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Berekhet Mengisteab on the Answering Machine

This was first posted on Dehai twenty-years ago (Sun, 3 Aug 1997). I was going over some old files when I accidently stumbled upon it-I don’t remember the occasion or the inspiration that made me write it, but with minor editing, I thought it serves as an  entertainment and easy reading for the weekend.


[‘Nonsense’ is the secret word, which is no more secret. If you have something better to do, I suggest you do not waste your time reading this nonsense. However, if you can spare the time ….]

He was very excited when he showed me a rock sitting on his palm, and said, “Look, this rock is 2 Million years old.”

What? What is the difference between 2, 3, 4 or 5 million years? For that matter, what is the difference between 2, 3, 4 or 5 Million Dollars? I felt a strong urge for a challenge. I picked a smaller rock from the ground and said to him: look, my rock is even older, it is 3 million years old, and it is cute!

He was furious because I underestimated the importance of his rock.

“You can’t be sarcastic about science”, he said, and started to tell me the history of his rock. “If you want to know more about its history, go to the museum. If you want to know its mineral value, go to the lab….” He spoke like a lazy recording in an answering machine of a corporation.

Earlier I had called a number to apply for a job, and there was a recording on the other
side of the line: For sales, press 1; for accounting, press 2; for the hiring department, press 3; for……

I needed a job, I pressed 3. The recording echoed: The line is busy right now, if you want to hold, press 8; if ….

I decided to hold and pressed 8; to my surprise, there was an oldie playing: anta baal karrosa mlesa mlesa ….

Excellent! Berekhet made it to the answering machine! I was optimistic I will get a job with this call-not-replying-Berekhet-playing corporation. I am still unemployed.

“Want a job?” he asked

Yes. You are absolutely right, I want a job.

“What can you do?

Anything less telling the age of rocks; gluing pieces of broken clay pots; or unearthing human remains.

He frowned and said, “Do you want to live and work in Afghanistan?”

Afghanistan? Yes, why not? I am not afraid of dying. Furthermore, the great poet Abu Tayeb Al-Mutenebi said, ‘m’n lem-yemotu bisseifi mata bqeyrehu. teAadedet al asbabu wel maotu waHidu’ (He who doesn’t die by a sword will somehow die. numerous the means might be, but death is always the same.)

He interrupted me. “Okay. Stop that. Poetry is the last thing you need in Afghanistan. The whole life in that damned country is an inspiration for tragic and sad poetry.”

I nodded, well, you said you have a job for me, yes? What kind of job?

He hesitated and then said, “Three jobs. A grave digger, and a scrap-metal trader. The third job is gone.”

What was the third job? Who took it?

His reply came in a matter-of-factly way, “farming hashish. A compatriot of yours took that job. He added, ‘While some of his compatriots are Afghanistaning their country others are busy intoxicating the people.”

I sympathized with him. Talking about getting high, are suicide bombers high when they blow themselves into pieces?

“The Russian colonel said that was the case.”


“Yes, the Russian from Siberia, rather ex-Russian. Now he is Israeli. So is his neighbor, the Ethiopian, rather ex-Ethiopian. Now he is also Israeli.”

How about the fruit vendor?

“The fruit vendor said, Shalom. When all is said and done, only the two original people of the area will remain: Arabs and Jews. But the Russian it seems, was high on the wicked weed.”

Helplessly I said, maybe I should go to Rwanda, or Burundi.


Because I am an African!!

“Land mass! You think you belong to a land mass? Was your grandfather an African? Did it occur to you that he might have been Asian, before they tore the two continents apart… by digging the Suez Canal?”

I don’t know. But I live in that land mass. Besides, it is safe to say I am an African. Nobody will try to bite my head off. That ID is cool, and trendy. Like in the 60s. Harambe Africa! Uhuru!

He started to give me a lesson in geography, “The Saudis, the Indians, Koreans, and
Chinese are all Asians.”

So they are, so what?

“Congo, Nigeria, Chad, and Eritrea are in Africa. Singapore. Yes, Singapore is in Asia.”

Still confused, I asked: So they are, so what?

He assured me “I am just thinking loudly.”

I pleaded, “Could you think a little louder.”

He volunteered another tip: “The Afar claim they lent their name to the continent, true?”

I was dumbfounded. Could be–Afar……Afreeqya!! Could be! It is just a name.

He bit his lips and said, “You are hallucinating. You have become crazy. May God save your troubled soul and your left-minded brain.”

I said, Amen!

“Amen of the corner?”

He was getting into my nerves. No. I do not do my Amens on any corner. I do them in
open spaces.

“What is wrong with Amen in a corner?”

I protested: too narrow. I do not like to be cornered. Do you see that!

He became edgy, “I do not see it! Are you calling me blind?”

I tried to calm him down. Well, No. I am saying this is ‘Helmi derho’…

He burst, “what does that mean? I know ‘derho’ is chicken. Are you calling me a blind chicken?”

