In Search Of Two Chickens And…A Latteria
This installment is about two chickens and a latteria; about ‘they may have come through us but they are neither for us nor of us’; and most importantly why we the opposition need two eggs and why omelet is bad for your health, civic health that is.
KY: The opposition is unable to attract supporters. We have a long way to go.
GH: I agree.
KY: We need to find the right formula. We need visionary leadership.
GH: Yes, we need egoless, tolerant, kind activists.
KY: We need inspirational leaders, like Martin Luther King; like Mandela.
GH: Yes, wait though! First of all we need chickens..two chickens…And a latteria.
The Curious Case of the Nation of Eritrea
Have you watched a movie of a guy born really old (read wise) and ages backswords? By the end of the movie, he becomes a little baby? Have you? I have not. I didn’t watch the Curious Case of Benjamin something. I watched a nation of millions started old (wise), aging backwards, and currently acting like a little baby to its certain death. It is my nation. It is Eritrea.
Eritrea, the nation has finally morphed into a crybaby; irresponsible, selfish, impetuous, exasperatingly hopeless.
It was not always like that. Oh no, it wasn’t!
Come to think of it (which I repeatedly pictured in slow motion in my mind), it was a stroke of genius. Of beauty. A handful of Moslems and Christians, from Lowland and Highland, met in a city that was just seeing off a conqueror of 60 years, a city that was going to host 4-5 more different administrations and conquerors in the upcoming 50 years. They formed Association called ‘love for the nation’. Of all places, they met in a coffeehouse, a Latteria. Enda Abera Hagos Latteria. A day before, they gathered and went to churches and Mosque. In Asmara. They prayed. Together. A nation that prays together, they say, stays together.
It was 1941.
Three Years later they again met. I humbly bow before the great master reminiscence lest I defile the nirvana.
“ Do you remember in 1944, when we met at the residence of Saleh Kekia and shared a chicken killed by a Moslem, put our hand on a copy of the Holy Quaran, and without any consideration to religious, regional, ethnic or élan differences undertook to struggle for the independence of a united Eritrea and formed the party, Eritrea for Eritreans?”
AboNa Weldeab Weldemariam’s eulogy to the dearly departed Shiek Ibrahim Sultan Ali (May 30,2007)
Then they went to Dej. Abraha Tessema’ place and shared a chicken slaughtered by a Christian. They took an oath on a bible.
Of everything that they did, what entranced me was the ritual of slaughtering of the two chickens and taking an oath on the holy books. It was not the ritual per se. It was the rationale, the import. The taboo-smashing act was masterfully presented, full of pregnant metaphors and may be even ominous. The spilling of blood, for our later-day Ghedli de-romanticiz-ers, may forebode of what was going to haunt continuously the nation for the next 70 years; the recidivism of human blood gushing all over in this rightfully could be called ‘Nay Dem-Mdri, Akel-mieda.’ One chicken slaughtered by a Moslem and shared by both Moslems and Christians, saying grace ‘Bismillah…’. The other slaughtered by a Christian and shared by both Moslems and Christians saying gracing, ‘Besem Ab…’ Chickens. Two religions. Pledge given to one God. To one nation.
The shared meal was the wisest, courageous and kindest gesture of our shared history, shared narrative, shared destiny.
50 years later, the dream of independent Eritrea became a reality. 20 years later, the reality was became a nightmare and around 2011 almost 70 years after the two chickens were slaughtered, Eritreans-lowlanders and highlander- Moslems- and Christians are called to slaughter two chickens, break taboos, make a leap of faith, gain each other’s trust, ‘got each other’s back, swore on the Bible and the Koran, and once more start everything afresh.
Is it possible?
The challenges facing us, the conscious opposition, is daunting. That is even understatement. The disparity of our interests, partisan loyalties, ego-driven outmaneuvers, revenge-minded comebacks, fear of the other, fear of the future, pettiness, intolerance, exclusion, polarization, parochialism, demonization, desperation, turf wars.
From a wise (read old) nation of taboo-breakers, the nation aged to intolerant, immature cry baby. We used to pray together, in belief of something good held by God for Eritrea; now we all lapsed. We used to share chicken meal, in reference to common destiny. Now we mark our own turfs and territories with mental walls, delineated maps and future fences. Is Eritrea dying?
The great poet, Kiros Yohannes was the one I was chatting with I quoted –not in verbatim- in beginning of this article. When I wrote we needed more than anything two chickens and a Latteria, he chuckled, in understanding. Then he intimated in humble recognition of the staggering odds of our times; “natna shigir deA Biderho (chicken) Zeykones B’Abuer (Oxen) keman EntetegelagiLna iNa!” ‘May be ’harmaz! ‘ an elephant’), another friend offered.
