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Akria: Memories of Childhood in the Garden Among the Flames!

INTRODUCTION: What you are going to read here is not history! But it is not fiction either! You may consider it a trail of memories that an Akrian boy may have run in his mind during the last crisis in the neighborhood. For sure this essay is not history but history can be made from it.

Some Names in this essay are altered to protect privacies.

The Neighborhood

Akria is located to the north-east of the city of Asmara. During the period considered here in this essay, this neighborhood seemed as if it were a city within a city.  The interesting peculiarity about Akria was its social and cultural replication of the capital of which it is a part. But replication in population-combination, culture, and temper was an intrinsic characteristic of the city. The Capital as a whole was also, as just hinted, a replication of the whole of Eritrea in all its multitudes of culture, religion, and ethnicity. The story doesn’t end here, for Eritrea as a whole is a replication of the entire region and all its elements; is it not true that you will not find in Eritrea a nationality/tribe or an ethnic group that does not have a larger stretch beyond Eritrea’s political borders? This indeed was, at the core of the image of the mother city as it was for the whole of Eritrea: diversity all pointing to external extensions.

Akria was then the Home of a Muslim, a Christian, a native and a foreigner. Jeberti Muslims were the majority of the inhabitants of Akria, but there was a sizeable Christian presence in the northeast and west ends of the neighborhood. There were others too in Akria:  Yemenis, Somalis, and Italians living beside the citizen, as there were sections of Akria pointing to other Eritrean and non-Eritrean elements such as Riga Shaho (warda filo), for the Saho and Riga Somal for the Somalis.

Akria had numerous mosques in its different sections and there was also that great church of Gebri’el in its northeast corner,  while a grand  Mosque stood on the southern edge of the neighborhood, just at  the northern bank of the Wadi  known as the ” Wahji Madishto” at a section, “MayBottlioni” at another and “MayBela” at a third section.

What is in a name?

The name Akria and its origin is a riddle in itself, a host of a number of unrealistic and simplistic solutions!  There was only one between the solutions to this riddle, which should, in my opinion be merited with the rating “probable”. It was related to me in two occasions by two knowledgeable personalities, first by the late Ustaz Nurhussein Aberra, an Eritrean lawyer and philologist, and again, lately, by an elderly intelligent, knowledgeable man living now in America, himself being one of the early dwellers of Akria as a child at its beginnings in the late thirties or early forties of the twentieth century. The two gentlemen, without knowing each other, corroborated each  other’s story saying that the name Akria is an Italian corruption of another indigenous name: “Shakha Akia ”!, a description of a wet small part on which a wild thorny plant, Akia, grew, now taken a name for the whole empty area, later corrupted to Akria by the Italian municipal bureaucrats.

The Map

In the beginning, Akria was not within the city itself but appeared first as a separate village, relatively away from it. This view is reinforced with what you would have seen if you had visited the Asmara municipality building in the 1970s and until the beginning of the nineties, and that old map which adorned the wall on a corridor to the lobby leading to a waiting room, drew your attention and lured you to scrutinize and have a closer look at. Had you done so, you would have seen the north-eastern tip of Asmara empty, and a short distance away from it, an empty white area, fine lines dividing it into square and rectangular shapes, and a writ along the same area with relatively large Latin characters reading: Villagio Acria.

The Wadi

From east to west, a wide ditch or, rather, a narrow Wadi run on the extreme south of Akria starting up at the northeastern hills overlooking Akria at “aguadu, a newer name for the Villagio Maria Scalera ” and down to its long westerly course. The Wadi had a different name at its different courses. At one point where it runs crossing the “Idaga Arbi” road (which is also the extension of the main road of Akria) , under a covered culvert ( known to the public as Bunto) and entering thereafter to cross the road from Akria to “Haddish addi”  taking the name of “Wahji Madshto” where it henceforth carries this name until it reaches the foot of “Geza Banda”  and “Abba Shawil” where it changes its name to “May Bottolione” and keeps it until it crosses the Road to “Idaga Hamus” where it changes its name, once more, to “May Bela” and continues so to a long distance passing, this time, as an all covered culvert.

It is thus clear that this Wadi separated the neighborhood of Akria at its southern side from the northern part of the city. Taking Haddish Addi (another neighborhood of Asmara neighboring Akria) as an example, it was separated from Akria by an empty and cultivated area of land extending for more than 300m.  The same can safely be said when speaking of the other next-door city neighborhoods “Idaga Arbi“,  “Geza Banda”, and “Idaga Hamus”.

The Mountain

At the northern end of Akria stood a huge red-tinted mountain known to the inhabitants as “Gobo Siraj Omar”, nevertheless, the mountain associated with the name of Sheikh Siraj Omar, a wealthy businessman, is a little baffling, since no one may tell you, for certain, if the name of the man bound to the mountain was an expression relating physical ownership or one of symbolic packaging.  But this is not the only wonder that this mountain displayed! It is, to start with, a mountain that took the slippery road to vanishing and dying under the full watch of all those around it. For years, pieces were falling down every now and then to, quickly, be further cut into smaller parts, rounded, polished and sold for construction and building houses. Time came when they didn’t have to wait until pieces fall on their own free will; they discovered a way for causing the same effect by employing bigger hammers and chisels. It was all organized and someone must have been making all the money, someone you wouldn’t have seen between the men using the hammers and chisels. But for the sake of truth one would say that they were methodical and merciless (like all money grabbers) at mutilating the mountain, until one day they struck the mountain at heart and created an ever growing hole in its face, a hole behind which you could see the void which sprung out into being behind what was the cover, long offered, by the mountain’s face.   Many of the city’s houses were built from the polished boulders and stones of the Quarry of “Gobo Siraj Omar”. But now, the mountain is left alone in its old age, showing a miserable countenance that tells very little of its past. Yet, in the end it is the dying mountain which had the last laugh! Many of the houses in Akria and in the city at large were built from the bits of the body of the mountain. The boulders and stones, being indigenous elements, have helped these houses, so far, in showing no sign of failure although fatigue here and there is inevitable. The houses built from the quarry’s boulders has survived and outlasted those built with bricks and mortars in much later days.

The Brick Factory

There were lying at one time at the northern bank of the Wadi, where the grand mosque at Madishto now stands, the ruins and remnants of a brick factory with its Brick-baking oven and its red high chimney kicking the sky with a call of challenge inviting the little boys of the neighborhood to brave themselves and go up the dark chimney climbing its rusted steel rungs to have a look down to the world beneath from such a summit as the chimney’s top. No one seems to remember when this plant was last active and operational, and it seems that it did not contribute to the building of the neighborhood as most of the buildings there were of stones and boulders from the famous mountain. The ruins of the bricks making plant were finally removed to allow space for constructing the Madshto grand mosque.

The Lake 

There were a few small lakes in the northwestern of Akria the biggest of them all was the “Mai’nbessa” lake.  This was the main source of water for Akria carried and distributed to houses on donkeys as the city municipality didn’t care further than levying real estate and other taxes. Mai’nbessa was a real lake which no one child dare swimming in, the water level measuring staff in the middle of the lake though showed fluctuating levels throughout the year never went below the middle marker. The smaller muddy lake or rather pond, not very far from “Mai’nbessa” was known to the boys as “Bogabbuf”. They used it as a swimming exercises pool, disregarding their parents’ advice and orders not to go near that lake scaring them away by the jinni that would pull them down to the bottom as it did to many boys. Some five hundred meters from “Bogabbuf” was the small stream falling from a higher grounds to the shrine of  “Sheikh Abdussalam and Alimuz  for the Muslims” and “Inda Mik’eal” for the Christians.  It was a complex of common shrine for the believers of both communities. People with ill-health would come there and immerse themselves into the falling water. Later on the spring feeding the stream went dry but the shrine was still visited by many people especially on Tuesdays, the day of Sheikh Abdussalam.

The School 

There were no schools in Akria prior to 1952, but in that year the community of Akria with no contribution of the state, founded the Akria elementary school and its management was assigned from within the community. The school used to teach children at the elementary level and after the necessary four year course the students were to passes to a middle school “ The Islamic benevolent middle School” in Idaga Hamus  another school also founded by the community, without any help from  the State. Both schools where, in a step by step manner swallowed by the successive governments. The trick was always the same and consistent in that the government offers teachers, whom she pays, and then a new curriculum is imposed and the school is eventually the government’s property from that point onward.   Then a third school was established by the community in the early sixties, without any help of the state this time too; it was established as a fruition of late Ustaz Basher’s efforts and initiative. He further transformed his initiative into a community project which showed its successful approach to education by and through community. This was the “dia” school of Akria, and at this point I don’t need to go on its story, you all know it.

The Street

All the streets of Akria were straight: parallel and intersecting and you would find no anomaly to this rule. There was nothing to distinguish between these roads and streets, and you would feel the more bewildered if you were told that the people there were describing and naming them by their widths. Acria Streets were of three classes the VIA 16, VIA 8, and via 4. There were many of class 4(Via Quarto) and less of class 8 and only 2 of class 16 in Akria.

Via Seidici

One of the two class 16m streets was the main street enjoying the regular Bus Service starting at a point in the northern sector of the street to Idaga Arbi, to the center of the city and finally to Godaif. That stretch of Akria where the bus service runs on was the liveliest and most interesting road in Akria. It has 2 tea-shops, 1 owned and managed by Reshad the Eritrean, the other owned by Sharbah, a Yemeni. There were three grocery stores, butchery, a Gold-Smith, a shoe repair, a police station and two charcoal selling yards, a smaller one owned by the Yemeni Mani’e and the other by the Libyan Mustafa. There was also one huge farm in the middle and in between the houses at la’elay Akria owned and managed by aboy Bairu, a funny nice old man when he is not drunk. He was making a good business out of selling his products of different vegetables especially the lettuce for making salads but his specialty known throughout much of the city was his Rue plant (ጨናአዳም) much needed for use in local medicine, relieving cold and other minor health problems.  His competitor was a much wealthier Italian, Vaccaro, who had his farm, which includes a complete husbandry, in the west end of Akria. He used to sell milk which comes with a carrot as a bribe to lure the kids coming again for his merchandise. He also used to cater for far away stores and restaurants in the city. Gido Then, there was “Gido” and his workshop-on-wheels! He was an Italian, who, god knows how, arrived into Akria and took it for a home! And indeed he was part of it, all the same. Driving out his workshop-on-the-wheels Gido would wander and spend a good deal of the day in the Streets of Akria earning his living by sharpening household knives, welding old utensils and fixing whatever accepts fixing.

Gido was an Italian who lived in Akria since the end of the Italian era in the forties of the last century through the British Administration phase into the Imperial Ethiopian occupation and the Derg era. He was one of four other Italians who took Akria for their home and residence. Gido was a stout man of below- average- height, bald-headed and, perhaps, that is why you would never see him without his shabby black hat over his great bald head. He used to wear pants larger than his size fixing it around his waist with a rope very much similar to those extended and used to hang clothes for drying. It was difficult to guess and describe the color of the shirt underneath the worn-out black coat he was wearing, since Time, augmented by metal sharpening dust and smokes from his utensils-welding, has done a good job paling and changing it multiple times. All this was sealed by his huge, also worn-out, shoe the type of shoes used by police and Army personnel, giving Gido the exact outlook of “Charlie Chaplin” in his early pantomimic movies. It is true that Gido showed little obesity, a description absent in Charlie’s detail, but he, nevertheless, looked like Charlie in every other bit of definition. Gido was living an isolated life, alone with no wife or friend, in a house that he owned or rented and where he admitted no visitor at all. Had you have the opportunity to see what the young devils where peeping at through the key-hole of his door, you would see that the man was living in a colony of rusted steel and iron of all types scattered and lying everywhere: rusted chains, wheels, hammers, car parts, keys, nails, rusted nuts and bolts and whatever your imagination would give. Gido was known by the boys as “Gido Ladro di gallina”, and, I assume, you don’t need much imagination to know why he was called a chicken thief!