I tried to be assertive. LISTEN! If our chickens go blind, we grill them for lunch. We do not keep blind chicken. I am talking about culture, heritage, posterity… We want to preserve ‘Helmi dorho’ just like nature preserved your 2 Million-years old rock. If chicken can dream, why can’t we?

He suggested a solution. “Why don’t you try something else?”

Like what?

He confidently replied, “May be became a bourgeoisie.”

Uninterested, with a smile I said: Someone is already trying to become one, for over two months now, from inside a shell!!

He wanted to know. “How is he doing?”

With bitterness I said, “I wish I could smoke him out of his shell so that I can find out. But, I think he is still a proletariat–rehitse bella’e, he will not be promoted to the Bourgeoisie class that easy.

He shouted “Stop. Stop. You have done enough smoking already.”

I assured him: No. I will call the ghostbusters if that is what is needed to get this man out on the Dehai screen.

He looked fed up. “What if he refuses?”

Again I assured him: Don’t worry, he will not. He is coming out soon.

Now he seemed annoyed, “NONSENSE, NONSENSE, NONSENSE.”

With pity I said, nonsense! Okay. Here is a tape for you. Enjoy it: anta b’aal karrosa mlesa mlesa … The karrosa needs to be steered straight ahead.

He wouldn’t give up the topic, “why is it important to become a bourgeoisie anyway?”

Simple. Because only then you can buy expensive paintings by weirdos with weird names: Pistachio, Fan cough, etc. How else could you buy a Sunflower painting for 45 million Dollars?

In surprise he said, “What? You can buy the entire sunflower farms in Italy for that much. And, it will not be on a canvas, but real sunflowers.”

I borrowed his favorite word: nonsense. Can you imagine a Japanese tycoon framing an Italian sunflower farm (though Italian Signoras don’t let go of their farms easily) and hanging it over his fire place?”

He thought for a while and then he said, “I wouldn’t put anything that cost more than
50 Dollars near any fire!”

I smiled, unless you have a fire brigade on alert, 24 hours a day.

He looked worried, “and the Signora?”

He was annoying me, forget the Signora. She has become like a sunflower always leaning towards the sun. Hell breaks loose if clouds appear on the sky. She sells lots of real sunflowers and counts a few Liras, when a small imitation sunflower fetches millions of dollars!

I told him what has happened: the Signora called the Japanese tycoon on the phone with a proposal. She was put on hold and, you guessed it, Berekhet was playing on the answering machine, on the Japanese side: abti Edaaga aitebzHa wagaa….

“Harroe” the Japanese tycoon replied.

“Pronto. Hello, this is Signora…”

“Harroe, what you want?”

The Signora asked the tycoon: “can I send you a fresh sunflower every morning, by courier, for a fraction of the price you paid for that stupid thing you call a painting?”

The tycoon was angry. Before he slammed down the phone he screamed “Stup-pido. Igno-ranto…Tora. Tora. Tora.”

From that day on, it has been Tora, Tora, Tora on the heads of all Italians, and Tora, Tora coupled with Zeraf, Zeraf on the heads of the rest of us. My advice: Find yourself some classical Berekhet tapes and listen to them until you became deaf and mute.

Saleh, Q8

About Saleh "Gadi" Johar

Born and raised in Keren, Eritrea, now a US citizen residing in California, Mr. Saleh “Gadi” Johar is founder and publisher of Author of Miriam was Here, Of Kings and Bandits, and Simply Echoes. Saleh is acclaimed for his wealth of experience and knowledge in the history and politics of the Horn of Africa. A prominent public speaker and a researcher specializing on the Horn of Africa, he has given many distinguished lectures and participated in numerous seminars and conferences around the world. Activism was founded by Saleh “Gadi” Johar and is administered by the Awate Team and a group of volunteers who serve as the website’s advisory committee. The mission of is to provide Eritreans and friends of Eritrea with information that is hidden by the Eritrean regime and its surrogates; to provide a platform for information dissemination and opinion sharing; to inspire Eritreans, to embolden them into taking action, and finally, to lay the groundwork for reconciliation whose pillars are the truth. Miriam Was Here This book that was launched on August 16, 2013, is based on true stories; in writing it, Saleh has interviewed dozens of victims and eye-witnesses of Human trafficking, Eritrea, human rights, forced labor.and researched hundreds of pages of materials. The novel describes the ordeal of a nation, its youth, women and parents. It focuses on violation of human rights of the citizens and a country whose youth have become victims of slave labor, human trafficking, hostage taking, and human organ harvesting--all a result of bad governance. The main character of the story is Miriam, a young Eritrean woman; her father Zerom Bahta Hadgembes, a veteran of the struggle who resides in America and her childhood friend Senay who wanted to marry her but ended up being conscripted. Kings and Bandits Saleh “Gadi” Johar tells a powerful story that is never told: that many "child warriors" to whom we are asked to offer sympathies befitting helpless victims and hostages are actually premature adults who have made a conscious decision to stand up against brutality and oppression, and actually deserve our admiration. And that many of those whom we instinctively feel sympathetic towards, like the Ethiopian king Emperor Haile Sellassie, were actually world-class tyrants whose transgressions would normally be cases in the World Court. Simply Echoes A collection of romantic, political observations and travel poems; a reflection of the euphoric years that followed Eritrean Independence in 1991.

