GeoAlaska: Theatre & Film
If you enjoy reading, you're on a right page. There are several writing projects in progress which are connected to Ethiopia and Haile Sellassie. The novel "DEM" (Blood) (see Famine (fragment)), which I started long ago and don't have time to finish. Mostly, because I began to work on a non-fiction manuscript "H.I.M." (His Emperial Majesty), but this project proved to be even more time consuming.
There are several pages with a lot of writing: Birth of Tafari, 1960: Lost Sons. Also, there are pages with my notes on Ethiopian Art under Painting I, II and eBook.
Thanks to Sailor, who edited many texts on this site.
Visitors, travelers, readers! I welcome your comments and critique:
Oh, the blessed times, when the great battles of communism and democracy are matters for the textbooks! Finally, we can look behind the politics and look at ourselves. A time when we don't have to defend the obvious and attack the illusionary...
Perhaps I am an incurable modernist and even a futurist. I love the past but prefer the future. The old days offer this homely sense of stable mortality. We all know how childhood feels. The future is merciless. It's time to fight the future.
I'm an agent and an enemy of the future. It's a time without me, but time of my children and their children. The future should be respected no less than the past. But it must be attacked also. In classical history the present was a continuity of the past; now, it's the unfolding of the future. The changes we have gone through in my lifetime are so radical that the consequences of it have shaped the future forever. What changes?
To see the present I have to go deep into the future, to a time after my death. My daughter, Sasha, would be sixty-seven. Alyosha, my boy, will be older than I am now -- 65, retired. Haile Sellassie will be far away from the time of his reign, to make his re-entry to the history books in his country.
By that time postmodernism will be a thought of the past. The reader of the next century will see many of our problems in an academic light. Politics die fast, often with leaders attached to them, sometimes generations. What is new for us, in 50 years from now will be not noticeable. I took the risk of placing the beginning of this book that far ahead, to avoid arguing with the past. And the present. The fast pace of history of the super- modern is deceptive. A better view of it could be fully present many centuries from now... but this is something beyond my space of imagination.
The reason for difficulties in addressing the century is its radical nature. I was born into this explosion of the new. I believe that I lived through the break in human evolution. It was a new beginning, which we rightly saw as the end of history. In the future this moment of departure from the classical history will be obvious.
Two countries lost, one gained. Ethiopia lost its best, my wife. Russia lost its son, me. Too much is written about man's dependence on his homeland, nothing about the people's guilt. I wasn't the first to leave Russia, and not the last either. There was no Ethiopian community in the United States prior to the revolution. Now in every major city you could find at least one Ethiopian restaurant. It was an unthinkable, shocking, whispering story when one of the ladies from the royal family married an Italian and left the country. Who would talk about it now? Through all my sixteen years in America, I questioned this judgement of history. Why would a nation commit suicide? What is the logic in rejecting its own best? I don't have to guess their future -- they are damned -- Russians, Ethiopians, any country with no respect for its children.
One has to trust history no matter how absurd its course might be. Also, I have to stop blaming myself for my choice. It wasn't free choice. Choice! Another linguistic torture! Never mind such a construction as "free choice"! I ran away for "artistic" freedom, as the CIA agent put it in my papers in Rome. Esther ran for her life. Far from free and choice. Who would like to leave home unless the motherland behaves as a cruel mother-in-law? It was the country's choice. The people's will. They are always free, the masses.
My anger is an old feeling. I do not wish evil on them. Not all the time. But I am not sorry for their troubles. Esther had to go through a lot of struggle with herself in 1985 doing fundraising for the famine victims in Ethiopia. The victims are the very people who never cared for her and her loved ones. This thought never was out of my mind on my return to Russia with my American family. At best the Russians were indifferent to the fate of Americans. They didn't care even to know our problems and worries. Many were as "anti-American" as during the Soviet times when every disaster was good news, proved that Russians were right in being Russians and not Americans. It's not as if Ethiopians can't help Americans, they have no interest in giving....
I wasn't one of them in Russia. Esther was shocked that from time to time while in Addis Ababa she was asked if she was an Ethiopian. How could they mistake her for anything else? She wasn't theirs. For all the problems a new American encounters in the USA, they never have this strong smell of non-belonging. It's YOUR business to make yourself at home, your choice; you are free to love the country.
It's hard for me to love Russia and now -- to love Ethiopia. It's difficult to love when you are not loved.