Gido had a side job besides honing kitchen-knives and repairing utensils, he could read palms and tell fortunes, but the urchins of Akria thought that he was excelled and surpassed in this field by the Maltese who was passing as an Italian and whom the children called “Ammna Mokhos” perhaps an indication to his extreme height and his extremely skinny body. It seemed that He was the most learned between the white men living in Akria. He, always, walked swinging his cane in a hand and holding books and newspapers in the other. People said that he was working as a magician in an Italian local newspaper reading fortunes of readers. As such he was seen with a mixture of respect and apprehension.

The belle rebel 

The main road of Akria on which the Haragot bus was regularly running had characters more interesting than Gido and his group of Italians. One such character is Zeineb, a character worthy of respect, admiration and love. She was the most beautiful, most charming and most courageous girl in the neighborhood. She had a striking beauty, impressive on anyone who set eyes on her tall stature, smooth dark complexion, white shining teeth, and ever-smiling-wide eyes. She was the dream of every young man but no one dared approach her impregnable personality. She was an orphan, living with her mother, a humble smalltime business-woman who used to re-sell fabrics bought from downtown Arab and Indian owned shops, krkab sandals (ቅርቃብ), fake jewelry, and accessories. She was helping her mother in her business by going to houses displaying her mother’s merchandise in the mornings and selling small quantity vegetables at her mother’s house doorsteps in the early evening.

Zeineb’s beauty and character attracted the attention of a wealthy Yemeni who dared thinking of her as his bride. His wealth and extravagance lured the mother to welcome and agree to his proposal, But Zeineb had a different opinion on the matter as well as the audacity to face her mother and, firmly, reject the man and his proposal. All possible ruses, threats, and pressures applied by the mother and her relatives to subjugate the mutinous belle failed and were all gone with the wind. Nevertheless, the mother decided to go ahead with the marriage plans and ram it down her daughter’s throat. Consequently, the preparations for the big day were in full swing until the eve of the wedding day when Zeineb mysteriously left her mother’s house and disappeared without leaving a trace. For three days her mother and relatives looked for her everywhere they thought she could get hiding or refuge, but all was to no avail. However, in the morning of the fourth day she appeared at her mother’s doorstep with most of her face and her forehead rolled and covered with a Netzla (ነጻላ) which when she removed, the mother had to drop down fainting. It appeared that the girl has shaved her head zero including her eyebrows. Later that day it was rumored that the girl threatened that if she were forced into this marriage she would repeatedly and always shave her head and add to that shaving her cheeks and chin until it grows full beard.  When the news reached the wealthy old groom he understood the message, and with shame and sour feeling, he had to drop his plans for owning the pretty girl. There was, however, one of those who was present in the mother’s house that day, and saw when she arrived and uncover her head, he had, later, one comment to say: “that old groom should have held out his position and accept the girl’s condition for accepting his offer and take him a husband, why not? She was looking even prettier after the shave.

Zeineb married another man of her choosing a little less than a year after the incident and I know that she lived until few years ago.

A Rebellious neighborhood

Zeineb’s Spirit of rebellion seems to have been a reflection of the bigger rebellious spirit of Akria. Since the day it was founded in 1939-1940 Akria manifested, unambiguously, it’s burning spirit of insurgency and rebellion. An Eritrean intellectual and veteran Tegadalay, Wolde Yesus Ammar, in his most touching article in memory of “Seyoum Oqbamikael (Harestay)” which he wrote on the day marking the 12th year of the untimely death of Harestay, has this to say about Akria:

As every genuine patriot worth his/her salt would confirm it – and forgetting the bla bla of revisionists of history and facts – Akriya was always a hotbed of nationalist politics inside Asmara, and a hiding place for freedom fighters. Even Martyr Seyoum Harestai spent a couple of nights in an ELF urban hideout rented inside Akriya in August 1965 upon his (and Woldedawit Temesghen’s) return to the city to organize people. (This writer, who attended the Mai Anbessa meeting of  55 years ago, also had the honor of spending a night with the two ELF fighters in Akriya precisely 52 years ago). Hajji Mussa M. Nur, co-organizer with Martyr Tuku Yihdego and group of the ELM/Mahber-Shewaate demonstration over a year earlier, and who provided shelter and logistics to heroic Saeed Hussein and his ELF Fedayeen team for the successful airport operation of 1963, was for sure in Asmara/Akriya in May 1962 and was no doubt proud of what the young students were doing. One would hope he will survive the PFDJ prison of today and tell us how he would compare the 31 October 2017 demonstration with the demonstration of May 1962!”

The Fall of the cactus tree

There are yet further manifestations to the rebellious mode of Akria throughout the years of oppression into the present days of slavery. Take this history of Akria of the sixties which can be attested by Akrians who lived that stage and experienced its ugliness:

The main road on which the regular bus service is provided to run from Akria to “Godaif” through “Idaga Arbi” and the center of the city, was a well-paved asphalt  road with beautiful trees adorning both of its sides for the whole of its length excluding the last couple of Kilometers which entirely extend inside Akria.  Unlike the section extending from the beginning of Idaga Arbi to Godaif, the section in Akria was a dusty dirt road with no asphalt pavement or trees adorning both sides of the street. This is not because the municipality lacked the budget to fund asphalt paving the lesser length of the bus route in Akria, nor was it meagerness of treasury for planting trees along both of its sides as was the case in the longer section of the road. The reason, in fact, was that the authorities were convinced that the neighborhood of Akria was and remained a strong source of the national movement and at the forefront of the opposition to the imperial-occupation government since its first day. This justified, in the eyes of the municipal authorities, the cutting of the provision of services to the minimum for the residents of the neighborhood, and the imposition of unfair taxes in the neighborhood on real estate against non-existent services as a kind of collective punishment.

Years of petitions, appeals, and complaints, by the residents didn’t bear fruit, and when, at last, it did, it was a sour fruit! The municipality decided to adorn the main road by planting Cactus (ቆልቃል) on both of its sides and there was no mention of asphalt-paving. This didn’t sit well with the residents of Akria because cactus beside its being thorny and unfriendly was also thought of as attracting to snakes and other reptiles, I don’t know if it is true but that was what they thought. There were also some who understood that by planting cactus on their street and not ordinary trees as the longer section of the same street was enjoying, the city authorities were, probably, sending an obscene message to the inhabitants of Akria. It may be, they thought, that the city authorities were telling the residents “ቆልቃል ይእ**ም”.  And even if the city authorities were innocent and didn’t intend to say the obscene phrase, seeing the cactus plant, day in and day out, the Akrian will hear it said loudly and repeatedly by the plant itself, and as such it seemed that the cactus plant in Akria was challenging and calling for a response.

One morning, only weeks after planting the provocation, the small wild thorny trees (Cactus) where knocked down during the night and uprooted all left lying on the side along the road where they were challengingly standing and affronting the residents of Akria for few days. The police and the city went crazy, sniffing everywhere to trace those who have done the deed. It was to no avail, but every man, woman, and child in the neighborhood knew who has done it, and by the names too.

Revolutionary Youth  

A rebellious neighborhood is what it is courtesy of its inhabitants, and in the case of Akria there was no shortage of rebellious individuals and individual families. One remembers a young Akria boy, Abdulhamid Dawood, who joined the revolutionary army of the ELF and was martyred  in the early days of the revolution. Sheikh Said Derenkai, an elderly Akria man, was a preferred target of imprisonment by the Ethiopian occupation forces until he joined the Revolution at the late age of 65 years, Abdulkader nicknamed Carpenter who joined the Eritrean Liberation Army (ELA) after getting a master’s degree in economics from a polish University and was martyred only two weeks after his joining the (ELA), there was also Said Bashir who was publicly hanged in Idaga Hamus on the order of an Ethiopian court. It would be a long list to enumerate those from Akria who joined the fighting for independence neither it is easy to enumerate those who paid the supreme price. Almost every house has a martyr and martyrdom didn’t stop and continued starting before the federation, Imperial Ethiopia, the Derg terrorism, to the worst of them all- present order of the PFDJ. But the story of Amin and his mother is the real interesting story as it reveals the burden that wars put on the shoulders of ordinary innocent people, as the case is with all wars:

The Mother

From the day he was born and until the early teens of his age he lived an easy life under his financially stable grandfather’s roofs. His father, long since disappeared when he was just a toddler never to be heard of again.

After the death of his grandfather, his mother traveled to Saudi Arabia to work when he was sixteen or seventeen. Two or three years later he, also, migrated to Egypt to join a vocational secondary school where he was to be trained in mechanics. This seemed to have worked within his view of himself in the years ahead as his dream was to transform his passion for machines to a livelihood and career after few short years of training. But things didn’t work out all the way to his targeted objective, for after finishing the first of the three-year course necessary to get certified, he was somehow recruited in the PLF ( a precursor of EPLF) ranks and was sent to Syria for training. He completed his training and was sent to Eritrea to join the fighters of the PLF after which nothing was to be heard of him for a long time. Suddenly, one morning his pictures were in all Egyptian Newspapers as one of four hijackers of a western company airliner which was redirected from Europe to Cairo from its original destination. After evacuating the airplane of its passengers, the hijackers set it ablaze using bombs and other incendiaries.  The perpetrators, in the end, surrendered themselves to authorities and Amin and his friends served less than a year in the Egyptian jail, perhaps this is so because the operation served the Egyptian policy of the time, especially that the hijacking operation took place only a short time before the 1973 war.

Although the operation was carried out in the name of a leftist Palestinian organization, friendly with the Eritrean PLF, consequently, it is difficult to argue with such claims, as that which claims ‘connivance’ of that Eritrean organization in this operation. There is no solid evidence that the Eritrean organization was involved in this operation, but a question which would be answered beforehand remains unanswered… was it possible for an active member of the Eritrean organization and a member of its fighting force to leave his unit and take part in a hijacking operation in faraway lands and then return back and rejoin the ranks of his organization’s fighting force?. It is also of little doubt that the Egyptian intelligence may have been, somehow, behind the operation at some level, for how could it be possible that such an operation which took place in the Egyptian soil, went unpunished except for a few months behind bars for the perpetrators, hardly a punishment even for a minor offence!  Amin returned to his fighting friends in Eritrea and served in the PLF beyond its transformation to the EPLF. He lost his life in the botched adventure of the first battle for Massawa. But that is not the most interesting part of Amin’s story; his story didn’t die with his death, it continued even after his martyrdom in Massawa. His mother was told of his death and martyrdom but she offensively denied the news and made it clear that she needs no condolences nor that she should be bound by any behavior or dressing code as society may dictate for a certain period, tokens of sorrow and grief; to some she told that her son didn’t die and that it all was a miserable lie. She didn’t interrupt her normal life, and People saw this as something besides abnormality. Others, perhaps the majority, thought that the woman has gone mad. She showed no grief or even shed a tear for the dear departed and continued in such a condition for years until everybody thought that Amin was forgotten. When in the end of her life, after the independence, a lifetime-friend of Amin visited her, she was sounding well, her looks graceful, and her mood mirthful and welcoming. She was so relaxed as much as reminding her guest of some old events and stories involving him and Amin in the old good days. At the end of the visit as they were shaking hands and saying goodbye she ceased his arm forcefully clenched it tightly and saying” You don’t think like the others, do you? Do you believe I am a mad woman and that I don’t perceive the heavy loss that has befallen on my head, that I have lost Amin forever? He didn’t know what to say, then she continued saying: “But these are concerns of mine anyhow! No one can do the other’s not even his sorrows!. Go now God bless you; don’t think about what I said! Forget it forever. Go now!

She died not long after that meeting, and I kept, at times, thinking about my friend’s story and her last words and what she meant by them until one day I was told that before the meeting mentioned above, a close relative of hers died in Jeddah Saudi Arabia, and she had to visit and give condolences, and as tradition dictates she may had to wail (መልቀስ), the people who were present and took notice of what she was saying wondered of what they have seen and heard, she was weeping and saying  in a low toned voice “ oh, I had a message for you to take with…I had a message for you to take with! ”, And kept repeating it like a broken record.

The conclusion was clear. It was clear to me that she was most unhappy women; she was disappointed and crashed by her son’s destiny. He was her only son, and now she is trying to throw an absolute privacy on what concerns his demise, to her it is so private to an extent that no public grief or expression of sorrow is to mitigate the pain. She wished also if she could have sent a message…a message? That even is closed to her and impossible! One can’t send a message to be taken with a dying man unless one is sure the messenger accepts his death before his death and will die immediately after the message is handed to him! You can’t tell a dying man to take a message to the world of the death! What a cruelty would that be.!

