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A Tribute: Ustaz Osman Omer Omran

Another shocking news. An hour ago I read about the death of  Ustaz Osman in Medina, Saudi Arabia. He was one of my beloved teachers. Only six-months ago I dedicated Negarit 56[1] for his exceptionally courageous nephew, Omer, who died in Sudan. Both news were shocking and sad. Naturally, no one escapes death, but I am not sure if the circumstances Eritreans find themselves in, and the we are dealing with such calamities, can simply be described as sad. It’s beyond that and we feel it but fail to describe it sufficiently. In our case, the pain is doubled.

It’s just not natural that an entire people who saw each other decades ago, are separated by such a sudden deaths. Indeed, death is natural, but we as a people deserve to see each other at least once before the inevitable death arrives. We deserve to visit our elders and attend their funerals. Unfortunately, Eritreans have forgotten how it feels to meet each other like normal people. Can you imagine a family separated decades ago meet clandestinely in Ethiopia and other places. How can you understand that? You can only imagine that, vaguely, because one must experience it personally to fully understand it .

Every walking Eritrean has a story, I have one. The last family dinner I enjoyed was decades ago. And after decades of separation, we hardly see each other every ten or so years. It’s impossible to enjoy the company of your loved ones as frequently as you wish. My siblings and my mother are scattered all over the world. My father died almost 16 years ago and I couldn’t be by his bedside when he died. I couldn’t attend his funeral. My brother Abdulrahim[2] died mysteriously in Keren and I couldn’t attend his funeral. Many aunts, uncles, extended family members died thousands of miles away in Eritrea, a place I could not visit.

That  is what the tyrant in Eritrea has done to all of us. Our family ties has been severed and we only live cherishing our memories of them. Ww are living through a human tragedy that the tyrant doesn’t feel, or appreciate.

I am not sure how Ustaz Osman dealt with his extraordinary courageous and unruly nephew Omar who died last year. But he must have been worried about his safety all the time because Omar lived a dignified and dangerous life. Yet, I am sure he was proud Omar was his nephew. Who wouldn’t wish Omer was his brother, or son! However, he was close to many of us, to the many residents of Keren, even if he despised the reluctance and cowardice of a few of his peers. Omer belonged to the proud Omran family and I believe he grew older to resembled his uncle, the Ustaz Osman I knew. Character is stubborn and its genes insists on passing to the next generation.

Ustaz Osman was more than a teacher to me and to all my school mates. He was a stern educator yet a kind person. He looked after us in the trying times and he did his best to warn us of the dangers we didn’t recognize then. Yet, it seems he was more worried we would interrupt our education if we got in trouble. That made him anxious. But at the same time he wanted us to grow up into principled persons. His repeated warnings reminding us to be careful came with a hidden message. In sotto-voce he said, BE BRAVE, HONEST AND PATRIOTIC. That was Ustaz Osman, the man with the unmistakably deep, husky, and unique caring voice. Also, the way he squeezed my ears was unique, a fatherly, caring warning squeeze reminding me to be careful—and a conformation that he approved of our activities. May his soul rest in peace.  And may his family and friends, and students be bestowed with patience. AS for me, I will always celebrate the memories of my beloved teacher.

Here follows a few lines about Ustaz Osman from my book Of Kings and Bandits:

Gebrrebi[3] mocked the other teachers as mediocre: “Education would not pay without freedom. You must free yourselves first,” he said. He started his lecture with the French Revolution, then went to Simon Bolivar and Lenin; but he conveniently finished with hints about the Eritrean rebellion and “freedom from the feudal rulers of Ethiopia,” emphasizing the word freedom with a wrinkled forehead. He then mocked the biology teacher, “he wants to make butchers out of you!”

The students knew the risk of voicing any sign of opposition to Janhoi’s rule but Gebrrebi’s fearless character emboldened them. “Gandhi’s style is not fruitful. The type of aggression determines the reaction. Savages understand only power,” Gebrrebi preached in an angry voice. Then he gave his recommendation: “Emulate Hammurabi.”

