Inform, Inspire, Embolden. Reconcile!

The Eritrea of “Adey Hana”!

I was born and raised in the city of Asmara. Asmara in those days was a bustling multicultural and multi-faith city. My friends, class mates, neighbors and soccer team players came from different backgrounds. Included among them were Yemenis (Hadarem), Italians, hybrid Italians (Hanfes), Amharas, Greeks, Indians (commonly known as Baynan) as well as Muslims, Christians of various denominations, Jews, Hindus and Jehovah. Walking through my neighbourhood, I came across the Khulafah Al-Rashdeen Mosque, the Enda Mariam (Twehdo) church, the Cathedrale (Catholic) Church, the Jewish Synagogue (closed after the migration of Jews to Israel), the Italian school of Potego, the Arabic school of Al-Jaliya, the Greek Club, the American library and many others. I woke up every morning hearing the azan from the mosques and the bells from the churches. From day one I experienced diversity, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

Among all the people I met in my neighbourhood, one particular lady left a lasting impression on me on what it means to be religiously devout and socially tolerant.  She was our next door neighbour. She was devout Christian, who I saw regularly walking back home in early hours of the day after attending church services. She addressed me as “wedie” –my son-, we addressed her as “Adey Hana” –mother Hana-. My family was a devout Muslim family, however, our respective devotion to our faith only made us more respectful of each other and better neighbours. On Eid days, the first order of business at our home was to send special Eid sweets to Adey Hana and her family. Likewise, on “Ledet” (Christmas) we received similar sweets from them. In family events, considerations were given to the respective dietary restrictions. At times of good and bad Adey Hana was the first to knock at our door and offer help. I saw in Adey Hana respect, integrity, tolerance and high moral standard. She set a good example of a good neighbourly relationship.

Fortunately, Adey Hana wasn’t an exception; she was the norm across neighbourhoods in Asmara and elsewhere. Once my friend Michael asked me to bike with him to a church in the neighbourhood of “Adi Guadad”, where he wanted to make an offering. We went together, I waited for him outside the church; on our return the time for “Asr” prayer came, I went to the mosque, he waited until I finished and we went back home together. That is the Asmara and Eritrea I grew up, a society where Christians and Muslims and other minorities lived together. Irrespective of their differences they treated each other with regard, respect and mutual appreciation. I learned in Eritrea to be a devout Muslim and I also learned to respect others. Eritreans –Christians and Muslims- are devout to their faith, their devotion, however, made them better neighbours and citizens. Diversity in Eritrea is a cherished value and deeply ingrained norm.

Despite the fact that the governance structure in Eritrea was for decades marred with polices of divide and rule, sectarianism and discrimination; the rank and file by in large remained true to its values of tolerance, acceptance and neighbourly cordial relationship. At times, there was a clear dichotomy between segments of the Eritrean elites and the average Eritreans who were better tuned with the dynamic of Eritrean social harmony and simple values of shared living.

Like many Eritreans, I was forced to leave my country and live in other places, where diversity was lacking and was viewed as a problem. Places where people can’t live at ease with those who are different from them. I lived in places where I had to think twice before revealing my identity, places where I lost my spontaneous expression of who I am. After a lengthy journey, I finally settled in a country where multiculturalism is an official policy. That was certainly comforting and more in line with what I experienced in my native land. Eritrea didn’t have an official multicultural policy; however, its multicultural values were deeply woven into its social fabric and daily norms.

Many Eritrean who grew up in Diaspora, didn’t live that unique experience and thus sometimes carry a narrow view of what Eritrean values, cultures and norms are. Once I was told by an Eritrean Christian living in Europe, when she came to know that I don’t drink alcohol nor attend drinking socials, ”this way  you can’t live in Eritrea”! I found that statement very troubling and clearly lacking an appreciation of Eritrean history and culture. Adey Hana who knew that my extended family, my ancestors who have deep roots in Eritrea, don’t drink alcohol, never thought we were aliens or radicals who can’t live in Eritrea. Another person who spent most of his time in the Middle East, once told a group of young Tigrinya speaking Muslim youth, that Tigrinya was not a genuine Eritrean language, it was a language that came with Tigrean invaders and they should only speak Arabic. Again, another example of lack of firsthand experience of the Eritrean social reality and lack of historical knowledge.

