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.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My Tanzanian alter-ego

My first travels outside Ghana in 2012 landed me in Tanzania. My time there helped shape what my Tanzanian alter-ego would be like. I never had as many Tanzanian friends as I would have wanted, in fact I might have had as many non-Tanzanian friends who had once lived in Tanzania as Tanzanian friends. Tanzania is affectionately called "Bongo". The Bongo friends I've had have been awesome people and close friends as well. How couldn't I love a country where their major language is an African one? Kiswahili. I wish I could write this whole blog entry in Swahili but I'm not quite there yet. Hamis will give it a stab later. Who's Hamis? So after Ayooluwaato Eze from Nigeria, Richard Nshuti Mayanja from Uganda, and David Ochieng Mwangi from Kenya, I introduce to you all Hamis Ambwene Massawe, my Tanzanian alter-ego.

I am from diverse backgrounds. If you've been to Bongo, you'd know it's a country of diverse cultures. In fact, Swahili is a prototypical diverse language too. My mother comes from the Tanga region. It is believed love originates from here. This region has the finest women in the country and they are known to be the best lovers.  My parents chose a Tanga name as my first name, Hamis. So if you think Tanzanians sing about love too much, you haven't known me properly :-) Love so strong brought a Tanga woman and an Indian man together to produce my multiple-time talk-of-the-town beauty of a mother.

My last name Massawe comes from the Kilimanjaro region where my father hails from. Of course, I've climbed the Kilimanjaro before. Hurry down there and earn my country some money. The people coming from this area (Chaggas) are known as the best business men in the country. We are stingy and very future focused. Most of Bongo's rich native people are Chaggas. But you also know that my maternal grandfather is Indian right? Pesa nyingi sana. If you were being constantly challenged to climb the Kilimanjaro as many times as possible, you'd find a way to be successful. Or you'd find a way to milk 255 tourists to make some money. Our president Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete once joked "if you go to a place where Wachagas are not present just know there's no money to be made". Kweli kabisa.

So I love well and I love my money. Ambwene? The name is from the southern part of Tanzania. That is where I was born, in Mtwara. My parents were doing a trip of the eastern belt of Africa, and has stopped there after some time in Mozambique. They are quite Afro-centric you know. You can't talk about Tanzania without mentioning Kenya. We outnumber them but they like to act like our big brother. Besides, they can't speak Swahili as well as we can. And we do have the Kilimanjaro (and the Chaggas) to boot. We have many beautiful beaches, tourist attractions and of course, Zanzibar. Not your local African restaurant or bar but the real one, the beautiful island off mainland Tanzania surrounded by the Indian Ocean.

We Tanzanians love food. I especially love "kiti moto". Nyamachoma has hype, but kiti moto is the real deal. I know Ali Kiba once sang "Msiniseme kama napenda kula" but feel free to broadcast that me and my Bongo friends love food. You could also bet we have some great fish. That love thing? It must be in the Indian Ocean along Tanzania's coast. So is the passion fruit juice I love so much. I am quite the foodian, but I don't like drinking (alcohol) as much. Maybe it's the Islamic influence.

Because my father was a diplomat, he took me to the International School of Tangayika. I also spent some years in Kenya, India, Saudi Arabia, Ghana and South Africa. I ended going to university in the US. Through it all, my Swahili has suffered. We are united by a language we claim highly, KiSwahili. Our founding father, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, did his utmost best to ensure Tanzania (which was a unification of Tangayika and Zanzibar) will be a harmonious and unified country. As part of that, he rallied us around the Kiswahili language which is still the official language today. In fact, we were taught Science in the language. Yeah, imagine that. Guess how to say "Carbon Dioxide" in Swahili without googling? It's Dioksidi kabonia. Samahani, it's no botanical name. You can even do GMail in Swahili and there's also the Swahili version of Wikipedia!

