So Long Dear Friend

[This memory is the memory of Ibrahim Negash, translated from Tigrinya into English by his younger brother Beyan Negash.]

No matter how inevitable. No matter how old. No matter how young. No matter how or when it arrives. The passing of an individual hits hard. When it is the passing of a childhood friend, two doors down from one’s own home, fifty-five years of brotherhood, fraternity, and friendship, it is hard of manifold proportions. It hurts hard like a ton of bricks falling on one’s chest and deep into the recess of one’s heart.

Watching Saleh G. Johar’s Negarit 160 (“Celebrating Dr Saeed Forma”) along with two accompanying original photos in which I stood over my friend Saeed Forma who is in squatting position. I felt like this giant gentle ready to protect my friend while my hands were showing gestures of love chain locked with the rest of my friends who stood equally tall projecting the strength of our collective friendship, companionship, and fraternity during the age of innocence. A picture that endured the ravages of time. Tried to remember when it was taken, memory couldn’t juggle it all. But there are some vague traces in the background that appears to situate the image somewhere near Asmara Mazagajabet (the Asmara Municipal Park). Just like that picture was framed in a capsule of time, time froze on me as I stood wallowing in my own memory bank. I matched the names to the pictures…the question marked friend, I, too, tried to reconstruct it put a name on it, but then again, the ravages of time did its number on the memory. I couldn’t place him.

Saeed Forma has joined into the departed to my other friend Saeed Joker who has left us a year earlier, is sitting on the opposing edge of the frame. I see Saleh G. Johar seated between the departed intently looking at the camera’s eye, seemingly resolved wanting to tell it something, what that something is I lack the resolve to figure it out. After eying each of my friends, memory came flooding to the fore but didn’t know what to do with it.

My younger brother who knew of this long-lasting friendship, called Wednesday night (Sweden time) from Orange County, California, among other things, suggesting I write what I remember about my friend and that he would transcribe it in English. Suddenly what was bottled in found an outlet. I sent him two pages of it handwritten in Tigrinya (screen ‘shotted’). I sent it the same night.

Akhriya to Exile

It all began when we started Quranic school and Akhriya Elementary School. I was a year ahead of my friend. We were never in the same class but inseparable friends. Benevolent (Islamya) middle school. Then it was to Leul Mekonnen High School for Said and Etege Menen for me. Through it all Forma had shown a solid disposition toward education. He was always one of top three in his classes. It wasn’t just in educational endeavors, he also excelled in religious studies under the then dynamic religious scholar, Ustaz Mahmoud, Saeed internalized and appropriated it all. We attended the religious session right after the prayer of dawn. It was not just in the realms of school and religious studies; Saeed did what any other kid his age would do. We played soccer together. We were at the top of our soccer game in Akhriya under the name of Rockets. During the Derg era we spent an entire year moving from enda Forma’s house to across the street of our other childhood friends’ house, Mustofa Mohammed Ali. We would play cards, Ramino, Wah’d waEshreen (21), banter and talk for hours on end. There was yet some time for Scout under the rubric of Madrasat al Dia (aka Enda Ustaz Beshir). We traveled to Massawa, Mendefera, and Adi Khuala. Little did we know from the age of innocence of the above that our life will alter forever, in short order.

The Uprooting from Akhriya

Saeed left a couple years earlier than I did. The same trajectory: Asmara, Keren, Kessela, Khartoum off to a third country where we met next was in Cairo, Egypt. This would be a home for my friend Saeed a place where he would establish his educational career in medicine. Cairo was also where he would find his partner in life. The studious child who showed promises shone bright completed his high school in Cairo. What was remarkable is this: When he was accepted to Al Azhar University, he knew he had to take Arabic language as a subject, a subject he never studied in a serious way before. While in high school in Cairo, English schools exempted foreigners from taking any subject that’s taught in Arabic. So, he had to hanker down challenge himself in studying the Arabic language while attending medical school. I left Cairo a little over a year. Many others did the same after several years of stay as the West was calling massive number. Saeed, however, stood grounded come what may. He finished what he started. With love of his life beside him, with a medical degree in tow settled in the United States.

Life in the U.S.A.

Here, too, another challenge was lying in wait for him to challenge himself. Challenges of life and in the realms of struggling to achieve educational goals were nothing new for Eritreans. The former was given for all Eritreans while the latter required a unique disposition of determination and resolve. Here, too, now formally known as Dr. Saeed Forma had to undergo another grueling challenge as in needing to be board certified in medicine to practice in the US. With his young wife beside him standing tall supporting him off went this young family away from California to another state. Several years later he would come back board certified to practice the profession of healing. His profession never changed him. He stayed as a pillar of his community in Orange County. He stood guard of his family, of his community helping those who needed it. Never seeming to know what the word NO is. When asked to help he did with a genuine sincerity.

Over the years I’ve seen Dr. Saeed Forma on six different occasions in the US. Once in Turkey in 2018. There was expectation for us to meet one more time in 2021 in Turkey, he couldn’t make it. I have only scratched the personal and the social surface. There is the political side of my friend that I leave for others to dwell over. The activist side. His EPLF student days in Cairo. His activism in the US.  As I bid my farewell to my good friend, I offer my deeply felt condolences to his entire family and his siblings. May you Rest in Eternal Peace my dear friend. So long!

To Him We Belong and to Him We Shall Return.
Ibrahim Negash

P.S. Thank you Beyan Haway for offering to help. I needed an outlet. More importantly, I wanted his children to know the side of their father they may not have known.

Beyan Negash’s addendum: The passing of Dr. Said Ibrahim in Orange County (OC) on Wednesday, February the 2nd 2022 came so swiftly crashing all those who knew him from a distance and near came in droves to pay their respect in the middle of the week.

For my older brother who lives in Sweden, Said was his closest friend growing up. When social occasions called for it I would see Said here in OC. It never fails whenever I saw Said, the power of memory that’s etched in my mind’s eye that of the inseparable friends, two doors down neighbors, came to the fore. Bell bottomed pants, tight shirts. They both played for a soccer team, The Rockets. That was their life. School was the other that tied the two together.


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