Is The Count
© Copyright 2023 by Etsegenet Reta
Photo courtesy of the author.
An embryo was stretching her hands and legs and a mother asks a father to touch her tummy. He touches it and tells his wife it feels weird. There I was a crying baby coming out of my mother womb. Has been incubated for days at the countries big hospital was ready to go home with my family. Every now and then they take my naked baby pictures.
My other siblings join kindergarten by age three. Mother was respected among the school community on her stand towards education. Then she starts to get sick, that I was 5 years old but never been to schooling of any kind. The concerned neighbours ask about her health conditions and about my schooling. Due to financial problems she had I joined informal kidsí church school where they teach Amharic alphabets. The instructor always mentions that i am smart. He has a strong relationship with my mother and tells her to be proud as a parent. At the end of the year i remembered the alphabets and how to pronouns them and grandmother finally convinced mother to allow me to live with my brother and sisters at the unclesí and it was time for me to join primary school.
By the time, educational curriculum changes were undertaking, which requires, kindergarten schooling as prerequisite for primary grade. But the plan was hold on for so long. On my registration day, i feel like i rock. And the school director asks my age and I say 5, and my uncle replies its 6. Itís a lie i said. Do you hear me or her? He seems mad, and he outs to process my registration while me at the directorís office.
My family never have a relative visits or they do it themselves. One time my ďantie-the gardnerĒ friend comes to see us one Saturday. While she having a nice chat with family, it begins to rain and my family insist she spending the night with them and I was proud. I liked the visitor because she works at the city municipal gardening and road cleaning. I happen to spot her at the bus station area doing her work while me and my brother waiting for a bus.
I never liked ďabroad antieĒ. She comes once a year, for religious family gatherings. I always feel guilt every time she is around of not becoming financially independent and become a burden to her. She is feared and respected in the family. The family is elegant when she comes, best foods cooked, and house is clean. One time while in school i was proud of myself that the subject biology is easy to me, and i liked showing off to her, she being nurse abroad which I lately learned is American dream, she act as if she never been school, then i decided to join something that my family has zero interest of.
An old white lady who as antie said a second mother to her, make a request to visit us and which she did. My family prepared a one day road trip for her. Not everybody is interested but i like to hospital her. I learned that she liked me more than my siblings. She gives us a pen with three colours in one and asked us to write a letter to our antie. I liked it. I write down and give it to her like a school kid. The day seems long to her that she says she wants take a nap, before her flight. Though scared, I visited her room to check if she is okay and she says, yes I am. And then after 2hrs she headed to the airport. Whenever antie comes i ask her how she is doing and if there is new thing with her, but never received a satisfying reply.
Granysí cousin with all her families is the witch of our family. Even if continuously discouraged by family, she comes to see us once a year. She is playful and nice to me. She talks loud and anything that comes out of her mouth hurt my mother.
During my elementary schooling, I begun to caught flu frequently. I was taken by my ďantie Ėthe gardenerĒ to expensive hospital which i even now canít go to, and appreciated my family. They doctor go through series of examination and said the symptom shows that itís TB. My family reply to buy the medicine from government hospital. They held me in the back and go to one of government hospital. The doctors were playing cards. Even after they notice them they keep playing and tell them they are busy and we go back to home.
My family never fails to humiliate me in front of my classmates for example by making me wear cultural dress on non-special occasion days, or other scenes. The one incidence I remember was while i mate a cool female friend and i ask her i eat lunch at sisters' class and she join me there if she wants. And she says yes. Then we have lunch. After lunch session she mentioned she likes my sister more and wants to be her friend and not me. And as times goes on I was ashamed to share my food with friends or even show them. The lunch they pack me is not cooked well and near to spoil that i tried to eat a little and stop it and return it home. And my ďantie the gardenerĒ said she spend hours cooking that how dare i not eat. I was really thin physically.