To whom would the message be sent if not to her only son? I have read in the past something similar to this story, strikingly similar in a way, and I remember it every time the story of Amin and his mother is reiterated. This is what I read; I am copying here a snippet from the essay-on sorrow- by the French essayist Montaigne:

“the story says that Psammenitus, King of Egypt, being defeated and taken prisoner by Cambyses, King of Persia, seeing his own daughter pass by him as prisoner, and in a wretched habit, with a bucket to draw water, though his friends about him were so concerned as to break out into tears and lamentations, yet he himself remained unmoved, without uttering a word, his eyes fixed upon the ground; and seeing, moreover, his son immediately after led to execution, still maintained the same countenance; till spying at last one of his domestic and familiar friends dragged away amongst the captives, he fell to tearing his hair and beating his breast, with all the other extravagances of extreme sorrow. The story proceeds to tell us that Cambyses asking Psammenitus, “Why, not being moved at the calamity of his son and daughter, he should with so great impatience bear the misfortune of his friend?” “It is,” answered he, “because only this last affliction was to be manifested by tears, the two first far exceeding all manner of expression.”

Revolutionary Siblings

Although this essay is, by all measures, incomplete it would even be more so if it closed itself without mentioning two great men of Akria. These were the two brothers, Musa Mohammed Nur and his younger brother Dr. Taha Mohammed Nur.

When Taha was studying Law in Cairo, his brother Musa (now Hajji Musa) back in Asmara, was deeply immersed in the struggle for Eritrea, some of his contributions are known to the public, Wolde Ammer, a veteran ELF figure, mentioned him few times in his writings the last of which was in the context of remembering Siyum Harestai in his 12th year since his martyrdom.

Ustaz Ali Mohammed Saleh Shum, a veteran of the war for independence, wrote an excellent book regarding his experience with ELF as a fedayyin during the long war for Independence. In page 39 he tells the story of a commando operation in Asmara Airport in June 1963. The objective was destroying the aircraft on the ground of the airport as a first step and then destroying the power generator in “SEDAO” as the next one. The Airport operation succeeded while the SEDAO operation failed. The two who executed the operation were: Said Hussein and Mohammed Haroon. Their hiding place before and after the operation was the house of Musa Mohammed Nur in an Acria “via Otto Street”. The author, Ali Mohammed Salih Shum, was himself a practiced commando element of the ELF, contributed to Mahber Shaw’ate as an active member, and contributed to the Eritrean Struggle under the EPLF. In the page 30 of his book “ Memoirs of an Eritrean fighter” he tells about Musa Muhammed Nour as being an important city element of the ELF’s, and that in the aftermath of the Airport Operation he was thrown to jail for close to two years on the account of giving support and refuge to the ELF commando unit. He further tells the readers that Musa was exposed to long and cruel torture sessions but that he was steadfast in his initial claim that his relationship with the commando unit was a relation of the landlord to the tenant. The book, however, forgot to tell that Hajji Musa was thrown to prison once more in the Derg era.  I don’t have to go through what happened to Hajji Musa in the present, under the EPLF/PFDJ regime. I will only say that in broad daylight, without due process of the law a man of ninety-two years old was thrown to jail and without due process of the law! This frail old man must be very strong to put him in incarceration! What a shame!

Dr. Taha Mohammed Nur was not different from his brother when it comes to dedication in the national effort for independence. Again Ustaz Ali Mohammed Saleh Shum remembers Taha (page 21) and remembers how he was elected a member of the founding committee of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in August 1960, in Cairo while he was a student. He also served as a representative of the PLF in Cairo in the early seventies and was active in helping Eritrean Students in getting scholarships in the Egyptian educational institutions. After the independence, he was appointed a member of the committee for writing the ill-fated Eritrean Constitution. Dr. Taha died (others say murdered) in one of the prisons of the Eritrean regime where he was thrown for no apparent reason; he was not accused of any wrongdoing!

As I was coming to close my essay News of the death of Hajji Musa were Brocken, Hajji Muse gave the ultimate price. He was destined to wards that all his life. May Allah accept him between the truthful, the martyrs and the Salihin.

About Burhan Ali

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  • iSem

    Dear hope:I disagree with sessions and trump. I am just telling nitricc is hypocrite and that McCabbe will be ok, he will not be killed, he will be only in convenienced and if he did no wrong he will be most likely exonerated.
    Nitricc flawless man of truth??, hsebellu Hopay:-)

  • Nitricc

    Hi All: I am stunned beyond believe this happened in America. Where is this country going?
    This not American but right down in human.
    ” Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Friday evening that he had fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, two days before McCabe’s retirement.” the guy serves his country and 48 hours left to retire and they fired him so he wouldn’t get his pension. wow.

    • iSem

      First, it is not true that he would not get his pension, he would lose some of his pension because he was fired before he reached the age he was eligible for full pension, 48 hrs, how much difference would it make? It is more the action that the lose. And the rest you should tell us because you are serving America. Your shock is out of this planet,: how come you were not shocked at the scar ivents such happening in Eri, too long to list and too gruesome at this time of the night to think about before going to bed. Yes, you said, you do not agree with the arrest of g-15 but you had canceled that by saying a nation in the building phase does crazy things???
      Also your shock is really telling, telling of many things about you: who said that America and its congress and WH is made up of nice people who would care about some one losing his pension, or loving people, your problem is that you expect that people would make rational and angelic decision, they do do not, that is why civilized society and human being enshrine laws The firing is wrong, but McCabe will have his day for due process, he write a book, probally he has already signed up a contract and at the end of the day he will be fine: he is will not be disappeared in the dungeons somewhere in desert of Nevada. America went through this before with Nixon and you may know what happened to him, Trump won, he did not steal the election, he did not buy it and that power can only be taken by legal means, article of impeachment, or the next election will flip the house and the senate and Trumps power will be tempered
      Such actions like what Session did and Trump’s stupidity is a self correcting mechanism, and as a result of it brace for refinement in the American system.

  • sidiabdu

    While I enjoyed this brilliant article. I am also constantly reminded of the current situation in Acria and beyond. Youth as as young as 11 years old, and seniors continue continue to languish in jail. under the pretext of attending a funeral procession of a hero.

  • Kbrom

    Dear Burhan

    I fell in love with the flawless story that you wrote, that made me feel to have the audacity of translating my favourite section of your beautiful essay – The belle rebel. Please forgive me for taking the liberty without your permission. My apology if I am corrupting your story.

    ኣኽሪያ፡ ዝኽርታት ቁልዕነት መናፈሻ ኣብ ውሽጢ’ቲ ሃልሃልታ

    ብቡርሃን ዓሊ


    እዚ ቀጺልና እነንብቦ ጽሑፍ ታሪኽ ኣይኮነን። ክቡራት ኣንበብተይ፡ እዚ ጽሑፍ እዚ ከም ዋሕዚ ዝኽርታት ናይ ሓደ ወዲ ኣኽርያ ዜጋ ኣብ መቓን ናይዚ ኣብ ቀረባ እዋን ኣብቲ ከባቢ ዝተኸስተ ቅልውላው ጌርኩም ክትግንዘብዎ እምነ። ብርግጽ እዚ ዓንቀጽ ታሪኽ ኣይኮነን፡ ግን ከኣ ካብ ታሪኽ ዝተሰርሐ ኢዩ።

    (ስለ ክብሪን ምክልኻልን ብሕታውነት፡ ገለ ኣስማት ተቐይሮም ምህላዎም ብትሕትና እገልጽ)

    ኣኽርያ ከም ከባቢ

    ኣኽርያ ኣብ ሰሜናዊ ምብራቕ ሸነኽ ናይ ኣስመራ ተዶኪና ትርከብ። ኣብ መቓን ናይዚ ዓንቀጽ ተዘርጊሑ ዘሎ ካብን ናብን ግዜ፡ ኣኽርያ ከተማ ኣብ ውሽጢ ከተማ ነይራ ክበሃል ይከኣል። ፍሉይነት ኣኽርያ ብመንጽር ሕብረተሰበ – ባህላዊ ምክዋን እንክትረአ: ንባዕላ ኣኽርያ ድጋም ናይ ከተማ ኣስመራ ምንባራ ኢዩ። ልዕሊ ኩሉ ግን ሕብረ – ብዙሕነት ህዝባን ንሱ ዝፈጠሮ ሕብረ ብዙሕነት ባህላዊ ሃብታን፡ ተፈጥሮኣዊ ትዕድልታን ነበረ።

    ኣስመራ ንብዙሕነት ናይ ኤርትራ ንግዝፍን ብዝሑነትን ባህሊ፡ ሃይማኖታት፡ ብሄራት፡ ህዝቢ ኤርትራ ትውክል እንተነይራ፡ ኣኽርያ ብማዕሪኡ ንዕኡ እተንጸባርቕ ገዛውቲ ኢያ ዝነበረት። ወዮ ዝርገሐ ብዙሕነት ኤርትራ ግን ኣብ ኣስመራ ዝተሓጽረ ኣይነበረን ፡ ምኽንያቱ ኤርትራ ንባዕላ ብዓቢኡ ድጋም ናይ ዞባ ቀርኒ ኣፍሪቃ ኢያ። ኣብ ኤርትራ ዝርከብ ብሄር፡ ቀቢላ ወይ ዓሌት ክንዮ ፖለቲካዊ ዶባት ኤርትራዊ ክትረኽቦ ኣይከኣልን ኢዩ ዝብል ገምጋም፡ ሓቅነት የብሉን። እዚ ሓቂ እዚ ኢዩ ሕመረት ናይቲ ንርእሰ ከተማና፡ ኣደ ኩሎም ኤርትራውያን ዝገበራ። ኩሎም ብዙሕነታ ናብ ውሽጣ ዝተሓጽሩ ዘይኮኑስ፡ ናብ ግዳም ዘመላኽቱን ዝዝርግሑን ኢዮም።

    ኣኽርያ ሰፈር እስላምን ክርስትያንን፡ ሰፈር ደቂባትን ወጻእተኛን ኢያ ዝነበረት። ዝበዝሑ ነበርታ ካብ ጀበርቲ እኳ እንተነበሩ፡ ውሑድ ቁጽሪ ዘይኮኑ ህዝበ ክርስትያን ኣብ ሰሜናዊ ምብራቕን ምዕራባዊ ጫፍን ናይ ኣኽርያ ነበርቲ ነይሮም። ኣኽርያ ወጻእተኛታት እውን ዘአንገደት ከባቢ ኢያ። የመናውያን፡ ሶማልያውያን፡ ኢጣላውያን ጎኖ ጎኒ ዜጋታት ይነብሩ ነበሩ። ኣኽርያ ደሓር ዝመጹዋ ዜጋታት ዝነብሩሉ ዝነበሩ ከባቢ ከም ሪጋ ሳሆ (ዋርዳ ፊሎ) ሪጋ ሶማል ዝበሃሉ ክፋል እውን ነይሮማ።

    እታ ምጭውቲ ተቓላሲት

    እቲ ኣውቶቡስ ሓረጎት መዓልታዊ እትጓዓዘሉ ዝነበረት ቀንዲ ጽርግያ ኣኽርያ ናይ ባዕሉ ጠባያትን ክስተታትን ነይርዎ። ሓንቲ ካብቶም ጠባያት (characters) ብኽብሪን ፍቕርን ክትዝከር ዝግባኣ ዘይነብ ዝተባህለት ወይዘሪት ጽባቐ ኢያ። ዘይነብ፡ ምጭውቲ፥ መሀነን ግን ከኣ ተባዕ ጎርዞ ገዛውትና ኢያ ዝነበረት። ልቢ ዝሰልብ ጽባቐ፡ ንዝረኣያ ዘሀንን ሶንሶሎማይ ቁመት፡ ልሙጽ ከደራይ ሕብሪ፡ ዘንጸባርቁ ኣስናን ዝነበራ ጉልሕም የዒንታ ውቅብቲ ጎርዞ ነይራ። ዘይነብ ብኣስናና ዘይኮነስ በዒንታ ኢያ ፍሽኽ ትብል ዝነበረት። ስለዚ ድማ ነዓኣ ዘይብህግ፡ ኣዲኣ ሓማቱ ክትከውን ዘይምነ ሰብ ኣይነበረን። የግዳስ ነቲ ዘይድፈር ግርማ መጎሳ ክተብዕ ዝኽእል ሰብ ኣይተረኸበን። ኮኾባ ከምሻሙ ዝድፈር ኣይነበረን፡ ማዕረቲ ጽባቒኡ ካብ ሑጻ ባሕሪ ዝኸብድ ርዝነት ነይርዎ።

