Connectivity from Miles Away
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
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 email@example.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
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
And once in a while, we all need reminding that the connections we have to
Sitting around late into the night, talking about what we missed most about
And in many ways, that’s what we in the Diaspora owe
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.