1. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
2. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
4. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
5. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
6. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.- Psalm:137
On October 02, 2010, a meeting sponsored by Eritrean Community of Winnipeg, Canada, (a.k.a known as simply ‘enda ShaeBiya’) was held in Corydon Avenue, in the city of Winnipeg. The guest speaker came from the United States. After the speaker finished the usual drivel, the main organizer, the president of the Community group, Mr. Lambros Kyriakakos took out a pamphlet and said words to this effect, “We have enemies in city that have defamed us, the name of Eritrea and our people. They have opposed our events and they are hampering our activities. We have to do something about them.” He read the names of the ‘defendants’. Three names: “Bereket Yohannes, Ghezae Hagos and Amanuel Hadgu”. He listed their and their colleagues’ sins and transgressions.
Then the audience discussed how to conduct business with these ‘sellouts’. Suggestions flourished; ideas presented; heads nodded; hands waved; decisions reached at. Finally, a committee of four people composed of Mr. Lambros Kyriakakos, Mr. Yohannes Mehari, Mr. Mehari Berhane, Mr. Gaim Yohannes was set up. According to the organizers of the meeting, that ‘Committee’ was authorized and mandated by all Eritreans in Winnipeg, to take the necessary measures against the ‘defendants’ (Bereket, Ghezae, Amanuel. (I know Ali Salim: no Moslem name is on the list. But I assure you I did my best to console our colleague Jemal Shifa who squeaked away miraculously, and inexplicably, thus complained (quite rightly) of discrimination!)
In this early Halloween October drama, what occurred was nothing less than a harrowing, sad exercise of PFDJ mob justice: ‘lynching’ by Special Court and witch-hunt.
My father was a courageous man who knew little fear. I am not like him. Many a times, my introvert, inhibited nature gets the best/worst in me. When I heard of the accusations levelled against me and my friends, I instinctively remembered my father (R.I.P.) who I saw for the last time in the airport of the city. I felt neither courage nor fear. I was merely apprehensive, silent.
Let us put aside the legal dimension of it. (We all know law is not PFDJ’s forte. AyBeAlti Leytomn iya! Le droite is their bête noire). I must confess openly the meeting saddened, even bewildered me. I can’t imagine adults (some well respected in the community), acquaintances, even somewhat friends, would sit still when such a ‘lynching’ (PFDJ style) was going on in front of their eyes. That part, I still can’t process. May be because… Either I have not grasped the true nature of humans and/or Eritreans (which my friend Bereket always cautions me saying “ emo Eritrawyan AytoFeltom’n ika!”) or because…
..because I know that I am more naïve than many people take me for. I don’t know. My mother always observes, “Gorah tmesl emo Aykonkan!” I guess mothers know best! Probably, it is my idealistic tendencies, belief in innate goodness of human beings (especially Eritreans), ‘Nay Asmera’ blithe recklessness (‘kla’E! zey Saqt iyu zeAynetu) or genetic inevitability (my father was like me in this regard), or plain stupidity (who would in his right mind choose ‘Kind Citizen’ in these times of ‘akahida’? when there is no kindness nor citizenship associated with Eritreans). I never thought people I knew would allow my name and the name my good friends to be besmirched with impunity. What happened to ‘Let us hear their side’ “Zereba KLte KeySemaeKa Aytf’red!” or ‘let us call them in’ after all these protesters were just outside, few meters away? Instead, we were declared guilty the moment our names were read. The rest is sentencing. Period. Such a travesty of justice, of lulling the conscience to soporific ends, of the desire to manipulate and being manipulated, may be the sad realities in mainland Eritrea. But in a country of democracy, in this ‘just society’, in a city of refugees!!!!???
A City of Two Rivers
Two rivers intersect Winnipeg; the Red River and the Assiniboine River. This rather calm and friendly city of refugees has been welcoming Eritrean refugees for decades until its tough winter dispersed some of them east-west, and cajole the rest to obey and forever hold their peace. Thus many obliged and called it home. There is another insidious evil lurking in the residences and hangouts of Eritreans in Winnipeg demanding obedience or silence, attendance at socials (Sing us, they say, one of the songs of ‘Zion’, of liberty, of home). It is the ‘so-called Eritrean Community in Winnipeg.