I stick with the proven formula. Chickens. Two of them. And a Latteria.
Eritrea, Pawn of History not Politics
One of the greatest misfortunes of this nation is history was not generous enough to give the ones who should start and finish the struggle for self-determination the honor of doing so, unlike the history of struggle for independence of other African countries. African nations slept under European colonialism, while in 1940s until early 50s, much has been written, discussed about Eritrea’s future, blood spilled (including human’s like Shiek AbdelKadir Awate, Aboy WeldeaB’s and two chickens etc..), Newspapers flourished. Rallies held. Calls heard. Alliances forged. Alliances betrayed. Etc.
By late 1950s, when most African nations wake up excited to the dawn of their independence, and their leaders were coming from abroad, our own chicken slaughterers and sharers, exhausted, disappointed, were fleeing Eritrea to exile. Welwel in 1953, Shiekh Ibrahim Sultan Ali in February 1958. They never were able to close what they set out to do. Instead ideologically-driven movements, aggressively dominated and owned the 30 years panorama. The worst of them all, the ideologically-drunk-then-bankrupt, unbeholden to history, to culture, to religion, the law-phobic, paranoid, cruel group, composed of mostly from the Highland Eritreans, the EPLF/PFDJ reigned over Eritrea with a conqueror countenance till this day. The ‘social engineer’ Issaias Afewerki, is bent on forging a new Eritrea, based solely on loyalty, not to God, not to culture, only to his Party.
Eritrea is a pawn of history, not politics. We were always either too soon or too late. The future of post-colonial Eritrea was decided too soon, unlike most African nations. We fought hard for decades and by the time we snatched our independence, the question of nationalism was rendered by and large moot and probably outdated even foolish. Certainly and ostensibly foolish was fighting for a piece of land and gambling the very existence of a nation until June 2010 plus. In the beginning of 21 century of globalized values and identities, we are stuck in medieval to early capitalist Europe mindset. Read Yosief G. and Gabriel Gangul for greater exposition.
We lost a great deal in our history and sadly we are losing as we speak. I believe this: If our fathers like Shiekh Ibrahim Sultan were given the chance, we would have a better Eritrea. (BTW: If a poll was held to name the greatest Eritrean-as the greatest American was given Abe Lincoln, greatest Canadian Tommy Douglas, greatest Briton to Churchill,-I believe Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan Ali should deserve the honor of Greatest Eritrean. Take it from his runner-up, Welwel. He gave 70% of the credit of keeping Eritrea to Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan.)
Let us listen one more time our finest remembering our finest.
“…you have also passed away. I am also going to pass after you. However, we who are going to pass away, are capable of creating something that is eternal, because we are capable of leaving something that will not fade for generations, I know for certain that what you did for the good of your country will serve as an enduring example for your country men. Your brother Woldeab Woldemariam. May, 1987”
We have got none of them to kick around, from those who prayed together, from those who shared chicken together. They are long gone. We all admit as much. But can we at least have…
Eggs. Two eggs.
A quick question for you: which comes first? A chicken or an egg. I say, you need to make a leap of faith and answer, ‘an egg comes first before a chicken. Two eggs come first before two chickens.’ And oh, please, please, what you don’t need and what we all need to avoid at all costs is an omelette. It is bad for your civic health. Another quick, trickier question: Who do you love more? Your mother or your wife?
The correct answer is, ‘they are both precious to my life and I don’t want to compare my love for both. They are like two eggs. (Courtesy to my old friend at Zemen newspaper, AA.). You pick each egg, look at it, and then put it back in its proper place. Carefully. So carefully. They are so fragile. Them eggs.’
Avoid at all costs, choosing or prioritizing your love for your wife or mother. You will rush to rationalizing, mire yourself into justifying. Choose one over the other you will break both eggs because you will crush them against each other. They are so fragile. Them eggs.
What we witnessed in the political forums in the internet is exactly that. When one professes his love for one section of Eritrea, and goes to demonize the other section as the main culprit, one is not only impetuously breaking the other egg, he is also breaking his own. They are so fragile. Them Eritreans.
