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SBS Tigrinya Interview With Saleh “Gadi” Johar

An interview with Saleh “Gadi” Johar, right activist, one of the founders of Awate.com and Author of Miriam was here Saleh Johar discusses about:
·His recently published book Miriam was here
·Issue of human trafficking and organ harvesting

Listen to Part 1, Part2, and Part3

Part 3
Part 2
Part 1

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  • L.T

    I know Sailh Gadi late 1998 when he used to wirte about “Zeray Deres Band”.For me he is better when he wirte poetry about various searches about life,joked about old times and so on…Politics is not his best side and sometimes he goes to far,as many Eritreans may become acidic over him.I have never seen his positive vision of EPLF .Know what?Our big problem is if one does not like one becouse itäs so easy to paint him black and wants to hurt him.I think this bad behavior comes from Tigria.I do not hate Tigria as people but I hate their vievs on Eritrea,they say that we treated them bad and calling “Agame”.I have never said”Agame” Before thoug our grand father had many Tegaru Workers under him,and he never called them “Agame” some of them were thieves but hard workers.To start wars just that some of us called them”Agame” it’s just that comlained of itäs people that they think that way.

    • ዕትብቲ ኮኾብ ሰላም

      Dear L.T,

      help me to find those poetry and all written materials of Saleh please.I am iterested to read them to see the start.

  • Beyan Negash

    The Importance of Literature in Civil Society:

    By now, this is a familiar refrain in Eritrean circles: that Eritrea and politics are inseparable Siamese twins and any attempt to disentangle one from the other will only prove as an exercise in futility. Since the advent of the Internet alone if the voluminous political topics were to be unearthed from their archival cyber shelves they would dwarf any other genre written on Eritrea. Finally, we seem to be out of the slash and burn and the cut throat political affair and delve right into the realms of literature. Two books that have attempted to severe from that long and drawn out traditional Eritrean heritage of political landscape, from the body politicking are Semere T. Habtemariam’s Hearts Like Birds (2011) and Saleh G. Johar’s Miriam was Here (2013). The focus of this book review is the latter for I had done the same for the former when it first came out.

    Throughout my reading of Miriam Was Here (MWH), I was constantly reminded of the famous speech given by Booker T. Washington’s address in Atlanta’s Exposition in 1895 in which through allegory captures the essence of his message to whites and blacks using “cast your bucket” metaphor; the story goes like this: facing distress amidst the Amazon River the captain on the boat calls out for help upon seeing another boat passing nearby; and the “Water! Water! Help! We die of thirst!” was answered by “cast your bucket” from the captain of the rescuing boat and it took three repeats for the captain under distress to realize that the solution was right beneath him and that all he had to do was cast his bucket and his thirst and that of his team would be quenched. Of course, such an allegory would be incomplete if it didn’t capture and reach its target audience. In the case of Mr. Washington, his audiences in 1895 were white and black Americans. He wanted to let it be known for Black Americans who only two decades earlier were slaves who now are free to cast the bucket for the solution to their immediate concerns and it ought to be to work hard and do what they know best – tilling the land – and not attempt to seek high political offices. And for the whites Mr. Washington wants to appease them that Black Americans were not interested in taking over America and that the freed slaves can be great supplement in building America.

    Of course, what MWH accomplishes is no small feat and it was not as simple as casting one’s bucket and the solution is there readily available for all to seize – far from it. From structural standpoint the book brings forth several trajectories that seem to run parallel to one another but are intertwined in a highly sophisticated web of narrative that may not be easily graspable at first read. However, one theme that lingers throughout the novel is the way in which memory is at play that keeps the story alive and the struggle to retain it and the challenges to recall it through “remembrance of things past” is shown through its characters. The narrative begins in Sinai where several Eritreans are held hostage by human traffickers who want to extort money from the relatives of their hostages and the horrific ordeal these Eritreans face is captured in the first two chapters and one of whom is Miriam, whose story begins to unfold as we travel back in time vis-à-vis certain other characters such as Musa who is on his way to Eritrea as he decided to resettle there soon after independence.

