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It is very pleasing to chat with friends in taverns. This zone seems to be safe to talk over any subject someone is interested in; be backbiting, dirty jokes, social issues, politics…whatever. No one gets frightened by Kebele informants, or the police officers in plain clothes, or secret service agents who have been disseminated across the city in general and in recreation centers in particular.
At a tavern in my village (it is my spot) I usually hear individuals ‘philosophizing’ interestingly on various subjects after gulping down several glasses of draught beer or gin. Here in this tavern there is a famous regular customer who sips from sun rise to sun set any alcoholic beverages he gets in his hand. If you invite him gin, bottle beer, or draught beer, or any other beverages, he will swallow them straight without any problem. He usually says that the only beverage he does not drink is detergent. “I drink draught beer for two days straight by stuffing my ass with a cork… When I am full to the brim, I walk back home by keeping my face upwards so that the beer won’t spill out of my mouth,” he says for a laugh. Whenever he speaks in the tavern, all customers keep silent. His way of expressing things carries them away with long laughter. He is good at imitating individuals’ voices. Sometimes he speaks about local politics…
At a Sunday drinking spree, he was there as usual acting like an artist. “Hey, men! … Did you hear that thirteen senior military generals were kicked out of the game? … Look what our young and aspirant leader is doing! … He is my man! … He booted them out of office and showed them the way saying, ‘get the hell out of here!’. … He wiped them out from the very top of the table like dust,” he said sweeping the air with his hand. “Wow! … He flashed the red card before their chubby faces like a football referee! Earlier only the poor and cabbage used to be pulled out from wherever they were; but now it seems such practice has gone never to return. … Oh, Jesus on the cross!”
The other customer got to his feet and stretched his hands towards the previous speaker. He exhaled widely. … He was swaying like a tree. Then he spoke out, looking at the previous speaker … “You drunkard! … That’s what you are! … Understand! … It looks you are losing your mind. I don’t think you know what you are talking about. … You are parroting an essay you heard from your friends who frequent Kat Houses. Let me ask you this… When did you listen to that news? You stay up overnight gulping down your shit gin here… We know you don’t take time to go home and eat a bite of injera. … You think of stumbling back home when the sky and the earth kiss each other. Then, what time do you listen to your TV? … Wait! … Wait! I am sorry… I don’t mean TV. … How can a poor man like you buy a TV set? No way! You are as poor as a church mouse … You are pushing on life below poverty line! (long laughter). … Yes, it must be a radio! … I know you have an old radio that works after every slap given on its head… I saw it hanging on the wall covered by an old lace… The other time I happened to see you while spreading the dry cells of the radio for solar heating on the roof of your dilapidated house. (laughter)…”
The first speaker shot in abruptly … “Keep shut this liquor barrel mouth of yours! … I will come and beat your pants off your ass! Did you hear that?” He pointed his forefinger at the man. “You know me very well! My mother named me nakachew (literally, it means ‘despise them’). You are a good-for-nothing citizen! … I can give you an uppercut to your crooked chin and you will find yourself in that ditch! … I will teach you a lesson this way to behave yourself. … You have never been to school in your life. …You have never read… You would have been in a better place if you had leafed through pages of books. But, unfortunately, you have chewed up your lifetime with your Kat by undressing the skirts of ladies. …Look at your deformed face! It looks like a big potato dotted with several dimples!” He laughed loudly. Then he glanced about the room and went on talking. “Hey buddies, what I’m gonna tell you now is a story, which I read on Facebbok. … Did you hear about the rubber rice made in China? … It looks like the real rice and you can’t differentiate it from the natural one! … The funny thing is that the poor Africans who were deceived to eat this artificial rice excreted (defecated) balloons! …What a best joke! Oh, my God! Ha…ha…ha…ha! (long laughter by all the customers in the tavern…)”
Another man who was sitting in a corner cut in. “Hey, listen to me! …Listen up guys! … Anyone can speak whatever he likes. No one has the authority to stop others with their talking. You made a mistake to stop the other guy talking. … Did you get me? …Thanks to PM Abiy Ahmed, we can talk over whatever subjects we want… We can cry if we feel like so… Previously we had to get permission from Kebele even to cry aloud. Now there is no such thing. … I can sing loudly if I like. …It is my democratic right. …Shall I sing?”
“Yes, come on, sing a song! …Tilahun’s song is what we prefer…,” said an old man, with white hair, who usually sings and recite poems.
“Shut up, you drunkard!” Another thin man with booming voice piped up. “No need to sing here! …We don’t want you drunkard and backward guy to stutter here… You can sing whatever you like when you stagger back to your shelter… I would rather like to tell you guys another news which I heard over the radio… Did you hear that … the guys gobbled up 16 billion birr which was collected for the construction of the renaissance dam?”
“It is not 16 it is rather six billion birr which the government paid… They were paid…,” said another man who was sitting near the door.
“Shut up! Cover your big fat mouth with your gin glass! … It is 16 billion birr … Ok! … The problem with you drunkards is that you don’t read… Please read! After all, your place is Tej Bet (local mead house). You don’t belong here. Can you hear that?” He said with laughter. This man with booming voice is said to go to senior secondary school long ago. He stared at the man for a couple of seconds and went on talking after a short laughter. … “Yeah, what I am surprised at is that the 16 billion birr was contributed by the entire Ethiopian people. … These shameless guys took the money from the poor laborers, wretched of the earth!”
Everyone kept quiet. Then, one man said, “16 billion birr! …It is too much! By the way, what if these guys sit and tear up every single note of one-hundred birr on daily basis? … Can they destroy all the money by doing so throughout their life? … Believe me they can’t do that! … Oh, Saint Marry of entotto!”
Another man got to his feet and interjected, “Hey dude, listen up! … Lend me your ears! … Do you trust these guys who are saying that the late engineer committed suicide… not shot dead? …Yeah, Engineer Simegnew Bekele. … I don’t believe that nonsense story, man! I don’t give it a shit! Let them find their Mamo qillo (Mamo the fool)!” So saying, he sat down with arms akimbo.
The other drunk guy commented on this after throwing a shot of gin in to his big belly. … “We are not asking them about the death cause of Emperor Tewodros. Did they realize that? …Of course, it is Emperor Tewodros who is believed to commit suicide… That’s what history tells us.”
By Haile-Gebriel Endeshaw