The following is Part 1 of a four-part series. It is condensed from yet not published a manuscript of the same title, by Amanuel Sahle.
In the 1980s Asmara was a sort of military garrison. The Derg (the communist oriented Ethiopian military junta) soldiers seemed to have lost all hope of carrying on the bloody war which cost them a lot materially and psychologically. The army morale sank, and in direct proportion, the people’s morale rose. Liberation was around the corner and with it the fear that the Ethiopian soldiers might massacre the inhabitants of Asmara before they left their garrison for good.
The town was devoid of male youngsters who had fled the country either to find a safer place to live in neighboring countries, or were dragooned into the Derg’s army to fight against freedom and against their own people.
Asmara, Saturday morning, May 23, 1991. The Derg army who had been badly beaten in all fronts took Radio Asmara to propose reconciliation and understanding with the rebels, bla bla,….For thirty years they poured their venom on the rebels and their destructive pro-Arab policies, and all of a sudden their hearts began to bleed for everlasting friendship, cooperation, democracy, justice, bla, bla…
It was too late. They knew they were losers and they proved it by fleeing the town right and left, walking (throwing their boots away to ease the pain), reeling and falling down of sheer exhaustion, of hunger and thirst, hanging themselves on a nearby tree, or shooting themselves on the long journey towards the border to shorten their misery. Although the EPLF did everything to help them and to ease their burden, their past misdeeds weighed so much on their conscience that nothing short of self-punishment could give them the peace of mind that they sought and lost right from the moment they arrived in Eritrea. They came barefoot in 1952 and left barefoot in 1991.
The fighters ‘invaded’ Asmara from all sides, marching in single or double files. Some wore Palestinian-style checkered headscarves and rarely smiled.
Women ululated in the streets, although some might have wept in their dark rooms for their missing sons or daughters. The whole town rocked with the sound of delight, the cries of euphoria, the joy of unbelief, the tears of ecstasy, the dance of bliss, and the gashing of unbound emotion that made some people to kneel down and kiss the feet of the liberators. The EPLF deserved all these in those times. They brought independence to a country that had been under successive colonial powers for centuries. They will be remembered for this for a long time to come.
But some people had the presence of mind to whisper forth that which most feared to even ponder in their hearts.
“You are laughing now, but it will not be long before you will start to cry again,” said one onlooker in a whisper.
A month into the euphoria, and the Leader of the Liberation Army stood up in front of tens of thousands of overjoyed Eritreans and told the whole world that the EPLF would be relinquishing power to the people soon. Are you kidding, Issu? You think we were born yesterday?
What transpired later was however a story that should be told to future generations so that they might regard the actions and speeches of arrogant liberators as nothing more than simple perfidy and unforgivable betrayal. It was first and foremost a betrayal against our dear Martyrs!!!! May the Good Lord rest their souls in peace!
The Leader or Generalissimo did not become tyrant all of a sudden. He showed all the virulent traits while still in the field. Those who were near him and could have raised their eyebrows when they saw mischief are to blame for what is going on in Eritrea at present as they were the ones that paved the way for his appearance. They betrayed their principles and are now being treated as mere minions who never tire of licking his boots which, by the way, they find it to be very gratifying and tasty.
They say that when a bat wants to suck the blood of animals by incising their skins, it first lubricates the surface of the skin with a tranquilizing enzyme from its saliva so that the victim may not feel anything as it is being drained of its life giving fluid. What the Leader said that day would cause Eritreans to remain in a torpid and dazed state until this very day when “they are being eaten alive by the EPLF-cum-PFDJ gangs.
The last acronym stands for People’s Front for Democracy and Justice [!?]. No people (everybody is leaving the country and the rest are zombies), no Front (the leadership is now a lucrative company), no Democracy (it is an Oriental despotism pure and simple), and no Justice (people are running out of tears)!
The fighters had it nice since their arrival in Asmara and elsewhere in big or small towns. They were almost worshipped as demigods; but with the passage of time, most of the angels had changed into simple human beings and later into demons.
Since everything the fighters did in the field was to win the war and more often than not acted for sheer expediency, it didn’t take them much time to get swallowed by the civil society once they arrived in towns and were mixed with the populace and got in touch with the new realities. But this didn’t mean they had changed their biased and arrogant attitude towards the non-combatants.
To start with, most of them divorced their de-feminated wives and remarried, this time with the more feminine town girls whom they had previously (while they were in the field) labeled as prostitutes. After liberation, they circumcised their uncircumcised war children; after liberation, they baptized their unbaptised so-called Flowers of the Revolution; and they themselves melted into the towns’ social and cultural crucible, praying now to St. Mary, now to St. Michael, and to the rest of the hierarchy of Coptic Church saints and sometimes even going as far as consulting witches. Who knows, some must have even gone straight to their confessors who might have prescribed fasting or self-abnegation for them for the days they might have spent together with the enemies of their fathers’ pure religion! Both Christians and Moslems returned to their old habits and religious practices. As for the leadership, however, expediency and perfidy was still the blueprint of its policy.
Timar was seventeen in 1996, very attractive, slender and well-structured and with silky smooth brownish skin. She had the perfect structural symmetry, and walked in a strange way that made people to turn their heads. Not that she imitated some celebrities she had seen in videos, but it was simply her nature. She couldn’t help it.
Timar grew up in a village without, for a moment, adapting herself to a village life. Most probably it was because she had spent most of her time in her uncle’s small office in the village’s Catholic convent or Seminario where she learned a lot about the world and its intricacies.
However, if Timar didn’t like the EPLF it was more instinctive than analytical. But, intelligent as she was, she could not have been totally wrong in her assessment of the nature and mentality of the Organization whose policies seemed to have gone awry in the end.
Timar represents the rare Eritrean girl who dared to open her eyes. She was a rebel of sorts and what she thought and did was totally heretical to the majority of the people of her time and her surroundings. Thus she refused to be beguiled by the government’s hollow propaganda, or to be perturbed by the clamor of its blind sympathizers.
Timar, saw things clinically. She knew by instinct that one couldn’t do the right thing in the wrong way. She needn’t have to read books or treatises on political economy or statecraft to know a tyrannical state in the making when she saw one.
Timar, who lost her parents in the armed struggle, had beautiful dark, piercing eyes that seemed to look at the souls of men and at their libido. She was, as it were, a mortal replica of the Islamic houris of Paradise.
When she reached grade eight, she decided to drop out saying that she had learned more from her uncle in one year than she did for eight years in a classroom. She had somehow to help her poor grandparents by any means. So she sold hard boiled eggs to those who needed them most among the bar customers. It was said that those to whom she presented her merchandize never left without buying her eggs, and these included, strangely enough, many teenagers who in normal circumstances would have given more preference to cigarettes than to her hard boiled eggs.
Staying in a small village in the midst of fighters who went around sniffing for marriageable damsels that looked different from their de-feminated women fighters, she found life in the small village somewhat uncomfortable. But, she sold eggs like hell, and got proposals like hell. She was promised the sun and the moon, was asked to go out, was begged and entreated to give her consent… all in vain.
Her grandpa wanted to give her off for marriage to an enterprising or aspiring fighter; her grandma, on her part, wanted to see her married ‘even to a hyena’ before she died; village mothers wanted her for their fighter sons; and some desperados even thought of abducting her.
When one day one son-of-a-gun tried to grab her by the hand and dragged her towards him, she flung him to the ground and spat on his face. Another got a deep scratch on the neck; still another escaped with a serious bite to his neck…..
to be continued…