We also have a good singing culture and you guessed it right, most of the popular songs are in Swahili. We also have some great singers like Ali Kiba, Diamond, TID, Linah, Lady JayDee, Ray C, Nakaaya, etc. I got my butterfly voice from my mother too. You might see me on Tusker Project Fame one of these days, outshining all the Kenyans and Ugandans. In Bongo, you will find an amalgation of African influences. We listen to a lot of Central and Southern African music and now, a lot of West African too. You might have also realized I bear the same name with one of the most visible Tanzanian 'Bongo Flava' musicians, AY, whose real name is Ambwene Yessayah. Yes I! Ah! We are very welcoming and anyone can easily make a home in Dar Es Salaam, Arusha and in many of Tanzania's regions.

Tanzania is easily the best place to live in Africa. It's a peaceful, friendly nation with a diverse culture and many things to do and places to go too. Tanzanians are very friendly and peaceful people. Though there are many tribes, and huge numbers of both Christians, Moslems, and Hindus, you won't hear about any tribal or religious conflicts and trouble. We have numbers, you can make money here. We Chaggas don't mind you coming to share the wealth to be made. So Karibu sana.

So next time you meet Hamis Ambwene Massawe, that will be me. And I'm not on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. I normally use some other guy's profile to see what's happening in the social media world. I love reading Swahili blogs, I am learning fast, once mine is released, it will go viral. I'll be celebrating amongst other things, beautiful Tanzanian women like Nancy Sumari. I mean, what's your matter? Tanzania got every flavour to match any in any corner of the world :-) You can catch always me here on this blog.

Friday, July 27, 2012

#Ghana - The passing of a president (#RIPMills) and decisions we make

This week will be remembered for the passing of Ghana's sitting president, John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills. He was a good man, and I will remember him fondly. His memories will live amongst us, everywhere. He really wanted a "Better Ghana". We should all want the same and contribute our quota to make it happen.

My favorite Accra station, CITI FM, shared top 10 quotes of Professor Mills. My favorite is from his acceptance speech from his induction on 7th January 2009. He had been elected fuelled by a campaign of change. He said "Change has also come to Ghana; let us embrace it and forge ahead together with a common sense of purpose. Let us all put our shoulders to the wheel and begin to build a Better Ghana. May God continue to bless our homeland Ghana and make her great and strong". This quote was also shared by The New Ghana Facebook page which is steadily going viral (like it should).

I will also remember this week for the patriotism and unity shown by Ghanaians. I see that level dissipating back to where it was before "Asomdwoe Hene" died but I hope its tenets linger for a long time. It has me thinking about patriotic songs, especially Dr. Ephraim Amu's Yen Ara Asaase Ni. There is also a Ga version in Wo Dientse Wo Hyikpon Ne and an Ewe version in Miade Nyigba Lolo La. I'd share the lyrics (& translations) of the songs in later posts.

Tributes poured in from all over, from many Ghanaians on different social networks, individually and collectively, and condolences shared. One of Ghana's most exciting projects in recent years, #GhanaDecides, has been collating relevant information around this year's election and encouraging ciitzen participation in the electoral process. You should follow them on every major network, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, etc.


Personally, I could care less about politics in Ghana today. It's not that I am being apathetic, it's that there are more important things than the pictures the media and our citizenry help us paint today. The ways in which Ghanaians are succeeding and braving challenges in spite of the well-documented problems we love to talk about. It was sad to see the aftermath of Mils' death get politicized. And it was the little things. Shots of NDC supporters mourning at the NDC headquarters when it could have just been "shots of Ghanaians mourning". We have to get past this.

It's been a while since I shared any opinions on Ghana on my blog. My permanent address got changed to a Ghana one on August 17, 2011. I have become enamored with the achievement, desire and vim of many Ghanaian youth. In my opinion, Ghana will go as far as Ghanaians want it to go. That's the decision we all need to make, not who succeeds Atta Mills. We have to decide to want better.We have to decide that the onus is on us to take Ghana as far as we want to go. We have to decide we want more, and the best.

I had to come up with the blog post's title after I wrote this. So there. What decision are you making today? I have decided I have a major role to play in my community and country's development. I know I cannot do it alone. I am going to bring on board as many people as I can because there is strength in numbers. Join us. More vim!

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