School becomes a place where I get happiness. I liked drawing and music classes more. And i liked pencil colour. Near the end session of music class, I learned about writing elementary music note keys
In one of summer visits at my mothers, sister also joins me to spend a week with us. She was 8 by then. My mother, sister and my other antie was in to rush to go to weeding. And I asked mother to go with them which she replies you are not that clean. Mother is a puzzle to me. As far as my knowledge is concerned mothers loves and comforts there kids, but my mother is different. As a little girl i am scared of a room with no light and my mother noticed and gets mad and urges me to walk in to the room, i did but was aching at the heart. She also asks family friend to bath my hair. I hate it when people comb my hair because they hurt my skull.
At another visit at momsí my siblings call me 'nigger' and my mother was laughing. I pick a stone and throw it on my sister and break her teeth. And grandmother said how dare you not behave and she kick me with a stick. Grandmother teaches my sister how to saw a sweater but not me. I ask her why you donít like me. And she says i like her that's all.
I was the only enthusiast of visiting my mother for long, but brother begins to join me. We used to save money together and buy our summer food and bring to mother. Brother was super saver and liked business. At one of our visit sister comes to visit us. She looks different than us. She wear a nice cowboy jeans and a nice shirt, that time my heart sink for my brother because somehow, he has no better treatment than i have. I see my motherís non mercy eye, i wished i could make sure brother was equal to sister and i was the only black sheep of the family. My brother and I had good chemistry which ends as brother tried to harass, I was angry and couldnít give explanation to it. In the morning i scare him saying i will tell mother which i didn't till her death.
I keep visiting my mother for summer and the last incidence was when a dead Snake found at her door. And i visit less and less. My mother also grows pet animals like dogs. Which i scared of and they bark at me mercy-less. She also pet chickens, sheep, and cats.
Though l liked copying mother on washing clothes and personal care, I lacked the strength and motivation most of the time. And I donít like touching my body let alone washing it. I learned to make a coffee and i was proud and i can't wait to tell her about it and she mentioned its bad witchy practice and the church said it and no need to have the ceremony.
Uncle is respected both in his spiritual and personal life. He gets invited to kidsí graduations, religious meetings, and a lot of weddings. He doesn't trust anyone on anything but managed to have such a positive life. He is proud about culture of his country, philosophical and very modern towards empowerment of the women in the family. He always mentioned why you lack at something rather than praising you because he wants you succeed more. He is active participant on holidays, and has interest towards self-care, technology and fashion.
Holiday at the unclesí house has huge place specially Christmas and Easter. I always look tired, idle, and solo the next day forgetting all the nostalgia family talks and gathering and nice food, which you don't get any of it the next day. One Easter a women who works at a nightclub comes with my grandmother and uncle after the night prayer at church, she have shared a family meal which i take it personally.
Sister in her teen years starts to get bad boyish, and not attend classes and not do well in exams. Family even i was concerned. Somehow she passed junior high with good grade and that was her turning point. In her senior high she was excellent both at school and her spiritual life. Mother insisted that she joins Sunday church and she did. She meets good friends and boys too. And for her graduation mother buy her a nice white hand waved cultural dress and she steals the scene. On her graduation day my family wants me being home. But i was mad, and went to church. From far i can see my sister skin glowing and was dying inside. I come close to her and friends with my dirty skirt and i can't meet them in the eye. I left the scene without doing further drama.
Once in a while she wants to do my hair which i said no a lot of time. And one time i was about to throw-out. I was scared if i get pregnant, and hoped my family doesnít go that far.
Even though I have enough sleep at most of the night, I started to develop muscle pain and fatigue on my legs and hands when i wake up, and my skin hurts a lot. Even if born in non-fluoride water zone of the country my teeth has yellow mark, which people pick randomly where i was born.
My female family members always has something to do in the kitchen or do cloth washing and sweeping the floor but the house always looks messy .As a kid a lot of beautiful flowers get planted at the house by antie. And no body dare to touch my antie garden, and during summer snails gets in to the house and one day uncle clears the entire garden. Happy i was! Then brother planted banana tree very near to each other that scares anyone. The house condition worsens, with no food or cloth to wear. The light bulbs covered with spider waves and rats move from here and there in the rooms.
