Hansa Nov 29 2018
What I am writing lived with me since the time I can remember. However, I never thought I would have to write it because I naively thought it was all over behind us. In fact, I remember once arguing against singing the celebrated anthem of the struggle on public occasions. I felt the lines were so painful and our children should aim a brighter future instead. Now I see how naïve that has been.
Fascism is here to stay. Alas, we won’t be allowed to forget our pain and heal our wounds. So, I am now sharing my childhood story.
We create our enemies in our image as God created us in His
As a small child during the last years of the Dergue, I don’t remember any such thing as hate speech from anyone, against anyone else. Since there weren’t any schools, all my influences came from my family and neighbors. All these good people could feed me was love and hope, which must have been very hard to come by during those difficult times. The only recollection I have, remotely related to the then situation, is my mother singing some mournful hymns while grinding flour using her age-old stone mill; remembering her near and dear ones who joined the armed struggle. It is, therefore, with great surprise that I listened to the first argument about hate propaganda by the TPLF against the Amhara about a decade ago. I suppose there is a natural tendency of human beings to project whatever you feel to your supposed enemy.
Seeing the Dergue
About the Dergue, it was not necessary to be told anything. I saw them burning houses with old women and children inside; I saw them order eleven innocent men to carry their luggage uphill and then murder them when the difficult journey was over; I saw them burn a church. I did not, of course, see them in the literal sense because if I were there to see, I would not have been here to tell the story. For much of the period this horror was taking place, we would go to the mountain sides and hide all day in caves until sunset, blessed be the mountains of Tigray. But it all happened to places, men and women I knew and cried for. The Dergue committed every kind of horror on the people of Tigray until it finally could not.
As a child, I lived in a constant state of fear. I remember my dress was a dark purple ‘teramaj’ which my mother thought could be spotted by the endlessly buzzing war planes. Every time the helicopter came near, it was a struggle between a child’s curiosity to have a glimpse of what the killer bird looked like and a frightful shriek from everyone around that I may be spotted. On other multiple occasions, we would be doing something outside when the helicopter arrived. There was no time to run here or there. So, we would find ourselves falling face down wherever we were and shoveling dirt on whoever happened to be wearing something that might be spotted. Such a childhood!
In some ways, I am the luckiest of that cursed period. On the fateful day when Hawzien was bombarded by the Dergue, my family, like many other families, left for the market. Over 2500 souls perished in a single day. Towards the evening, the surrounding of Hawzien was a scene. People running in all directions still not sure if they had really escaped the carnage; telling the tale along the way. Towards mid night, my parents, mercifully, came back unharmed. The darkness I was in for the seven hours between hearing the news and seeing my parents back alive is still a darkness in some corner of my mind. For many of my people, some of them my would-be friends, this darkness was to be permanent.
“It is said that Grains are cheaper in Tsirae”
I did not understand at the time. But, the physical horrors of the Dergue were the tip of the iceberg. Tigray was not only blockaded from the rest of the country and the world but also from itself. Wherever the Dergue could, every village was forced to be self-sufficient. So was the village I grew up. Since I only remember the last few years of the Dergue, it must have been during that time. The only market where people visited was the local market and it was during the night. That is when you had anything to exchange. I remember the only asset we had at the time is a milk cow—Giris—which was the sole source of everything for us.
So important was the cow that the daily routine of the whole family was trying to find feed for it. Finding feed, even when all family members are trying to do just that, was so difficult indeed. One of my bleakest memories is my father suffering from a wound he got falling from a mountain side trying to reach some grass. We were again lucky he escaped death but how awful and long his suffering was!
Someone took a small butter to the local market and came with some grain. One evening, someone, I believe, my mother, said “ኣብ ፅራእስያ እኽሊ ዳሕና እዩ ተብሂሉዋ…..”, meaning, “grains are said to be cheaper in Tsirae but…..”. I did not understand the meaning then, of course. I do not even know why I still remember it. Maybe it is that such things get stuck to your mind if you are a kid starving to death. In hindsight, though, the full meaning is horrifying. Tsirae is located two villages away. My parents knew food was cheaper and available a few kilometers away; and yet, we were there helplessly starving. We were condemned to die of starvation not because Tigray was a desert as some would say either out of ignorance or out of malice but because all forms of exchange were purposely prohibited by the regime.
The only thing that was freely available was the love and cooperation of the people who suffered alongside. That was a great thing, in itself, because in that war-torn region, families were torn apart; and having the love of your mother, even when you are hungry was almost a luxury. Such was my childhood until it was over like the night’s darkness.
Blessed are the Fool
If all some people know is the disciplined Ethiopian army the people of Tigray have built and presented to the rest of the country; and they make backward simulations to calculate the impact of having a garrison around based on this knowledge, we should excuse them. What we can’t help but appreciate is their ignorance or, perhaps, malice. The army of the Dergue was offering us nothing but horror. When a Dergue soldier knocked at your door, he was not asking for eggs in exchange for money; he was there to rape and kill whoever happened to be. If your house is not burnt down, you would, indeed, be lucky.
The sad part of it all is that we are being forced to live and re-live our history just because some are ignorant enough not to know it or malicious enough to ignore it.