To all those voices of exclusion, sectarianism, extremism who see Eritrea as only Muslim or Christian; to those who see Eritrea through their own narrow experiences in Diaspora; to those who read history selectively to fit their pre-conceived sectarian notions; to those who project the actions of the bad few to all; to those who promote we (vs.) them narrative; to those who equate religious devotion to fanaticism, to those who think diversity is a problem, to all of them, I say the Eritrea you talk about is a different Eritrea. It isn’t the Eritrea of Adey Hana, it isn’t the Eritrea of my friend Michael, it isn’t the Eritrea of my ancestors and it isn’t the Eritrea of the average Eritreans of all stripes.

The streets of Asmara, its markets and its beggars; the farmers in the fields of “Sheab”, the fisher men in “Dankalia”, the mothers in their shanty huts of “Tesazega”, the elders in their white “nestela” (garment) have a more genuine story to tell about Eritrean values, than the “YouTube” clippers or “face book” posters or the well groomed distant elites!!

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  • Nitricc

    Hi All, congratulations to the Ethiopians is in order. I was watching Almaz Ayana leave everyone in the dust. I don’t think I have ever seen a runner like Ayana. She the best and I wish her more success in the future. Now the new record is by Ethiopians Thanks to Almaz Ayana. Watching runners getting double up, what is the point to continue running? She embarrassed a lot runners. Again, confabulation to Ethiopia and Almaz Ayana, job well done.

    • saay7

      Nittickay:

      … and then there are the Dibaba sisters.

      Last month, at the Diamond League, Genzebie Dibaba was so outstanding that the camera and the commentary was fixed on her for the entire mile. Which, by the way, she raced in less than 4 and half minutes.

      And nitriccs compliment wouldn’t be complete without making fun of people. Dude, you can be an elite runner, get insured, and get lapped by someone and show up next run and beat them. It’s all part of the sport. Even Ussein Bolt was defeated in his last run by that doper Gatlin.

      saay

      saay

      • Nitricc

        Hey SAAY; I just couldn’t believe what I was watching. She did her thing amazingly. What I didn’t understand is while Ayana was doubling them down right and left, they just kept running. If someone to doubling me down on a run, as soon as I see her/him coming, I am exiting before that happens. That is so embarrassing! Remember we all started from the same and somebody going to doubling me down? It is true that the Ethiopians got natural advantage. They were born, grow up and practice in high altitude country and naturally utilize their oxygen very efficiently, on the top of that the Ethiopian’s physical structure is very advantages for running. They have very skinny legs and small calves. The less surface area of a muscle in the leg, the less the oxygen is needed to do the work of the legs and the more oxygen for the lung to utilize = the distance for Ayana she goes. however; no body should be doubled. NO lol

        • Hi Nitricc,
          It is the TireSiga and milk that does the miracle😁. Most of the elite ethiopian runners are from the oromo ethnic groups. The oromo people have a lot of cattle, and they have abundant meat and milk and milk products, and therefore, they have high protein diet, similar to kenyan athletes.
          The lower part of the body (abdominal muscles, butts, and leg muscles, which are important in running) become well developed and strong with exercise, because of the high protein diet.
          I thought that the rest of ethiopians and eritreans have similar body structure, skinny legs, due to their diet, injera and whatever goes with it. Moreover, the two people live on high altitudes. There should be no difference.

        • saay7

          Hey Nitrrikay:

          You are such a stubborn Habesha. Here’s an alternative view to help you deal with it:

          1. Stop calling it doubling down: you are not playing blackjack. It—when someone completes 2 laps before you can finish 1 lap–is called “getting lapped.”

          2. Track and field is often a team and not an individual sport. Refer to Haile/Kenenisa (Ethiopia) vs Mo (Somalia) runs. The Ethiopians run as a team with one as pace-setter and wind-blocker so the other, at the right time, can have a strong finish. If there was another Somali (or Brit) as good as Mo, Mo would have won even more.

          3. Most federations have rules on what to do when you are lapped: swallow your pride and stay in it because you will help your teammates. The only reason to drop out is if injured.

          saay

      • Legacy

        Hi Saay,
        With all the due love for my sister Genzebe, her inconsistency makes me wonder some of the dropping allegations that surfaced last summer. She reminds me of Assefa Powel who is as inconsistent as the Ethiopian belg rains, was suspended for drug violations. I can understand for athletes to be inconsistent in Marathon runs but, the middle distance are perfected almost to the last second during trainings that the margin of errors are very slim. That’s why in opinion that Mo, Haile and Kennenisa et al excelled at those distances .

