I was always intrigued by the idea of talking to the dead. It is even more intriguing when you consider that many people make a living by acting as go-between to connect the living with the dead. It must be possible I thought: all the palm-readers, witch-doctors and TV personalities can’t be wrong! I needed to cross over and meet some people; but first, I had to learn how to do it.
A brief research led me to tons of books on the subject of crossing over to the after-life or, looking into my past lives. Some believe we live multiple lives (reincarnation), we die and are reborn in a new life; our memories of our past lives, however, are buried deep in our minds. We can’t recall those memories unless we go through a hypnosis session to discover our past lives. But for someone who was raised on a belief system of ‘you are born, you live, you die, and you meet your maker’, the whole reincarnation thing was an alien notion to me.
I read about someone who claimed he was a Roman Gladiator in his past life; now he is an ice-cream vendor. Another said he was once a pirate in the Middle Ages and he drowned in the Pacific Ocean, then he was a beggar and was killed in the Bastille during the French Revolution. Now he is an elementary school teacher in Tanzania.
Though the stories are fascinatingly entertaining, the Twilight-Zone subjects of crossing over, after-life, and time and space, are too complicated for a layman like me- it needs a brain trained in physics to begin to understand it.
That is why I went for the less intimidating and very tempting books: Crossing Over for Dummies, for example! I bought a few books and read them. Now I know how to visit my past lives–I discovered I was once a veterinarian who treated stray dogs and I died of stray dog bite.
I have also learned how to talk to the dead.
The Dummy-book teaches you how to hypnotize yourself and go on a deep trance. Now, I often hypnotize myself and go on a trance to avoid certain noises, and most of the clutter, created by the fear-mongers, hate fabricators, defamers, and fire-starters.
Before crossing over, one has to call the other world reception desk from a red telephone, any red telephone will do (lucky Londoners: red telephones are everywhere). Once the receptionists know your itinerary, they will give you all the information you need: weather forecasts including temperatures at Dante’s infernos; the flood level of the rivers of milk and honey, and the numbers of on-demand escort services.
Last weekend I decided to cross over. I passed through a walkway adorned with manicured shrubs on the sides and reached a lush green park with many huge trees under whose shade crowds of people were sitting and having fun. I spotted Seyoum Harestay sitting beside Hamid Awate and others sipping dark red tea. He was cracking jokes. At a distant meadow, beautiful horses were grazing.
Seyoum is fine; he has gained some weight though. He said, “It is all this sitting under a tree drinking lots of milk and honey”. I had shouted “Salamat Harestay” when I came closer. He looked over his Shaft-eye-glasses that I never knew he smuggled through to the other world. He was obviously surprised to see me and stood up to welcome me. I could see the faces around were not happy–I had interrupted the joke he was telling.
“Do you want a drink”, he asked. Yes, orange please. He snapped his fingers and there was a cup of a cold orange juice in my hands. “That was easy,” I exclaimed! He shook his head and said, “Talk about easy!” He told me that things were so easy that when he first arrived he wanted to organize the peasants in the other world, and that he was amazed at how little work the dead peasants have to do, “everything is easy here, you throw a seed, snap your fingers, and it grows”. He lamented and wished it were that easy for the Eritrean youth who are breaking their backs in the PFDJ’s slavery projects. He added, “everything is so organized, so perfect and so easy; I can’t even teach Tigrinya to the people here, they all speak pristine, uncorrupted classical Tigrinya. I am waiting for the PFDJ cadres to come so that I can teach them how to speak the language they so much corrupted.”
I was surprised when Seyoum told me about a few persons who couldn’t cope with the peaceful existence in the afterlife and escaped back to earth. They are the ones wreaking “Internet-Lekhe” havoc now. He asked me to walk with him to the post office; he held a letter he was mailing to the upcoming congress of the ELF-RC. I glanced at the letter and read a few lines: “you better make sure to take my bones back to Eritrea” was the last line. There was also a Nota Bene for Wolde: I am confident you are up to the challenge. Defend the umbrella! We dropped the letter in a shiny box. “This is a real letter to my colleagues and not one manufactured by the Internet-lekhe dirt,” he joked. How true.
