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Confessions of A Recovering Addict: It was All for the Chicks

I relished it and my friends provided it. Truth be told, I was addicted, but it was all for a good cause, it was to impress the girls. I was in love and addicted to two cousins, but they manifested through one person.

It was in unlikely place that I first noticed Leila, she was with my cousin who was buying a Christian meat from Abboy Kidane’s joint, the Christian butcher in Kassala. I was there to run an errand, a favor for an elderly relative who had already placed her order the day before. But, I thought I was a good sport and waited in line like everyone else, amid young blushing mothers, who shouted, “kilte kilo abboy Kidane …”.

“Klte Kilo!?”,  asks Abboy Kidane, “what are you going to feed that hardworking poor husband?”

Then he would mesmerize the customers with his own lyrics, “nay awtisti zelelwo zeity, nay memhir zgebir teamer….”, then he would turn to his son, John, and would shower him with praises, only to turn abusive the second John slightly misses something. He would turn to his daughter and tease her about her future husband. Everyone would laugh, Abboy Kidane was not only a good businessman, but was an artist, an entertainer.

When it was my turn, I relayed my message to aboy Kidane, he immediately said “fezaaz”, what were you doing all these time waiting like a fool. An argument ensued and I left unhappy. My cousin and her friend Leila would tease me about this incident for years, until life caught up and they forgot about it, when family got on the way, when distance got on the way, after we all left the dusty streets of Kassala. It was a crime to argue with Abboy Kidane, they told me, but a rookie that I was I did not know better, they said, Maelesh!

Disappointed and with the words, “Fezaaz, Nay awtisti, zelowo zeyti….” reverberating into my ears, and the image of young mothers scrambling for “klte kilo, seleste kilo,” to feed their children and husbands with a Christian slaughtered meat replaying in my mind. I wondered about the differences, the poor animals are killed anyways, I thought.

Six months later, I summoned the courage to expose my Arabic illiteracy and asked Awet, my neighbor kid to deliver a love letter to Leila. My several trips to her house to chat her up were futile and when one day I learned that her elderly aunt who lived with them murmured, “hashaka, le welet hsrka alebba.. mai gba’e”, poor thing, the girl is not interested in you. I knew the reasons. Crushed but undaunted I vowed to learn the tools of the craft, Arabic and Tigrayit. So I asked a friend to write and recite the most romantic poem he knew. It took Salah a few seconds to write and recite Ahmed Shawqi’s famous line, I copied what he wrote with my own handwriting. It said “…w’te’attelet luqet al-kelam, wo khaatebet ayneya fi luqqet al-hawa aynaaki….”: the spoken language has malfunctioned, but my eyes addressed your eyes in the language of romance.

So, When Awet delivered my unintelligible writing, he reported that Leila struggled to read my writing, she squinted her eyes, frowned and then she wrote back one line, “min alqaeel wo ma almunasseba?”: who said it and what was the occasion. I wrote back, “Waahid wed hlletna”: a kid from our neighborhood. Awet delivered it again and he said she laughed hard and he brought back a verbal message: to stop writing her until “fanguH laha”. Confused, I left. I gave Awet something to buy sweets with his friends. With the corner of my left eye, I saw him as he turned by the corner, stepped over his dog, swerved to avoid a boy who was riding his bike and slipped to a shop.

Report time. My friend. Salah, who tutored me in Tigrayit was waiting and he laughed hysterically when I told him about a kid from our neighborhood story. It is from Ahmed Shawqi, Ya Jarrat Al-Wadi, not a neighborhood kid, he said, still laughing. And he told me “fanguH laha” means the day after tomorrow in Tigrayit.

And when months later, after a tea-party Leila said to me “taalenni”, I said “koyis” but I did not move. I did not understand that she was saying to escort her because it was late, another kid, a rival took the opportunity and basked in the honor of accompanying a girl. I goofed and was laughed at.  But when the next time she said to me “taalenni”, having refined my Tigrayit, having acquired a passable accent, having an ever burgeoning Arabic vocabulary under my belt, having shed my blooming and adolescent Asmarino mannerism, having tempered my highland temperaments. I was ready. With my head swollen, I replied, “aabe”, a Tigrayit for empathic YES and stood up and walked with her to the delight of my best friend, Salah.

I lead her via the dark side of the neighborhood.

