Monday, October 03, 2005

Connectivity from Miles Away

The great thing about our friends the ET-Francos is that they are preternaturally centered. It must be the air in France… or that they don’t, um, eat Freedom Fries.

So our friends are visiting the States and their timing could not have been better. Politics, with all its bleakness and antagonism, had ominously poised to take over Wonqettedom.

We spent a couple of nights listening to Etenesh Wassie hauntingly croon Ambassel and Bati. That woman’s voice makes my heart ache with melancholy and ecstasy, hope and despair all at once. When Etenesh sings, there is no place to hide from the longing, and like a sorceress she ferrets out long-lost blisters.

Annnnyyway, ET-Francos had brought with them an Ethiopian movie, Yemmanat, which we settled to watch on Saturday night. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I watched an Ethiopian movie actually made in Ethiopia.

So here is Weichegud’s first ever movie review:

Yemmanat is set in Gonder in Haile Selassie’s reign. Alella is a ding-batty Azezzo beauty who has many suitors clamoring for her attention. There’s a playa-playa in the woman, but she is so disarmingly charming that people forgive her fluctuating morals. When the story opens, she is recovering from the death of her parents. Her friends finally persuade her to an excursion to Gonder (the city) to scout out men, to see and be seen.

Enter Demammu, a cute-as-he-can-be, hapless Gonderite who sees Alella and falls head-over-heals in love. He steps up to her. They decide to meet at the next AstorE Mariyam festival. (Demammu later dizzily tells his mother “Fiqir yijaE meTahu” to which the no-nonsense, archetypical Ethiopian woman shrieks, “Fiqirr? Ere molaCHa leba!”)

The thing is, Alella is also getting busy with a local soldier, Desta Chekol, a cad of sorts who, when he is not stealing bullets and selling it on the black market, is busy macking local virgins and not-so virgins with equal zeal.

And then there is Abba Damte, a belligerent elderly pseudo-aristocrat who thinks very highly of his real or imagined social status. (The type who gets slighted when he is forced to sit next to his servant in the lorry ride to Azezzo. Yep. One of those.) Abba Damte is also smitten by Alella and is determined to club her and drag her by the hair back to the Bat Cave. Turns out, Abba Damte also sells bullets on the black market.

Ha. You see where all this is going.

Abba Damte is very displeased by Demammu and Desta Chekol (everyone refers to him as “Destachekol” all in one breath. Maybe that’s his first name, I dunno), and hatches evil plots to eliminate the competition. Wicked.

And so unravels a beautiful plot that is also a sharp scrutiny of the Ethiopian social structure and gender politics. Yemannat is also a semi-musical. Scenes are peppered with gorgeous people singing and doing some killer eskista. (Do Ethiopian men know how just how beautiful they are when they eskiss-eskiss?) The scene at ye Waza Mariyam tabot is stunning. The men serenade Alella (as do little street urchins) and she is breezily impressed by all of them except Abba Damte, who she witheringly dismisses when he comes a callin’.

Girl, don’t you know better than to piss off no horny old man with status issues! He is bound to make trouble. Abba Damte does not disappoint. He ain’t one of those enlightened Ethiopian men who takes rejection easily… ahem.

One of my favorite characters is a local eccentric who “narrates” some of the sub-plots, local news and commentary using a dried up bone as a microphone. His voice cadences up and down with the right measure of self-importance, just like the radio announcers of yester year. He ends each session by repeating the last word in echo-format. “Teblwal, tebwal..al..al…” It’s a brilliant vignette.

Yemannat juggles a pretty sophisticated plot with finesse and biting humor. Here’s a sample.

Maru (another fabulous character) is a lovable local hooligan/rabble-rouser who charges people for information. He is as audaciously corruptible as he is side-splittingly funny. Maru runs into Abebe (I forgot the charachter's real name), a live-and-let live guy who wants nothing more in life than the opportunity to land a bitch slap Maru’s chiseled face, at the local watering hole. Maru becomes unnecessarily antagonistic about Abebe’s smoking. Finally Abebe can’t take it any more.

























Funny, funny stuff.