    ዘይነብ ምስ ኣዲኣ እትነብር ፍርቂ ዘኽታም ኢያ ዝነበረት። እዲኣ ምቕልልቲ ሸቃጢት ጨርቀ መርቂን ስልማት ኣንባርን ጌጻት ቅርቃብን ኢያ ነይራ። ዘይነብ ድማ ኣብ እዋናት ንግሆ ነዚ ናይ ኣዲኣ ንብረት ኣብ ምርኣይ፡ ኣብቲ ካልእ እዋን ድማ ኣብ ኣፍደገ ገዘኦም ኮይና ሓምለ ቁስጣ ትሸይጥ ነበረት።

    ኮነ ያኢ፡ ሓደ እዋን፡ ሓደ ብጽባቐን መጎስን ዘይነብ ዝተዘንበ ሃብታም የመናዊ፡ ንዘይነብ መርዓቱ ኪገብራ ወሰነ። ዝንኡን ዝባኽን ጸግኡን ጌሩ ዘማለዳ ወላዲት ዘይነብ፡ ብቐሊሉ ክትሰድዕን ጓለይ ትብጻሕካ ክትብሎን ከኣለት። ዘይነብ ግን ዝተፈለየ ርእይቶ ነይርዋ፡ ኮነ ድማ ነዲኣ እምቢ ክትብልን ነቲ ሰብኣያ ኪኸውን ዝተሮቕሐ ሃብታም የመናዊ ኣይፋል ኢላ ክትነጽግን ድፍረት ኣርኣየት።

    ኩሎም እቶም ባህሊ፡ነውሪ እንዳጸብጸብካ ዝተገበሩ ጸቕጢ ንዘይነብ ሓሳባ ኣየቐየርዋን። ሓደ ሓደ እዋን ዝተፈተኑ ምድህላልን ምቕሻሽን እውን ንዘይነብ ኣየዘንግዕዋን። ዘይነብ ሎሚ ኣይምርዖ ጽባሕ ኣይምርዖ በለት። ኣደ ዘይነብ ድማ ፈቲኺ ጸሊእኪ ከነመርዕወኪ ኢና ዝብል ናይ ወላዲት መግናሕቲ ኣብ ጎረሮ ዘይነብ ብሓይሊ ወተፈቶ።

    ኮነ ድማ ንመርዓ ዘይነብ ያኢ ሰፊሕ ምድላዋት ተጀመረ፡ ምልሓም በርበረ፡ ምዕዳግ እኽሊ፡ ምእላኽ ብርዚ ሸበድበድ ኮነ። ይኹን ግን ኣብ ድሮ እቲ መርዓ ዘይነብ በዚኣ ከይዳ ከይተባህለት ሽርብ በለት። ንሳልስቲ ኣዴኣን መቕርባን ኣብ ኩሉቲ ክትከዶ እትኽእል ዝብልዎ ቦታታት ሃሰው ኢሎም ሰኣንዋ። ኣብ ራብዕቲ ናይቲ ንመርዓ እተሓስበ ዕለት ሓደ ዘገርም ነገር ተኸስተ። ዘይነብ ምሉእ ርእሳን ግንባራን ብነጸላ ተጎልቢባ ኣብ ቤት ኣዲኣ ተመልሰት። ብምቕጻል ነቲ ሸፊንዋ ዝነበረ ነጸላ ኣለየቶሞ፡ ጓላ ምሉእ ርእሳ እንተላይ ጾግሪ ዓይና ተላጺዩ ከምዘሎ ዝረኣየት ኣደ ውነኣ ጠፊእዋ ሻቡ ወደቐት።

    ዘይነብ ደጊም ተመርዓዊ ዝብል ዘረባ እንተሰሚዓ መዓልታዊ ጸጉሪ ርእሳን ቅርኒብ ዓይናን መዓጓጉርታን ኪትላጽዮ ሙኻና መሰማዕታ ከምዝሃበት ንምሸቱ ኣብ ኩሉ ገዛውቲ ተወርየ። እዚ ዘረባ እዚ ናብቲ ዝምነያ ዝነበረ ሃብታም የመናዊ ምስበጽሕ መደቡ ኪኸውን ከምዘይኮነ ተገንዚቡ ምስ ናይ መሪር ስምዒቱን ከቢድ ሕፍረቱን ነቲ ሕቶ መርዓ ኣዋደቖ።

    ዘይነብ ድሕሪ ሓደ ዓመት እተፍቅሮን ባዕላ ዝመረጸቶን ሰብኣይ ተመርዓወት። ክሳብ እዚ ቀረባ እዋን ብህይወት ከምዝነበረት እውን እፈልጥ።

    ቡርሃን ዓሊ

    • Paulos

      Selam መንእሰይ Kbrom,

      I knew you were pulling everyone’s leg when you said you are an old man. Your mental acuty and unbound energy is remarkable. Lost in translation it is not instead you added more flavour to the beautifully written iconic essay. Thank you again young brother!

    • Burhan Ali

      Selamat Kbrom

      no need for apology, you have done well. thank you very much!

  • ghezaehagos

    Selam Ustaz Burhan and awatistas,

    What a wonderful and hugely enjoyable read! Thanks for sharing with us.

    Akria. I could literally trek the places you depicted masterfully. You took me back to the honest and formative days. I studied my elementary in Madeshto, a school, called, “Dogali’ built at the Binto, the culvert, near ‘Edget’ ‘Kenema’, Dergue alterations. Most of the classmates were coming from Akria, Mehrem-Chira, side. During summer, ‘keftegna 8te’s and ‘7te’s (the great soccer gurus of Aba-shawel and Zoba-Qasa’ play in soccer field of ‘Enda Selassie’, “Mahdere-Berhan”, near Madrasa.

    A word I never heard in decades. Warda Filo.

    Of course, Akria is its denizens. 1990s dramas, poetry and fledgling artistic circles were led, at some points by deki-Akria. I guess when you have long-er walks to take, you learn to imagine or tell stories; hone that skill.

    I am not sure why; the longer I stay in exile, it is the places that haunt me. Of Asmara.


    Ghezae Hagos.

    • Paulos

      Selam Ghezae,

      Glad to see you back. Your last sentence struck me in the sense that we are all haunted by the image of the places we grew up in. If you think about it, we are political prisoners in a striking similarity with those who are confined to prisons all over Eritrea. They too are haunted by the images of the places they livid in. To some extent the degree of freedom as in to adopt a different culture which is afforded to us here in diaspora can lend a comfort but the perinnial agony that we share with them is far too painful to be supplanted by the said comfort.

      • ghezaehagos

        Selam Paulos,

        Thanks for engaging.

        “There are places I remember all my life
        Though some have changed
        Some forever, not for better
        Some have gone and some remain

        All these places have their moments
        Of lovers and friends I still can recall
        Some are dead and some are living
        In my life I loved them all– The Beatles – There Are Places I Remember.

        It was theme song for a tv-drama, “Providence”. A little bit Saccharine.

        The images of places we ‘been to. It is not just Asmara. Even Montreal, I visited it briefly after 8 years last summer. I lived there in 4-5 different neighborhoods. It was evocative to visit them. Places over people, crudely put.That was why it was so fascinating, for me, to read Burhan Ali portraying Akria in such a picturesque detail. Probably the introverts of us are beguiled by places.


    • Beyan

      Selam Gezae,

      This site has some individuals who seem to write less and less and their voices through the written word are heard even few and far between, but when they do, it is one joyful moment that keeps one to keep coming back for some such moments. Gezae, you, too, are one of those whom I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage to hone your literary craft. We need our Eritrean Nuruddin Farah. We need our Eritrean Chinua Achebe. We need our Eritrean Naguib Mahfouz

      Indeed, Burhan Ali gave us a marvelous treat of a place and time of one area in Asmara that couldn’t be pinned down by one epoch; rather, skillfully, he brought several generations into one-fold much as the late Nobel Prize winner, Egyptian novelist, Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Triology was able to capture three generations of one family, which took three volumes to accomplish, namely, “Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street”.

      What we are seeing in Burhan’s piece is a canvas, a survey of the place with no particular protagonist, unlike of The Cairo Triology, for example, where we have fully developed characters like its patriarch, Ahmad Abdul Jawad, which sets the scene for the novel. The following novel centers around the son Yasin along with his family. The last in the Triology, brings to sharp focus the daughter, Khedija and her family. Of course, what goes on, in between, is what’s mesmerizing as the author gives his readers historicized, contextualized scenes of Cairo from its colonial history to subsequent two more postcolonial generations. Actually, framed on real street names in Cairo, the Triology, in my book, is a magnum opus. That’s what I hope our BA is doing here, giving us a sketch to what may come in the future in a form of a novel.

      And, what can be assuring of this that BA is on the right track than his ability to artfully draw readers from across generations where someone like you who came of age in the 80s can relate to the place, to the story, and others like me who had been away from home for over three decades can relate to his narrative arc; yet other readers who were from the generation prior to mine and yours were able to be captivated by it is a good indication that he has the goods to go full throttle on this and make it a novel. And I hope he does.


      • Ismail AA

        Dear Dr. Beyan and others,

        I usually cannot resist the temptation to comment whenever I read what you write about issues and their ramifications (in positive sense I mean). I see in you a critical reader and reviewer in one, especially something related to literature as several of fellow forumers also do. My point here is the command of the word (English) and skill to put it to expressive usage.

        There is no doubt (as I tried to point out in my first comment) that BA ‘s depth in reading literary works such as Naguib Mahfouz’s novels as well as great Russian novels is fully manifested in his essay on Akhria. He simply is an allround story teller as our SJG,too, has already proven to be.

        The point, thus, is that novelists do make essential agents for condensing diverse cultures into coherent powerful unifying national ingredient that bond them together. I think national unity without such essential bedrocks would in art would be difficult to attain, and if attained, it would remain ephermeral and responsive to forces of exigencies of one form or the other.
        All of what I am scribbling here is to second your thoughts about encouraging gifted and equipped compatriots like BA to try to write novels. I hope I will be still breathing when this gem about Akhria would come out as a novel and witness our young generation using it as source of enlightenment, guidance and couselling and would help them do better than us, older generation, in finding common grounds for narrowing the widening social and cultural fault lines under the current regime, and putting their acts together to salvage the nation and embark on building their future in harmony and peace.

        • Beyan

          Kbur Haw Ismail AA,

          As usual, the perspective you bring to any conversation herewith are not only constructive, but also heartwarmingly instructive. You cling to the optimist in each and everyone of us. Now, that’s nothing to sneeze at. These days, it is not easy to be Eritrean and maintain such a composure and keep that dignified Eritrean in us intact when everything else around us seems to be “falling apart” to borrow from Achebe’s (1958) “Things Fall Apart” novel in which the author captures the pre and postcolonial Nigeria. Similarly, as I tried to mention in connection to Neguib Mahfouz’s triology, all of the necessary ingredients seem to be laid out in the narrative of Akhriya that Burhan Ali has drawn us all in, mightily, capably.

          A sense of place and time are the essential elements that can move a story forward. And, BA has got that down packed tightly. Now, he already has characters that can be made to span back to their ancestors, like Gido and Jagume, to their pre-colonial world. Parallel to those he can develop authentic Eritrean characters as they interact in their new world of the North and South, if you will. That would give us the pre-colonial narrative, for example, which will have its own narrative arc, what have you. The colonial era can be captured in similar fashion, and of course the post-colonial era would not be that difficult to unearth for someone like BA, since many of which we are living and wallowing in it.

