Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Ethiopian alter-ego

Did you know every guy in Ethiopia has my name? If you didn't know, then you don't know Ethiopia as well as you think you do. Yea, so by default, my Ethiopian alter ego is called Ato. More on this in about 3 minutes. We are talking about a country that was never colonized. The country of 13 months of sunshine. The country that uses its own calendar. Yeah, forever young, you can't beat that. The country of Haile Selassie. No, I am not a Rastafarian, amegsenalo very much. But I can tell what I am. So after Ayooluwaato Eze from Nigeria, Richard Nshuti Mayanja from Uganda, David Ochieng Mwangi from Kenya and Hamis Ambwene Massawe from Tanzania, I introduce to you all (Ato) Girma Goitom Gemechu, my Ethiopian alter-ego. 

When I was born (in the US, more on this later), I didn't cry as much as most babies do and that took the observers by surprise. It's almost as if I was saying, "I am very happy to be here and men are not supposed to cry anyway". That prompted my father to proclaim that I am a Mister who is just a few days old. Hence, the (nick)name Ato. Many Ethiopians can have the title Ato, but I have the name Ato. Call me "The Ato" :-). My mother had another thought. "This my child will command respect and will be dignified". Today, that thing is called "swag". See photo evidence for many of my countrymen having the title Ato. Now imagine being called Ato and especially hearing your name everywhere in your own country. It builds some stupendous self-esteem and confidence ;-)

In fact, my (first)name Girma roughly equates to "swag." It's a name from the Amhara tribe, where my mother hails from. Yeah, you guessed it - she's drop dead gorgeous! The Amhara tribe has some extremely beautiful women. My father scored a good catch I tell you. The story has it that when my parents were visiting Brazil, onlookers were so entralled by her beauty that they asked where she was from all the time. They decided to call her Konjo - which means "beautiful in Amharic".


You might have heard about the Oromo tribe of Ethiopia. Yup, that's where my father is from. The Oromo people are the largest tribe in Ethiopia. In fact, the Oromos outnumber Ghana by ourselves. Haile Selassie is an Oromo too. My last name "Gemechu" talks about happiness. I hate being sad, I always have to happy myself. That's why I didn't cry when I entered the world. I've been happy from day one. Don't begin to equate Rastafarian happiness (via Haile Selassie) to Oromo because of me, just it's really just me. Me, I unite countries across tribes.

"Goitom" is a Tigrigna word. Yeap, different tribe. My parents really have high hopes for me, as the name means "Lord," a leader/ruler of the people. I have 6 siblings and it's by design. My parents like the idea of big families so we all got Tigrinya names. My parents are also very business-minded. They loved Ethiopian culture so much and realized the business potential of milking it. Hence, they decided to travel to different places (especially the US), starting a chain of Ethiopian restaurants called Haile House. We have franchises in many US cities, as well as Toronto, Johannesburg, London, Accra, Nairobi, Rome and Amsterdam. I have spent time working in all of them, my resume is quite busy :-) I wish I could speak all the various local languages though. Even my Amharic is very limited, how much those ones? You should also know that we have our own awesome Ethiopic characters. We also have Gmail in Amharic. Yes, our language is very important. 

You can't mention Ethiopia and not talk about its women. Mamamia! You do know we have close Italian ties right? Every night is a party in Addis Ababa. Jazz bar here, night club there. Even when you go into agrarian Ethiopia which has over 60% of our population, the ladies are "konjo" up in there. Because before makeup, there was beauty. Yup, we Habeshas are artistic too, me especially :-) Yes, you must have heard the Habesha word before. It's a term that is used by Ethiopians and Eritreans to identify ourselves. Unrelated point, we love raw meat, especially raw beef. Like Gored Gored. And Tere Siga. I couldn't run away from this Google search result. We Habeshas do like drama though.

Rumour has it that there are more Ethiopian doctors in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area than in all of Ethiopia. And Ethiopia has 80 million people. So no wonder, I was born in Washington DC myself. Seriously, sometimes it seems as if there are more people of Ethiopian (and Eritrean) heritage than there are Black Americans in the DMV. You might also know that there are Ethiopian restaurants in many big cosmopolitan cities, especially in the US. In fact, one time I was on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California and I saw more Ethiopian restaurants than actual Ethiopians on the street (proof in the link).

If you have visited Ethiopia, you'll realise that we have a lot of old relics, old hotels, etc. Basically, we have a lot of infrastructure that has been kept through the years. Some of our top night clubs were built in the 1960's and some popularly hotels and jazz bars date even earlier than that. You might think we are living in the 90's today but we are not. Complaining about Ethiopia not having 3G internet connectivity? There is a placeholder called Girma Goitom Gemechu aka 3G. :-) But on the real though, I wish my Ethiopia was more advanced and not have taxis that look like the 1980s. And don't you dare make jokes about us being in 2004 now! We can actually correct some of the terrible things that may have happened to Africa within 2004 to 2012. Including making sure Asamoah Gyan scored that penalty at the Mzansi Mundial!

So next time you meet (Ato) Girma Goitom Gemechu, that will be me. And I'm not on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. I am an old school kind of guy like my country mostly is :-) I normally use some other guy's profile to stalk all the pretty Habesha girls from time to time. Back to the Habesha ladies. They are some of the most beautiful in the world. I mean, compare the videos for Flavour's Nwa Baby and the Ethiopian Sawa Sawale remix. See difference in beautiful women. Konjo! :-) You can catch always me here on this blog.
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