So, try to get a copy of Yemmanat. It is written and produced by one Demiss Sissay. (The order information on the video sleeve says to call 202.667.3723 or email dsyssay@hotmail.com.) By the way, there are a couple of movie and music reviews on Aqumada. Here is a particularly scathing one of something called Yaldereqe Inba”.

***

This weekend was supposed to mark the mass demonstration called by the opposition in Ethiopia … October 2 is also the 10th anniversary of my becoming an American citizen. I’ve been busy drawing very romantic, Freudian conclusions about that, much to my husband’s distress. Oh well.

The ugliest thing about Ethiopian politics is that it makes us forget the unfussiness of Ethiopia’s beauty. There are scenes in Yemannat that dissolved the calcified political deposits in me. Yet these scenes also reminded me why there is a visceral need to stay connected. Ethiopia, beyond her politics, is still remarkably full of splendor. There is an Ethiopia beyond the marginalized, emaciated Ethiopia that her leaders throw in our faces.

You would think that becoming an immigrant and then a citizen, producing babies who are now truly hyphenated, and assimilating seamlessly to a new land would do something to dull the acute sting I feel when I listen to Ettenesh Wassie’s coarse voice singing, “Ambassel mariyE”, or temper the indefinable pride that creeps up in me when my son bellows out “Eet-yo-piyayE” or when he recites “Abatachin Hoi.”

Even from thousands of miles away, the squandered potential of Ethiopia, some hokey “revolutionary democracy” mantra and obstructionist tribalism still unsettle me. And I can’t seem to extricate myself from Ethiopia.

And once in a while, we all need reminding that the connections we have to Ethiopia is far more profound than the political.

Sitting around late into the night, talking about what we missed most about Ethiopia, one of our guests said the way strangers say, “Wuyi! Ayzosh! Terefsh yene innat?” when she trips.

And in many ways, that’s what we in the Diaspora owe Ethiopia: to say, “Wuyi! Ayzosh! Terefsh yene innat?” when she trips.

Someone sent me this: http://www.yagforlife.org. They define "ItyoPPiyawinet" as:

A deep and abiding sense of being, steeped in the history, culture and tradition found in only one place on earth... Ethiopia! Frequently characterized by a proudly intense love for an enviable birthright and a sense of responsibility towards it.
Looks like a worthwhile effort.

Do your part.

10 Comments:

Anonymous medf said...

effoyye, Wonqqi. I needed that.
Hope this does not mean it is "hug an EPRDF day" though!

movie recommendation: "Qezqaza Welafen"...

8:49 PM, October 03, 2005  
Blogger DaEBushu said...

Helplessly fond of your blog. Apparently I'm agreeing to almost all opinions and view points you're presenting. Sadly and frustratingly that rarely happens... The last I felt this way is when I was reading The De Vinci Code besides being too repetitive to ward the end.

Anyway my point is I have been Hod ena Jerba for long time with our Ethiopian dramatic art. Disappointed so many times and finally gave up. Due to my high regards to your review (do you fell the pressure) I'm going to give Yemmanat a shot.

Finally thanks for giving a deserving recognition to Berhanu & Beyene (Emasculation Proclamation). Especially Beyneh for staying on course for long time.

9:01 PM, October 03, 2005  
Anonymous Zenebe Z/Mariam said...

Wonq, idea for your next blog - http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20050930/od_nm/cambodia_rouge_dc

1:03 AM, October 04, 2005  
Blogger kuchiye said...

What a definition for "Ethiopiawinet". Will be nice if all ET web sites and bloggs post it on their home pages. My kids promised they would treasure it:-)

Wonq, looking around me all I see is manifestation of hope and renewed commitment to "yene enat". A trip here and a trip there is unavoidable. How prophetic, Teddy-Afro's "Ye-Ethiopia Tennsae" song. I dare say both lyrics and melody were the works of someone who knows better than us mortals.

Did you have a chance to watch "Gudifecha" on DVD? Another good one!