          The story of the beautiful Zeineb is another theme that can be developed in authentic way how she was defying the patriarchal norms and the chauvinism that comes associated with it – So, gender roles can be explored through Zeineb. I mean, I really don’t want to bore you in how compellingly ripe the story is to be made into a novel. Novels, I am sure, we all know are not about stringing sentences together. It requires finesse, skillfulness, subtlety, and, of course, mastery of story telling that you’ve alluded to that very few are gifted in, such as SGJ.

          My hope is that BA doesn’t relent on this and stay on it, be disciplined enough to consistently spend several hours everyday, come hell or high water, just keep writing. I know the discipline part is where great novelists are good at. I hope this becomes something he has deep passion about in doing, otherwise, it will not hold. But, that passion is obvious, because he has produced the skeleton of the novel already; it is now a matter of putting flesh and blood and give them air to breath, voice to speak, work to that would situate them with the story that’s being developed. Gido and Jagume already have jobs. In the parlance of today’s language, the former has a junkyard and the latter was a collector of animal bones, I mean piles of them I used to see growing up in his yard. Somehow, we kids understood it was there to be made into soaps, soaps that our mothers used to wash clothes.

          Another authentic character that can parallel that is enda Ambar chiQQa that Haile S. had alluded to in one of his quick quips, I think his name Amer. The bottom line is dogged discipline is the difference between those who produce works of art and those of us who just enjoy they fruits of labor. Either way, butts on chair and fingers on keyboard is one fundamental requirement for it, in my view. It takes that kind of tenacity. Our BA has shown to possess that great elan, without which he wouldn’t have given us what he did. This takes crafting skills that many of us are only able to see to revel in it in its finished form. I better stop here before I turn off the man by making him feel I am dictating the terms here; hope it doesn’t come across as such, merely expressing my perspective in what little I know about the subject matter, that’s all.

          So, Ismail, I, too, long to see a day in which some such novels emerge from our part of the world.


          • Paulos

            Selam Dr. Beyan,

            You probably have seen the movie “Sideways”—a dark-comedy where the hugely under-rated but mightly talented Paul Giamatti is in it. Giamatti plays an aspiring writer who befriended a womanizer dude where both go on a cross-country ride and where Giamatti falls into melancholic depressionion in between. This is a line in the movie that I thought was really cool. His buddy says to Giamatti, “You know what, they say, if you are not afflicted with a major depression, you are not a great writer.”

            In one of the great Nobel Prize speeches, the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk read out an essay he wrote during the Nobel ceremony in 2006. The title of the essay was “My Father’s Suitcase” and in it, he walks the reader through the rather hermetic world of a writer where great ideas for a reason still unknown come when the writer is in a melancholic state. It is not of course by any means the rule-of-thumb if you will but the pattern is rather compelling where Earnest Hemingway among others come to mind.

          • Haile S.

            Selam Beyan,
            You are absolutely right, ዓምር was the owner of the ሓንባር ጭቓ factory (in his house/compound). Three things that I don’t forget about him. 1- it was the first time in my life I saw a machine making a container from a sheet of metal and filling it with a yellowish good smelling paste. I felt I was in front of a robot. 2- few people had cars in the area and ዓምር was one. He had a Ballila, the pre-wars kind with a ‘nose’ that started by manual crancking from the front. 3- he had a pet female baboon that jumped from head to head of people in search of lice. It was fun to play with her. ቡርሃን ዓሊ ዘምጽኦ ጎጎ ቆራሪስካ ኣይውዳእን እዩ።

    • Burhan Ali

      Selamat Ghezae

      I am glad that my essay made it to a catalyst in ‘taking you back to the honest formative days’ and stir memory of all those magical places you mentioned: Madishto, Dogali School,……Thank you for reading it and thank you for the positive assessment.
      What you mentioned about your being haunted by places, you are not alone in this great and wonderful mode of being, some of the brightest and noblest minds in the history of mankind were haunted and obsessed with places to the degree of nympholepsy although they gave’place’ the abstract name of ‘Space’ which is another name for: “ Places abstracted of their contents”. Think about Spinoza the Jew of Amsterdam who was intoxicated by the idea of God and thought that Space was God, or think about the Andalusian Sufi ‘ Ibn Arabi’ who thought that space and time were the same thing, the only difference being that space is a frozen time and time is a flowing space and that they both are one and the one in them is God, perhaps he was depending in this on the saying of the prophet : “Don’t damn Time (capital T), Time is God. “ And because time and space are one in Ibn Arabi’s mind it follows that Time Space is God. On the lighter side of things being haunted by places is a kind of yearning to ‘time in the places you are haunted by’ and in this case that particular time is you! The Beatles lyric you forwarded is somehow saying the same thing one way or the other. I wish you all the best.

      • ghezaehagos

        Selam BA,

        Thanks for your reply.

        It is true; when we reminiscence fondly, it is the ‘us’ in that time and PLACE that we conjure up. I have always felt like my parting with Asmara was distinctly violent. As if a kid snatched from his mother’s lap. Curiously, I was the luckiest in my generation; I left through Asmara Airport, with family and friends seeing me off; hoping to return soon. It was raining.

        Closer to two decades now, the dream of going back fades with every passing year. Instead of me going home, home comes to me in a form of exile. Yet, one tries to hold on to faithful remembrance of these distant places always fearing, hoping if you would see them again.

        Thanks for your best wishes too Ustaz.


        N.B.:- Yes, it is very captivating read that you offered us; I keep on re-reading it. Learned more on the last pharaoh of 26 dynasty; great analogy with Amin’s mother…thanks.

  • Kbrom

    Dear all

    Burhan’s brilliant article has brought together the well deserved compliment from our refined writers like saay, Dr Paulos, Haile, Mahmuday, Dr Beyan, prof Emma, Ismail, Abrehet and others.

    After having such an accolade from the best writers themselves, I think it is time now to move one step forward, to get more lessons from the article by diving (Bagaboofing) into some issues that might or might not be related to the article and discuss their pros and cons.

    Here is my talking point, but before putting the point let me give you three incidents that made me think about this issue.

    1) About a week ago I was reading a well written account of Hajji Mussa’s funeral sevice in facebook. In that report I read something to the effect ብዝሒ ቀባሮ ድሕሪ ሸኽ ዓብዱልቃድር ከቢረ ከምኡ ተራኢዩ ኣይፈልጥን።
    2) Yesterday one of our own sons asked me, ‘what is going on with Christian Eritreans, when are they going to join’
    3) I have seen the same attitude from those who take Haile Drue, Abune Anthonios, etc as their own.

    So my question is don’t the tendency of narrowing down national figureheads such us Hajji Mussa, Bitweded Abreha disparage their contribution and narrow their greatness. Are we noting how the PFDJ security apparatus and their 03 machineries are spreading such Belabelew to instil loathe and distrust between the two religions.

    Reliable source confirmed that the PFDJ is assigning young girls who can speak arabic, to call to fellow Eritreans specially from the Saho, Blen, Tigre, pretending that they are Jeberti and accusing the other people for not joining the Jeberti or being submissive with ‘Christians’. The same girls are also calling on the moslems and telling them you moslems did not do when our Patriarch, Jehova witness had been arrested now you are decrying etc. This poisonous smear campaign is being concerted by senior PFDJ officials and security personalities of PFDJ.

    It is an issue that needs leadership from the intellectuals, political and civic organisations.

    • Paulos

      Selam Ato Kbrom,

      I trust it never lost on you the striking similarities between the final days of Aboy Hajji Musa and Aboy Shiekh Abdelkadir Kebire. They both died in the hands of brutal regimes and the comment you read on social media seems to reflect the circumstances of their final days. That said, I don’t think it really matters what the regime churns out via its security apparatus simply because the turning point is way surpassed. Fear no more.

      • Kbrom

        Dear Paulos,

        As always nice to have a constructive discussion with you.

        Paulo, t is not about me, because I am an old man who have seen and defied so many intrigues in my life.

        The story of Hajji Musa and Aboy Shiekh Abdelkadir Kebire was about the number of attendants not the way they were killed and it sends wrong message to those in Asmera who have seen the funeral of some people who have died in the same way in the brutal regime’s prison and had a funeral that has been attended by thousands of people. But that is not my man point.

        I agree what the regime churns out via its security apparatus should not bother you and me, but it might mislead some inexperienced naive people. What I am saying is as leaders we need to help people ‘see beyond what is to what it could be’.

    • Beyan

      Selam Kbrom,

      ዘየደቅስ ነጊሮም ድቅስ ይሓድሩ ዝበሃል ከምዚ ምስ’ጋጠመ እዩ። አነ’የ እቲ ጠልቃፍ፡ ድሕሪ ናይ ቀብሪ ስርዓት ምንባብ ክንድዚ ጠልቀፍቀፍ:: ትሕርንኽ ኢኻ ት ህ ሉ መቼም I am not blaming you Kbrom for raising these potent issues that need and require mature responses. But, no way I was going to sleep soundly without giving some response, for I know I will wake up in the wee hours of the night in horror as though the sky would be falling and furiously type away the thoughts your query raised. I’ve done that many times in the past. I don’t wanna do it this time. So, let me try to hastily jot down what needs to happen from our end, at least, in this space.

      Time and again, the opposition in general has shown gullibility and weakness to matters of religious, ethnic, gender, and political divide. For example, without any specific reference you cite as seeing on FB this:“ብዝሒ ቀባሮ ድሕሪ ሸኽ ዓብዱልቃድር ከቢረ ከምኡ ተራኢዩ ኣይፈልጥን?”Before even responding to your question, the first question I should ask is where is the beef, where and who is your source. Obviously, I am not questioning you personally on this one, just using it as an example to illustrate my point. The point is, if we don’t know the speaker on the other end of the line or the writer on social media, then, that person needs to be challenged in that particular space. I know why you are bringing this, it is because you want to alert others not to fall into that trap. But, by challenging the writer right then and there, we are showing their statement, as you put, factually doesn’t stand to scrutiny. The regime, I am certain, has learned a thing or two from the Rusians’ fake news they used to create confusion in the American electorate in 2016. This regime, ours that is, has bottomless coffers it can use toward this end, which can overwhelm us. Therefore, choosing our battles wisely, prioritizing, strategizing, and tactically out maneuvering the regime is our best bet. Look at what they just did in Aboy Musa’s funeral procession. People anticipated the regime security apparatus was going to intermingle with the crowd, thus, they planned ahead to be on the rooftop so they can record it from a safe distance. This is called understanding the regime’s modus operandi and out maneuvering it in its own game. This, the diaspora needs to learn and learn it fast. Otherwise, we will be rendered ineffective at best incompetent lots at worst.

      As for assigning female callers. I had one this morning who asked if I were Negash Beyan from Massawa, what have you?I simply told her I was not, but forcefully told her I thought she was coming to help out in overthrowing the regime in Eritrea, because I saw some images of military brass in her profile. So, what she did was, quickly change the subject by saying at first that the picture was of her father who was martyred. She immediately followed it up by saying that the Negash Beyan she knew was from Massawa, and politely ended the conversation. I even volunteered of my relatives whom I knew when I was a child. She showed little interest. I don’t know if this woman was honestly looking for someone by that name, it mattered very little to me. I didn’t waste my time. I immediately got into the conversation of a way to undo the regime from power. Else, we have no business to engage about. So, each one of us need to come up with our own strategies and tactics in how to handle matters of the sort you raised. Without sounding elitist on this, we really must come up with Qs&As in how to frazzle callers whom we don’t know or writers we have no idea where they emanate from. Not engaging them might be one way of handling it in the social media front, if we don’t know who they are, that is.

      Of course, the big one is one that is laced with subtle regional & ethnic or religious prone conversations. Once a person takes the conversation toward that narrative, then, our respective antennas must be on watch-out mode. Why even give these people the chance to bring up such questions or issues when the issue is about removing the regime from the helm of political power? Of course, I am cognizant of the fact that we have a lot of work that has yet to be done on this front. So, the Qs & As (Frequently asked Questions) can include some of these where we can regularly disseminate in the social media that we frequent. The problem I am seeing in this august forum is that our discussions are not goal oriented. We talk about an issue, we exchange ideas, we learn from each other, but then what do we do, we move on to the next article or news item. Where do we take all that learning? How does it help in the process of expediting the demise of the regime? Recently, Berhe implored us to gather and find a way of systematically organizing ourselves and genuinely try to find a way and a means of ridding ourselves from the cancer at home that’s wreaking havoc to all sectors of Eritrea. But, there are only a handful of potential takers whom we will have to approach. So far, there are three of us from this forum who are willing to try. Many others from outside the forum will be reached out. Unless and until we come up with strategies that would weaken the regime, how are we going to do that when we are discussing it openly here. There ought to be issues that we can address behind the virtual curtain, if you will.