The Eritrean Covenant-2: In search of The Kebesa values
The document called the Eritrean Covenan: Towards Sustainable Justice and Peace, by Mejilis Ibrahim Mukhtar is appraised and praised by many Eritreans for addressing concisely the grievances of our Moslem brothers and sisters in the current socio-politico system in Eritrea. One may disagree with some or many of its assertions. Be as it may, in its entirety, it is a wonderfully written, thoroughly compiled document and some parts are too poignant. For my curator self, I was outraged to learn the Eritrean regime negligently or deliberately failed to preserve historic Islamic heritage sites and old Mosques. The part I respect about this document is its title and thus, hopefully, its presumed intention. A covenant is more than a contract, ‘W’uel’. It is more than a pledge ‘Mahla’. A covenant, ‘Qidan’ is the highest form of agreement you enter with someone you know you have deep-rooted, long-standing, destiny-bound, affinity, like God. Cognizant of the import of the term, The Mejils called its document, the Eritrean covenant. Kudos to our esteemed Dr., the legendary Bereket H. Sellasie for commending it.
With the Covenant handily addressing Muslim topics and with the upcoming National Conference going to be attended mostly by Eritrean Muslims and lowlanders, the space reserved for the other egg, the Eritrean Christians-from Kebesa will still remain unfilled. On the Conference, I may be wrong (and I wish to) to predict Highlanders will show emaciated presence but looks like it, which is not necessarily a reason to protest against it but means we need to do more next time.
I am going to venture to point out what is lacking in the current discourse is the distinct Highlander voice. I am not talking of the elite ones in the organized opposition but the core values of Kebesa as distilled from time immemorial to reach our ancestors, pitted against powerful, deleterious ideologies of liberation movements, lived to tell the tale in post-independence Eritrea of all-consuming, monopolizing flame of PFDJ. Did these core values of Kebesa survive? Or they were forever sacrificed at the altar of PFDJ’s temple? These core values of Kebesa which were familiar to our Muslim brothers as the 1940s chicken slaughterers and sharers easily discerned and thus trusted their Christian counter parts to work together for the Love of the Nation! Where the hell are these values? Who the hell are we!?
Yes, the Highlanders, even though they are present in the opposition in different levels are still unable to rediscover their own voice, their values, their own core, their own egg, their own soul. In the current hurricane in the Eritrean political discussion, could you even squint and able to see any of the time-honored, sacred ‘kebesa values’? Could you?
Because we, the highlanders, especially in the higher levels of the organized opposition, have yet to see what this regime, the PFDJ, is for what it really is. We call them, ‘zom deqna!’. Simply, they are not ours. They never were. They never will be. We just thought they were. And we thought wrong.
“Ayshintinan!” Disown Him! Wedi Gual Biqedemu…!”
I don’t care how you do it but it is way overdue to disown Issaias Afewerki as one of us. We have to define him and his PFDJ in the most uncompromising terms. He may be born from Kebesa families but he has none of our values. We should categorically reject his sleight of hand trick to claim to represent one of our core provinces, Hamasien, a phantom claim he sadly exploited to astonishing effects. Repulsed with his iniquity, we should condemn this demonic child of darkness, in unison:“Ayshintnan!”, disown him from ‘Wed’na’ and banish him for eternity!
Somebody has got to make that pitch. Call it the true ‘Nehnan’ Elamanan!’ Somebody has to! Like Mejlis Ibrahim Mukhtar hatched the Muslim egg through the Eritrean Covenant, somebody has to do the same for the other Eritrean Covenant, the Kebesa version. Somebody has to conjure up the Kebesa ghosts of Welwel, Raesi Tessema Asmerom, in the background of the songs of Ateweberhan Seghid ‘Agudo Neyratni..and Adeye Adi Jeganu’, squeak in through the time crack to jump over the 50 year interruption to glean through the forgotten fields, and recount back to us what it meant and it means to be a Kebesa! Somebody has to! We, the people of Kebesa have lived for thousands years before PFDJ and we will live. PFDJ has got nothing on us and it is not remotely our representative.
If to say Eritreans have lost their guideposts is true, it is so much truer for people of Kebesa. It is refreshing to read about the Kebesa as Aklilu Zere serialized them. His ‘Kebesa’ looks atavistic, esoteric and even strangely out of place in the contemporary discourse where the words Tigrigna and Kebesa are made synonymous with all the evils of this world. Yosief G. and Gabriel Gangul goad us to search deeper into our troubled psyche. Semere Tesfai mounts an energetic defense to Tigrigna’s unalterable share in free and democratic Eritrea. Dr. Bereket pointed us towards the horizon, beyond antipathy. Amanuel Hidrat called for rapport and rapprochement. Semere H. said ‘not in our name’. All noble efforts and all. The greatest problem is Kebesa’s opposition to PFDJ so far is disparate and extremely uncoordinated. We need our egg. One egg.