I reminded Seyoum that in his previous life, he has disappointed many who tried hard to lure him to lead their nascent sectarian grouping and that they hate him because he admonished them strongly. What was their motive in trying to make you the Queen Bee for their chauvinist constituency, I remarked! He laughed and said: teHatsibka ab Chiqa. Right. A clean person avoids dirt while a pig cannot help but roll on its own refuse. Some people exhale stinking flames and their pupils are dull like Yoghurt gone bad, or “zeAssewe reg’ou” in Seyoum’s words.
Seyoum then went on to tell me that he just finished a meeting presided by Awate; they wanted to know why “Mahber Andnet” was reborn! “Newcomers have to face the anger that is poured on them by the veterans”, he said. He was glad I was visiting because he needed me to update the crowd of veterans on the status of the pathetic reborn Andnet. I agreed.
He showed me a spot and I sat down. Everyone was waiting so I began: The Eritrean opposition is going through a reformation phase and some spoilers don’t like that. In fact, judging by what is being written and said, you would be hard pressed to deduce that those “journalists” are the re-incarnation of the writers of the Andnet Newspaper, I said. Someone asked a question:
Are You Journalists or advocates?
Are We Journalists? I know I am not. I do not know of any Eritrean journalist; none in the Eritrean websites- not even in the government owned website and its affiliates. I think of myself as a writer of conscience. But I was silent and didn’t respond.
A man who was silently sitting started to talk. I thought I knew him, but I couldn’t make out his name. Was it Siraj Abdu or Elias Teklu from The Voice of Eritrea of the 1950s? In an admonishing tone he said, “Many of you present-day writers mistake what you do for journalism. In my day, we didn’t sit and agonize over whether we should give space to those who were subverting federalism. We knew it was wrong, and we took a stand!”
Finally I answered, ‘I think of myself as an advocate who tries to contributes to the struggle through the writing medium. I do not write because I am a journalist-–all my writings are about issues related to the struggle against tyranny and for the sake of freedom and justice.’
He smiled and asked me not to be sensitive and he continued, “you should know you have a goal: contribute towards uprooting tyranny and to help in establishing a just system in Eritrea. Some of the major problems you are having are due to the fact that some think they are in the opposition and at the same time that they are neutral reporters. True you have reporting activities; but will you report news that strengthens those who are oppressing your people? Had you been a reporter in a foreign medium and had you not been an Eritrean, you could be neutral to Eritrean issues. Therefore, expect neutrality only from people unrelated to the Eritrean cause that is being waged against oppression and tyranny. You can neither be neutral nor schizophrenic about this struggle; you should be a proud member of the advocacy forces that is fighting the tyranny in Eritrea.”
Seeing how disappointed they were, I was shaking and trembling with shame. I apologized for letting them down. Hamed Idris Awate smiled and started to speak softly: “we don’t need your apology; we just want those of you who call yourselves defenders of justice to stop being dumb and waste your energies unnecessarily. As for us, we are just fine, don’t you see all around you–food, drinks, beautiful weather and we sit here, and crack jokes all day! I am not even mad at those who call me names and try to defame my history. Do you think they can? No. But for your own good, know how to coexist peacefully and be proud of who you are. Eritrea is for all of you and you should learn to respect each other and have mutual concern.”
A familiar looking girl (could it be Alem?) who was silent all the time became furious and said, “the claims that many of you stupidly make, that what you write is unbiased and neutral is bogus and misleading. One can’t be neutral and unbiased. A fake title of a journalist or an unbiased reporter that precedes one’s name is just that: fake. Can’t you figure that out? Even us, who you think are dead, know that.”
I nodded in agreement.
