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Blue Daughter of the Red Sea

A Memoir

Meti Birabiro

Publication Year: 2004

    Born into a life of constant financial, physical, and moral threat, Meti Birabiro takes refuge in literature and the fantastic. Blue Daughter of the Red Sea is Birabiro’s poetic account of the harsh reality of her young life spread across three continents. Her voice is a fresh mélange of child and adult perspectives, at once brutally honest and wise beyond her years. Through her journey from Ethiopia to Italy and finally to the United States, we encounter Birabiro’s relatives, friends, and enemies—relationships so intense that these people become her vampires, devils, angels, and saints. These characterizations always lead her back to the truth, helping her to decipher what is fair and good, to understand what she must cherish and what she must rage against.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Table of Contents

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pp. ix

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pp. xi

Every season is a season of harvest. I gather all my equipments and set to work. I read to learn. I write to learn. I travel to learn. I socialize to learn. But I still have not learned to understand. This is how and why the project of writing a memoir started: I wanted to learn to understand. I began jotting down excerpts from the past. I made phone calls to distant lands. I visited the ghosts. I interviewed strangers. I talked to friends. I went...

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Acknowledgments and Thanks

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pp. xiii

My God, You are my danseur noble in this complicated dance. Mom, for the prayers and for restoring memory. My Sister, for opening the door out of misery. My Vale (la mia amica dei sogni ), for your devoted friendship. My Friends, from the beginning to the end, You are my support. ...


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pp. xv-xvi

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Book 1 Exodus of Bodies

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pp. 3-7

There is a wet feeling in between and on the back of my thighs and on my buttocks. I can tell clearly that it isn’t pee since pee feels warm on the skin and this sensation is rather cool. I don’t dare to ask the pharaoh for permission to use the restroom because he is in the middle of giving his students a lecture. I sure wouldn’t want to endanger my behind to the exposure of his wooden stick. What if the wet material or liquid ...

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1 Light

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pp. 9-16

The circumcised Marys, they were called, the young girls who were exempted from going through circumcision. My mother was among them. She spoke in a contented tone whenever she narrated that story tome. For a devoted Catholic as mom was, there was nothing in the world better than being labeled after the Virgin Mary, whichever way the name...

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2 Appetizer

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pp. 17-26

We thanked them simultaneously, in a choir. After all, it was a whole meal. We sat on the floor, our little bodies, which housed our eager hands and hungry stomachs, surrounding the big plate of food. Our small fingers grabbed as much rice and beef as they could and transported the morsels to our mouths. We looked like a group of contestants on a mission to see who would finish the food first. In reality, it was our stomachs ...

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3 Reformatory Sessions

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pp. 26-33

Making what was bent straight was the motto of our schools and families. Neither our teachers nor our parents tolerated flaws. We were born impeccable, and we had to remain thus. We were given no allowances to be careless, to make mistakes, to stumble over a stone. We were not permitted to ask questions, to inquire, to have a thirst for knowledge. The...

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4 God and Satan

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pp. 34-40

While the vampires entered the house and appeared before our fear-lit eyes in disguise, creatures of another world paid us a visit in their true colors. They were the devils. That is not possible, I’d shout to my people and sometimes to the little voices inside me. God would not allow it! But the citizens murdered my conviction with their sharp glances. They told me I was only a kid. What did I know about things that belonged in ...

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Book 2 Exodus of Souls

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pp. 41-45

The damage was done. There was no mettle left to squeeze out of the reservoir of hope or faith, or whatever else life availed for its living creatures to hold on to. He had finished with their lives. Nearly forty people were disentangled from the strings that had attached them to this world. From now on, their presence would no longer affect the environment. Their ...

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5 Darkness

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pp. 47-57

My family's problem has no name, no label to it. It just has a dance of its own, and it takes advantage of the wild night to display its choreography. One Two Three—Cha Cha Cha! I try hard to keep up with the steps, make the turns at the right time, detach my feet from the ground at the right degree, and land back on the floor with poise and grace. I am ...

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6 Entr

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pp. 58-64

Mom is not in the room. I can still feel her near me, yet I know she is not in the room. What to do with myself? Shall I persuade my thoughts to silence and befriend the lizards that are walking up these walls? If I go outside I could even attract the attention of the stray cats that my mother feeds, our two dogs, and my brother’s mischievous monkey (oh, do I hate ...

