didn't know the language, and the country was in fact very different from anything I had ever experienced, but it still felt perfectly natural for me to be there. At first I thought it might just be that I was in an environment where the overwhelming majority of people looked like me. But, I didn't feel that comfort in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic.

Anonymous said...

I agree Tracey, I have never felt that level of comfort anywhere else.

Don't Eat My Buchela! said...

Ha! I came to your page while I was blog hopping. When I saw your picture, I was like cool... an Ethiopian adopting from Ethiopia. But then I saw this post:)

I could only laugh.