… keeping you at a distance …
As she was faced with detention or
a hefty penalty of 50,000 Nakfa
for a daughter lost in the Mediterranean,
the mother remarked bitterly:
If I could only pay you in Birr …
Equality of the trenches
The authorities ordered mothers
to ululate seven times
at the announcement
of their daughters’ martyrdom,
at last granting them equality at death.
No more sanctuaries
Mothers wept and wept.
From joy or grief, nobody could tell.
For on that very day
their sons trekked home from mieda,
hambohambo went extinct.
The aliens among us
The authorities said,
“Your son died in an alien land.”
She didn’t know which son they meant:
the one that died in the Mediterranean
or in Shaebia’s Eritrea.
(2) The rebellious age
All about uniforms
When the sins of fathers
visit their sons,
they often arrive dressed up
in a rebellious attire
a generation cannot resist.
The rebellious phase
Whose purpose is it?
You say it is yours.
If so, how come a generation
passed through that very phase?
Give me any cause, left or right
You are the spit image
of your father.
Only that you are left-handed.
But don’t reflective mirrors
play tricks on all of us!
… keeping Asmara beautiful
Marring the beauty of this city
with her and her children’s presence,
the beggar moved back to her village
to die there quietly
doing her patriotic duty of …
Epiphany during fasting
As the farmer looked at the dusty earth
and up at the clear blue sky,
he suddenly understood:
there is no relating one to the other.
He never prayed thereafter.
“If only they had stayed put
defending their beloved country,
their lives would have been spared.”
But a drowning ship cannot throw a lifeline
to those jumping off its board.
Does the world care?
As she looked at the turbulent sea,
the refugee was struck
by a silly thought:
that this rickety boat
had always made this rickety sound …
Grapes of wrath
Looking for the fruits of ghedli?
Seek it down there
deep in the Mediterranean Sea
or up there in your romantic head
that refuses to see.
Death in numbers only
As he tossed the 73rd body into the sea,
the grim-faced young man
matter-of-factly remarked to himself:
the age of my father;
the old man just turned 73 today.
(5) Ghedli history
Hagerawi bayto – Jebha style
The child heard his father say
democracy is a messy business.
Believing everything messy is democracy,
he rolled over and over in the mud
so as to be a great democrat.
50 years of interruption
He erases the past
as soon as it happens.
Now, the only memento he has
is the eraser
he confuses for his heritage.
Slave collar eyes cannot see
Crawling on their fours
they search for traces of ghedli legacy
on the land, on meriet,
while the footprint is boldly imprinted
on the back of their necks.
(6) The cause
With such a grim, determined face
each one of us wore
for such a long time,
nobody bothered to find out
what it was all about.
Believing without seeing
When a nation doesn’t know what it wants
but nevertheless keeps searching with diligence,
it eventually believes conviction
is all that there is to it,
and embraces any cause coming along its way.
If the Eritrean cause is to be reduced to
“we are better than them”,
no wonder ghebar takes over the point of reference
that Ethiopia used to occupy
to sustain that superior “Eritrean identity”.
(7) The birth of ghedli
No regular fireworks would do.
Instead, entire Kunama villages
had to be set ablaze in a great bonfire
to let the whole world know
the birth of the Eritrean revolution.
The first shot at Tegorba
By looking at the hole in the roof
nobody can tell if the shot was fired
by a patriot, a shifta or an outright fool.
But it sure has been leaking like hell ever since,
now pouring down in torrent.
Sept 1, 1961: day of infamy
It unfurled itself backwards and forwards
to claim the bloody past
with its victims’ cries still echoing
and to usher a sectarian future
under whose shadow we are still living.
A long-distance interview from Cairo
When Awate burned down to ashes
entire Kunama villages,
he didn’t realize he was building up his resume
for a position as a Jebha leader
in years yet to come.
Shiftinet from Tegorba to Asmara
Eritreans love to talk about all kinds
of historical beginnings in their revolution.
Hardly do they realize
that it had been a circular journey
where every point is a deja vous moment.
(8) Inflationary pressures on Eritrea
Independence worth one Nakfa
The people of Asmara give a damn
about the inflationary pressure on the currency
but on their individual independence,
as the nihilist ghedli culture
renders it as worthless as Nakfa.
By the time the turtle arrived
after 30 long, arduous years,
there was no finishing line to be seen.