        • saay7

          Selamat Legacy:

          U won’t get any argument from me on Mo, Haile and Kenenisa.

          On Genzebie, I think the issue might be that she is not selective about her runs. As you know, a lot of the reason for consistency has to do with strategic choices: turn down a purse (money) so you can train and participate in another run. Those who run in every game wear themselves down and are inconsistent.

          Doping…another issue. My views are unconventional on that but kids read this forum so no comment 😂

          saay

  • Dear All,

    The past seems rosier and happier most of the time, and it is augmented by the intensity of childhood feelings. For good or worse, the memory remains all throughout life. When it is a happy one, it gives a comfortable corner in the human psyche, and when unfortunately the opposite is the case, a hellish corner and a wound that never heals is what remains for life in one’s memory.
    It is nice that the author brought to our memory the beautiful years of innocence and harmony that existed in the past in eritrea and I should say in ethiopia too. What we should contemplate about is, why and how this innocence of the different social groups was lost, and if there is a possibility to reclaim it.
    I think that it must be on different grounds, in a different form and shape from the past, because these are different times and situations, which require a different solution that should satisfy all stakeholders (all social groups). The new type of innocence and harmony should be constructed on an equation in which all social groups constitute part of it (the whole), with equal values to each other, and there should be no mistake that any social group will be duped anymore for less. That will be the only situation in which true harmony among all social groups could exist both in ethiopia and eritrea.

  • Idris Ali

    Slamat al shiek Ismael iben al shiek Ibrahim Mukhtar بارك الله قيك وطيب الله ثرى والدك
    First I would like to highly appreciate your nicely written article which i Think is recent and no two Eritreans will dissagree in the content of the narrative you delivered about the Eritrean norms of love and respect of each other that was in the past .Sadly which started to decay since the emerge of the disreputable book of “Nehnan alamanan ” . This book which interduced the term of “we vs them ” in the Eritrean struggle arena .I Think firmtly at all of this chaotic and disoriented messages which overwhelms the social midia this Days came out of the mantle of that hateful and sectarian message of the dictator and his cliques.
    Lastly i am not so suprised att all of this wisdom and constructive ideas to come from person like you who was rised up in house of honour and dignity.
    Go forward
    Barkalah fik
    Dr.Idris Shokai

  • Stefanos Temelso

    Hi Ismael and all, I appreciate your article because you made me remember all our neighbors who happened to be of different religion. As a policeman’s son I have been to many places in Eritrea and the social life which was typically tolerant was the norm of the day. I feel disturbed when I see some uncivilized behaviour on the various social media outlets from the youth. Moderation and tolerance, respect towards each other is a sign of civilization and greatness. Brother Ismail I thank you again for the article which reminds everyone of us of the good old days. Wish you a nice weekend.

  • Peace!

    هلا السلام وعليكم أستاذ اسماعيل
    ان القصة التي كاتبها يحتوي علا كلام جميل وموزون يتناسق مع وقتنا هذا لانه يذكر كثير من الناس ما هو تاريخنا جزاك الله الف خير وسوف نصحح الناس زوي العقول الصغيرة بكلام مثل هذا وغيره من الكلام الذي له ميزانه وانا من تفكيري اذا ترجم هذا القصة الي مختلف اللغات مثل التجرنية العربي ولكني أنا اعلم ان مهما حصل ان الشعب سوف يعيشون مع بعض بسلام وباحترام فليس عندي شك
    فان المشكلة في social media
    والفس بوك وهذا مع الأيام سوف يتعبون ويتوقف

    • Nitricc

      Peace really? okay what happened in “social media” ?

      • Peace!

        What’s up Broah,

        What do you mean “really” what did I say unless you are trying to mess with me… lol.

        I only said narrow-minded people are abusing social media platforms: promoting hate and creating divisions along religious and ethnic lines is now becoming a full time job for few evil Eritreans, perhaps they get paid by the word, not by fact or substance.

        Peace!