The hospital scene of my family is really Nashua. When they get hospitalized that is what i don't like. I like helping others may be loved once, with a hope for new beginning. They want you read their mind and feed them nice food like their mom used to do it and suffer all the pain with them. And you must get the cash for the bed and medicine and hand them on time. My grandmother and ďantie the gardenerĒ died at the same year. And family prepares extravagant funeral for both of them.
It was teenage years and I was craving a boy and girls company. Boys never approached me nor had a girlfriend. At such points my sister is lucky. After her high school graduation she invited the male and female friend and made them eggs with tomato and onion and it tastes good. And i can't stop tasting a little. She was really mad that she slaps me on the face. Lately I started to get scared that they will kick me out of the house and tried to behave as good kid.
Time flies and sister made it too freshman year college. Mother prepares nice packing foods and buys her nice dresses and the holy bible. And uncle travels with her up to her dormitory. Mother calls every week on how her study goes and about friends she is making. She was indeed surrounded with care. She finishes college with distinction.
During my high school graduation my sister was in campus and acts as unfortunate kid. I planned to go the ceremony with her. She was playing flat tyre and it started raining. She said letís wait for the rain to stop. I said to her it will not. Then uncle arrives at home. They both dressed like shit and we started heading to the ceremony. I was paranoid that some of classmates might have done this. I arrived after the diplomas are handover but donít miss the tea session and my classmates.
Her end of college was a beginning of mine. And the family suffer sorely financially. And they were building a new family house. All the abroad money sent from the ďabroad antieĒ went to the house. My uncle also loss interest on family matters and mother never reached me or my brother. I was in charge of cooking family dinner. I happen to get admitted to the country best university as engineer. I never have a secret or circle. My family was my only trust circle, and i get aware lately they tell every detail of my life to classmates, neighbours and relatives. I never had study group for comfort or learning from one another. I hardly eat and make study plans. Everything is very vast and difficult to grasp. I get distressed mentally though, i made it too, good standing GPA and an excellent thesis. Collage graduation was one of a hell of story to tell. Mother said sick and uncle said i will go to church to pray. And i go again with sister and yes it did rain, I get wet and cold when i return home noon. And i don't remember the night.
Brother drop out from college and don't like working or learning. And he makes in to convincing my family to buy them a home car. Yes they do. It was a time when, I was out of school and i want to start up, the licencing and processing fee is a headache by its own, let alone the start-up capital. I wondered why they haven't given me a hand even once.
I graduated and I want to start construction start up, not wisely planned but deep down i want to change my life. Little knowhow about business i get tax penalty for not notifying my income on time and sister bells me out, but with her deep background on TAX law, it always kills me why not prevent it from happening.
I keep applying for open position and land my first job to government office. After receiving couple of monthly salary, mother gets sick and the doctor has referred her for laboratory examination to expensive hospital. I call sister and notify her of the costs which she mentioned doesn't concern her, which i pay for the cost from the saving i had. Then mother starts complaining walking long distance while being sick. Well i can't afford to take her a ride, she can sack it in and walk, it won't hurt after all. After all I didnít afford a life style myself that, all my cloth was old, and some i take from a sister.
I started to apply for scholarships on hopes of going far away. I did spot studding abroad and during winter season, I noticed that my AC doesnít warm my room much and my foot toes starts to get dark in the middle. The university provides laundry cards to all students like me but mine never worked that I wash it the old fashion way and dry it in my room. Class begins and i was at the top of them. The assignments were challenging, and it makes me proud solving them. Though, we take class from 8.00morning to 7.00 at night. The lecture was so rich and the professors know what they were talking about. I don't like losing it, because i like it very much. I get tired that I canít cook after the class sessions. for a women like me born and raised in suburb, the city has many branched lanes, which i can't trace back easily, even though a country-met show us all the good food places, i missed most of them because I don't remember their locations. I donít trust mobile apps too, to buy cloths online or pay for a nice restaurant.
I was getting really thin and i can't walk my legs at time, the university dean mentioned he would deal my issue with my country mates and i shall wait patiently for my return, and give me a business card to contact him at time of need. I did return to home country safely, and then the family story begins.
