Thursday, July 31, 2014

Passport Woes, Whews and Wees

It's scary traveling internationally on an expired passport.

At least it might have been scary for Anemo had he been aware he was doing it. Of course, it is completely our fault. We've been looking only at the date on Anemo's Permanent Resident Card (his "Green Card"), which expires in 2019, forgetting to check his Ethiopian passport, which expired this past January. Really, we should have applied for Anemo's American passport by now; we just have to get the paperwork and do it.
Anemo's Ethiopian passport expired on January 13. Notice that my first name still serves as a placeholder for Anemo's middle name. We have to change that.
Suzanne and I were made aware of the expired passport upon entering Curaçao during our recent vacation with Suzanne's parents. We spent a tense 30 minutes waiting for the immigration officer to consult her boss on how to handle the situation. The stern woman even asked us to produce paperwork to prove Anemo was our son. (Suzanne explained to her in Papiamentu that we certainly did not have to prove such a thing!) The end result is that they decided not to stamp Anemo's passport at all. There would be no record that he had visited Curaçao.

With no entry stamp in Anemo's passport, we thought we might have a problem leaving the island. When Suzanne handed our three passports to the immigration official, I couldn't watch as she (a different woman) flipped through the pages. Instead, I just listened for the satisfying sounds of the exit stamps...1...2...........and 3. We were through without incident. Now we just had to get back into the United States.
Anemo waiting in line to clear immigration in Curaçao on our way home.
Usually I am a fairly relaxed traveler, especially at airports. But when I saw another family from California panicking about our short connection time at the Miami International Airport, I started to panic myself. After all, I had budgeted another 30 minutes at U.S. immigration to sort out the expired passport issue. When we got off the plane, I started running through the wide carpeted corridors, telling Suzanne we didn't have time to use the bathrooms. She wisely ignored me and relieved her bladder anyway. Later Suzanne told me that because I had been panicking, she was actually able to relax, allowing her to ignore her usual fear of claustrophobia in the underground labyrinth of MIA.

It turns out there was no need to panic. The new automated passport control kiosks relieved a lot of the burden from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, so we breezed through the line. The officer who examined our passports didn't seem to notice the date of expiry either, which dissipated the remaining tension in our bodies. After all the rushing, our flight was delayed by a half hour, so we were able to have a joyless dinner of rice and beans at La Carreta, the Cuban restaurant near our gate.
Since we had obviously missed an important detail concerning Anemo's passport, I decided to take a closer look at it when I got home. The first thing I noticed was the prefix የ (ye) before the word ኢትዮጵያ (Ethiopia), indicating possession (i.e. "of Ethiopia"). It is one of the most important syllables in the language and appears everywhere. I also noticed that the other words were transliterations of English (or possibly Italian) words. Like ፓስፖርት (passport) and ሪፐብሊክ (republic). But what confused me was the ዊ (pronounced "wee") at the end of ፌዴራላ (federala) and ዲሞክራሲያ (democracia).

I asked Lulit about the syllable and she wrote:
The ዊ on the passport indicates belonging to a type or citizenship. So, if you want to write democratic, you would change democracy (ዲሞክራሲ)  to ዲሞክራሲያዊ.
And therefore,
ኢትዮጵያ (Ethiopia) --› ኢትዮጵያዊ (Ethiopian, pronounced EtiyoPyawee)
አሜሪካ (America) --› አሜሪካዊ (American, pronounced Amayreekawee)
It sounds funny to my ears to have a syllable I associate with childhood, even infancy, at the end of such official words. I was listening to a broadcast of political news in Amharic and heard the syllable several times so I asked Lulit to help me with the translation. The ዊ (wee) syllable turns each of these nouns into adjectives:
ስለ (about) ኢትዮጵያ ፖለቲካ (political) ኢኮኖሚያ (economical) እና (and) ማህበራ (social) ጉዳዮች (topics/matters).
I still have much to learn about how the ዊ syllable functions in Amharic. I also have much to learn about how to get Anemo an American passport to replace his expired Ethiopian one (the topic of a future blog post I'm sure). In the meantime, we are all waiting for our 15-year-old Haitian exchange student to arrive from Port-au-Prince. We were supposed to meet Sasha Olicha Obagou Charmant this coming Saturday, but we were just informed yesterday that recent problems with the Department of State’s visa issuance system will delay this Haitian student exchange program, which was supposed to run for 10 days. Anemo, who is working on a welcome poster for Sasha, asked today if his temporary "older brother" is still coming to stay with us.







