It Is Ramadan, Make Peace With the PFDJ!

At least for a month we have to try hard to live a spiritual life. It’s in our tradition, culture, and religion. Therefore, in the spirit of Ramadan I am making peace with the Eritrean regime for a day.

Ramadan is here and it triggers memories, not only of prayers and supplication but also its atmosphere that we nostalgically remember from childhood.

Of course, Ramadan food is fun: Sambusa, legemat, Mushabek, and soups before Quaker Oats replaced them. Without guilt feeling, I believe the deep fried lgemat and mushabek Ramadan delicacies are a treat.

Back in the day, after breaking fast, many people spent the evenings playing cards, domino, and other pastimes socializations until close to down when they had to eat Suhur and sleep.

One aspect of Ramadan that I enjoyed most was the drummers who roamed the streets to wake fasting people up to eat their Suhur–AsHa ya Sayem…

Drummers did the job of alarm clocks and we had two famous ones: Saleh Ewale and Mohamed Drar—and also Am Bekhitay, who was the town crier–incidentally his extremely nice and friendly son, Mohammed Saeed died a few days ago.

The Scout Club

I remember most of the past for many reasons, one of them because of my boy scout training. We were taught to be compassionate and active community servants. Tesfaghabir Misghina, Abdenur Mohammed Hassen, Werie Fre, and AbdulAziz Anwar were the equivalent of lieutenants, captains, and colonels in our boy scout forces organized as platoon and troops; all commanded Memhir Berhane, the general whom thought was old. But in hindsight, I don’t think he was older than 25.

We were advised to do at least one noble deed a day and record it. That was our voluntary service, unlike the agelglot by coercion and it strengthened our bond with the community. We prayed to find people in need—an old person carrying a load and needs help. Do it and record it. If you have some change, you buy bread for the beggars, be compassionate as much as you can. There were times when we embarked on projects larger than our resources permitted, surprisingly some were successful social endeavors. I believe the Scout spirit is similar to the Ramadan spirit we should have.

Because of the recording, I remember a specific day when I was shocked by an incident. I Had arrived the previous evening from vacation in Asmara and went straight home and didn’t go out. The next day as I returned home from the town center, I found an old lady struggling with a suck of flour she carried. Aha, an opportunity to do a good thing; I volunteered to help. She told me she was fine. I insisted until she asked me to help her get to the street corner where she can rest under the shade. I carried the suck to the corner and dropped the sack there. That’s when I saw a fresh street sign plague on the wall. See! During my absence, they were busy baptizing the streets with strange names. The plaque read, “Hailemariam Mamo Street.”

That cannot be the name of my street; it is my street. My great-grandfather founded the neighborhood which is much older than the Janhoi rule. They could have engraved ‘Mirani Street’, Ad Sidi Street, something we can identify with but Hailemariam Mamo! Worse, none of the residents of the area approved the naming. What else would the Ethiopians change if I left town again? Would they keep making changes until the town loses its character and spirit?

I was convinced they did that to annoy me, and “who is Hailemariam Mamo?” No one seemed to know. Everywhere I found Janhoi’s picture staring at me as I walked to school in the morning, and now I had to see the plaque daily with a smirk: Hailemariam Mamo Street! Then, I found out who that Hailemariam guy was, someone from the Solomonic dynasty: a king, a bandit, or a famous worrier who is immortalized by a song: Hailemariam mamo ye Torrent geberiee, feresu asTaTeqew ende sew’ye surie, endesew yesurie. ‘Hailemariam Mamo, the warrior peasant who put his horse on pants like a human being!

At home my mother pounded wheat in a mortar for a Ramadan dish, “Why don’t you have it milled?”

“Mills won’t make it as coarse as I want it to be. No grain mill does that,” she explained.
Shutuphouse was right about grain mills, they were noisy and will never replace women.

The Hullicinations

That night, I had a terrible dream fighting the sleepy Tor Serawit in the Habrengaqa roadblock who counted the passengers of the bus I was in. The soldier shot at me, and I had no gun to defend myself. He doubled down and shot at me with an automatic gun. Then the shooting sound became a knock at the door. I half-realized I was not at the Habrengaqa roadblock. It was my mother at the door; she came to wake me up. She opened the door smiling and said, “Ramadan Mubarek wake up to eat your Suhur.” Half asleep I walked out of the room, and the sound of the knock on the door now sounded like drums. I wanted to the crazy soldier that drums don’t kill, but I laughed when I realized I was hallucinating.

I could hear a faint drumbeat getting closer; it could be either Saleh Ewale or Mohammed Drar. I wondering who woke the drummers up! Their punctuality discouraged the few people who had alarm clocks from using them.

I miss the Ramadan ambience of Keren before the curfew that disrupted the traditional late nights… elders strolling and children freely roaming in the neighborhood. But people were thankful the tradition of the drumbeats was still alive.

Each of the two drummers was responsible for waking up half the town; they followed their routes with great discipline. Both had similar personalities: dedicated but hot-tempered. When annoyed or bothered, both wrinkled their foreheads, squinted their eyes, and looked up to the sky as if focusing on a tiny star., They talked facing the heavens to make their point. If that did not work, and they felt somehow disrespected, they tended to grab anyone by the throat and bring matters to rest. But the townspeople adored both men.

A few times I peeked through the door and saw them as they passed through the street carrying a lantern. When Janhoi’s government imposed the curfew on the town, the drummers couldn’t do their job, it was too risky because the jumpy soldiers at any moving thing after dark. They killed many mentally ill persons, including Kidane Qurdid and Omer Abiq; donkeys were their main victims. Therefore, the elders of Keren had to broker a deal with Colonel Welana, the Keren Garrison commander, to allow the drummers to do their job. He granted his permission with a condition that the drummers have to carry a lantern for identification. “Huge bribes–enough money for Welana to wipe his big mustaches with,” as Osman Srnji put it.

Soon, General Werqu replaced Colonel Welana and relaxed the curfew. He declared, “We do not curtail religious freedoms.” Still, the drummers carried a lantern to avoid being shot at; the jumpy soldiers continued shooting at any moving object after dark.

Once I climbed on the wall and looked at the street where I saw the two drummers stand close to the Duguana prison, the confines of their respective boundaries. From the sound of their drums, it seemed they were holding a party: the drumbeats went wild—a mixture of two different beats, different rhythms. Moments later, the sound of the drums parted, fainted, and gradually died out. It was time for the roosters to take over. By then, the curfew was over, and people were happy to see the light of the morning sun again.

Ramadan Kareem


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