“There is no electricity that way”, she said

Who needs electricity when the light herself is present here, I replied, in Arabic with an amalgam of confidence and a tad of cockiness, seasoning the dialogue with Tigrayit whenever I could.

“Mubaaleqa, gaarye!” Exaggeration, my God!

“La, telaaqa, laitha mubaleqqa!” No, it is not exaggeration, it is eloquence, I said as she successfully wiggled her little finger from my hand.

Undaunted, I run my left hand through her raven that was covered by a shawl and I glibly said, “w’lemaaza aynaaki thawarer”: and why are you rolling in your eyes to my “telaaqa”?

“Someone can see in the dark, Jella jellalka rebbi”, she said

“No, it is not dark, the light is here, remember?”

“Ajaayib”, Miracles!

“Rebbiiki emeni”, I said, making a bad impression of one of her relatives, I felt my neck getting weaker to support my head that was swollen like an inflated balloon.

The dirty darkness was my accomplice and I felt the texture of her raven wavy hair for the first time, a hair I noticed during our first encounter in the Christian butcher store when I made a fool of myself to argue with the popular butcher in town.

Her laughter pierced the darkness,” koyis ya hade wedi gezzawttna waahid”

Her heart palpitating, her palms sweating, she said, “It is getting late, let us talk while we walk.”

In a gentle resistance, I flawlessly recited Wardi’s classic Seberta, “…. Esteneeet kettiiir etmenna.. min baeed…”

“Ya selam, naagsa al Oud bes”: wonderful! but only the Oud is missing, she joked

She pulled me from the darker alley to the lighter side and let my hand go immediately.

I lurked in a corner under my accomplice’s cover, the darkness, to make sure she safely entered her house.

As I stepped back, the pitch darkness was pierced again, when she said, you are not “wed hlletna” any more, you are “weled beledna”: you are not the neighborhood boy, you are a citizen, one of us.

One fine evening a while later, I knocked on Leila’s door. She opened it, she was cramming for her matriculation.

I said, “assena aljaaya inshaallah, fi a’tib aw Khtuba”, I hope, God willing next year either in medical school or in engagement”, cleaning an otherwise dirty joke.

Come in “yemma delyatika alla”

No, I cannot, “anna beal Hsir anna wo tellel”, I came for a purpose and goal I said, with no purpose except to show off my enhanced Tigrayit, remind Leila of her late aunt’s “Hsirka alleba….” and how she cashiered me for a year.

“eway derrona”, she said as she burst into laughter.

Then I heard, my cousin, her best friend, say, “dehando knddzi sehaaq…” from inside the house.

“I am leaving Sudan”

“Nsu diyu tellelka”, we know about it, that is why ymma deliyatka zella.


As we walked in, she asked me about the date of my flight.

“FanguH Laha”, I said

“Wo hasset!”. FanguH laha will not even be enough to get you back to Khartoum.

Still laughing, she handed me a steaming cup of tea and Saba and Leila would embarrass me in the presence of Leila’s mom, Kadijah, about the incident at Abboy Kidane’s store years earlier.

Aunt Kadijah gave me all the blessing in the world, she named all the saints and Sheiks, dead and alive, Christian and Muslim.

Years later, in Canada, I received two letters, one from Awet and one from Leila.

Awet grew up to be a fine young man with a wicked sense of humor and he wrote that he was doing fine, and that he was assigned to mlikit, “the experience I gained delivering messages and letters to Leila benefited me”, he joked.

Leila, in keeping with her impeccable sense of humor, opened her letter with “…  today I write with Hsir wo tellel.” And she announced that she will be married next year.

Therefore, there is no “Mensaayit” sitting dictating Tigrayit, rather this was an “addiction” acquired during the teenage exuberance, at a time and place in the Eritrean life when actually learning these two languages was a craft and not a tool for cleavage. And a craft that dazzled and charmed the girl with raven hair and warmed her heart. But there was a “Mensaay”, the character Salah, who was kind enough to become my best friend from the day we met.

About Semere Andom

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  • Hayat Adem

    hullo sire,
    beautiful!!! what else is there other than a decently flavored human story, common and normal! an eritrean lowlander boy and a metropolitan londoner would both be complaining about their girls who kept them always waiting for some minutes late. it doesn’t matter if one is murmuring while attending his camel animal and the other driving his jaguar car. it is the same common human story that never fails to draw interest and always transcends cultures and identities, except for those . thanks for the refreshing story…

  • Ismail AA

    Hayak Allah Semere A.,
    Thank you; very entertaining and educative.
    I could see the ordeal of belonging to bi-lingual society. Lack of knowledge of either of them could cost one direly. The story warns our young generations. “Learn as many languages of your society as possible” is the message this story eloquently manifests.
    On the hand, I enjoyed its softness and style, besides being a change from debates on hard issues.