My urgent call is to the people of Kebesa who are in the opposition. As people, the Eritrean Kebesa, (numbering around 2.5 million), more than any time in their history are faced with a unique responsibility. If we can’t clearly see how bad Issais’s PFDJ is and how worse it is if we can’t oppose it without buts and ifs, without half-hearted oscillations, we will undoubtedly have longer years of lamentations waiting by. We need to reject everything of PFDJ, recognize this entity as the enemy of Kebesa, as the enemy of Eritrea. Reject its constitution (I will write on this sometime). Reject its future. The bottom line is: The current form of half-hearted opposition is untenable. And “because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth!” Revelations 3:16
With renewed sense of urgency nothing less the situation is begging, with full-throttle determination and clarity of purpose, we should scramble to snatch our dignity back, reclaim our due honor as citizens of this ‘beautiful land!’
Dear Mejelis Ibrahim Mukthar…
In the task of hatching the Kebesa egg, a draft note for the Eritrean Covenant of the Kebesa side could read in part like this:
Dear Mejelis Ibrahim Mukthar,
We, the Tigrigna, from the Highland Eritrea have lived with you, our Moslem brothers for thousands of years. Apart from their villages of origin, we, Eritrean Christians and Muslims are honored to be remembered as the first recipients of the world’s major religions, Christianity and Moslem, religions now adhered by 4 billion people of this planet.
Our mutual history is very long. We hope our mutual future would be longer. Our past witnesses mutual cooperation, respect, fate and even suffering. We might as well start with the Italian colonial administration. For every Moslem persecuted and harassed by Italian colonialists, the highlanders suffered the same fate. Our ancestors, Osman Buri and Degiat Mahray broke the Nakura prison. We believe, if we could work together, we could break the PFDJ prison.
We solemnly recognize the immense persecution of Eritrean Muslims under successive regimes, including under the PFDJ. But we hope to be forgiven when we beg to differ on repeated characterization of PFDJ as Ethnocracy. We, the Kebesa, could number more than two million and it is a huge number in a country of 4.5 million and we believe there is no effective and credible mechanism of gauging the Kebesa support to PFDJ given real choices. The characterization of Eritrean regime’s brutal rule as Ethnocracy betrays Kebesa’s noble history before PFDJ, downplays the Ghedli impact, the Tegadalay-civilian divide, the very nature of tyranny, the betrayal of the Promise Kebesa people suffered like the rest of Eritrea and finally it hampers our strategy to fight our common enemy in the future. If Tigrigna is synonymous with PFDJ, then who can you work with? Yes, the current rulers of Eritrea mainly hail from us but paraphrasing, Gibran, “They came through us but they are neither for us nor of us!”
More importantly, we want to point your attention to the irrevocable fact that, in our hundreds of years of co-existence, we never showed any slight intention of domination, expansion and reigning over you. We had our own culture, values, language and rich heritage and May Allah bless what is ours. We don’t want and we don’t need to trample on others, least of all on our own brothers. We tremendously respect yours. The 20 year old repression of Muslim values and heritage has got to do absolutely with us but it is EPLF/ PFDJ’s own mission. PFDJ policies and praxis did not emanate from our spirit, our history, our vision. In short PFDJ mangled and ruptured our rich culture and identity; we are ashamed and angered to associate our noble name with it. It might be hard to believe in the current zeitgeist but deep inside it is the truth.
We humbly accept we don’t have any ready-made answers for your questions but we assure we will give our common struggle our best. One more time! As Shiekh Ibrahim and Aboy Weldeab directed us the way, we pray together, we pray for each other; we keep each other for our destiny is one and the same.
The Two Eggs. Again.
1.Much blood, humiliation, disappointment and resentment have passed under the bridge of Eritrean History-in the past 70 years. Now, we even wonder the mere ritual slaughtering of chickens, sharing a meal, pledging to the holy books can pan out. Yes, times are different. So are people. But the spirit and destiny of Eritrea is still the same. I agree we don’t have the two chickens for now and we don’t have the famed Latteria for now. What we have is eggs. One almost fully developed; one coming along.
2. Let us cherish them and take good care of them. Let us not act like impetuous child and play recklessly with our sacred eggs. Let us not hastily expose them to the cold public before making sure they are ready to be hatched. It addles them, you know, and they will not be chickens. Keep them warm for a while until nature takes its course and we have the chickens ready to be slaughtered and shared in one meal, one day for holier covenant. Because, we need the chickens-later, we need the eggs-now.
3. Most importantly, keep them eggs in their respective, respected places. Like your love for your mother and your wife. They are fragile. Them loves. Them eggs. Above all, never, never, never compare them, it will mean you will crush them against each other. It will for sure crack and break them. Then they won’t be chickens. Then, the only thing they are good for is an omelette. Don’t even touch it; don’t even taste, that omelette. It is bad, may be lethal, for your health. Besides let us not forget it is fasting season: ‘Tsom iyu’! Tsome- Sene.