        • Nitricc

          Hi Peace; I like to read your post and you throw the monkey on me. And i was saying to you what the …. but all is good Mahamuday saved the day. Thanks man.

      • MS

        Selam Nitrickay
        I think I need to translate what peace wrote so that everyone feels good.
        “The story you wrote contains beautiful discourse/ statement which is consistent with our time because it reminds many people about our history. May God bless you. And we will correct those with difficult to understand this using this type of narration/speech. If the story could be translated into other languages such as Tigrigna and Arabic [I think it would be grate]. I don’t have any doubt that [our] people will coexist in peace respecting each other. The problem is in social media and with time they {the bad actors} will get tired of it and it will stop.”
        I also read a couple of others in Arabic and they were all consistent with the message of Ustaz Ismail’s article.
        Gracias.

        • Nitricc

          Thanks Mahamuday appreciated. When peace posted all Arabic, i kind of gave him the impression ” what about us” thanks my man.

  • blink

    Dear Mr. Ismael
    It is a great experience sir , thanks for sharing with us, I find the social , ethnic differences to be simply secondary or may be non existent . My main Target is PFDJ with the dictator that is all. I believe there are many tugs and fringe groups who take the Ethnic name to make political comments or statement , for example they claim to represent:-afar , kunama , jeberti , saho … and we have new like the lost cause Agazians, I call all these losers because they never represent the people they seem to care. if they have the slightest idea about the situation of their people,they could never have existed on such long horrible situations of ugly disease of hateful views against their country men.
    I don’t blame the Highlanders for the crime committed by Isaias, I don’t believe Issaias is in power because of the support from highland people, I do not believe a farmer in Selae daero is smiling because PFDJ took a grazing land in Rahayta,Gomhot or hawashait , no he didn’t and he is not afraid of them too. So the notion the kebesa people must apologize thing is not the way to go, the kebesa have their own story to tell too , may be we can call for a meeting of all of us and tell our story one by one , that we can see the whole picture.

    I have been invited to participate in my small ethnic group “political gathering ” after may be 1 hour with them ,I told them I will never ever agree with their view especially after I listened to their views of the Tigrinya (kebesa) , I was shocked to find them divisive and ugly. I told to the people in my row , ” such idea is not for justice nor for democracy either.” I specifically told them that my grandfather back home with his grand kids will never support such views, And one guy asked me if I have an opinion or Question to the men on the front desk , I said no but again he asked me , I took the microphone and told them all , I am your brother and I am proud to be born from you but your views are not mine and I will never support such views, they were shocked, they thought I am in line with their views just because PFDJ humiliated my family, they thought I am easily to be convinced to hate the Tigrinya . They were wrong. From that day I have never ever participated in any of their gathering. The Eritrea I know is quite different from the Eritrea they assume to know. The opposition camp is full of part time volunteers yet we remain in early stage to have a full time committed people running a good message , until such things pop up we will be mushroomed by rotten tomatoes ugly views .

    I refuse to accept any sympathy from my kebesa friends and brothers , I see my problem and solutions in line to the farmers in Kebesa. That is how my father was and that is how my grandfather still is ,despite his lonely house due to the sadistic dictator in Asmara his hope still ring to a democratic state . I call to any Highlander’s to have a telephone number from a low land and call him talk to him , he is normal Eritrean who love his country dearly. I urge any one to call his Christian friends or Muslim friends and tell their individual stories about current situation of Eritrea plus see a democratic state a head of this sadistic leader in Asmara.

  • Robel Cali

    HI everyone

    Great article, Ismael Ibrahim Mukhtar.

  • Anis Idris

    Salaam All,

    Wonderful Story. I hope from the bottom that Eritrea recover from the present Crisis.

  • Brhan

    Dear Sheikh Ismail,

    When a famous figure comes to speak there is an expectation. The person is famous because he or she is privileged to have more knowledge comparing to others who benefit from his or her knowledge. The expectation is that he or she will speak and his or her speech will be significant. Here who says is as important as what is being said. Because the “”who”” could be a public opinion leader , where his speech or her speech can have impact on many to stand up and fight against tyranny in Eritrea
    I am very sad to find your article not fulfilling my expectation.