I wished those who lecture us incessantly about neutrality would stop that crap. If one advances the propaganda of the oppressive regime under the bogus pretext of neutrality, one is neither an opposition to injustice nor unbiased-–that is called a fuel contribution that keeps the oppression alive. In fact, in the current struggle, one should feel insulted if he was considered neutral. How could one be against oppression and neutral to it? And then there is the confusion about…
A slender man approached us smiling. It was the poet Ahmed Saad. He was reciting patriotic poems while two birds were perched on his shoulders and signing along with him- mn ajli men dzaq aadhzena; mn ajli… His recitation agitated the entire crowd; I sensed an anger about to explode. He finished and said, “You are talking about free press, huh” and sat down. I saw my friends Beshir and Gebreqedus joining the crowd. I jumped, and we hugged each other, they were wet–someone had told me they found a beautiful lake which they named Shfshifee and spend their time swimming there and usually returned before dusk. They interrupted their swimming when they heard I was visiting. Gebreqedus teased me: “aha, free press, if you know what you are missing here!”. Then Beshir pulled him away. They told me they will go hunting to treat me for a Maada lunch and that I should meet them at tree number 32 when I am done.
Ahmed Saad was obviously angry. He said, “Free press is the most abused phrase. It cannot exist in a vacuum–there should be laws and accountable institutions and code of ethics for a free press to exist. There should be a constitutionally elected national government that regulates free press and protects freedom of expression. Free press cannot exist alone where there is no democratic governance and no judiciary, legislative and executive organs. What should exist in such situations is advocacy–a fight against tyranny to establish a democratic governance and establish freedoms, including that of expression.” Everyone nodded in agreement.
I interjected: We all know, at least those of us who consider themselves an opposition, that the government media serves the goals of the oppressive regime and its main purpose is not to inform but to misinform and tighten its grip on power. Seyoum interrupted me and in an angry voice said, “Should the regime’s propaganda message be given an extra mileage by facilitating its wider reach? Can a so-called opposition be a voluntary hauler of messages that serve the oppressors? Isn’t the opposition supposed to fight the destructive views of the oppression?” Someone jokingly interrupted Seyoum: “cool down Seyoum, you might get another heart-attack- it is good we don’t have it here”. And there was a wild laughter.
As if that is not enough, we are facing hindrances and sabotages in the form of defamation, fear-mongering and other messages from corners who we tend to believe are supposed to be allies of the opposition if not its members. How do we protect ourselves from such an onslaught? Are our jovial “journalists” exercising an honest freedom of expression and free press? I thought this leads to a state of deplorable self-inflicted amnesia. Such convictions cry for revision.
Goitom Gebrezgi smilingly said, “you know there is no one who suffered from anarchy as I did in my previous life. You are facing anarchy. The right to free press goes hand in hand with the bearing of responsibility. Anyone who is not willing to be accountable for his deeds should not pretend to be an exponent of free press.”
“Accountability!”, said Elias Teklu sarcastically. He continued, “Hiding behind a pen name and defaming others is not freedom of expression but cowardice. Such pseudo freedoms only give ghost writers the freedom to slander irresponsibly without the fear of accountability.” I tried to explain: but there are mediums that are governed by morality and inbuilt ethics and there are loose cannons! Siraj Abdu calmly said, “one is tempted to ask: what is the professional code of conduct and who oversees their implementation? Is there any professional guild? What is the mechanism of accountability for unfair transgressions? Free press cannot exist in a vacuum.” I had to agree, again.
Seyoum reminded me how in the seventies many marriages were destroyed because of a distorted application of “democracy.” Just like the distorted understanding of democracy caused social upheaval in the era of the struggle, “Free Press, in its distorted application by some, is causing an Internet-lekhe upheaval,” he said.
I believe those who want to be “unbiased journalists or reporters” should make a choice: either be absolutely biased in supporting the side of the struggle against tyranny or relinquish the right to be considered allies and members of the opposition …. And suddenly, everything went out of focus and hazy and I crossed back to this life–it was the damn phone ringing sharply. I opened my eyes and picked the phone.
“It seems I woke you up?”.
Yes you did. It was a friend who thought of himself as a journalist until he discovered he was an advocate. I told him that I just met some people from the past.
Yes. No. Well--he would think I am out of my mind if I told him I met Seyoum and the rest–let’s say I was meeting a bunch of people who are disappointed.
“Disappointed! What is new, everybody is!”
We talked for a few minutes. Then I dropped the phone, took a shower prepared a dark red tea. I missed the Mada lunch.