Yes, Haile Sellassie's life appeals to my imagination. I can identify myself with his fate.
No, it's not the man who lost the country. The country lost itself.
For more from this chapter go to Race Page
The story of our visit is a short-story. We had big plans.
We planed to stay for a year, at least, and we left after a few months. The story even has a plot -- our boy got a meningitis after a weekend trip to Nazareth. In Balche, (Russian) Hospital, they called him Alyosha. Ethiopians called him Tafari. For several days he was in crisis. That was the last straw.
Summer, Ethiopian winter -- the Rain Season. No snow? No, winter must be preserved. I feel strange, everything is open, there is no distance between my body and the world. Like in a water. Maybe it's the air, too close to my body's temperature -- the border line disappears.
How can they understand time without ice and snow? What do they think about death? Man has to experience cold to learn chronology.
Huge leaves, banana tree. Now I believe that dinosaurs existed. If as a child I could see it, my life would be different. The cactus and aloe were popular indoor plants in Moscow. My grandmother had them at her window. strange to see them outside, as I am still inside the house. Am I?
Mon. July 3. Children and animals in small groups. Often together. Separate from the adults. There are no toys. They make them themselves, the boys. No fathers. The war was the reason, they say. As in Black America, they are bastards. Without families they will grew up not having nationality. They beg. It's working. They have to work to survive. School days are short, not
enough of everything to hold them full day. And what do they need to learn? To read and write? In what language? To count? Count what? (I never saw a new birr, they must be printing them in Europe).
Half of Ethiopia is under age of 15. Even women and men are separated. Men stare at you, they wait, they do nothing. They were soldiers, they nothing to do now.
(No date). The city is gone, it's a refugee camp -- and therefore a slum. There was not enough housing before the revolution, but Addis Ababa was under a million, not over five.
The military provides the structure in the Third World. Now it's gone, the dictatorship. The crowds. Streets have no sidewalks, and they all are on the road. Most of them are refugees, new to the city. Falasha, the lost and misplaced? Now they all joined the fate of Ethiopian Jews. Gypsies, disorganized nomads, are the model of the future. They leave their villages for cities. Then the most active of them -- the country. Without war and starvation they still are coming from all over the country, the children of the century of modernization.
The only TV channel runs the same news in three major languages -- new ethnic politics. As if the situation isn't complicated enough. Oromo, they know that they are majority. They come from the countryside to claim Addis Ababa for themselves. The city always accepts the country's mischiefs. They say the
exodus began at the time of the 1985 famine. Like in American cities (?). No, nobody goes back. They have no place to go, they were born in the city slums, and it is their homeland, their global village.
Cars honk constantly, the crowds won't give their roads to traffic. On the sides of the road there is nothing but mud. Maybe roads are bad for car; but, they are good for walking.
So many big signs of embassies everywhere, as if the city has all the diplomats in the world. It's not advertising. There are street names, no mail delivery. I gave up even an idea of driving. On our first day they said -- "You need a good driver" -- I didn't know what they meant. Driver becomes a member of family. Cook, too. A gatekeeper? Oh, come on! I can open the gates myself! What did I know? Before you know it, you've got yourself a household, a clan. They have to live and eat with you. We wanted to live in Ethiopia -- with chickens, ducks, our own green house. Rabbits? No problems! I have to ask somebody to catch them. We ended up buying from foreigners, the Dutch farmers.
(Four week since arrival, we still live in hotels. After Jourdanis it's the Gion).
At the Gion Cabaret. Old men in semi-military uniforms salute you. Very serious, like Imperial guards. Maybe they are the former guards. A lot of extra service. Labor is dirt cheap. Yashi, our good driver, gets 10-15 birrs a day -- and happy. She worked with a police chief of Addis for 150 birrs a month. Beggars ask for a birr; to beg is more profitable than any work. All know it. Why should they work? The boys ask for a dollar.
7.23.95. Drums. All night long. Cars' horns. Train from Jibuty? gion Cabarret. Or my high blood pressure. There is no night life, they say. Even the prostitutes on Churchill Ave go home by midnight. You sleep when it gets dark. Addis starts its days early: phone rings before 8 am. It's better to be a tourist in NYC, not in Africa. Christians thought that we're strangers in this world; they didn't say "tourists."
|Ethiopia looks like Russia circa 1950, or 1954 after Stalin's death. Well, people are dark. Like in Georgia. They want to live better... so, they will be tourists, too. They won't stroll the streets any longer (which are roads), they will WORK. But so far even matches are from Indonesia. "Kangaroo"! Coffee tray? "Made in China"! The coffee is good. Anis. Ethiopian. 21 birrs. 3 US dollars.|
They woke up Africa. Two decades of civil wars were to follow. Ethiopians could sleep in any position. The guards at Yordanos Hotel stand at the gates almost as if they are statues. It's dark. They sleep.