8:20 AM, October 04, 2005  
Anonymous ye filwiha said...

wonki,

ohhhhh wonki, you again... last night, my weichegud visit segued into MNF laughing out loud --literally... to get a copy of Yemannat, I had left a voicemail on the number you got, but nobody has returned my call yet ... tried the email, it bounced back ... called one of the Ethio stores in town and my country lady, bless her heart, said "ohhh alen, alen... ginn kijji newww ginnn clear new kijim aymesil... tekerayewna eyew kefelk bezaww tigezawaleh..." and silly me asked yemayagebagnin, "sintt copyy new yalachihu ene kegezahut andun?" to which she replied, "ohhh kegezahima le anidd kenn timelisewna endegena gelibiche esetihalehu..." she sounded as funny as Maru....

anyways, what was I saying, yeah --since you've already welcomed "chewinet" in your several blogs, I don't want to let the Queen down - so if anybody in wonkiville knows any source where I could get the original VHS/DVD copy of the movie Yemannat, please holler -- otherwise, ye filwiha will be forced to go black and deal with Maru's sister at the store... thanks fellas!!

5:18 PM, October 04, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a regular visitor here but great blog! I have to echo one of the earlier comments about that definition of "Ethiopiawinet" - that is really a good one. And what a great idea to have an Ethiopiawinet Carnival in DC, the mecca of the Ethiopian Diaspora. Much has been made about the 'silent majority' of Ethiopians and what they can do to help our country. This seems like the perfect opportunity to get involved in the right way...I know I'm going to make it a priority to support this effort.

9:48 PM, October 04, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonkette,
Came to know your blog recently. I enjoy your witty political commentaries and admire your writing style. I have become one of those who are waiting eagerly your latest blog entry.
Like you, I also enjoyed the semi-musical 'Alela Yemanat'. I borrowed it from aquaintances who happen to be from Azzezo. My acquaintances told me the movie realy portrayed their life in Azzezo and Gonder. I can see the parallel between some of the characters in the movie and past life of some of my acquaintances or the people i used to know thru them. (I mean someone who speaks like Abebe and Maru etc...)
You have given fantastic brief synopsis of the story and i can see u can make good review. One thing i would add is that the technical aspect or the way the film is made. For those who did not see it yet, have to forewarn you that DO NOT EXPECT the technical standard you are used to see even for short amateur movies from the developed world.
I believe the writer/producer/director of this short film lives in America and made this film using not filming crews and company assets but his own simple camera and limited resources when he was back in Gonder-Azzezo area.
The story though is rich and the actors are I think mostly amateurs. It is the simplicity and authencity that i enjoyed most from this short film. If the writer still lives in America and somehow reads this, I hope he will consider a Musical stage performance of his short film here in America. May be we can help.

12:43 PM, October 06, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your quote of the "baria" Jokes and your description of them as "funny" are close to being sick. I enjoyed your blog until now but if as a black person living in the USA and still find those jokes from the film amusing (apparently becuase they are about fellow ethiopias?) it makes me think of where your politics comes.

Just goes to show the sinster, reactionary, undemocratic reservoirs that your politics spring from.

3:44 AM, October 07, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Appologies,

For previously posted comment on the "baria" joke. My political correctness thing may have been a bit over the top. I did find the lines very funny myself as well. But of course it also left me uneasy. It portrayed a part of history, culture that is tragic. We should realise that the atitudes and thoughts are as distructive and probably have left a scar on all affected, just like slavery in America.

May be We should critise excessively the products of the still infant film industry . After all they are raising this issue and giving the chance to discuss it.

I enjoy your blog very much and I would hate if irrate comments from people like me discourage you even a little.

Keep up the good work.

10:36 AM, October 08, 2005  
Anonymous maru said...

Anonymous,

The thing that rattled me about your first PC "wonqette tiwdem" comment was the over generalized condemnation. You disagreed with her over a movie review , which led you to question her entire being, her politics and her personality. It's a very Ethiopian reaction, and we all suffer from it.

But you were very classy to recognize it and come back with a mea culp, even when you didn't have to.

Maybe this is the kind of dialouge we need-- especially our leaders. And like Wonq, this is why I like Berhanu and his thoughtfulness. Maybe this is the dawn of a new generation. I think that's why he is being vilified-- people just can't seem to put him in a niche, and we always destroy what we don't understand.

Ere bakachiu, I can't find a copy of "Yemannat" anywhere either. Ye Filwuha lij, I am afraid I might also have to resort to "yeteqeda copy" that looks like "yalteqeda copy." Anyone else had any luck?

11:47 AM, October 08, 2005  

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