Planet Awesome

Once in a while, with increasing frequency as I get more experience, I have the pleasure of encountering a fan. A person will approach me in public and let me know he likes my comedy, whether he has heard me on XM, seen a show of mine, or cringed as I bombed at a random bar where nobody was listening. Through all the ups and downs of my life, these random, awesome, fans always seem to give me the necessary encouragement at exactly the right time. My first encounter was right after I had lost my job at Maggiano’s. As I was walking through the mall to my car, some lady came up and said “Hey- comedian! I saw you at Market Cafe.” It hit me… “Who cares if I am no longer a waiter; I’m a comedian!” Two weeks later I was a PA on “Evan Almighty”. Another particularly uplifting run-in came a week after I had lost the College Comedy Contest at the Improv, when a fat frat guy at UVA stumbled over and yelled… “HEY- I saw you at the Funnybone. You were the funniest guy in the whole show!” The best one, however, came over myspace, when, the day after I lost almost all of my poker fund in a Peruvian Casino, I got a message from some randar in Idaho asking where else in the world he could obtain more of my comedy.
These three examples are all times I distinctly remember feeling absolutely awful, and suddenly, through some randar dude I don’t know saying some randar sentence, I feel absolutely awesome. I say that because today I woke up with a real lack of understanding about everything, and after running, I sort of wandered out to the taxis, when suddenly, fans completely transformed my attitude…
I don’t think I have emphasized how much street teaching has been happening, but basically, on my way everywhere, I am teaching the people on the streets English, messing around with them, and giving them English to Amharic translation sheets. I’ve been doing this for about 4 days, and I have only seen negligible results thus far, but today, I feel like the English has reached a miniature tipping point. On two different occasions, (once in Tor Highloche and once in Mexico) a kid has yelled at me “Habesha” (Ethiopian)… which is the opposite of what I am used to: “Farranj” (Foreigner). Each time I wondered, “Have I somehow become accepted into their culture?” When I got into my taxi (the one to Gofa), the driver wouldn’t let somebody sit so that I could have a spot. When I thanked him and handed him my money, he shook his finger and wouldn’t accept it. I tried twice more… no dice. When I asked why, he said “Chigraylem” (no problem). Today, after Samrei’s graduation party, a bunch of street kids around Gofa yelled “Astamari” (Teacher) and they helped point me towards the girls who I had gotten slightly lost from… a week ago they would have yelled “Hey, sexy lady!” to the same girls. Mastwell, (not Mastaol… a different guy) basically forced me to go to his house, and he wouldn’t stop offering me things. He introduced me to his mom, his 3 sisters, and his other brother, and an only an hour after I had said I must go did they tolerate my leaving. In the mean time, they forced me to guzzle their bread, coke, coffee, tea, and hot milk. I played with Surafel, and Hareg’s daughter, Abigail, for about 2 hours, and finally got home (only after being mobbed by about 30 soccer playing kids when I pulled my 3 remaining English sheets out of my bag… it was scary… they were grabbing at everything I owned… thinking my science books were full of guidesheets) My point is… street kids in Ethiopia need English more than Americans need comedy, and they want to learn more than Americans want to laugh. In just a few days of teaching, I discovered that I have more fans here than I do in America after 2 years of comedy. Today felt like the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”… my efforts here are as appreciated as they are fulfilling… all I can think about right now is teaching more… and through this I am learning more than I could ever imagine.
Today, Rachel sat on my bed, very emotional at the fact that she would be leaving in five days. Rachel has been a role model for me in the sense that she is patient, cool, and amazingly helpful in every situation. I’m her biggest fan. You can imagine my surprise when she said “Aberheim (some awesome Ethiopian friend of ours) and I were talking, and he told me that you just get it. You just know what it means to be an Ethiopian. I agree with him. It is amazing to see what you do for these people.” I couldn’t respond to this… This compliment on top of everything? I just cried.
Sometimes I just feel like a complete idiot, and right now is one of those times. Every judgment I have ever made just seems absolutely wrong because the way I have always perceived the world is just way off. I’ve spent my whole life in Fairyland, and I had no idea! My life is just a shadow of a life. Everyone here has stories and feels emotions that make my life just look like a plastic replica of the real thing. Here a person has very little distraction from his dreams, whereas in America a person can easily avoid answering critical questions of self-definition. In fact, I have spent most of my life doing just that. I’m 20 years old, and I really am just beginning to think about what I stand for. Here everyone is cognizant of his God given gifts. “My name is Yohannes, and I am very funny.” “My name is Binyam, and I can love everyone because of their humanity.” “My name is Mastaol, and I am good at motivating people.”
It really is time for me to recognize who I am, stand up, and become my authentic self. I want to complete the sentence: “My name is Watt Smith, and I…” but I fear that any completion would limit me. All I know is that every day I wake up, and I have the best day of my life. Literally… the best day of my life. I don’t know whether I can attribute this fact to my location, my job, my attitude, or luck, but one thing I can’t do is ignore it. Everyday I do something that I couldn’t imagine doing. Today when I was running, a minibus driver tried to pull me into his car, and I challenged him to a race, man versus machine. He won over a distance, but it was totally hilarious… impromptu racing! This afternoon I started joking around with a taxi driver, and he invited Mary Chambers and me to have coffee in is car with him. It was awesome. Yesterday, I cleaned a shoe cleaner’s shoes while he shined my shoes because I think a shoe shiner should never have unshined shoes. I wouldn’t have even seen another person’s shoes a month ago. I’m changing into somebody new, and thoughts are coming into my head that I never could have imagined. My high school dreams of finding inner peace in Southern China seem to have been fulfilled before making it all the way East. I feel like I know a secret that I can’t share with anybody because it is something that can only be realized, not taught, and maybe this realization is what being a real human is all about. Africa and Africans are the greatest teachers I have ever had. The spectrum of emotions here is unmatched by any other place I have experienced, ultimate pain and ultimate laughter… ultimate sadness and ultimate contentment… ultimate sorrow and ultimate joy. This is just a beautifully scarred place, which feels more like home than anywhere I have been.
OK- so this blog has been pretty boring and very grandiose, so maybe I can just share a couple interesting little anecdotes. First… here are two things I have noticed about the language… 1) There is no Amharic word for WANT… there is only efelligallo… which is an interchangeable want/need. Perhaps, in the third poorest country in the world, there aren’t very many distinctions between wants and needs. 2) There is no word for FAVORITE. The based way to describe the idea of favorite here is to say “the thing that I need the most”. Here’s my guess… (ONLY A GUESS, THRIVE) there aren’t many options around here… salad is salad, meat is meat, corn is corn, and the idea of favorite rarely crosses people’s minds around here. OK- now for 3 funny stories. 1) A taxi driver shorted me on change by 1 birr. I said everything to convince him to give me my change, and only after about 2 minutes of demanding it and explaining that I was owed one more birr, did he finally hand it over. After I received it, I said “Yante Maths tomas assay Amharinyei no”. (Your math is just like my Amharic). All the people in the taxi laughed (you can always get everyone to laugh by dissing the generally sleazy money collectors). 2) In one month Cherokee is rebuilding the wall next to my bed, so Matt and I are writing all over it in Sharpie. We’ve already drawn a picture and poem dedicated to the incense scent “Black Beauty”, which is the constant, unmistakable smell musk of our room. Today we have burned about 7 sticks. 3) I went jogging on the old loop route, for the first time, without Martha, and three times local Habeshas yelled “Where is she?”

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