America is abnormal with its work ethic -- and Japan, I guess. Most of the world doesn't know, and doesn't want to know how to work. They have to be forced to labor: the same as if at the time of slavery. Communist dictatorship was a mechanism, if not an economic necessity.
Bank, post office, any government organization -- go and see for yourself. Government at work -- nothing could be done.
Business ideas. At first -- wow! Open space! You can do anything! Try. Learn for yourself that the absence of services are for a good reason -- others before you already failed.
Computers. Customs wars, then trying to make them work -- and selling them. Every step is a problem. Any change is a danger. Of course, you have to know people. Most of them happen to be relatives.
Travel is always travel in time. In the past it was enough to travel in space, because places had their own historical time. Not anymore. Travel is not possible in the age of tourism.
Africans do not travel. They don't have to; the continent travels in time. Twenty years in African recent history equals a century or two. Each new generation faces a new social model and even a new language. The volatile European history of the first half of the century still can't mach the changes the postmodern globalism imposed on Africans. Esther left Ethiopia after witnessing three years of revolution and still on her return after seventeen years, she discovered another country in place where Ethiopia was. Or was it her -- the change? She didn't expect that people would mistake her for a foreigner. She was born in Addis, raised, she thought of herself as Ethiopian.
Foreigners in Their Own Land: I remember my own surprise in a Moscow taxi on my return to Russia after ten years. The cabby thought that I from Riga, complimenting my Russian. I, too, wanted to scream -- I was a Russian writer! I know about Moscow more than all of you!... What I didn't know -- those ten years when they all traveled from the Soviet Union to Russia, from the red flags and stars to imperial tricolor and the two-headed eagle. I was a foreigner. I couldn't re-enter what was my life. Just a century ago the generations lived in Europe and died Russians. After two decade abroad Lenin came back to Russia to became its leader in a matter of months. Do you think our post-industrial age with a generation of software every six months has an enormous speed? Now imagine a traditional society which transforms with speed of light in front its inhabitants. Maybe it could make you understand the reactionary moods of the newcomers to modernity -- nationalism, tribalism, even communism.
Travel or a trip? A visit. I'm a tourist. I'm not one of them. What am I doing here? (Are you talking about life, Anatoly?) We want to be safe foreigners. We leave home to return back. We love travel because it's a promise of new life. We're born again in new place. We love the language we don't understand, because we don't it. The mystery of unusual sounds; we don't know that they talk about trivial matters. We like to feel different. To be special. We enjoy the position of ignorance. Because we're innocent as foreigners, we are not from over here. And we look down on them. We came, we always can live, we can afford to travel, to visit -- they don't, they are stuck with the place.
What is it? Search for the Other? Difference? We need it, and we should crave for it more with globalization coming at us. The idea of global village is dangerous: village is a very homogeneous body. It's only a city which could offer you boroughs. Enthusiastic McLuhan meant that in the village all know each other. The danger is that there will be nothing to learn, that all will be the same.
Africa and travel go together. But what do we mean? Obviously it's not explorations like in the last two centuries. Are we talking about tourism? Everything is about to be a tourist site: waterfalls and concentration camps, ancient ruins and railroad stations.
Travel to Africa begins before we leave home. The
expectations. Why don't we have them at home about, let's say,
tomorrow? Most of the travel takes place before we get there.
Africa is an idea which breeds expectations. We do not travel to unknown, the unknown is the grand expectations, too. The travel is a traveler. Einstein gave us the interesting concept when an event isn't separable from the viewer. Africa doesn't exist outside of a non-African observer. Africans are at home, they dream of going to the West. Experience asks for other and otherness. At home I can't travel.
Travel is an escape, a change, going away from yourself. We need it bad. Africa offers a definite Other, as much as nature could gave. If Africa can't be a travel than what on earth could be?