  • ‘Gheteb

    The Keening Threnody From A Progeny Of ኩሕሊ ዝብኢ (The Kohl Of Hyena)


    ኩሕሊ ዝብኢ has begotten a son. One of It’s progeny is utterly unmoored. He has been groping and hopelessly trying to latch on anything to anchor himself in the Erythraean Sea. That he has been adrift in the vast Erythraean Sea is not lost to many a keen Eritrean eyes.

    The Village of The Kohl Of Hyena ( ኩሕሊ ዝብኢ) is firmly ensconced within the confines of Eritrea proper and as such no one should doubt that it is a village nestled within the Eritrean topography. However, this very village of ኩሕሊ ዝብኢ is a storied village because many adventures, military or otherwise, have commenced from its hub.

    Many a veteran ELF fighters narrates how s/he traversed through this very village en route to Tigray, Ethiopia to conduct some sort of military activities. Some of the male residents of this village trekked to Tigray, Ethiopia, in an adventure seeking to find a mate. Well, you can say that ” It was All for the Chicks”.

    One of the offsprings of such an escapade by the men of the village of The Kohl Of Hyena ( ኩሕሊ ዝብኢ) is non other than Semere Andom. That for sure makes him a son of an Eritrean father from The village Kohl Of Hyena ( ኩሕሊ ዝብኢ) and a mother hailing straight from Tigray, Ethiopia. That Semere Andom is maternally from Tigray, Ethiopia, is at the heart of all of his psycho-political malease and tribulations, is quite evident to any and all who are not shy in calling a spade a spade.

    Semere Andom is utterly uncomfortable under his own skin and hence his preternatural propensity to find solace and a sense of belongings not amongst his own but within those who are either oblivious to his background or those who are naively and innocently very accepting. Hey, how do you spell MensAe ( መንሳዕ )?

    One can also witness the arrant desire of belonging of Semere Andom when he arrogantly parades his Tigrayet or Arabic language skills or when he impertinently and irreverently plays tribune of the Eritrean Muslims or other non-Tigrigna ethnic groups.

    His groveling adulations of the Weyanes and anything and everything Tigray and by extension Ethiopia is quite manifest to merit further elucidations. Suffice it to say, however, that this and others are indicative of deep hankering and pinning to cling to anything to his maternal side.

    Speaking of clinging to ones maternal side, has it occurred to anyone here why Semere Andom has been servilely fawning to all and any female participants of this Forum or why he has been writing unremittingly about females. Could all of this be a sign of an unrequited maternal love? I wonder!

    The final straw that broke the camel’s, er, the hyena’s back is Semere Andom’s boundless fascination with the fictitious AgAzians (ኣግኣዝያን) who are erroneously portrayed as the current Tigrigna speaking groups from Eritrea and Tigray. Whoever those who utilized G’eez as their languages were, there is nary a clan or a house in Eritrea that can claim as the direct descendant of these very AgAzians (ኣግኣዝያን). Why? Simply because they have been mixed with the Beja tribes, with the Bejaized Arabs also known as the Belews (በለው) and other indigenous Eritrean or semetic/Kushtic groups.

    The thing is that Semere Andom will latch onto anything and everything, true or phony, that he vainly hopes to be a commonality between Eritrea ( His father) and Tigray, Ethiopia (His mother), Hence Semere Andom his ilk’s feckless endeavors of trying to resuscitate the apocryphal AgAzian (ኣግኣዝያን) ethnic group.

    If Semere Andom’s pining and aching for the fictitious AgAzian (ኣግኣዝያን) is shown to be nothing short of a product of a son in search of his Tigrayan mother, Ali Salem’s Bejastan comes across as nothing more than an infelicitous MISNOMER as the term BEJA could be claimed by all and sundry Eritreans.

    Finally, how does that Eritrea adage go about ዝብኢ (hyena) going to a different city where he was unknown and asking them to sleep on…… Well, such is sad affair of Semere Andom and his birds of feathers.