We hope the answer is oui.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Coastal Fog

Since our home is less than two miles south of the Golden Gate Bridge, we often feel the chilly fog rolling in off the coast and through our neighborhood (the Inner Richmond), even when other parts of the city might be bathed in sun, especially during the summer.
Summer is the time to get out of San Francisco.
So every year Suzanne, Anemo, and I escape the cold summer weather in San Francisco and spend a few weeks with Suzanne's parents in Curaçao, a Dutch island situated just 35 miles off the northern coast of Venezuela.
I am here.
There is no Ethiopian community here in Curaçao, so while I sit by my inlaws' pool, I can use the strong internet connection from the house to brush up on some Ethiopian history. Jan has asked me more than once why Ethiopia does not have a coastline. I have a "foggy" sense of Ethiopia's history with Eritrea, but I have not yet been able to answer Jan with confidence. I just haven't taken the time to learn the history. Growing up in Rhode Island (the "Ocean State"), living for the past ten years on a peninsula (43 blocks from the Pacific Ocean), and currently vacationing on a Caribbean island, I have a hard time imagining life in a landlocked country, especially when the country historically has not always been landlocked. So what happened to Ethiopia's coastline?
Ethiopia is currently surrounded by Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, and (landlocked) South Sudan.
Ethiopia's relationship to the sea closely intertwined with its relationship to Eritrea. I could easily get lost in the details of the history between these two countries and never finish this blog post, so it's probably best to use broad strokes now and fill in details later as needed.

Both Ethiopia and Eritrea share a history in the Kingdom of Axum, which ended some time in the 10th century CE. The kingdom even expanded across the Red Sea to claim the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Plenty of coastline during that time, when the spice trade with India flourished.
The Kingdom of Axum in the early 6th century
Fast-forward to 1890 when the Kingdom of Italy, wanting to become a player in the race for Africa,  established its colony of Eritrea. The Italians used the Latin name for the Red Sea (Mare Erythreum, derived from Greek) to name the colony, seeming to highlight the significance of sea access. Ethiopia, known then as Abyssinia (from the term Habesha) suddenly became landlocked when the borders of Eritrea were formally established. Soon thereafter, not wanting to be dependent on Italy for sea access, Emperor Menelik II negotiated with France to use the port of Djibouti in French Somaliland.
The Franco-Ethiopian railway from Addis-Ababa to Djibouti.
In 1936, Fascist Italy annexed Ethiopia to its colonies of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland after the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, and so, in a twisted way, Ethiopia was reunited with its coastline.
A lot of port options for the Italians.
After the defeat of Italian East Africa in 1941, the British took control of Eritrea and remained there until 1952, when a United Nations resolution federated Eritrea with Ethiopia, thus giving Ethiopia free access to the coast once again. Emperor Haile Selassie dissolved the federation with Eritrea in 1962 and annexed the country completely, which intensified a war for Eritrean independence that had already begun a year earlier.
Emperor Selassie made Eritrea the 14th province of Ethiopia in 1962.
In 1993, after about 30 years of war, Eritrea became a member of the United Nations and Ethiopia gave up its coast for the final time. The Ethiopian Navy, founded in 1955, disbanded in 1996 after Eritrea, Yemen, and Djibouti all refused to allow a foreign navy in its ports. Currently, Ethiopia is rehabilitating its railway to Djibouti with help from India and China.
According to The Economist, Ethiopia also plans to "do more business via the port of Berbera in Somaliland, a mostly unrecognised breakaway from Somalia, and with Port Sudan in Sudan." 
Which brings me back poolside. This is already day six of our vacation in Curaçao and I still have not seen the sea since flying in on July 4. It's funny what happens when you stay with family that understandably takes Caribbean living for granted. Plus, the pool is right here, so who minds being landlocked on a Caribbean island, a full 15-minute drive from open water? I might as well be in Ethiopia.
A shirt made famous by the character Billy during an episode of Six Feet Under, upon which my brother Dave based his design of the shirt below.
Writing by the pool in Curaçao. When Dave gave me this shirt a few years ago, he explained it was both an homage and a political statement. I understand the political history just a little bit better now.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Wacky Wednesday and Igger Kwas

Yesterday was Wacky Wednesday.

