Neither Here Nor There: Perspectives on Identity by the Young Eritrean and Ethiopian Diaspora in America

July 22, 2009

Soccer Tournament-Like Magic

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 8:35 pm

“This year the tournament is held at a high-school stadium” my cousin informed me. He lives in Chicago and works for the organization in charge of the events.

“A HIGH-SCHOOL?!” I’m astonished. How were all of those people going to fit into a high school stadium when they crowded the GA Dome back home a few years ago? We first arrived in the parking lot Thursday morning. A monstrous brick compound loomed over us, equipped with castle-like towers and one of those tall factory tubes that you see steam billowing out of in old black and white photos of history books.

“What the heck is this place? And where is the High-School?”

“This is the high-school” he says with that implacable patience he is known for.

The scene could have honestly been the set to a Harry Potter movie. All it was missing was some mystical fog, strange creatures with dragon wings flying about, and people speaking in British accents. The morning was mechanical. People were setting up tent-booths and exchanging a helpful hand for some dabo and shai. After we quickly set up our booth, I began to walk around and make nice with the neighbors. Quickly, I spotted a beautiful cotton dress hanging in the middle of a booth. The back and straps to the halter were black, the front was comprised of three solid colors running vertically along the length of the garb. You guessed it. Green, Yellow and Red. I knew $40 was a ridiculous price, but the tactics of my new arada acquaintance worked like a charm. I had to have this dress.

My sister and I later returned to the hotel to prepare for the arrival of our photographer and co-designer for our book project. Luckily, two of our friends had just arrived in Chicago with a rental car and offered to take us to the airport. The only cost was enduring the mortification each time we passed an Ethiopian slow enough for Matt to roll down his window, stick his head too far out side, throw up his hands and yell “Eh! Abesha?! I am so happy to be een zis coun-r-yy!” Then he would jump back in and sing the rest of the lyrics of his Southern Rap mixed-tape he made for this trip in particular.

Upon re-arrival at the stadium, my sister realized she had left her purse. The only problem was that she did not remember where she left it. Our photographer and I entered the stadium and Menbere and my sister went on a scavenger hunt for a purse about 9 inches by 4 inches by 2 ½ inches around which was somewhere in Northern Chicago.

The crowd was much smaller than any of the other tournaments I had heard of or went to. Perhaps Chicago was not a Habesha hub, and the economy must certainly have had an effect as well. We did not take pictures that day. We mingled and got our bearings. We played a game, “How much you wanna bet that aint weave” with inconclusive results. We watched a soccer game then continued to walk around the premises about the size of another soccer field. Then when my sister returned with the elusive purse, we ate injera with tibs for $12 and shared the plate with about 8 friends, friends of friends, and a few strangers. No one was from Chicago and D.C. represented like nobody’s business.

That night, I broke from the group and went to see a reggae concert. Apparently I was standing right next to Gossaye in the balcony and was absolutely clueless. He was a quiet and reserved man who did not get too excited about much that I could tell. But the music was wonderful. I even had a great-time watching the comedy unfold in the lady’s bathroom. But I will not indulge you with those dainty details.

The next day, we began work. We met another photographer who was willing to help us with our project. He was half Ethiopian and as tall as a short tree with dreads half-way down his back. Awesome. He and I broke off into a team while the girls took-on the other side of the field. We began with people I knew, asking them a series of questions while our photographer did his thing with the camera. At first they were rigid and uncomfortable. But as soon as I asked them that right question, I saw something switch on inside of them through their eyes, a knowing grin. And then they let their souls spill out as I scribbled each word as fast as I could, running out of room on one sheet to hold everything that they were.

“I think we’re onto something here” I said to myself.

Each subject was the same deal. As soon as we touched on their particular catalyst, whether it be language, food, friends- they seemed to light up with a passion- almost thankful that someone finally showed interest in this part of them they had never had a place to talk about without making people uncomfortable. Though their answers were different, that hunger was the same. They were hungry for their people, to share their pride and frustration. To boast and complain about where they come from. It was so real. It was so beautiful. And so the trip unfolded into something bigger than all of us. Like magic.


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