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Book 3 Exodus of Innocence

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pp. 65-69

Outside the fire burned intensely, bursting into gleams of blaze like a flaming desire. Young people obliged the palm of their hands to hover over the conflagration to steal some heat. It was a cold evening in Rome. And the big room that the social center let my friends use to throw a surprise party for our friend Mishael didn’t have a heater. ...

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7 Blossom

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pp. 71-83

The state of being lost is like walking on a straight line with no curves: You can’t make a turn. Or like driving on an unlabeled freeway: You never know where to exit. The state of being lost is being a stranger in a foreign land. It is feeling an outsider in your own skin. Moving to Italy changed my life so drastically that, although I could distinguish the ...

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8 Initiation Rites

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pp. 84-90

Bela and I went to the same school and developed a bond that no color or race or belief or distance could break. Her magical friendship made me learn the imperative lesson that it was not color or race that stood as frontiers between people. People themselves barricaded the passage into one another's hearts. It was a special Sunday for my dear friend Bela. Her ...

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9 Colorfield

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pp. 91-100

People of the universe have proudly divided into groups and each group has constructed a zone, fortified with walls so high and edges so sharp that they scare away and prohibit the right of way to anyone who does not belong to that specific group. To become a member, one has to have the same color, same race, same heritage, and a lot of pride in one’s

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10 Novillada

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pp. 101-108

Is the heart really a hollow organ pumping the blood it receives from the veins into the arteries and not a deep well full of riches pirates of the sea and thieves of the land have been hunting ever since time began? Here goes my story. I carried a jar with me the last two times I went to see him. A jar so wide and tall that every few minutes I had to stop and rest ...

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11 Suicide Machine

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pp. 109-115

Elisheba's back was full of cicatrices, relics of cuts and wounds. Her legs confessed boldly their taste of fire. She had bitten more bullets than a hostage in his enemy’s hands. Meti, it’s about to happen. He’s coming for me, said Elisheba over the phone. I immediately hung up the phone and ran upstairs, my heart pounding on my hands, knowing the significance of my mission. The look on her

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12 The Trouble with the Feet

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pp. 116-119

The road trip to France was the eerie calm before the storm. I was miserable and had been so for months, perhaps years, and thought of the trip as just another sham life created for me to participate in. I sat in the back of the car and stared outside the window at the beautiful landscape. I knew Sigmund Freud couldn’t have had the answer to my ...

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Book 4 The Book of Disenchantments

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pp. 121-125

The late December chill of a Roman evening had endowed my being with boredom. And solitude, in its darkest and shapeless suit, had reached the remotest corners of my soul. My mind, being unable to decide what conversation to engage in or which subject matter or philosophical quest to focus on, resolved to turn its undivided attention to the images and ...

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13 Divine Detour

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pp. 144-154

California smiled at me. I saw her straight white teeth and heard her clear ringing laughter through the windows of my imagination. The Los Angeles Airport looked very ordinary. Although my final destination was Vancouver, Canada; and Los Angeles was only a stop, a stepping-stone to the top, I enjoyed toying with dreams I had of L.A. The idea of her beauty ...

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14 Pandora’s Box

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pp. 138-141

The United States of America took me under her wings and lulled me to rebirth. It was as if, for all the previous years, she’d held the core of my existence a hostage. I got to California, and I found myself daring the sky that before had looked unattainable. My dreams were set higher on the winged streets of Los Angeles. The light of hope was switched on in the ...

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15 The Boxer

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pp. 142-162

The buzz of a fly pierces my ears, weighing its insignificant existence on the scale of a mind already occupied by outrageous yet lethargic thoughts. I fix my gaze on the fast movements of the tiny insect until my eyes go dizzy. I could murder it with the violence of two clapping palms, but I choose to let it live. My decision is based ...

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16 The Dancer

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pp. 180-209

The exotic dancers looked absolutely gorgeous in the fancy underwear showing excess skin on their perfectly sculpted bodies. They moved with so much agility, grace, and confidence around the silver pole on the round stage that I wondered whether performers were born with self esteem foreign to ordinary people. The audience was losing its reason to ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299195731
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299195700

Publication Year: 2004