      Kbrom, if none of the above makes sense, blame it on my sleepy head and my eyes that are involuntarily short-circuiting on me by furiously wanting to shut down.

      See in the morning y’all

      • Kbrom

        Good morning Dr Beyan + Ismail and Paulo!

        ኣንታ በያኖም ‘ኣነን ዕንጨይቲ ይኣሪ መሕደሪና፡ ንሳን ተመን ትጓስስ መቕተሊና’ ዶ ኮይነካ! ጸላኢኻ ድቃስ ይስኣን!ኣነስ ከመይ ድቃሰይ ድቃስ ቁንጪ ይግበሮ!

        I read your and Paulo’s post. I think there is misunderstanding on what I posted, I appreciate and understand why the points could be misunderstood because they are framed around very sensitive issues.(ተኣፋፊ ዛዕባ ኣብ ተሃዋሲ መድረኽ ይብል Haile S ተኾነ)

        My point was meant to be much bigger in its depth and breadth than the one phrase we are discussing about. The post was trying to see the bigger picture and gather the facts to enable us see beyond the horizon.

        There were very few times in my life that I felt despair, downhearted and hopeless about Eritrea’s future. One of them, may be the major one, happened recently when I saw people, not only watching and listening to a man which his name starts with the alphabet T (I refuse to name his name) but also follow him and discuss his disgusting masquerades. I was one of those people who were saying that Eritrea is not like other African countries, thus, we would never ever have any sectarian, regional, religious or ethnic confrontations, but today I have decided to think twice and search my soul if I am not becoming an utopian – I hope I am mistaken.

        My despondency is not related to certain incidents. It is not about the man which starts his name with the letter T, it is a result that came after closely observing how the political, social and cultural conversation among Eritreans has plunged in to its lowest level.

        Though not to the same degree, to some extent, I had similar feelings when I saw people advocating for political organisations in the name of Mukhafedat. The last thing we Eritreans want to see is a tragedy that is resulted from regional and religious confrontation. It is better to maintain our love rather than paying a heavy price to regain it once we lose it – if ever we can regain it. We do not need to go far to find a lively example of tragedies of religious and ethnic feud – Somalia and Ethiopia are good lesson!

        So, I think it is time now for the intellectuals, writers, journalists, civic societies, political organisations to talk about this topic without any reservation. Leaders and intellectuals are being called to act now, as they say, both share three common responsibilities: 1) to bring out the best in others, 2) to inspire trust and 3) be good role models.

    • Ismail AA

      Selam Kbrom,

      I can surmise the reason that intiated you to raise the matter in relation to the funeral of Martyr Hajji Musa is the concern multitudes of decent patriotic Eritreans have about how vulnerable and defenisve our sub-national level social and cultural set up is. We are reminded how domestic and foreign enemies have exploited those cultural and social sensitivities to disrupt our national efforts.

      We have seen this at various phases of our political struggle since the exit of colonial and annexationist occupier, the armed struggle and now under the current absolutism of Isayas Afewerki. Frankly, lack of guidance and counselling on national level by coherent leadership has been making the situation fertile and open ground for enemies to exploit. It is devatating malaise multireligious and multicultural societies struggling to form viable nation states suffer from. Our own could qualify as a telling case in point.

      To jump back to the issue at hand, I saw that Dr. Beyan and Dr. Paulos have given fair explanations. Adding anything more would be uncalled for over stressing of the issue except perhaps speculating that the one who who had posted the piece on comparision of funeral participants might have from the perspective of Akria dwellers during the two funerals mentioned.

      Anyway, I agree with you that the elites have role to play and should assume leadership and be in forward trenches and not stay in rear. Deliberate or isolated all the same, sensitive opinions could damage the harmony and effectiveness of national efforts, among which our current struggle to tackle the despotic regime is a crucial one.

      • blink

        Dear Mr.Ismael
        Who are these elite people on your view? You said ‘“I agree with you that the elites have role to play and should assume leadership and be in forward trenches and not stay in rear. Deliberate or isolated all the same, sensitive opinions could damage the
        harmony and effectiveness of national efforts, among which our current struggle to tackle the despotic regime is a crucial one.”

        Kicking the ball away from your comfort zone.

        • Ismail AA

          Selam blink (my name is ISMAIL, not Ismael),

          It has been a while since I responded to your views or answered your questions. But since I have known you arguing and debating in this forum for quite a time on almost every issue raised, it surprised me when you asked me who the elites in our society are. (I think you are a young man and apologize in advance if I am mistaken).

          When you complain that I am “Kicking the ball away from [my] comfort zone”, you forgot you, too, are shouting from your a comfort zone. I mean both of us are not doing it from some place in rural or urban Eritrea – one of us opposing the regime another defending it in his own way. But the difference between you and me is that I spent my entire productive working and learning years in doing my bit to liberate my country. And, you have to blame the regime you cherish and defend for compelling me, and thousands like me as well, to a comfort zones. Yet, we did not give up; we are still trying our level best to do what our age and energy can allow.

          Dear blink, no one would have defeated me in a race to worship you and what you do if you were to call me a nothing-doer from somewhere near the borders of Eritrea doing your bit to liberate our people as me and thousands of martyrs, permanently injured, banished for ever by the regime perish in dark fox-holes and caves had done when we answered the call of the nation.

          • blink

            Dear Mr.Ismail
            Sorry about name , my comment was just asking about the nameless elite , if you have in your mind to share. About opposing the man is really not that important because you have no authority to give certificates who oppose. Since I did not fall to your way opposing doesn’t mean some one is supporting. You see the difference? I oppose but not on some people must pass views.

            Back to kicking the ball thing , I thought you are one of the elites who can lead again, don’t you think you are one of the elites?? I do . It seems the youth are not buying some of the must accept demands of the elite.

          • Ismail AA

            Selam blink,
            Glad that you oppose in your own way. I agree that no one can impose how to oppose a common enemy. And, Thank you.

          • Hope

            Selam Ustaz Ismael:
            First thing FIRST!

            Thank Yiu for serving our Nation and People as I know U ENOUGH about you,as s son of the original ELFites.
            It is only fair if I apologize to u on Blink’s behalf!

            Blink is annoyed and frustrated coz of our collective failure to do more and better for the last 3 decades to expedite the fall of the Brutal a Regime.

            Since the Elites and the Old Ghedli Gen have the know-how,Experience to lead /take the Lead,It is only logical per Logic 101 to expect that the same Elites and Old Ghedli Gen to lead and educate the Gen X aka the Young Gen ,which is at LOSS,Confusion ,in chaos and disarray !

            I read and understood my own one,Blink the Champion!,from the above context and perspective !

            It is ONLY natural then,to ” blame” or to criticize the Elite,the Educated and the Experienced Old Gen for not living upto their obligation.

            It is a fact that it was the Elites and the Old Ghedli Gen and Leadership that messed up,the once “hopeful Parties and Organizations,the Civic Societies and Activists”!

            The failed EDA,The EPDP,etc…, come to our minds…,

        • Desbele

          ተመሲጠ እናነበብኩስ ድርግም ኢልካኒ። በጃኻ እንዶ ተኣለ።ካን ንሓንሳእ ዓበይቲ ክዛተዩ ጽን ኣይትብልን?!

          • blink

            Dear Desbele
            Why don’t you shut your age game , Dentist can say something about , have an appointment. You are just not visible for me.

      • Amanuel Hidrat

        Selam Kbrom & Ismailo,

        Frankly speaking, it is because of our fears to “sensitivity”, that we are still stuck with our divisions and unable to challenge the issue head on, to find a solution for it. I remember about 10 years ago I wrote an article with a title “The arrogance of the highlanders and the mistrust of the lowlanders obscure the unity of our people”. The purpose of the article was in order to encourage our society to overcome their “fear of sensitivity” and to prode them to have conversations on the thorny issues that divide our society. I was ostracized for it.

        The seeds of discordant was sawn during the armed struggle and is still continuing by the regime. If an organization organizes our people in a divisive way like “ ኣቦታት ኣደታት ንሕና ኢና ደቅኹም“ that imply the others are not and second if the highlanders are not ready to have leaders from the the lowlanders, then we should not be surprised to be in the crises we are in. These are real social problems. And if we do not start to have conversation on them without fear of sensitivity we will be stuck indefinitely for ever. The mistrust between Muslims and Christians, highlanders and lowlanders is real, two struggles for different purposes, one for domination and the other for fair sharing.

        (I might edit and elaborate this evening)


        • Ismail AA

          Dear Aman,

          Sure, I read the article you mentioned with great interest that taught me about your vision regarding national unity that has been eluding us since the inception of our polity up to now. What you consistently advocate to levels of a practioner of a faith should be a unifying ideological cornerstone for any allround Eritrean patriot. I remember I discussed your contribution on many encounters with similar-minded Kebassan compatriots like Professor T. Medhanie of Bremen Uninivery, in Germany.

          I believe we have to submit to the truism that our dilemma won’t be resolved unless across the board partiotic members of the elites commit themselve to designing platforms and engage in productive dialogue and confront corrosive societal ills head on as you, and our Kbrom, are calling. The reign of the despot has worsened the situation to the extent we might be running out of time. Getting ride of the regime is the first aid application of treatment for abating the terrible regression from mind set of statehood to self-preservation oriented segmental organizations.

          What we are witnessing on the Eritrean political and organizational scenes are warning symptoms about a nation in decadence. Stuff like so called Agazian or similar counterparts could not be understood in any other form or way – popping up after emergence of a nation to statehood from decades of mixing blood and sweat of its sons and daughter for the sake of productive coexistence.

  • Abrehet Yosief

    Dear Ustaz
    Beautiful essay. I needed to take a break after reading the paragraph on the grief striken mother. But i came back to finish it. Thank you.

    • Burhan Ali

      Selamat Abrehet

      I am glad you liked what you read, Thank you for reading!

  • MS

    Dear Ustaz Burhan
    Beautiful, smoothy, entertaining, educating…..I enjoyed it. T
    hus it must have been an un-ERITREAN piece, some piece from outer space, not complaint with familiar polemic tradition….
    -Whereas…it gave life even to the inanimate things, the streets, fagnaturas, the poor cactus tree which were installed there against their will (as evidenced by their easy cutting, it is apparent they did not resist their uprooting by the rebellious kids of Akria….
    Whereas…even a non Asmarino guy like me, much less non-Akriano, could visualize the bustling neighborhood, initiate and sustain with the Italian, Maltese, Yemeni…and the rebellious Zeineb…an anthropological as well as sociological tour guide..Juxtaposing past with present….and the introverted mother of martyr Amin…you live the reader to make up his/her own conclusions as to why she behaved that way….Allah YerHamaha…..
    Whereas… you keep defying Eritrean familiar essay-writing full or diatribe and partisan strictures, making this beautifully written panorama of Akria accessible to all and writing it in a way it would be enjoyable even by those who are made up from atoms of discord, hate..suspicions belittling, discounting, downplaying….anything that comes from an outer space (as compared to their small and isolated world)….it is a huge undertaking…
    Thus, suffice to say, you are about to beat SAAY in writing the first ever complete Eritrean novel that could be enjoyed by both Nitrickay and Thomas.iSem at the same time…and mind their business without lunging onto each other’s throat. And for this, you deserve an utmost respect, sir. I wish it was a bit longer. But you have already a skeleton of a beautiful novel right there, in this essay.
    Finally, you have given life the departed Sheik and his community without necessarily talking politics, and that’s what differs a someone writing politics and someone, just writing.

    • Haile S.

      Wow! You are becoming the nabarbas of the eritrean literary shingrwa! You have a real talent, man!