    Your anecdotes that indicated about drinking alcohol to socialise or not and Tigrinya being an outsider language were the key points that I found in your article. I found both of them to be minor issues, including the second one because if you see our currently discourse , you will hardly find there is a debate about Tigrinya being an outsider language or not. Our major issue is the rule of law, democracy and freedom of speech in Eritrea and here are the woos where we can have thousand of anecdotes

    Eritreans in Eritrea are living under a dictator who have no mercy on them and their children
    As a result many are fleeing in great numbers taking adventures ourneys in the desert and the sea
    Our youth whose life is trapped for many years in slavery type national service
    Moms and dads arrested because of their children who fled from Sawa or the slavery type service, to the Sudan or Ethiopia
    Families’ food coups revoked due to reason above
    Many young men and women who went to Sawa ended up to be coolies and coffee makers for generals respectively
    Business persons murdered by the security forces
    Many people including Muslim scholars, like yourself have disappeared and jailed without a trial
    Their wives do not know if they are alive or not so that they can go ahead with their life: be widows, marry and have a new start
    and etc……
    If no one and specially a person is not daring to speak about the above issues , then May Allah bless Eritrea and Eritreans!
    Salamat

    • Fanti Ghana

      Hello Brhan,

      The story Sheikh Ismail shared with us is very important story many Eritreans need to hear. It is a beautiful story written beautifully! current Eritrean ills may not be lost in him, and neither is he necessarily being “not daring enough” to address it. However, one cannot talk about all things in one sitting or in few paragraphs.

      So, in short, this is what you should have said:

      Thank you Sheikh Ismail for this heart warming story. It reminded me our beautiful culture as represented by Adey Hana and your family. I hope you will come back soon and share with us more of our past and also, if possible, some ways we can address current political issues.

      Then and only then you may claim whether your expectation was met or not.

      Chao!

      • Brhan

        Hello Fanti,
        I believe I followed awate. forum rule as a result what I have said was posted. I couldn`t say other wise. If I did it would be Nifaq or hypocrisy and I am sure the Sheikh won’t like it.
        ciao

        • Fanti Ghana

          Hello Brhan,

          No, I didn’t mean you broke any laws. I am sorry if I gave you that impression. Often times, what we say and what we mean don’t come out as clearly as we intend them to.

    • Hayat Adem

      Hi Brhan,
      I thought this piece was one of the best and beautifully told; its power comes from its simplicity anchored in a personal reflection about an authentic social setting of a near past in Eritrea/Asmara. As to me, there is nothing to be NOT liked in this piece.

      • Brhan

        Hello Hayat,
        My comment is based on the issue of a public opinion leader in his community. I believe you agree with me that our opinion leader’s like Sheikh Ismail `s ability to prioritize our issues and work on them is significant in our struggle to end dictatorship in Eritrean

        • Berhe Y

          Dear Brhan,

          I think you have every right to comment to this article like everyone else. I just to respond in terms of the priority, as you understand, this article does not deserve.

          For me personally, if my interpretation is correct, this article is a supplement to SGJ article who was published recently. What we learned from that article was that, some Eritreans do not even approve elders and leaders from different religion to be present in the same / share seminar.

          What sheikh Ismail article sheds light to the life we all know in Eritrea that we grew up with, and a personal testimony that how life used to be. Forget about leaders and elders to seat down together and address the urgent political and social issue, we had people share so much in their daily life’s and encounters. That’s the message I think of this article and not to ignore the urgent needs of our people.

          Berhe

    • Peace!

      Hi Brhan,

      Wow! I think we have more than enough politicians, activists, and ደለይቲ ፍትሒ to address these grievances you raised plus the struggle has multiple fronts that people may choose to contribute on areas they think is deteriorating or in need of immediate attention. With that the above story contains wisdom and other ingredients that reflects the good Eritrea we are trying to reclaim.

      Peace!

      • Brhan

        Hello Peace,
        The number of Eritrean Muslims that participate in ደለይቲ ፍትሒ meetings and demonstrations is poor. A person like Sheikh Ismail who has a significant audience can play a big role in assisting solve this problem.

        • Peace!

          Hi Brhun,

          I was simply saying such story is significant toward building a strong unity which we are severely lacking or even suffering. As for the lack of Muslim participation and his role in assisting, it is a huge and separate subject that needs to be addressed by all Eritrean Muslim communities. I am thankful that he is contributing immensely on other fronts despite his personal circumstances. I will try to press him on that issue next time I see him.