I hate tourism but most of the time we stayed in hotels. We moved into a rented villa (as Ethiopians call a western style house with all the comforts). I do not like travel -- and my entire life is travel. Nomadism is the name.
I never arrived in Africa and never will.
What travel do you expect, arriving on Boeing 747? There is no mass travel.
Which Ethiopia do you want to see?
What is so "African" in Africa? Is Ethiopia an African country?
Europeans, Americans, Africans, Arabs in hotels. The tale of two embassies: Russian American company.
The university story. The gates and the guards. It was a palace once. Clean grounds, like in a palace. Empty, students are gone. They have a theatre department, but the stage has no lights. How do I plan to direct here? Every meeting makes the future less and less visible.
Africa Today? The Economist (1996, Sept. 7). Africa has 3% of the global investment, Caribbean -- 20%, Asia/Pacific -- 59%! Why not invest? The people. It'll take time before Mexico will join the industrial world -- and the cheap labor could be sought in Africa. Not now, the next generation, perhaps.
The details: mimosa, acacia, peach tree -- write about it. Quiet Africa, the presence of the lost paradise. The leaves, they are out from the world outside of the city, they are foreigners, too. And the birds, the wonder of colors. Hard to believe that it's for a sexual attraction only.
Snow white clothes of women, shammas. Red stripes. Plain and bright. As all of them are brides.
Awash river? Sort of. There are no rivers in mountains. They exist for a couple months.
"New Flower"? A good idea. Maybe sometime in the future. Addis Ababa is the king of villages. The capital of what? It's a provincial city. What is this dust? The garbage in New York is fresh. Dust is a sign of not having money.
(Notes without dates)
Tabib (evil eye). You have to know how to read dark eyes. You don't see the iris, it's invisible!
Unmistakable alarm cries, war dance, howling.
Tattoos. Why would I wish to tell everybody about my identity? Is it for God? Our punk culture isn't original and very postmodern.
European handshakes, yes. Ethiopians kiss each other. Four time; right cheek, left and again. More of a gesture -- cheek to cheek, not hands. Every day greeting, not the Eastern. They bow. All the time. Abyssinian etiquette -- "your health"! As if all are diplomats.
The Real Powers. The same diet for centuries. Even now when everything else is gone. Food as a habit? Ethiopian restaurants in every big American city. Marxists, democrats, rich and poor, nationalists of all sorts, they are united in taste. The crave for spices.
More of my postmodern anthropology:
Geography ruled long enough. There are a few fat people in Ethiopia, somehow mostly Esther's relatives. Ethiopians are slim. The mountain people like Georgians. It's in their blood and in the air. You live above the level of eagle flight. The atmospheric pressure is less, you feel light. Extraordinary success of Ethiopian runners some explain by the phenomena that highlanders in normal conditions have extra oxygen. I never saw anybody running in Addis, not even rushing.
Camels do not survive at such altitude. The desert culture ends here.
Yes, night is tender. And cold. At night you wouldn't know that you're in a tropical country. Get the blanket. During the day -- umbrellas, you see them everywhere, as if they all going to the beach. The shadow is important. Dogs know this simple truth.
Markato. Haile Sellassie portraits on black velvet.
The success of European monarchies is in the centuries of European experience. They tried it all, socialism and straight fascism, they keep their symbolic monarchies for national identity. Ethiopia hasn't form even a stable form of modern governing, monarchy is a luxury for a third world country. And, to make matters worse, the brains of the nation are not there, not in Ethiopia. Intellectuals left or are leaving, debating the fate of the country between themselves abroad. A professor at Addis Ababa University earns under $200 a month. The best are absorbed by the universities in Europe and USA. The young generation legally and illegally gets to the West. This situation isn't new and has no answer.
LINKS TO OUR WORLD OUTSIDE OF THIS PAGE:
Theatre UAF, my work place FILM THEATRE RUSSIAN PAGE AMERICAN PAGE DEATH BOOK
|All PAGES:||New Front Page||FRONT DOOR||GUIDE Page|
History II: War & Exile
History III: Revolution
25 Years Later
Birth of Tafari
1960: Lost Sons
NEW GENERATION Photos
WOMEN OF THE FAMILY
Life in Alaska
Rasta & Reggae
Rasta Reading Room
Addis Ababa 95
Cooking with Esther
|Reference Page||H.S. Forumfirstname.lastname@example.org|
Nice page by a fellow Ethiopian
American Anthropological Association
Bookmark This Page|