You may be familiar with the Dr. Seuss book Wacky Wednesday (actually published under another of Theodor Seuss Geisel's pen names, Theo. LeSieg). Anemo and I read it yesterday morning. Here's why. Anemo has been attending two "camps" per day, a reading camp and a basketball camp. His basketball coaches told him Wednesday would be Wacky Wednesday, the day of the week when everyone dresses in some unorthodox way. For instance, some kids like to wear their shirt inside-out, or backwards, or both; some color their hair or wear a funny hat. Anemo chose to wear his long-sleeved French mime shirt along with two different socks. I thought it would be clever to connect the two camps by reading Wacky Wednesday. My intent was to help transfer some of Anemo's enthusiasm for basketball to the much-needed practice of decoding language. I admit it was 100% my idea, but Anemo played along. I had to do all of the reading though.

Anemo thrives on the basketball court. It's where he feels most comfortable, and his coaches tell us he shows advanced skills for his age. Shawn, one of Anemo's coaches who is taking time off from Howard University, expressed a real interest in seeing Anemo progress in the sport. This is all amusing to me, because the only sport Anemo would know had he grown up in Ethiopia is soccer. So, as I tried to do for reading yesterday, I've also been attempting to generate some excitement around soccer. Anemo and I have even watched a few World Cup matches together.
Taped to Anemo's bedroom door. The only two players pictured still in the tournament are Messi and Neymar.
When I scheduled my Amharic lesson this week, I was sensitive to the World Cup schedule, knowing how much Lulit loves the sport. "BeTam, BeTam, BeTam!" she said the first time  እግር ኳስ (igger kwas), "football," came up, meaning "a lot, a lot, a lot!" We agreed to meet between the two games on Tuesday (Argentina vs. Switzerland, and Belgium vs. USA), not knowing, of course, that the first and only goal from Argentina wouldn't come until the 118th minute, well after the start of the lesson. Since Lulit had the game playing on the big screen TV during our time together, it made sense to learn the vocabulary of football in Amharic and even try to have a simple conversation.

As for the vocabulary, the first thing I noticed was that the word for goal is ግብ (gib), which contains the shortest possible vowel sound and therefore must be a bummer for Ethiopian sports broadcasters. Learning that the word for kick is ምት (mit), I noticed that the word for header is ራስ ምት(ras mit), literally head kick. (Incidentally, ራስ (ras) is the same word and meaning as in Ras Täfäri, which will undoubtedly be the subject of a future blog post.) I also learned that a lot of football vocabulary is taken directly from Italian, since Italians had a large influence on the sport in Ethiopia in the 30s and 40s (mostly bad, according to this history of Ethiopian football, which asserts that the Ethiopian St. George Club beat the Italian Fortitito 4 to 1 in 1942 in an athletic echo of the Battle of Adwa). Thus, the word for penalty kick doesn't contain ምት at all; instead, it's a transliteration of the Italian word, rigore. Likewise, the English word "card" has entered the Amharic vocabulary, and so yellow card is ቢጫ ካርድ (BeeCHa card) while red card is ቀይ ካርድ (Qey card).