    What unfolds slowly is a newly minted country destined to fail because of rebel-turned-government trying to micro-manage every aspects of social, political, economic, and any other affairs that requires highly specialized field of endeavor to which these former Tegadelti were ill prepared to execute. And what ensues is disaster after disaster that leads to the inevitable and intractable mess that led up to the 1998 war with Ethiopia. Though the author’s thesis is foregrounded in the title itself, but such thesis must and need a background supporting thesis, which are the historical and sociopolitical landscapes whose genesis are interwoven in the process of explication. Clearly, the thesis of the book is not only what has been happening to young Eritreans in the Sinai by human traffickers but the how and the why are part and parcel of the book’s central theme. And each chapter seems to be at work in tandem with this notion through memory as it ambitiously captures all that can be conceived in the novel, which is the reason why the book consists of 28 chapters. And the book itself stands a great metaphor to the memories of this generation and cautionary tale for the future generation, reminding them that how a nation that came into being by way of endless dark memories must be handled with tender loving care; if the land itself cannot extract and enshrine to show its inhabitants, this book will certainly be there to serve as their witness about how far and how fragile the struggle was to keep it intact as a nation.

    Weaving a story that puts all these together requires a story teller who has the capacity to compellingly tell it, because without capturing all of the essences that made Miriam’s plight in Sinai possible, just wallowing in Miriam’s present predicament, could not possibly make a compelling story. What makes MWH that much compelling rests in how the dynamics of the political antecedence of yesteryear had to finally give way to the literary potency that has been bottle necked for so many decades; in other words, Eritrean politics, by default, held creativity hostage, rendering it stagnant in such a perpetual state of prepotency that breaking away from such a mold seemed an impossibility for decades now.

    Thank heavens, finally, literary preeminence seems to be holding sway as it rids itself from the world of politics and HLB & MWH are the beginning of that preponderance that literature is beginning to assert its role of ascendency over literature of politics; and such dynamism seems to have coalesced to a culmination of this important novel that the author chose to depict the harrowing predicament of Miriam and others like her through literature rather than one dimensional political narrative that would have been no more than one digital article to only be shelved away in the virtual dust bin; and that is what makes this novel one of the most important books written on the subject.

    The flood gates to the literary bucket seem to be widening as one hopes thereby chipping away at the politics of resentment and politics of despair that has stagnated anything else from crossing its path and that, one hopes, we are well underway from “The Politics of Cynicism” to “The Politics of Hope” to borrow from Miriam Petros’s article, which gives hope in every sense of the word, because such optimistic note is coming from the young generation.

  • Beyan Negash

    The interview in part two seems to have evolved way-aways-away from the novel. It is difficult to fathom where the interviewer wanted the conversation to proceed towards? There seems to be an insinuation here that the interviewer is trying to stipulate, that somehow, someway, SGJ ought to have included in his other characters that played a role in the human trafficking, however tenuous, however big; now, the first cardinal sin in literature is to critique a writer why he/she did not write it this way or that way. There is a reason why books are written in a novel form, it is precisely because to avoid some such insinuations as to why it is written this way or that way.

    It is one thing to ask as the interviewer did about the characters their believability and the process of their creation as was done in part one, but to somehow wanting for a writer to write what the interviewer thinks ought to have been in the book is just way too short sighted even teeters to forgetting that, though based on true stories, it is still a novel – that is why it is called fiction.

    Let me just leave you with a Nobel Prize Winner, the late Lessing’s relevant excerpt on why I thought the second part of the conversation about SGJ novel was kind of bizarre that merits a mild reproach because what it seems to me the conversation was about was why didn’t an artist consider political correctness in his novel – it is really kind an odd of a notion to subject an author to such a discussion. Kudos to SGJ for patiently explaining everything that was asked of him, for some author probably would’ve killed the conversation in its tracks.