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  • Hayat Adem

    The Hon. SGJ,
    I saved this article for my weekend after morning TV political talks. It paid of with enough spice into the many serious shows. It is a great article about nothing. On unrelated matter except in name, and speaking of Berekhet, I can’t believe that man has reduced himself to the allegiance of a small group politics. He is too giant to serve others; He was born to serve a bigger cause.
    Some years back, he was trying to mend ways with PFDJ officials. For some reason, he just took it in as a big deal as if they controlled his fate. We intercepted each other in a 3rd country. He had friends and fans everywhere. From what I observed then, his Ethiopian fans were no less in number than the Eritrean ones. People there instantly organized a dinner gathering in his honor on the very day he arrived. And some were assigned to whisk him to the place. He came and the party started.
    But then he asked to be pardoned for few minutes from the party to meet important people just quickly and he would rejoin sooner. Everyone was stunned but would have to agree for the interruption hoping it was going to be brief. Nope! He never returned to the party and he left many offended. Later, it was just known that he was with PFDJ Embassy officials the entire night. One person confronted him privately as to why he did that. Berekhet confessed to him he did not want to risk to annoy PFDJ diplomats by not reporting to them first hand since they knew he was in town.

    • Saba

      Dear HA,
      I like how you interject your “love” for PFDJ in every occasion.
      ZiwaAle Haqi yingher:)
      Here is how it really went.
      While Bereket was entertaining them with the song “nihina hizbi nihna mear”, one guy from the weyane crowd said” Badme is ours”. Bereket was so irritated and said “it is called BADIMA and is ours”. The guy kept
      saying BADIME and Bereket kept saying BADIMA. Then Bereket informed the crowd that he is going to wear his “BADIMA uniform” and left to the backstage. The weyane crowd was so afraid of Bereket in his uniform
      because he looked to them as cobra. They shut the door.
      Source:Inquray TsaTse, not GiTsaTse.

  • Ismail AA

    Hayak Allah Saleh J.,

    Some one who would err to advice Johar to be apolitical would be committing capital sin is the sense of Caholic cannons. Does he or those he hosts in his small home have the luxury of playing “boletikawian”?. They just come in there to test themselves whether they still have the meaning of freedom in tact. They do this without bothering to check the relevance or irrelevance of what they write. Their only worry is whether the honorable Gadi still sticks to his promise and values. But they do not have to realize how far boredom and frustration have gone go to consume his Qorbot Harmaz patience. Of course the minimum he allows himself to do is complaining in the way he did through this post, hoping forumers will listen and not push him to come with more sensible none sense. Johar, excellent I enjoyed it.

  • David Jose

    muslim terrorists

    • sara

      ya Mr.jose.. .. are you for real?
      we thought they Locked you after what you did in charlottesville,.

  • MS

    Ahlan Ustaz Gadi
    I think boletika is taking its toll on you; you need to take some break and help us read some such “nonsensical” stuff. I enjoyed it, a typical Gadi. Thanks. You may as well need to search for some lost treasures, I hope you did not dump them with the copies of the constitution…

    • Saleh Johar

      Ahlan Mahmoud,
      Thanks for making sense of a none sense. Honestly, that is my preferred style and I was writing stuff like that (and some poetry) if not for the frustration that comes with time: repeating the same arguments every other season because someone wakes up from their slumber and breath life to suspended topics. Then it becomes a match on who would have the last word and who would put down and mock others. Unfortunately we are all pulled into such fruitless debates. I share some of the blame but honest to God I resist that.

      But I will try to regain my style if situations allow. As for Boletika, some might think what we do is that so I know I have one goal in this struggle: to help eradicate injustice from Eritrea. And that might not be well argued intellectual because it is visceral. Not an entertainment or a match.

      See! You took me into boletika, Allah yessamhek. 🙂

  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Selam SGJ,

    This is a refreshing dialogical analysis based on the theory of dialogism. I never thought such kind of literature were discussed in the kiddie website as Saleh Younis use to call them. I wasn’t a visitor of dahai org in the 90s. Even when I knew it, I didn’t see subjects worthy of reading. Thank you for reposting it for something I missed it. Sometimes, it is necessary to convey a message in a dialogical play to attract your readers.


    • Mez

      Dear Amanuel,
      Dehai-org is no more as kinda kiddie-chatti website as one may think.

      The heavy weights from the PFDJ (the likes of Ghidewon Abay, Amanuel Biedemariam, Yemane G. Meskel) are spucking pfdj-ich line of thought day-in-day-out there–unchallenged.