    Finally, again, I wonder if putting a kohl on a hyena beatifies the animal? Putting a lipstick on a pig does not change the fact that a pig is still a pig. Ergo, a hyena is a hyena even if one puts a kohl on it even that hyena hails from the village of kohl hyena (ኩሕሊ ዝብኢ).

    • Lamek

      Gheteb, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know why all these Tigrinya people are going around making a fool out of themselves. The Agaizian teacher on youtube is right. kebila and enda will always be kebila and enda. This Eritrean nationalism is only being exercised only by the Tigrinya idiots. Everyone else wants to be left alone and live their lives as Kunama, Bilen, Tigre, and what have you. The likes of Semere and Amanuel have yet to smell the coffee. seb nab sebu zibie nab gerebu yiblu shaebia. The very people in the PFDJ regime have utterly rejected their Tigrinya identity and everyone else is holding on to their enda and kebila yet it is the PFDJ regime that is being accused of being Tigrinya centric. nmaletu muhurat.

  • Tzigereda

    Hi Sem,
    Am impressed! I hope this is the first part of the series.

  • MS

    Sweet and tender, I read it Enjoying my cup of coffee; a good respite from the world of voodoo doctors who busy themselves creating the next horror movie-story. Rich with cultural norms and practices, a mirror of Eritrea’s diversity and its harmonious tradition of peaceful coexistence; exhibits excellent story writing, suspension interspersed with fast moving OK intervals. Beautiful. I think you are addicted to the delicacy that a peaceful mind rips from cultural diversity, not necessarily to the chick, Laila. Because the attention and the space dedicated to the cultural setting (Sudanese, Tigrayet, Tigrigna) and how you have interweaven them, attest to the fact that it was Laura’s hairdo, the way she walked, the way she giggled/talked, the way she rolled her eyes (entata laHabarabr…le’shlamalm….)…. Tigrayet’s famous description for eyes with darting reflections…..ah, iSem, if only Nitrickay were around!!! He would learn some good stuff; worlds other than Gojam.
    Filkhulasa, my friend your addiction is to words; it’s to painting beautiful pictures using words. I n that sense, I have a bad news for you. You will never recover. I have another bxayawi mKri: scrap your plan to become the next MP of Eritrea. Others can do that. Beat SAAY at writing the Great Eritrean Novel.

    • Hameed Al-Arabi

      Greetings Jignaxion Mahmoud Saleh,

      I invite you to enjoy a cup of coffee, no, no, it is better to have (Awal wa Degam wa Akhadar wa Himad Sheikh) in DC with me.

      • MS

        Greetings Hameed, accepted. I hope you don’t let me in at the JaQwa (watered down) part of the coffee ceremony, though.

  • Solomon

    Selamat iSEM,

    Mannnn! Your story happens to be a sad melancholy reminder for me. In Two days, on October 24th it will be Thirty-five Years to the day of my landing onto JFK Airport. You may ask for the connector. And it is Kesela!

    UQba Kesela and Khartoum. It is Saturday and maybe Dub-A7SY will bring the barage to DONE by sharing a fitting link of art and music himself. Per the on Saturdays only decree.

    Nice story.

    Crimson Tide Bama …


  • saay7

    Selamat iSem:

    That’s a great story because it is a normal story, unpolluted by politics, and because you are a gifted story teller. Well of course politics is there—why other than politics are Eritrean refugees in Kassala–but it is not sledgehammer politics, it’s subltle and so life-affirming: people fall in love, have children even in the direst circumstances.

    It also reaffirms another truth: that virtually everything boys/men do is to impress girls/women. True as teens and true for Jack Le’Lane in his 70s. I mean what else could possibly explain how I stumbled into politics, at 16. Patriotism? Xelim please.


  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Dear Sem,

    More than the story I love your English literature. You will be potentially an excellent Novelist writer with the command of the three languages (tigrina, tigre, and arabic) that has cultural meaning in the lives of our society. Who is this “Saleh” in your story? Is he our own Saleh (saay)? You use to jab each other on jokes. Keep up by the way.

    Amanuel Hidrat

    • iSem

      Hi Emma:
      Salah may sound like Saleh, but it is totally different name as far as I can remember, I maybe wrong.. And it could not be saay because by that time has travelled to Egypt, to Italy and settled in the USA touring the Yosimites mountains, listening to Bob Dylan.when I was dazzled by both languages and the girl Sal was drinking hot tea in a glass cup 🙂