    Op-Ed Contributor: Questions You Should Never Ask a Writer
    Published: October 13, 2007

    A very common way of thinking in literary criticism is not seen as a consequence of Communism, but it is. Every writer has the experience of being told that a novel, a story, is “about” something or other. I wrote a story, “The Fifth Child,” which was at once pigeonholed as being about the Palestinian problem, genetic research, feminism, anti-Semitism and so on.
    A journalist from France walked into my living room and before she had even sat down said, “Of course ‘The Fifth Child’ is about AIDS.”

    An effective conversation stopper, I assure you. But what is interesting is the habit of mind that has to analyze a literary work like this. If you say, “Had I wanted to write about AIDS or the Palestinian problem I would have written a pamphlet,” you tend to get baffled stares. That a work of the imagination has to be “really” about some problem is, again, an heir of Socialist Realism. To write a story for the sake of storytelling is frivolous, not to say reactionary.
    The demand that stories must be “about” something is from Communist thinking and, further back, from religious thinking, with its desire for self-improvement books as simple-minded as the messages on samplers.
    The phrase “political correctness” was born as Communism was collapsing. I do not think this was chance. I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism has been handed on to the political correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.

    There is obviously something very attractive about telling other people what to do: I am putting it in this nursery way rather than in more intellectual language because I see it as nursery behavior. Art — the arts generally — are always unpredictable, maverick, and tend to be, at their best, uncomfortable. Literature, in particular, has always inspired the House committees, the Zhdanovs, the fits of moralizing, but, at worst, persecution. It troubles me that political correctness does not seem to know what its exemplars and predecessors are; it troubles me more that it may know and does not care.

    Does political correctness have a good side? Yes, it does, for it makes us re-examine attitudes, and that is always useful. The trouble is that, with all popular movements, the lunatic fringe so quickly ceases to be a fringe; the tail begins to wag the dog. For every woman or man who is quietly and sensibly using the idea to examine our assumptions, there are 20 rabble-rousers whose real motive is desire for power over others, no less rabble-rousers because they see themselves as anti-racists or feminists or whatever.

    I am sure that millions of people, the rug of Communism pulled out from under them, are searching frantically, and perhaps not even knowing it, for another dogma.

    Doris Lessing

  • Beyan Negash

    Johar, Saleh “Gadi” (2013-08-14). Miriam Was Here (Kindle Location 1163). Negarit Media. Kindle Edition. From chapter 7: The Forgotten First Wave”

    Reaction to Part 1

    In part one, when I listened to the interviewer asking about Musa and the old man, I thought these were the very characters that really resonated with me when I read the book. Musa is a character with sardonic sense of humor that a reader encounters; I believe it was in chapter 3 and the hilariously funny interaction, yet sad, that takes place between Musa and a hotel receptionist, in which casting a bucket of water as a way to entice Musa to reserve a room in the hotel where she works was fascinating interaction.

    As for the Grandpa, the reader becomes acquainted with in chapter 7. This chapter has a lot going for it where the language becomes far more literary than the previous concrete stories that had to be told in the manner it was narrated. But, the pivoting in this chapter is quite fascinating. Consider the introduction in which the omniscient narrator offers the description of the place through the strayed animals:

    “Stray dogs scavenged the heaps of trash that mainly contained ash leftover from cooking firewood. What they found useful in it remained a mystery to the residents of the refugee camp who wondered what possibly entices the stray animals to look for it in the trash.”

    A sense of place – not at all attractive – yet has been a place for these first wave refugees who arrived over forty years earlier and the temporary tents become “Favelas of the Sudan” or the Palestinian refugee camp, some two million of whom that Israel did not want repatriated and have come to live in squalid conditions and who knows now Syrian refugees that we see may end up occupying the same space like these unfortunate refugees.

