In a span of forty years I wrote five books: The Story of the White Man, The Prince of Africa in English. Three more in Ethiopian language ( An African Mother’s story, Fike-Kidus –an epic tale and history of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1936 – and my Great Odyssey), all completed.
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear before we move further. English is a second language to me, therefore, here and there, you will see me struggling with words, even syntax. I am keenly aware that a proof reader could have corrected them, but I didn’t want the flavor of the narrative to lose its punch. For that reason, I have left some of the errors untouched. In fact, in the early seventies my broken English and my accent were a laughing stock. I wanted you to see them in their pristine state, without embellishment. Some of the things I said then were unmentionable, even incomprehensible. I had reprimanded myself quite often, after a word I had spoken sounded alien to me, that I should stop talking in English altogether. I mean stop talking! Remain speechless! For infinity!
“How do you expect people to understand you when you call an acquaintance named Daug as Dog” I would yell at myself.
So half of my journey – say the whole decade of the 1970s, was lost by trying to understand the difference between Doug and Dog, how it was pronounced, but even after a decade of laborious effort, I still called Doug “Dog!” I sometimes had trouble even to enunciate my own name correctly.
People kept saying “what did you say?”
“My name is Dan-El”
“My name is Dan-El.”
“Yes, yes Daniel,” I would say with curse words drooling in my throat.
Come think of, the whole of the 70s, was gone rapidly in the blink of an eye while I was struggling to tell people who I was. Mean time, I missed out on the Bee Gees. Regan’s salvo against Jimmy Carter meant nothing to me. I blindly admired Regan. In San Francisco, where I lived, the Mayor and the City Supervisor were shot and killed and I didn’t know the political nuances in their demise. When I go back to Africa to tell my people about the Americans, and suppose they ask me to sing like the Bee Gees, what’s I supposed to do? If they asked me about Regan, what should I say?
“Why did the mayor die?” They would ask and what will be my answer?
I’m sure they want to know about Michael Jackson, and then later about Madonna.
And there I was calling myself a lion griot missing out on the basic and vital elements of the stories that were important to my people back home.
I am a rabbit Griot; that’s what I am!
In regards to my name, the way we Ethiopians pronounced Daniel was exactly how the Good Lord had pronounced it some ten million years ago when He first created Daniel.
It was beautiful. It was unadorned. It was hollow.
We never had any problem for ten million years! Never, never, never!
Then the Americans came (and I had no idea where they came from!) and twisted it and mangled it and called me “Da-n-yel”. There was a time when I had turned around to see if they were actually calling someone else. The way I pronounced my name, however, sounded to me mellifluous, and it was useless to spend any more time responding to them. At one point, I had truly concluded that the Americans didn’t speak English.
Still, I persisted on with my journey, unaffected and undeterred, the name still clinging.
Between 1990 and 2000, for a whole decade, I changed it to Dan.
In 2001, I aborted that name and went back to Good Old Daniel. I think I was a masochist desiring more torture and agony. I smirked at people in a condescending way for their faux pas.
“Oh, these Americans! What do they know?” I would say to myself condescendingly.
And so I proceeded with my journey…
I started this journey from the highlands of Ethiopia blindly, with no preconceived destination, at the age of twenty-five, at the height of the Vietnam War, not ever expecting that my great name, the great Daniel would impede my plans. Imagine spending a whole decade changing your name just to fit in. In a way, I was daring, hopelessly romantic, foolish at times (“stupid” is the word), and trusting in God too much for my journey to succeed. I wanted God to make that name the greatest name in the universe, so I wouldn’t feel enormously self conscious.
I had set out to discover the world – a world terribly inhospitable to a black man, and violently mired with wars and conflicts, even without the presence of the “Black Man.” Sometimes, it felt as if I had started all those wars by being black.
By the way, as a Griot the war stories were moving. The Yom Kippur War (1973), where I was stranded and waiting to die was horrendous. It was equivalent to my story when I was accosted by penis hunting tribe in the middle of nowhere in Africa!
Have patience: You will come to that part of my story soon.
And so, yes, I am a Griot. I can Griot for the whole day and the whole night! I have enough stories to Griot for a lifetime. Following the footsteps of my grandmother, who was a superior African storyteller and a notorious Griot, I had picked up some of her stupendous talents. I remember when my grandmother told a story about a flower that suddenly grew in her backyard lopsided and turned into a giant horse.
Truly, there was no flower. And no horse.
She was that good to make you think there was a flower and a horse and a manure.
I also follow the footsteps of all my African Griots in bringing these stories to you.
In my books –The Story of the White Man, The Prince of Africa and My Great Odyssey
to America, I have tried to emulate these talents of my ancestors and hope that I had achieved a modicum success.
Now about my gratitude to Americans…