“Is the TV on”?

I read in Tesfaye Ghebrab’s “yetiravollo washa” that Ethiopians used to come to Asmara to watch TV. I didn’t know people could travel such a long journey only to watch TV. Nevertheless, I knew it revived in me a memorable childhood experience related to watching TV. To begin with, “Do you own a TV set?” was a question a child of my time needed to ask if he/she wanted to know whether the other child, a playmate, comes from a well off family or not. Even though my family didn’t own one, I used to consider any property owned by my relatives was also mine. So, when I get asked that question, at times, my answer would be “yes”. 

As a child if you have mastery over certain childhood games, say, baligna, Telei Telei, singing, football and the like, you will get friends to play with you. On the contrary, if you have exaggerated mastery over such games, you can also lose many and all of them. The logic being, not even a single child wants to be always beaten. So, you have to learn to balance things out. And thanks to childhood that is a lesson I’ve been cherishing. Specifically speaking childhood TV experiences helped that I should often times sympathize with the ones who come looking for what I possess.

The child whose family owned TV was really a lucky one. No body touched him. No body hurt him. He was respected. Unless who, in a world of smart children, would want to be prevented or worse be kicked out from a house in the middle of watching TV? I knew being sent on errand where ever the family of the TV owners told, could be advantageous. I went for it therefore I made a relatively secured (good) relationship with some. But, unfortunately, that relationship, my being accepted for my obedience to the family of TV owners, created disagreement in my home. Trust me any mother doesn’t want to see her child turn into an errand boy/girl. Especially if she believed her child is manipulated because he/she has strong desire to watch TV. Most of all no mother wants a child of hers to spend more time in any other house. My diplomacy with the other supposedly “rich” families was a reason to put me in constant fight with mother is what I am trying to tell. May be this showed me early on the world is imperfect. Even though you unlock a door to a room and you get in, chances are, the door shuts behind you, you lose the key, and be stack in that locked room.

Back in those old days TV sets were precious that people used to lock them in lockers. Or they put them high on closets or on cupboards, near the ceiling where no child can reach them. While watching on such screens, you look upward as if you are counting the stars and you leave watching with pain at the back of your neck. That made watching TV so difficult and tiring in addition to its scare availability. In some places people used them as sources of income as well. That part becomes annoying when you realize without money secured relationships could no longer be helping.

For movies were last in the queue – I was a movies lover by the way – I had to finish watching all the late night programs. In other words I needed to stay late at the TV houses which is I was always demanding for extra favor. I had no other option save to bother these people. Coming early was the only trick I could devise then, in order to give me license to stay late at the houses of the TV owners. In addition to that I couldn’t just come and sit in their houses. Asking, “is the TV on?” was the acceptable way of getting in or better said a preferable code of approach. In such like situations I’d pray the house to be understanding and welcoming.

In that precious childhood experience of mine I recall the welcoming TV owners could be angelic to the extent that they always slept leaving me alone. Part of me believed it is the trust that I built, through obedience and all, that contributed in their angelic behavior. Surely that belief made me feel myself at home and at the same time it gave me the guts to stay at their houses, face to face with the TV, till the national anthem is sung. Then when the color bars came on the screen, the lights and the TV should be off. I was also expected to shut their door behind me and sneak in my home. That is exactly what I was doing.

But other families who were tired of my coming to their houses and who by many reasons did not want my presence were so brutal to reject me. According to the tradition, if I asked, “is the TV on?” They used to tell me “TV is off!” I could see and hear that it was on but it was another way of telling me that I was not wanted. No upset and no hard feelings, turning back, off I used to go to try others.


Aron Tesfaalem

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