    • Burhan Ali

      Selamat MS

      Thank you for the kind words and the encouragement>

  • saay7

    Selamat Burhan:

    A compliment: I hold the view that all of us Eritrean writers could benefit by shortening our articles by half with the only exception being Burhan Ali, who should double it. He is, in my view, the only natural long-form writer.

    This article is another Ali Burhan tour-de-force, a majestic ride which like all his articles takes the scenic route, but never without a purpose. This is why some of us got into writing, to take the reader out of the present into another present, to mold thoughts into a rock-solid vessel, thrilling. Politics and activism were an afterthought, forced upon us. This is not good writing, it is talented writing–you can teach the former in creative writing classes; you can thank a god or a muse for the latter. And in the case of Burhan, you build on the talent by being a voracious reader who has a great ability to recall.

    (Here’s an example of Burhan Ali when he is weaving a story and sourcing it from impossibly different sources: http://awate.com/a-chieftain-in-the-pashas-camp/)

    Thanks for the treat, Burhan. Guido, his soldering and his palm reading (eat salad!) I knew; I am more fascinated by the rebellious girl who shaved her head to stall a forced marriage.


    • Amanuel Hidrat

      Selam Abu Salah,

      I don’t know if it is from my end only. I could not open the link you provided us, on Burhan’s old article.

    • Paulos

      Selam Sal,

      “…..Politics and activism were an afterthought forced upon us….” I always got puzzled when you said that you don’t see yourself as a politician but now I see what you meant by that. Makes sense.

    • Burhan Ali

      Salamat Saay,

      Coming out of the Guru’s mouth is extremely satisfying but hardly relaxing; I will feel like he (the Guru) is breathing down my neck, I better feel that way if I want to stay on the good list of Ustaz Saleh Yunis, it is now a harder work, you see! Thank you for all the kind encouraging words.

      • saay7


        One or another, the Great Eritrean Novel shall be written. Like all great novels, it will sweeping in its scope, and breathtaking in its prose. There are a few candidates for this (including Ghezae Hagos and Gogo), if they are not felled by activism or the looming shadow of the west. You, Burhan, are, as MS accurately stated, the prime candidate.

        Your imagery of the Akria hill being chipped away to build lasting homes….one hopes is paralleleled by the lady mourning the death of Haji Musa: She kept saying, in Tigrayit “ደብር ወድቃ እብ ገበዩ!” The hope is that the youth are inspired by the bravery of a man from a different era.

        Take a chip of Mt Musa and marshall on!


        • Hi Sal,
          Thank you for the show of confidence. I hope with great teachers like you and Burhan Ali we will transcend the phase of dilettantism and acquire the mastery to write the great Eritrean novel. Adorno once declared that poetry won’t be possible after Auschwitz. But it looks to me that prose is not possible after a devastating tragedy like ours. An artistic work with a tragic tone does not capture the enormity of our tragedy either. You can not make tragic figures out of us. I feel tragic comedy of the Beckettian type is the only hope to capture our condition. One might also do well paying homage to Camus Sartre and other existentialist thinkers and writers for an insight to our angst, alienation and devastation.


          • MS

            Ahlan Gogo
            It will be a novel where after the roller-coaster has stopped, the rightful actors will reclaim their rightful place. History will be rectified and orientated towards the right direction. iSem thinks I’m hapless, but I say I’m rightly hopeful ( the triples shots of espresso have nothing to do with my optimistic mood). And despite the put-downs, our young generation will chart out the future. They are the actors, we are spectators. We better behave lest they throw us out of the theater. They have endured too much from the government and the toothless opposition that has dulled even the brightest. And by the new generation, I don’t mean the flag stomping crowd, or the ghedli bashers. I’m talking about the so-called slaves, their friends and extensions who are shouldering the brunnt of sustaining the nation despite bouble-edged conspiracies.
            I’m feeling alright.

          • Ahlan Mahmud,
            There is one saying that is attributed to St. Augustine which really captures the attitude we should assume towards our situation.It goes like this: Do not despair one of the thieves was saved;and do not presume, one of them was damned. (the thieves being those who were crucified with Christ).Or to refer to a more secular version of this would be Gramsci’s “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will” kind of revolutionary attitude.


  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Selam Burhan Ali,

    Excellent essay that captures human imagination. You gave us a good historical picture of Akria, it’s gowth from a village to a part of a city, its diversified inhabitants, and its priding cultural mosaic. Above all Akria was a priding neighborhood that become the hiding place to our heroes of our struggle.

    While I am thanking you for gracing us with this
    beautiful historical essay, please as avid writer come often with your historical and philosophical feeds. Thank you again.


    • Burhan Ali

      Selamat Amanuel,
      Thank you for reading the essay, and for the positive assessment. As for inviting me to write more on Awate.com , I will do my best and ረቢ ይተሓወሶ

  • Thomas

    Hi Awatista,

    The write has it all about Akria. Yes, my memories of Akria is:

    1) A place of the most brilliant dramatists
    2) A place of the most intelligent writers
    3) A place of the most beautiful women
    4) A place of the most colorful Muslims and Christians mix situated – diversified.
    5) A place of rich and poor mix — helping each other and enjoying diversity – live as one family

  • Kbrom

    Dear Dr Burhan Ali

    A brilliant essay which can be promoted into an excellent history book. You equipped us with great knowledge that enable us dream for our future whilst learning from our history.

    If I may add on the generosity of the Akria’s people, a friend of mine told me that the bus that goes from Shuq to Akhria is not known by its number, like other buses, but it is called ኣውቶቡስ ቁጽሪ ሸርዓላህ ኢለኪ (the bus of Sheralah ileki), because the mothers of Akria ‘fight’ on the board of bus for several minutes to pay for all the friends and relatives whilst the others also insist to pay for all, and the bus has to stop until one of them gives up.

    Burhan, indeed Akria will be the Sweto (1976) of Eritrea, which pioneered the rally against apartheid; Akria will be the Timisora (1989) of Eritrea which led to the downfall of the Romanian long time dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, and Akria will be the Abu Salim (2012) of Eritrea which swung the door of Libyan prions open and heralded the fall of the arrogant Qazafi.

  • Ismail AA

    Dear Burhan Ali and others,

    This is one of the best and thoroughly captivating essays this forum has ever been graced with. Not only for the value and meaning the story carries, but also the clear manifestation of the author’s depth in world class literary works.

    When I ponder on the skill of describing role of characters, simplicity in using every day ordinary language, erudition and style of transmission, my thoughts fly to my modest old readings of masterpiece works of Russian novelists. Those of us who read Burhan in Arabic could enjoy even more his veracity and exposure to knowledge of history, philosophy and literature. As a lucky brief encounter with him at the ENSF 2015 festival in Kassel, Germany, had afforded me, Burhan is enjoyable and extremely humble gentleman. He is just an allround intellectual ordinary humble person we are fortunate to have him in this forum and graced us with his educating contributions. I wish we could have him more often.

    As to deserving assessment of this essay, amateurs like myself may proof to be superfluous after well-read and vastly educated brothers such Dr. Beyan, Dr. Paulos and many lot of others have said their word.

    Burhan Ali, Hayak Allah wa yadim qalamak.

    • Paulos

      Selam Ismail AA,

      Viola Davis, the African-American actress who won an Oscar for her role in the 2017 movie “Fences” said something extraordinary on the podium when she won the Oscar. She said, “…The greatest stories are found in the graveyard, that is the only place where the greatest potential are gathered, if we could only exhume the bodies, if we could exhume the bodies….” And of course, everything around us animated or otherwise has a story to tell including “Chekhov’s gun” but some people are endowed with a stellar ability to weave the tapestry of the human story as they can see with clarity the position and direction of every word with in the panorama of the story and Burhan Ali is not an exception either.

      Akhria has been lucky enough to have produced a person of his caliber so that one day he would tell her story in such a way that a cartographer is diminished in comparison with a wordsmith giant. Moreover, Burhan brings to the fore a hidden gem when he narrates not only the stories of the dead but the city as a microcosm of the larger Eritrea including in its urban setting and the social composition as well.

      • Ismail AA

        Dear Paulos,

        Davis is right. No imaginable count can be exhaustive of men and women with extraordinary capacities that end up in graves. The tragedy doubles when a society, or part of it, is aware of their existence but fails to provide them with reasonable liberties and freedom to explode their potential and enrich humanity’s quality of existence.

        I agonize when I know how many men and women of Burhan Ali’s stature each village, town and city (on every level of human endeavor) in our country has, yet due to our cumbersome and backward social and cultural set ups, we have miserably failed to turn them to creative forces. Eritrea’s current worrisome asymmetric microcosm need diligent and refined minds to be transformed to coherent national reservoir for salvaging and building a nation passing through adversity whose end no one of us can predict.

        • Paulos

          Selam Ismail AA,

          Well said. I agree.

    • Burhan Ali

      Selamat Ustaz Ismail
      I too regret the narrowness of time we had in Kassel. I am sure we could have further deepened our friendship with some memorable discussions, the only thing I can say now is (أطال الله في أعمارنا ورزقنا الصحة والعافية). Thank you for the kind words.

  • Selamat ኣቶ ቡርሃን ዓሊ፡

    الاخير —> ኣኽር ኢያ። هي الأخيرة
    My suggestion for your “Whats is in a name?”

    After a daylong Haji Hassan bus ride from Teseney to Gejeret Abi, after a day or two to no more than a week rest and ጋባ snacks, an inter-Asmara bus ride from Gejeret Abi to Akhria seemed to take as long a journey as Teseney-Aqurdet-Barentu-Keren-AdTekleizan–Emderho-Asmara on the Haji Hasan. This on annual climb from metaHit to Kebesa early to mid seventies.
    On reason I have always associated Akhria الأخيرة, to this day from my earliest memories pre Azilo years old. الأخيرة some may support as a better bastardisation than ثا نذل الايطالية.

    Next to enda Gabir Church Gejeret Abi I once went to spend my تعرف as I knew a ሳንቲም to be in حي السودان / ሒለት ሱዳን ተሰነይ. Where as in Gejeret Abi the shop keeper would demand of me to return with an aunt or cousin translator from Tigrigna to Tigrigna, at Akhria ዱካን nay ፋتعرف ባሊና ምግዛአ required a single quick hop and a skip trip. Perhaps the difference is in ገጀረት ዕቢ’s አንዳ ጋብር and ኣኽህሪያ’ስ አንዳ ገብሬል።

    I thoroughly enjoyed and will re read several times and savor your essay. I submit to all readers that this essay/article on awate is and will remain the best of 2018–if not all time.

    One request of Mr. Burhan:
    As your essay clearly illustrates Akhria to be on the outskirts of Asmara, would you kindly tell me what village(s) is(/are) the immediate neighboring to Akhria? And their distances? It would help me with the geography an intuitive four/five year old formulated and held for over four decades.
    Thank you!!!!!*****:)

    እምኤርትረያን ጃይጻጸ ኣዚሎ40 ኣግኔያ40 ኤከርስ and a ምዩል። 40^2 √1600 ፐንሲልቫንያ ኣቨኑ።


  • Natom Habom

    selam brothers
    I don t want to be rude just asking a question
    we all pay familly member ,brother ,sister ,and yet we don t ask to be glorifie for that
    why jeberti stress ethnicity ,comunity ?are they special ?are jeberti different from other ?
    it is sad unfortunatly for what happen but claiming that hero are only from jeberti ,really don t know what to say
    we need cohesion if we want to live in this country and please stop this nonsense
    and think for something productive to all of us because we are all eritrean

    • sidiabdu

      I am sure you misunderstood the article. This article is about history of a place,people and I mean history that we all are proud off, The place happen to be heavily inhabited by Jebertis. I am happy to say it is a place of great patriots who never gave up on Eritrea, and as a result the story is about them and others. What is wrong with that?.