Lulit and I talked about what was going on in the game on TV and about some great goals so far in the tournament, but the question I really wanted to ask was more complicated, so I had to switch to English (and we went back and forth between languages). I wanted to know if Ethiopians would generally root for Nigeria to win its game against France (Nigeria ultimately lost, 2-0), even though Nigeria had knocked out Ethiopia in a final qualifying game for one of the five African spots. The Ethiopian national team had gotten tantalizingly close to a berth in the World Cup tournament in Brazil, even winning its initial African group stage before losing to Nigeria, but I thought a pan-Africanism would kick in once Ethiopia was out. "Not really," Lulit said. She explained Ethiopia would certainly root for Ghana or the Ivory Coast, but never for Nigeria. Apparently there is a deep rivalry between Ethiopia and Nigeria. Lulit explained:
"It's like [expecting] the British to root for France or Argentinians to root for Brazil. They've always (hulu gizay) not liked each other."
I asked if it was just about soccer and she said no, it was about everything (hulu negger). በሀል (behal), meaning "culture," was the word she used. Then she was careful to use bezu gizay ("often") instead of hulu gizay ("always") when she said:
In Nigerian behal (culture), bezu gizay (often) ...[long pause]... aThalyne...but it could be a stereotype. They like to cheat at things. There's always that impression of, oh, you don't want to be like a Nigerian. I don't know why. Nigeria Tirusim yellom...they don't have a good reputation or they don't have a good name.
(Incidentally, Manna had his own conspiracy theory about Nigeria and the qualifying game with Ethiopia. He claimed that Nigeria had chosen a third-rate stadium in which to play the match in order to throw Ethiopia off its game. I checked this out, and it's true Nigeria did not hold the match in its $360 million Abuja National Stadium, but the U.J. Esuene Stadium in Calabar "has hosted FIFA graded games more than any stadium in Nigeria," according to this site, so it sounds like Nigeria just wanted to play on a field it knew well.)

Lulit recognized Ethiopian faults as well:
Ethiopians, for better or worse, are known to be arrogant and feel they are far superior from Nigerians somehow. I don't know why. ... Some of it is for the cheating, some of it it is for, like, not being on the up and up all the time, so Ethiopia always looks down. But that's just the stereotype. I'm not saying everybody. ... I think sometimes African Americans also say that. Ethiopians are just kind of too arrogant. They don't think they're black enough. ... We always have had that reputation...we always feel we have a big culture, we have a proud culture, we beat the colonizers. ... Every country feels that 'our country is the greatest,' but then we always do rub that into the rest of Africa. ... But it's just a stereotype.
Lulit was looking forward to being with a lot of Ethiopians on Ethiopia Gan (Day) in San Jose on July 4. It will take place at the conclusion of the 31st Annual Soccer Tournament put on by the Ethiopian Sports Federation in North America (ESFNA). I learned that every year Ethiopian diaspora soccer teams all over North America get together to compete. This year 35 teams are competing in San Jose.
Last year it was in Maryland. Now this is the way to confuse football and football.
According to ESFNA, "[i]n addition to the soccer tournament, multiple cultural and societal events are planned during the seven day Ethiopian extravaganza." For example, this event at 4 PM today:
It is with great pleasure and enthusiasm that ESFNA announces its participation and partnership with the Ethiopian-American Council in the 10th Annual Ethiopian Heritage Flag Raising Ceremony over the City Hall of San Jose, California. ... Every year, the City of San Jose holds the Ethiopian Heritage Flag Raising Day in appreciation and celebration of Ethiopia’s and Ethiopians’ contribution to its city and across the world. Since 2005, with the exception of 2010, the flag raising event took place around the Ethiopian New Year in September. This year, EAC along with residents of San Jose has lobbied the City to move the event to July 3, 2014 in order to coincide this important event with ESFNA’s 31st Cultural and Soccer Tournament.
Much to my surprise, I learned that there is even an Ethiopian Basketball Federation in North America (EBFNA) that is holding its 14th annual tournament during this week.
Maybe Anemo will play in this league someday, if the NBA thing doesn't work out.
I would definitely be taking Anemo to both basketball and soccer matches today if we weren't leaving for Curaçao tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM. This could be the closest the "Ethiopian extravaganza" gets to our home for a long time.

Which reminds me that I'll also be missing the Germany vs. France quarterfinal match tomorrow morning while we're on the flight to Miami. At least Anemo and I will be reading Dr. Seuss's Wacky Wednesday on the plane, and I can wonder whether Geisel or LeSieg will win.