The nationalist game was no more:
globalization had arrived!
When Eritrea arrived
Every time he thought he arrived,
either the person he had to meet
or the place or the time had changed.
It was then that he realized
arrivals were not entirely up to him.
Run-away linguistic inflation
As the villagers listened to the cadre
talk and talk and talk,
they never thought there would come a day
when such a torrent of alien words
would eat up their language.
(9) Building a nation
As Eritrea is readying itself
to reap an abundant harvest
from its gold mines,
the Eritrean dream has arrived:
containers will be made out of pure gold!
The uniqueness of the referendum
How can I recognize something
without ever having seen it before
at least once in my lifetime?
Especially since you are telling me
nothing like this had ever happened to me.
The lepers were so numerous
that the people thought
it would be more economical
to build a colony for the healthy:
Eritrea was conceived.
The short age of a nation
This nation has a habit
of killing its children too young
to leave lasting memories behind.
However it stretches those memories,
they won’t last it a lifetime.
The opposition’s activity
The fly in the bottle
circling on and on, non-stop.
As the traveler with the bottle rests,
it too believes it has done its part
and rests on arrival.
(11) The dead and the living
… where no one dares to dig
To keep their sanity intact,
Eritreans attribute ghedli tsegatat to the dead
and all the ills to the living,
for fear of someone asking them
where the evidence is …
A generational voodoo
The sound system in Eritrea
is messed up:
whenever people open their mouth,
it is the voices of the dead
that come out.
In the name of martyrs
How does one defile martyrs’ name?
Fools: by desecrating their tombs.
The sly ones:
by invoking their names
to silence the rest.
Lifetime in Eritrea
As they take turns to lead,
quicksand swallows them one by one.
And the rest count their years
by how far back they are
from the frontline.
(12) The constitution
The shelved constitution
If Shaebia had already constructed
a shelf up there in its head
long before the constitution was drafted,
why are Eritreans enraged
when the constitution is shelved?
The stillborn constitution
The women of Eritrea wanted to bypass
the agony of birth pangs.
So they named their unborn: Ku’wam.
All came out stillborn.
Agonize before you organize!
Implementing the constitution
A: Do you have the manual:
How not to implement the constitution.
B: Here it is: the Eritrean constitution.
A: Then why are Eritreans complaining
that Isaias is not implementing it?
A patriot never in the wrong
The patriot refused to believe
the nation’s sons died in vain.
And more sons were sacrificed
to defend that idea.
Hey patriot, it has always been about you!
Nationalism in retrospect
The peasants have had it:
First, they were made to fight
for it – for 50 years!
Now, they are told to pronounce it right:
not “Ilitria”, mama mia!
Belief without content
Nobody believes in it anymore.
Not even those who believe
that everyone else should believe in it.
In the end, they agree to drop the “it”
and just keep on believing.
The unbearable stench of nationalism
Odorless as death,
it took us by surprise.
And only those who survive us
will be able to pinpoint
the day we died as a people
(14) Seeking salvation in language
The aliens amidst us
As they heard the cadre talk and talk
without understanding a word,
it suddenly occurred to the peasants
that an alien was in their midst
speaking an alien language!
Heat wave in Eritrea
The name, the map, the flag,
the anthem, Nakfa, shida …
When a nation is held together
by nothing else but symbols,
it gets unstuck under the slightest heat.
Netsanet, ha’rnet, martyrdom,
self-reliance, patriotism, Yikealo …
Is the reality so harsh
that it has be cushioned
with so many layers of fluffy beliefs?
(15) Lines in the sand
Children playing hopscotch,
with lines drawn on the sand.
Only a two-legged animal
would invent a game like that.
Do the children really know?
Reality distanced twice over
With colonial border lines,
facts on the ground were established.
With ghedli’s revisionist history,
facts in the mind were planted.
Can we survive this doubly surreal world?
“Eritrea” and its map
When a linguistic
or visual confluence
hides irreconcilable contradictions,
we would rather plant our hopes
in the ambiguity in between.
Do the children have the foresight
the grownups lack?
When they play ashe’ka’kal ‘alem
they draw lines on the sand
to be erased soon thereafter.
The problem with colonial lines
is not only with what they keep out
but also with what they keep in:
that arbitrary line is drawn within each of us
to create a schizophrenic identity.