This predatory group has terrorized, silenced and muzzled Eritreans to astonishing effects. Many new refugees have traumatizing stories. Yet, few of them speak of what brought them to this land. I know ShaEbiya’s operatives and communities litter the Diaspora; but I can’t imagine a place as brazenly up-front, with ‘Ayn-Awta’ bravado, as the one in Winnipeg. ‘Lynching’ of those who differ, of those chose to say ‘AyfalKan!’ (there are courageous souls who have endured ostracising and privations) has been an established custom in this beautiful city.
Enter—Hidmonna (Eritrean-Canadians Human Rights Group in Manitoba)
This humble group of Eritreans was established as advocacy group for Eritrean victims of human rights violations and refugees. It has written letters of advocacy to Canadian officials on plight of Eritrean refugees in Libya; participated in local human rights events, like Amnesty International; and organized a human rights exhibition in Winnipeg. (Please refer to: www.hidmona.net)
Hidmonna, was named, eponymously, after Abrar Osman’s immortal song on, unrequited love, the eternal yearning of Eritreans for home, for a refuge, for a forum, for reconciliation. In an era of ‘TeAteQ! Nikid Tiray!”, Hidmonna is a very unassuming, low-key group that has membership of old, young, men, women of the city of two rivers “who chose to differ from the muddied and bloodied course of history’. Its denizens? They got their hearts in the right place; their instincts adorned with simple but unshakable truth: Defiance, Abya.
We don’t know much, and we may not be too many. But we know we don’t have to sing for our captives who pursued us in the land of free to persecute us. We won’t sing songs of Wedi Tikabos, Wedi Tikuls, Helen Meleses, Teames. We lament; we get bewildered; we get ‘lynched.’ When we can, we don’t sit idly as consulates and enablers come from Toronto and United States in this city of refugees and rivers to demand obedience and singing. When they demand singing, we tell them we have hanged our harps!
By the rivers of Winnipeg, we sit. We weep. We remember ‘Zion’. We remember what Eritrea should mean for us, for all its children, even for those who ‘lynch’ us. We vow, silently. In our actions, prayers, discussions, silences, we vow.
Out of the dramatic summer-Fall 2010, in Winnipeg and the hectic protest days, the running around, chores, arguments, fun, media contacts, Exhibition of September 18, 2010, there were many memorable moments: Yet, one image still stuck obstinately in my mind—for some reason. In August 21, 2010, we staged our first demonstration to protest against the Eritrean consulate of Toronto. Walking down from the other side of the street, I saw one of our colleagues, a protester, a woman, with a poster in one hand; her other hand had been broken, thus bandaged. It was a lone figure, in a busy entrance. This simple but profound figure capsulated the intricate nature of our struggle and spelt what keeps everyone of us in the opposition awake at night in one word: Defiance, ‘ABY’A!’ Thank You Fatima Abdu-rahsid!
And the Judge is….
In May 2009, in article titled, “In the matter of the people Vs. Sophia Tesfamariam,” I wrote about the infamous Sophia Tesfamariam. To quote from it.. “She sure has turned herself into the role of warden of the giant prison in Africa, Eritrea, that is…Eritrea’s version of Lady Macbeth…This national tourist, living in the West with her family safe from the daily ordeals of mainland Eritreans condemns poor mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to endure hellish existence.
And I ended it with this affirmation:
“Every tear shed in anguish, every sigh emitted in sorrow, every head nodded in disbelief, every blood is spilled in brutality inculpate her. It is in this matter of the People of Eritrea vs. Sophia Tesfamariam that she will be found guilty on all accounts. You don’t need an actual trial, venue, motion, lawyers for this case. She has got mud, oh worse, blood in her hands. And it is not like she doesn’t know it…
‘Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this
little hand. O, O, O!’ – Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.)”
In October 02, 2010, a meeting sponsored by Eritrean Community of Winnipeg was held. The speaker came from the United States. She came from Virginia, United States. And she was Sophia Tesfamariam.
She was there, presiding over the special court of ‘lynching’. The committee ‘authorized’ to take action against members of Hidmonna Human Rights group members thus got its official benediction from Sophia Tesfamariam. For a minute, I thought the joke was on me. It is the farce that is on us. This farce, like, a good one (a very good one) has no end. ‘Wey Guud’ is simply an incompetent bathos.
We may weep, by the rivers of Winnipeg. We may carry posters in one hand because the other one is broken. But…
O Eritrea, If I forget thee..O My people if I don’t remember thee…
One day we will hang the posters in the willows; we will pick our harps up….to sing.