Only Hailu[4], an equally revolutionary Ethiopian teacher and a close friend of Gebrrebi, would say similar things without fear. Until Jemal met Hailu, he never imagined there could be an Ethiopian who would speak ill of Janhoi. But unlike the serious revolutionary Gebrrebi, whose presence was very intimidating, Hailu was a calm and soft-spoken teacher. He quickly connected with the restless young students and spent hours with them in the teashops. By then, defiance and opposition to Janhoi had become quite common in the school compound. Even the librarian pretended he didn’t see the students exchanging banned rebel leaflets and manifestos in his library. Whenever he caught them putting leaflets between the books, he would affectionately wring their ears and whisper, “be careful, you donkey!”

The once secretive clandestine student association that supported the rebellion had become bolder. Three supposedly secret student cells operated in the school campus; their leaders openly collected financial contributions for the rebellion until the security officials clamped down on the activities and arrested the student leaders. Atzie Dawit, the school named after the barefoot Abyssinian emperor, became a breeding ground for young rebels. Jemal thought it should have been named after the director who lectured the students every morning before the flag hoisting ceremony, a forced ritual that he hated. The students were made to stand in line as the Ethiopian flag, that had a drawing of a crowned lion in its middle, was hoisted. They had to sing, “Oh, Ethiopia,” a song that praised Janhoi more than the country. Jemal hated a line that sounded like a prayer: “May God grant the king a long life, similar to Methuselah.” He made fun of the song until he discovered Methuselah lived for 900 years!

[1] Negarit 56 (article), ሳዋን ግርማይን ዑመርን  YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/Ym5jSW1_-V4
[2] Eulogizing my brother: God Doesn’t Kill, The PFDJ Does
[3] Gebrrebi: a characted representing the late Memhir Michael Gabir
[4] Haile was a nation al service teacher from Addis Ababa University, all I remember is he was from Welkait.
* Uztaz Osman’s picture taken from Dr. Salah Jimi’s facebook page

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 awate.com. 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 Awate.com 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 awate.com 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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  • Sultan M.G.

    Very sad,indeed.

  • Kokhob Selam

    Dear All,

    This is very sad news..May he rest in peace..wish full strength to his family in this difficult time.


  • Amanuel Hidrat

    R.I.P. and wish full strength to his family in this difficult time. Saleh, it is always painful for Eritreans being scattered all over the world, lose our love ones, and being unable with them in their last hours.

  • Ismail AA

    Ahlen Saleh,

    It indeed is sad to read the passing away of my former headmaster at Agordat middle school. That was in 1962-3. Not sure if it is about him. Great educator of the personal stature, profession and care as that of the late Yousuf Nebarai, Mahmoud Kanonen and scores of educators my generation and yours were fortunate to had. May they rest in peace; and fate be kind to the society they were committed to guide through education to see an end to despotism, and give solace to their souls, and legacy as they dreamed it to be. Thanks for informing me and others.

    • iSem

      Hi Ustazs Ismail, Emma and Saleh

      Thankfully all my high school teachers are alive and they are young as Emma’s ages mostly.
      But death is what PFDJ relies on to ensalve us for enternity, passing the baton of enslavement to their kids and a quote often attributed to an Israeli prime mister Ben Gurion comes to mind: “the old will die and the young will forget” I know Saleh is tired of it as I have quoted it many times whenever I talk about how PFDJ is succeeding,but am sure he will forgive me.
      Because PFDJ is afraid of light and teachers deliver light and also an other quote that Saleh is tired of: “Rise for the teacher and give him respect as the teacher is a prophet.” Why prophet because the teacher illuminates the darkness for the students. Saleh or Ismail can provide the exact Arabid line from Ahmed Shawqi
      And am starting to doubt the poet Dourwish: “Eza alshaab yomen arrad al-hayat fe la budda alqeydd an yenkesir wo lilley an yenjelli” if the people one day desire liberty, it is must that the shackless will be broken and the darkness be lifted. Saleh will not forgive me for buchering this , though:-)