Life was going well for the thirtyish couple. He, a highly paid accountant; she, a cosmetic shop owner in the affluent Bole area; a spacious multiple-room villa and a couple of cars. It was like the only thing they have to say was “Open Sesame!” and the mountain of gold just cascades into their laps! Then DV lottery happened!
What! Yes, the man was lucky; the news didn’t create much buzz around people they knew. Maybe it might serve as raw material for a little laugh around the beer table. They wouldn’t take it seriously! Not given the life they were leading, anyway. Why would a couple so successful at a relatively young age need DV lottery? Why would they throw all that to the wind? That is exactly what they did, throw everything to the wind. No amount of advice from friends and relatives could change their minds. They sold every item to the last spoon and fork. Theirs was going to be a one-way ticket.
“There is no way we’d come back to this country!”
So it was “Sayonara!” and everything was forgotten. End of the story. Or, was it? About a year and a half later they make a sudden appearance in Addis! That was fast. Coming back for vacation so soon must be a bullet-train sort of event. Well, it was a sad homecoming as they returned for good, and empty-handed at that! America, after all, wasn’t about an “Open Sesame!” land they thought it to be. A couple of months later their marriage ended. Life has never been nice to them ever since.
People would give anything to go to Brangelina land. Even when many long time Ethiopian residents worry of possible deportation, America remains the Shangri La everyone wants to go to. We even have coined a phrase for it. “Going to America and death are everyone’s destiny.” We seem to have taken it as our God-given right to munch on the Big Mac awaiting us in a restaurant on DC’ Eighteenth Street.
Finally it is DV time; I’ve to say the excitement this time around isn’t anywhere close to what it was years back. Of course, that doesn’t mean the passion for ‘the ticket to paradise’ has ebbed. No way; that is not going to happen any time soon. But with many things happening at the same time the DV thing is no more ‘Breaking News.’ Still, someone’s going to America creates reaction a Hollywood Oscar wouldn’t generate. “She is going to America!” is another way of saying, “She is going to heaven!”
It is going to be a busy month. Ethiopians would be flocking in their thousands to Internet cafes and to places with to fill their application forms. Entire families try their luck. From high school students to retired civil servants one can’t deny the allure DV lottery provides.
Oh, DV marriages are out. What a loss! We used to hear of stories where rich families paid as high as a half a million birr to give their daughters ‘in marriage’ to DV winners. Well, that is no more a good idea; the warnings couldn’t have been any more explicit; “If you are not married when you enter the DV program, and your name is selected for an interview, DO NOT be persuaded to marry a stranger for money so that they can also get a Diversity Visa.” The ban could last a lifetime! A guy whose visa application was recently turned down joked; “The visa counselor didn’t like the color of my eyes.” For many, being denied an American visa is nothing to joke about, let alone a lifetime ban. It is tantamount to being sent to the electric chair.
The next several weeks families across the country would praying their throats dry for their children to win the ‘Mother of all lotteries.’ Life back home would be far better; they wouldn’t have to worry if the teff price shoots through the financial roofs thanks to the mighty dollar their children would be sending. Incidentally, those of us back home don’t appreciate the trouble our relatives and friends in the US go through to send us money. Many of us practically live on the remittance from the Diaspora country folk. ‘No work and all play’ might not have worked for Jack; it works for us. Not that we don’t have the faculties to be rewardingly employed. But who cares about work when we’ve more than enough money to dress in the best; go to expensive places and just live it up. While they worry about next month’s bills, we couldn’t wait to try our limbs on the floor of the latest exclusive nightclub in town.
Ethiopians taking horrendous risks to go to Europe or elsewhere might be gravely miscalculating. But they are not fools, sick or something. They are not empty-headed as some reports make them to be. They just want a better life and believe all chances of survival back home are closed for them. They think that the moment the set foot in London they can phone Arsene Wenger for a cup of tea and some chatter. They think all will be well once they cross the Mediterranean or the Atlantic.
One big problem is most of us lack adequate information about America, Europe or elsewhere. The moving images in Hollywood movies and glittering pictures in glossy magazines inform our decisions. Add to this the mostly fictional stories those already there write back home. They don’t write, “I work eighteen hours a day and still have fallen behind my electric bills and mortgage payments.” (Many don’t have the slightest idea what working sixteen hours of a day means. Ours isn’t a society famous for work ethics.) I mean, when people think Brad Pitt’s America is everyone’s for the asking no wonder the rush to board the next flight. People have to be given real information about life in America especially in connection with immigrants.
I don’t mean scaring people. Not that doomsday talk that paints other parts of the world as the earthly version of hell. But someone has to do the heavy lifting and acquaint the population with important details of the ways and norms of those societies. Many Ethiopian parents who tried to pinch or spank their kids have had rude awakenings. “What! I can’t punish my own child! What kind of a country is this!” Your own child calling police on you! The culture shock could be worse.
“How about you and me getting together for a few drinks Saturday night?”
“Sorry. Maybe another time; I’m going to America for vacation.”
What! What does he mean for vacation! He means he is going to do justice to his tense muscles and overloaded brain just like you and me try to do by going to the Lions’ zoo in Sidist kilo. Ha!
An elderly mother who came back home after about a decade or so was talking about the new person in the White House. She didn’t have any use for names. She had the perfect way of describing him; “They now have a new king;” Ha! The Spicer guy should have stayed around for this! It would have been an opportunity for something like, “They said he is a king, and he is a king. Period!”
Good luck for all DV applicants. But, it would be wise of us to bear in mind that being lucky doesn’t mean life in America would be an “Open Sesame!” fairy tale.