    The descriptors were just a warm-up for what it is to come when the narrator gives readers a glimpse of one evening in Khamseen in how these refugees spend their time:

    “As if meditating, they mostly sat facing East, maybe contemplating the distance, and wondering if the trails that brought them to the desolate camp can take them back to their ancestral villages. They know most of their homes were gone, razed to the ground decades earlier, but they dreamed of living in their own old pits instead of being a guest in someone else’s pit.”

    And the old man “who dons a dagger stuck on his belt is one of the few remaining references on life back home before the long exodus; he spends most of his day at the teashop.” And the conversation between the young patrons, who appear to be regulars at the teashop, that ensues brings forth an old man trying to cling to the past that seems to be slipping away from him by leaps and bounds, but is adamant in trying to preserve it in his memory, the only life he knew before coming to this alien refugee camp, a camp he never seems to have accepted and is always looking of a way to keep that fond memory of his village intact, at least in his mind; but even that is slipping and fading. And here is a sample of the beauty of the language that the narrator dons his readers with:

    “Sometimes it felt like time stopped in the camps. Actually, it might not have stopped, only no one could tell if it moved forward, backward or sideways. The sun has never betrayed the camp; it visited regularly, stayed until it burned everything, and left. The moon didn’t betray the camp; it always came on time and reflected its shy reflection. Only the stars betrayed the camps, they stopped visiting; very few people claimed to had a fleeting glimpse of the morning star, and dim twinkling of others.”

    But don’t tell that to grandpa who “insisted the stars [are] there and blamed the dust, “It is blocking the view, we can’t even see the stars, the only consolation for living in this dark refugee camp?” He missed the stars, “They are there only dust is blocking them.”

    But, of course, this grandpa who never want to forget that Ad Ibrahim, his ancestral home, to which he longs to return time seems to be playing tricks on his mind; The temporality and the way time that might seem to have stopped, Grandpa fights with every power of his mind to not let it stop him from remembering; for him whether the stars are visible to the naked eye is immaterial, he could see through the dust, he could penetrate it through the ever weakening memory of his, one that he is struggling to keep the image of Ad Ibrahim as he knew it.

    A little glimpse of the dialogue between Grandpa and the young crowd at the teashop can offer the flavor and the struggle between the temporal and one’s fading memories:

    “Grandpa, would you remember the way back to Ad Ibrahim?” The old man counters “Eheee, of course. But I am not sure if there would be any markers left…The graves might be gone. They say the rivers and wells dried up, but the mountains are still there. I am sure they will be there.” And a Voice retorts: “There are no graves or mountains Grandpa, they are gone. Instead there are cranes and huge equipment that tell you how close you are to Ad Ibrahim; I mean what used to be.” In a discombobulated state of mind, the old man says, “What cranes and equipment? They replaced the mountains with cranes?” he asks. The Voice retorts again, taking the conversation a notch above Grandpa’s head: “They are digging for gold, probably right where your cottage was! You were sleeping over gold and you didn’t know it.” The old man’s interest now peeking and he asks, “You don’t tell me! Gold!” Now, another Voice goes for the jugular as he says, “He is right, Grandpa, they say at noon the land glitters and if you have a pick, you just cut the gold rocks and carry as much as you can.” And the old man now is making the connection in his of something that happened forty years back when he was forced to leave his home. And so he says, “Is that why the planes chased us away? Now I know.” And so time passes while for the old man agonizingly slow much as his memory has been slowly blurring facts and fictions and these second generation Eritrean refugees are just finding a way to entertain themselves.

    But more importantly the author gives his readers through such dialogues an intriguingly engaging literature treat. But, of course, through the blurring of the old man’s memory the readers are being clued in how “conspiracy, speculation” begin to be seen as facts, absent reliable source of information. And the narrator does take the conversation between Grandpa and the Voices in the teashop to its logical end, but it must be read to thoroughly to be enjoyed.