Brother takes me home with his car at the airport and mother brings me a hot scramble egg not cooked well, and was about to throughout even from its smell. I am agrarian in most of my meals especially when I am sick. Then uncle cooked boiled meet and mentioned itís time to eat. Then mother gives me a bath.
After spending a couple of weeks at unclesí house, I was headed to the holy water baptism seen by my family. They rented a house outside the city, a rural church it is, and they get me in to a waterfall which hurts badly even the back. They in water in my ears, hurt my stomach with the water fall, and make nasty sexual scenes. I am at most times on my period while they do this which is against the dogma. After that, i shall drink 5lit of water, before having meal. After that we attend night prayer session and we get back to our room. At night it feels like nasty electric shock. This happens over and over again for two weeks. I respected the successful parents who raise their kid up to having family of their own and made them young riches. It just takes to be nice at the heart to raise a successful kid.
They give me insults like, oh! Look at you trying to be beautiful like your classmates. They throw me to ground. Even though there are people around me the whole time, they don't dare to help. I always have a line to uncle, when he brings me under the valleys for this dark scene <how much do you sale me, how much do i worth you?> sore as hell, and it sadden my heart. I also have a line for mother <why do you let this happen?> I did tell them my peace of my mind, no hard feelings.
I donít explain it now a days but I always shout loud at the scene that, <brother is the only one I liked in the family, and no substitute to that>, which I latter learn the family takes it personally. My heart still sinks to see him fail.
During one of my holy water torture i see a girl staring at me and I said to myself she must be my kid, are you my kid I said in my head and feel sad for her because even as a young lady in 20s' i can't protect my kid. And wished they haven't gone that far. The other incident was me in late 20sí. I was hallucinating of giving birth to a baby boy, which i don't like the idea of being pregnant in the first place but then once out of my womb they carry and take him away from me. And my back hurts physically, and cried like an adult women.
During the funeral of Mother and Uncle, I was left by myself for the sorrow as a family member; I get the vibe that i don't deserve the position. But through the endless pain and sorrow, there were real talks, deeper connections, forgiveness and love which lightens my heart. I am proud that my flag drops when they are not successful with their battles and most of them thinks itís to much to ask from me. And no one erases a family from his life at least for identity reasons or heaven dwellings. And through all the hatred, and broken promises, I still know that they share me a roof and a meal. They also get in to motivation of helping me out for kindness reasons at least. But right now as grown women I can see that there is more open doors to building friendships, relationships, and family with others too. I also happen to see that my heart could also go broader to loving for home city, country, religion or even institutions.
Through all my life what carries me along was the little appreciation and love I receive from my instructors, colleagues and friends. Prayers were also my other pillar! I beg the sun and the earth for graduation as a college engineering student. It did happen. I pray hard for paycheck, it was possible. Though, my romantic life is very silly.
During junior year in college hard to resist Scandinavian professor arrived to give one course. He is everything I am not. I have brown eyes, he got clear sky blue eyes, and he is tall and with blonde hair. I wonder at times if that hair is painted or natural. And above all he works as designer in Europe and is academician. He is every dream of mine in him. Classmates talks of his car at school compound, he was the show of the semester.
What happen! Well, I fall for him in front of my classmates really hard. He never give me options of getting unnoticed. His mention things like ďhe only teaches those with the 9 building codes necessary for the course or those with a laptopĒ. I broken down, in the class room, and I convinced my self of learning what I can with my resource. After a lot of talk inside with my self, he said ď itís okay! I will teach those who donít have tooĒ.
It becomes the end of the semester, and it was a time of end to lecture classes by him and I treasured the last day very much. Some how I wasnít attending well in other courses too and it was a moment of silver lining. School is where my life base and I blame my self for being fool, because he will go away and his normal life continues. Then I get in to fight and flight mode. The semester exams were turmoil for all and many friends were worried.
I cried flood of tears inside classroom by myself. The tears were as if the one peter cried when he finds out he betrays Jesus. He cried as if he doesnít get forgiveness. The later days, which is semester break. I spend at home and my family took me to hospital and gets better.