      • Natom Habom

        selam sidiabdu
        no one gave up about eritrea don t worry , all of us are ready to dies
        protecting our homeland from malevolent that want to divide and destroy
        our homeland ,

        • sidiabdu

          sidi abdu
          9:16 PM (6 minutes ago)
          to Disqus
          Selam Natom,

          No one is advocating dividing divide and destroy our homeland. The division is already there. No one created this division bedsides the thug who is in power in Asmara and of course with the support of his zombie followers. Some believe he is the only one who can rule Eritrea. God help us from people believe a crazy dictator will lead them to a promised land. He has scared them that the alternative is worse which of course I disagree vehemently. Eritreans are cohesive with no extreme views. A ruler could be christian or any other religion as long he/she has the interest of the country and its people.
          Day by day, the maniac in Eritrea is creating another dump decisions that creates one more step to a condition that you and all of us are worried.It is time we say enough is enough to a leader who arrests kids, seniors,women with out the luxury of fighting the alleged crime in the court of law. He literally controls every thing in Eritrea including the mind of the people who have no recourse of hearing a different opinion.

          Re the article about Akria, I saw nothing alarming that saws any division. It was a beautiful article of one of Asmara neighbourhood and its residents. I actually recommend you read it again and you will find it interesting worth of a prize of literature.


          • Natom Habom

            selam sidiabdu
            I don t any division in eritrea encouraged by the GOE , if there is any
            would you tell how and where that happen ?

          • sidiabdu

            Selam Habtom,
            Look hard, you may be able to see the demarcation for yourself.

    • Peace!

      Dear Natom

      Have you read the history of ማይተመናይ, the mother of many brave ፈዳይን?

      ኣይሰርሑ ኣየስርሑ
      ኣይመርሑ ኣይምርሑ
      እንዳ ሞቱ ገጾም ዘዝሩ
      እንዳ ተጨፍጨፉ ሸለል ዝመረጹ
      ግዜ ዓሪቡዎም ናብ ካልእ ክጥምቱ


      • Natom Habom

        selam peace
        what happen in maitemenay ???

  • Haile S.

    Selam Burhan Ali,
    A sweet enjoyable essay and a great tribute to the courageous ordinary inhabitants of akria and some of the extraordinary among them. Thank you!

    • Burhan Ali

      Selamat Haile

      Thank you for reading my essay and thank you for understanding the substance and soul of the subject. thank you again

  • Paulos

    Selam Burhan Ali,

    I am not sure what to say to be honest. No hyperbole but I am beyond words. Absolutely brilliant through and through. The first part of your essay carries an “emergent” disposition in an ecological-speak where it later zooms-in onto a reductionist scenario when you walk the reader through the bits and pieces which make up the sub-city Akhria.

    Reading the second half of your essay, magic-realism seems at play where the characters in the magical city “Macondo” as in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years Of Solitude” novel reflect particularly the characters “Aboy Bairu” who sells “Chenna Adam”, “Gido” the eccentric and zchizoid who is alchemist and palm reader and “Zeineb” who defied the norms of a strong culture by shaving not only her head but her eye brows as well. These are the product of an incredibly imaginative mind as the characters titter between real and surreal.

    In the last part of your essay, you assured the sceptic reader that the characters are not figments of an over-active imagination but characters in real space-time when you traversed the reader onto the Real-politik that had defined a generation where the otherwise magical city Akhria not only played a pivotal role with in the last successive regimes but her perpetually restive nature lost the last son standing to the present devouring regime as well. Again thank you Sir!

    • Beyan

      Selam Dr. Paulos,

      In a fit of excitement, I called out to get my daughter’s attention to show her the image of Akhriya – it seems redder than I rememberd it…I know some of the creative geniuses in the AT have tinkered with by putting the name Akria on the read earth there. I will leave that as it may for now, but it was funny in itself, you know, my action and my daughter’s reactions.

      I must thank you Dr. P. Really. The minute I saw the title, I thought, now I am going to have a ton of things to say. Boy, was I wrong! I couldn’t believe it was possible for a writer to give a descriptor of the characters who can jump out of the computer screen when one happens to be reading a story of a place that one calls home. There is nobody in Akhriya who wouldn’t have encountered Gido’s house or Jagumay’s slow walk up to the station to catch a bus or a taxi. Or May Anbesa, Begabuf… my bakaro didn’t seem to have made it in the story though.

      What a hauntingly beautiful narrative. I sat there stunned for a long while, wanting to write, but these fingers of mine, normally, never short of helping me express what I wanted to express, today, however, well, ከም ጥዑምቶ ዝሐዘን ክመስላ ከረዉ፡ በል ተበልካ ወላ ሐንቲ ቓል… but you came to the rescue, Dr. P, and I thank you for that. For now your impression will have to stand from a standpoint of literature on my behalf as well. I couldn’t even go there…I was so immersed in the beauty of the language and in the immediacy of the story and in the way he brought the characters to life…in the way the place revealed itself through the warping of time…the way the gobo sheikh Alemuz was personified…No matter what I say now, I know I will come back to be disappointed later, it just isn’t enough. Perhaps, it is sometimes best not to say anything … sometimes literature is just meant to be enjoyed, enjoying it I thoroughly did.


      • Paulos

        Selam Dr. Beyan,

        You wouldn’t believe it, I had you in mind as I was reading through the essay where no essay can top it. I had goosebumps all over. It is that good! The after taste is of course when one wishes for Burhan Ali to had been in Eritrea instead so that him and other brilliant people like him can put the country on a pedistal but as they say ኣይትብከ’ንድዩ ዘብክየኒ’ዘሎ.

        • Beyan

          Merhaba Dr. Paulos,

          “ኣይትብከ’ንድዩ ዘብክየኒ’ዘሎ” indeed. I could just imagine BA in my mind’s eye in one of enda shahees, in today’s parlance, it would be Starbuks, where he would have his little laptop typing away at the characters he observes in real time. Speaking of inda shahees, the two Jottoni places I frenquented were, enda Rishad and enda Koborta, few doors from each other. Enda Mohammed Berhan enda beAl silsi was another enda shahi that on rare occasions I visited, which was not even one block away, except you would have to turn a corner and cross the street.

          A sense of place, as you know, is one that gives strong sense of identity to its inhabitants and good writers know how to effectively make use of that, and that’s what BA does here so well. Another one is sense of time. Here, too, he places Akhriya in a certain period of time, yet takes his readers back and forth in time in this circular way where a reader who lived there eons ago would still fall under the writer’s spell. He draws you in as though the time-frame was whenever a readers wished it to be.

          My remembrance of Akhriya is during my formative years, so I was walking through the streets along with the characters as he was describing them and giving them life. The description of Gido was so spot on. I was right there in front of his house with a head too big for my slanky body trying to decide whether to play daredevil and go in…there were stories of motorcycles being buried underground in Gido’s house, God knows what else. Not this slanky kid, I couldn’t even do it in this time-travel setting that I placed myself in…just couldn’t do it.

          Ah, when is Eritrea going to have its sons and daughters, mothers and fathers back…so we can enjoy art, literature, in their original form. I long for that day, I reckon it is coming sooner than many think.


          • Paulos

            Selam Dr. Beyan,

            The urban legend goes, the yard stick for one to carry the honorariom Asmarino badge is a smooth-talkin’, slow-walkin’ dude who came of age in the 80s and who played Jottone either at Biet-Shahi Hiwet or Biet-Shahi Senai and who sported Jontra hair style as well.

            In a rather deeper sense of the term “Asmarino” however, one runs not only into murky areas but the intellectual cleavages with in it appear to be less of a fad and more of an averse where the “Fara” and “Cheguar Danga” find a comfort zone.

            The erstwhile badge of honor Asmarino traces its roots to the aftermath of World War II of course in Eritrea, we are told. When the Eritreans who had been conscripted into the Italian army came back from Libya, those who belonged to respective “Adi” settled back and those with no Adi to go back to settled in Asmara instead. Asmarinos, the rationale goes were not Eritreans in the strict sense of the word that is.

          • Haile S.

            Talking of Asmarino badge, I think you forgot the hyper-polished polish-smelling shiny black or brown ኮዮ እስካርባ bought in the italian shops close to babylon or እንዳ ዳርማር or the locally made by the miriad artisan shoe makers that existed in every corner of Asmara.

          • Paulos

            Selam Hailat,

            That probably is a bit farther back in the generational divide where my old man who came of age in the 50s had his shoes polished twice a week. The Darmars and Chipolinis had to reinvent a new kind of shoes where high-heeled and pointy boots were the new brands. The shoes would go with a collar-less buttoned up shirts and sleeveless Micheal Jackson “Billie Jean” red jackets.

          • Haile S.

            Selam Paul,
            You are right that was for the older generation though it persists until now in the minds of the die hard Asmarinos. I am of the harambe generation, but I remember my first Koyo shoes around 5 years old. We were living in akria ጥቓ እንዳ ቡሉስያ፡ ጥቓ እንዳ ፋውሪካ ሓምባር ጭቃ. I was keeping these shiny shoes for the great events like ቅ-ዮሃንስ፡ ልደት and ንግደት, for show-off, when suddenly and rapidly I overgrew them and became so small. I recall wearing them for a photo in the asmara municipality garden; there were camera holding guys standing there to take photo of interested passer-bys. Other than that I don’t recall enjoying them.
            Talking of highlanders, can you imagine the love of shoes of a people who had been walking bare foot for tens of centuries? It appears that only the high dignitaries and those who had to trek for piligimage to Jerusalem or Mecca had the need to wear shoes.

          • Paulos

            Selam Hailat,

            I sure remember the competetion in the wee hours of AwdeAmet to see who had the best outfit including shoes as well. One didn’t have to live in an affluent area to see kids showing off new clothes, every parent was able to afford one for their kids. Talk about the good ‘ol great days.

            One may certainly feel sorry for those who braved barefeet as you said for years if not for a life time but surprisingly science is siding with them as the researches indicate barefoot running has more advantage as opposed to shodfoot running. One among the barefoot running exponents is the Harvard Professor of Evolutionary Biology Daniel Lieberman where in his recent great book “The Story of The Human Body” rather convincingly argues that, running barefoot helps us to land on the forefoot which causes less shock on the upper limb as opposed to landing on the heel which happens when we run with shoes on and causes injuries in the long run. The guy walks literally the talk as he is known running barefoot. And I say, we should celebrate them as opposed to feeling sorry for them even though it is rare to see these days people without shoes back in Eritrea that is.

      • Haile S.

        Selam Beyan,
        Without wanting to take away the attention from this beautiful akria narrative, let me register my complaint on you. From now on, you have no excuse to say “if I mastered tigrigna…”. Who would say ‘ከም ጥዑምቶ ዝሐዘን ኣጻብዕ’ except his excellency the master himself!

        • Beyan

          Haile Hawway,
          ሕራይ በል ተቐቢለ አለኹ እዛ ማዓረግ: ከምቲ ግቡኡስ ናይ አደይ ቋንቃ’ኮ እዩ:: Hey, coming such an accolade from the wordsmith himself, I should be in cloud nine by now, and I am.

      • Burhan Ali

        Selamat Dr. Beyan

        Wedi qeyih Meriet! If an Akrian like you finds an akria in the essay I worte about Akria I should then let it go up into my head without harboring the sin nor feeling the blame, I should! Thank you for the kind words!

    • Burhan Ali

      Selamat Dr. Paulos,
      Thank you for the kind words, Dr. Paulos. You know there is an Arabic saying which closely translates to: every container overflows with its contents meaning that if you find beauty in what I wrote remember that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. beauty is internal not external. However that would not make my next article any easier to write, for now I know who may listen to my words, I am humbled and intimidated.

      • Paulos

        Selam Kbur Haw Burhan Ali,

        Sal brilliantly put it when he said this is not good writing, it is talented writing. I suspect the latter is not acquired later in life but one is born with it. Paulo Coelho in his international best-seller book “The Alchemist” revolves the kernel of the story about a shepherd boy who set out on a life quest to find as he put it his “Personal Legend.” The book narrates the human condition if life has any meaning at all where each of us struggle to find our calling (read: talents) in life. The antagonist-character in the book is not a person so to speak but the dreadful feeling of fear and self-doubt where the shepherd almost passed on without finding his “Personal Legend.” The other antagonist in the book is the failure to realize what we have when we confuse the gem in our hands for a bronze and it is the people who are close to us who keep reminding us that the treasure in us is worth digging and cultivating. It is with that dispassionate spirit that Awatistas celebrate the gold in you.