Biniam Girmay: He was ours and he’s still ours

The three-card Monte, known to us as Telate-werega, is a classical swindling trick. There is also the wheel of fortune, known as shertek bertek in some areas, and shetekh-betekh in others. That is the localized pronunciation from the Arabic shortek-bekhtek, meaning ‘your decision and luck.’  

Close to the grand Mosque in Agordat, crowds gathered around a gambling wheel that displayed amateurish drawings of items and numbers around its edge. Pay a dime or so and they rotate the wheel until it stops at a number corresponding to an item on the table: a pocket-comb, a cheap toy, pair of scissors, shaving blades, etc.

Most won a folded paper on which the prize was written: Adhak’, meaning LAUGH, in Arabic. The victims would wait to get something; but the swindlers would tell them they won a laugh, and they must laugh. In confusion, the poor villagers would laugh and then demand their prize; they were told laugher was the prize.  

Carriers of Negative Energy

You must have known people who only carry bad news. They have so much bad news that one would think they would volunteer to collect it. If they hear positive news, they shrug it off. Who wants to be happy? Gloomy is their nature, and they carry unhappiness, which is contagious. Beware; their miserable life is contagious.

My great-grandmother, God bless her soul, used to call such people ‘fnger’.

If you join a select group of super-patriots, which is very different but like the other group, you get a false sense of giddiness. At politically organized events and festivals, you don’t just get to laugh; you get to dance!  And contrary to the reality around, you get to believe that everything is wonderful and getting better!  It is like an effective, mind-altering substance, this one is still legal. It’s the genuine patriots who are laughing at the clownish characters, but laughing is the price you must pay to enjoy yourself and fake happiness; but that’s only under the PFDJ.

Motivational speakers inspire people to be positive. It works on those who are willing to change. But those who prefer the pessimistic world of anger and paranoia find it difficult to changeeven heavy doses of motivational speech would not make them adopt a positive attitude. They seem to be saying: I need my sadness. I need my paranoia. I need my skepticism and my intentionally wrinkled face. I love it.


When I was a little kid, Suleiman Abdulrahman had a corner shop in Asmara close to the home of relatives’ where I stayed. Suleiman was a calzolaio, a shoemaker, and was married to my relative. He was a known cyclist with the likes of Gigante, Salambini, Gerezgher, and a few others.

I thought cycling required just growing up, and you could be a champion. It was a time where I had to deal with bicycles much bigger than my size.

AS an adult, I quickly learned a few showy tricks. I pushed the bicycle fast and then jumped on it like a cowboy jumping onto a horse back.

When I joined the armed struggle, for years I didn’t see a bicycle, let alone ride one. But once I met a Kerenite on a bicycle in Halib-Mentel. He allowed me to ride it and I handed my bag to a colleague, and the show started. Everyone in the villages except for three shops came out to watch. From their looks, I think they expected me to fall.  Maybe they forgot I was a city boy before they saw me in tattered clothes as a combatant. All right, I must make an impressive show. I pushed the bike fast, then jumped on it. Cheers. Then I went far and returned at high speed, putting my feet on the steering handles, skidding, and attempting a few tricks. It was a fantastic show.

Biniam Girmay won the Tour de France, thanks to me. When the tour guys called me, I told them I wanted Girmay, the young Eritrean cyclist, to win; I refused to participate. They asked, “what if he doesn’t win? You must race to make sure Eritrea wins”. Even Isaias called and begged me to participate. I refused, “Nope, I’ve made my mind, the young man must win, I am out of any competition, I don’t want to race against the youth.”

I could feel his anger: “Why are you teaching the youth bad lessons?”

“I am not; do you want me to race forever until I become as old as Haile Sellasie? You must do the same, abdicate and handover your authority—until when do you want to rule? You had enough already.”He shut the phone on ‘my ears’.

Now I am glad Biniam won the race, which I watched at a sports bar on a television the size of a cinema screen. Biniam is a good trainee; he did exactly as I trained him.

I ordered soda for all the patrons of the bar, paid the bill, and went out to the streets and walked all over the city center holding a PFDJ flag, T-shirt, scarves, hat, and pants. I looked like a clown who escaped from the circus. I shouted, “Bini. Bini. Bini.”

As much as the win is a relief for Eritreans, I hate it because the PFDJ will squeeze Biniam’s victory as if it concerns them alone; if you oppose the regime, you have nothing to do with the victory—only PFDJ get to own the credit for it. But I don’t care, I trained Biniam, and we are both from Keren, my hometown. In fact, his father went to school with me; I and his mother grew up in the same neighborhood.

See! That is my reaction to the empty shirts and the racists behind microphones who wre more interested in making him many things than Eritrean. His father is from Adigrat, and his mother is from another Grat, or the other way around!

I wish the small brains, narrow minds, and empty containers for heads would swallow their arrogant pride and stop their hypocrisy; Biniam dedicated his victory to Eritrea and Africa, and yesterday he called me and apologized for not mentioning Keren. He promised he would dedicate it to Keren the next time he wins ‘Tour Mondial’—he asked me to inform you. That’s why I am giving you the scoop.

Wooooo, troublemakers, regionalists, and racists, bother about your deranged mind. Keep your toxicity away from him. We don’t want him to be poisoned by you; he might forget pushing the bike pedals of his bicycle. We are not done with him. Do you know Pele?

Bile who is known as Pele became famous in the 1958 World Cup semifinals and championship game and stayed on top of the world-famous list until he retired in 1977, after 19 years as an officially declared National Treasure of Brazil. I do not want to bore you with what and how Pele benefited Brazil. But I want to remind you all that Biniam has the same opportunities and Eritrea could benefit from him greatly—if they just keep him away from the PFDJ’s Red Sea corporation.  Biniam will be what Pele was for Brazil. Mark my words.


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