By coincidence, on exam correction session, I did see the man again. I wished I could have been with better fit, may be smart one. I know my life did change after I mate him, because I get training of a life. I dreamed of a scarf a cultural one and hand waived put on a single chair in a hall. And a sound say, go and sit there. As I walk up I hoped that I secured a sit. But some part of me like a second chance that I was a good standing student, but he doesnít give a course to the college again.
Somehow, the dream I saw was actualized, after that semester on I indeed become a standing student, but I morn inside everyday as if I was a women who lost her man. During my internship, I realized I never process the feeling and itís time to move on. As things were going in shape with my studies, I started engaging other tasks like taking Korean language course.
I treated myself with good food, but something was lacking. It was a semester break and the department prepared a tour to mega projects in the country. There was a country guy, who was nice to me. He makes calls, and he was the only one. He never takes classes or exams seriously. And he doesnít think teachers are goddesses. And he is good looking but dresses very funny for school occasions. Say, school tour, he could wear as if ďhe tries hard to be fashionable, but notĒ. He is unwaveringly know ďfashionĒ.
For example, the tour was in hot winter and he wears a furry, very cotton, and orange hoody. And his friends applause him as he come, as the car starts moving a bit, the sun rays starts getting in through the windows and one of his friend loudly says, take out your shirt now, its getting warm.
We learn in same class, so long and we did project together too. For instance while we were second year, semester break, we were given surveying field project. After we collected data in the field, it was design document preparation time. I was mad at the field, were he was all over the stadia and now I have urgency in me to participate on any given project. I made site sketches with my hand. We have a fight over a stadia eye and a satellite. I sketched very detail of the learning field. And he mentioned when we see it from the satellite, this wonít be showed. Field work was chaotic and it gets to preparing design document. I know I was good in technical drawings, and I said I wanted to do the part. He does that in the A2 and A3 paper. I found out from other team members, and they say, you can do the drawing and hand me what he draws. I go nuts and call right away to him to give me back my free sketch. I hold his and we meet at the famous historical monument. The monument was commemorating the victory of Adwa and it has the emperor image with a horse. People do meet in that place but not my generation. My heart snooze a little and my anger changes to a laugh as he arrives. So, you have my drawing, he smiles. Oh! Yes! And I canít talk much and avoid eye contact. I received my sketch and he insisted, to draw it as how he draw it and donít change it.
The tour gives me excuse to spend time with him and it was going well, before I found out he was in relationship. And a whole 6month was ahead. In making my self busy mode, I keep attending my Korean class. The professor is old Korean guy. And he likes attention and he never gives me time to think. He said things like he is alone by himself and we are his only friends. He buy and fixes not working lights at the classroom. Sometimes the light might go off and our classes get cancel. One time he mention he like to deduct classroom student number and it is not manageable. So he will make exams after each lesson and only the one who pass continues. I pass the first one well but during the second one I did bad, I really feel bad and I was walking empty on way back to home. And I slide and fall on a street. And people ask if I am okay. I said I am and get up and start walking. I did stayed and the class room get interactive as he need it. As he hoped his wife come and stayed with him. He likes touring and he said, he has seen the shortest people in the world Pygmies. He likes taking flower pictures, and liked fruits. He says I will give you all the treasures I have and give me your youngness, because I canít taste food like you do. I made it to the graduation of the course. He prepared a ceremony with songs, poems, videos and nice food, but I was feeling hard. The ceremony was held at Korean church in my neighborhood and I get a laboratory test there as a kid. The doctors was good and caring, I imagined my family hardly afford it. He was an old man hard to forget!
Love becomes hard to find. Even a polite good morning, thank you and please! Everything is super rated. Love didnít happen, and I fall hard down that it is hard to be considered of a companionship. Young adult, educated and a potential bread winner is not enough! Even a big heart and forgiveness wonít change the fact. It feels as if I am in the non-breathing dimensions. My reality and others reality are contradicting. Though I appreciate what I come so far, Love must have been the end, but I stop hoping for it.