          Peace!

  • Ismail AA

    Dear Ismael (muga’o/moksi),
    Your contribution is a superb manifestation and testimony of a beautiful epitome of the respect based co-existence of Eritreans as compatriots sharing neighborhoods in dwellings without letting other things like religious to thwart them from enjoying the bounties of decency and essence of humanness as fundaments in person to person and community to community relations. As a person who was born and raised in a household that guided a whole community of faith to cultivate and cherish piety and human virtues in total submission to the Almighty, you cannot be other than a man who had learned and preserved those values and norms. You have indeed lived to remind us of the best that bound our compatriots in this age we are living through that is witnessing frightening erosion of that socio-cultural value systems due to greed and domination which power and the politics of power carry into social and spiritual life of society, and of which the despotic regime has become diligent violator.
    Thanks for your contribution.

  • Semere Tesfai

    Selam Ismael I Mukhtar

    Simply the best. Thank you, thank you, thank you. That is the Eritrea and the people I know as well.

    Semere Tesfai

  • MS

    Dear ismail I MuKtar
    Thanks for sharing your memory. I believe the absence this kind of expose is hurting the opposition discourse. I have long observed that Eritrea is going to be saved/improved by folks who are hopeful in its existence and committed fully to its continued survival and thriving. For this to happen an accurate depiction of its social dynamics is important I have many stories of heroic actions by my Christian neighbors to save us during the dark years of Haileselasie where it was an open season to slaughter any moving Muslim. I have memories of selfless Kebessa heroes who died defending their lowland compatriots. I have stories where lowland villagers refused to swap their Highland administrators for their newly appointed lowland administrators. I witnessed the people of Mogaraib refusing to let Yemane go in exchange for a Nara guy; I also know of the people of Ad Saydna of Barka who declined to accept their son (WED Sheik) in place of their long serving jemaheer from our Kebessa compatriots; the relationship of Lete and the perople of Sahel is another story; and the list goes on. Dankalia? Ask SAndiago, the guy who makes commedies in TV-Eri; In Kebesa, there were similar love and attachment between villagers and their Muslim tegadelti/administerators….
    The point: we just tend to magnify the bad stories, otherwise, the people know who serves them. All you need to do is respect them; show them that you care about them, and you will be one of their sons/daughters.
    On a different note, which could be related with Emma’a “social group mistrust”theory, I sense that we are translating the squabbles of the opposition leaders as representative of the religious or ethnic groups in Eritrea. We fail to scrutinize them if they do in fact represent each of the ethnic groups they are telling us they represent. If they do represent a good chunk of those religious/ethnic groups, we have not seen it translating into a support of actual followers. Some are completely detached from the reality of Eritrea and they try to describe Eritrean society through through the tools developed to explain other societies. For instance, the context of multiculturalism in Canada would be different than its context in Eritrea proper. Other concepts such as minorities, marginalization, discrimination….would also be hollow unless we contextualize them properly. Like any society, Eritrean society has a unique history and common experience. We should not strain it. We should rather magnify the best of what keeps us together and work towards establishing a conducive climate where all the secondary issues will be dealt with, not by self-appointed leaders but by elected ones.
    Thanks, again.

  • Nitricc

    Hi Ismail, here cut from an eye witness to add to your post. the following is not only my favorite but gives me hope for a better Eritrea, where every one is treated with outmost respect , regardless religion, ethnic and language. I just felt to share.
    “My arrival there in early December (2010) coincided with the inauguration of a magnificent mosque in the city of Keren. At the inaugural ceremony there were, among others, 3 prominent priests representing the city’smajor Christian denominations (Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant).
    In his speech, one of the priests (the 3 gave a unified single speech) remarked “It is a source of pride to us Moslems and Christians to see a place that had in the past been the site of incarcerations and tortures of innocent Eritreans has now become a place of worship” He was referring to a police station on which site the new mosque now stands. Judging by the deafening applauds, the priest had scored a curly goal at the Mufti’s home ground The Mufti had earlier expressed similar sentiments stressing the fact that although the people of Eritrea went to their respective places for worship, they always shared moments of happiness and sadness as one people.It is worth mentioning here that the event’s expenses (foods
    etc..) were paid for by individuals from both faiths.”

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