Date: Wednesday, 22 November 2017
Asmara is so beautifully small that if you are from Asmara you subconsciously know the faces of the people in the city. People in Asmara, especially early in the morning, greet each other even if they are not acquaintance … which is why Asmara glows most; it probably got the biggest number of happy, smiley and loving inhabitants in the world.
These past weeks there is a man in wheelchair who’s been roaming in the avenues and streets of Asmara. Many have been wondering about the new face. Q&A has the answer. We talked to an amazing man who has been homesick for 41 years and now that he’s back he “cannot just stay indoors!” Welcome home Tsehaie!
Hello! My name is Tsehaie Araya and I was born in Asmara in 1953. I grew up in a neighborhood called Pompieri. I had a good time being in the company of my neighbors; in Eritrea neighbors are like an extended family. We shared the acrimonious misery of being suppressed. I was from a lower class and some of my neighbors were extremely rich: nevertheless poor or rich we grew up together like siblings. We played together, went to school together and felt the same level of rage against the occupying powers. We dreamed of independence.
Although nothing is comparable to being free and independent, from what I remember as a child I can say that back in the days things were better before the coup of 1974. What I mean is things were already extremely bad, but then, they got worse. Of course, even during the time of Haile Selassie the repressions and killings were there but not as ruthless as when Mengistu took over. After the coup the killings, tortures and mass killings got worst.
Amharic classes were mandatory and Eritrean students had to pass that class to join Universities. It was a torment! We did our best to get high mark, in every other subject and the least possible, but still a passing mark in Amharic language. Warfare is not soleley about bullets and machineguns, there are multiple façades to it. Eritreans were at war since birth; at school we were at war by refusing to learn their language and proudly use ours under any circumstances. The end. If anything else No cultural inhibition.
When we were in high school there were countless student demonstrations. Most of them would end in a gush blood, but we still joined and did our best to have our voice heard. Let me now tell you something humorous; growing up we’d normally hear urban myths of independence movements. We so used to be mesmerized. And we believed all of them. When we were much younger we believed that when Idris Awete shot the first bullet to mark the beginning of the armed struggle in 1961, he got surrounded by Ethiopian soldiers, however with supernatural powers he killed all of the soldiers at once and escaped unscathed.
Anyways as we matured we started understanding the politics behind the armed struggle. We worked in clandestine groups carrying out several missions and demonstrations. I was jailed for some time. But then again, the story of many Eritrean high school and university students is similar in that sense. We all had a torturous jail time. I was a university student in Addis Ababa preparing to be a pharmacist, and you won’t believe, but I tell you that there were Eritrean students in big numbers and exceedingly excellent, burning with patriotism. We all had a common purpose… all we thought about was our country and people. Then, no more urban legends. In late the 60s and early 70s, Eritrean youth of all ages, from all corners of the country and the world, flocked to the fields to be part of the Great Legend itself; the Armed Struggle for Independence.
I joined the ELF. Most of the freedom fighters knew that there would be no point in fighting for a common cause in two liberation fronts. After some time and some complications the two united. Some of the ELF freedom fighters joined the EPLF and some, my self-included, crossed the border to Sudan and I stayed there until I left for Canada. I now live there with my family.
I settled in Canada. My wife Eden and I started a family. I studied to be a pharmacist so I pursued that career in Canada and soon after got a license. Everything was okay until I ended up in a car accident that paralyzed me. It was a horrible time. My wife was young and so were our little babies. I told my wife to go start over without me, but she stayed. She is strong. She raised our kids and took care of me. The way I look now is much different from what I was reduced at first, but thanks to my wife and kids, here I am. It was probably the hardest chapter of my life. Of course, it’s hard, financially, economically and emotionally to raise a family while looking after a paralyzed husband. But thanks to the strength God gave my family, we’ve made it. My children are all educated and they think highly of their origin. They were influenced by the love my wife and I have for Eritrea. And so now they have great respect and love for their country and people. They come to visit often. I am extremely lucky.
(Eden, his wife, speaks): Tsehaie has been sick almost most of his life. He never had the chance to come back to Eritrea when my kids and I returned soon after independence and countless times after. For the 25th anniversary the whole family decided to celebrate it here alongside our people. We were ready. We booked tickets and everything. But suddenly Tsehaie got severely sick as his body reacted to some antibiotics, I guess. He was on the verge of death. I was told to sign some papers and accept his hopeless condition. He was on oxygen support. However, I refused. He had fought for 26 years, there was no way I was going to lose him after 26 years of expectation. I told my kids to come to Eritrea without us. While I had to watch my husband on the verge of death all over again. He kept repeating a little prayer over and over again; he said “Lord, don’t kill me away from Home”. I promised him that he’d be better and that he’d go home.
I am back home. Asmara. I left when I went to study in Addis Ababa. I went to the field from there, on to Sudan and then Canada. It has been more than 41 years. I am so, so happy. I have no words. My prayer has been answered.
It’s me. Tsehaie Araya. I have been nostalgic of home, which is why I am always out. I ask my son, Simon, to push the wheelchair for me and we go around town. Every morning I wake up to go around Asmara. I have been here for almost 6 weeks and there hasn’t been a day I spent in the hotel. After so many years I got a new job, and that is going through every street and every corner of Asmara. I missed my people, I missed the weather, and I missed the smell and voices of my country. I have a message to everyone in the city, sorry and thank you for letting me be back and let me freely roam around. I know, at first it must have been annoying for bus and taxi drivers. They might have been a little angry. My wheelchair and I have been disrupting the traffic. However now it’s different. I never explained my situation to them, but I guess now they see it in my face. Maybe they understand me. Or is it just me that I feel so?... Anyways it is just great to be back home. It is like time goes by and people pass, but the atmosphere and social context stay still. It’s beautiful to be here.
I am healed. I am feeling strong all over again!
I don’t ask why I got in a deadly accident, I don’t ever ask why I got paralyzed and I don’t ask why I am on a wheelchair unable to move. But there is a question I ask, I never had an answer for it. Why did I leave the struggle? Why didn’t I join the EPLF and see to the end what I started with my friends?...
Eritrea is a special country. It has got people that are ready to sacrifice everything for the wellbeing of the population. We see past our religious and ethnic differences and unite in being simply and superbly Eritreans. I regard our history as one of humanity’s rarest. I wish the world could see what Eritrea is really about. I am proud and grateful to be Eritrean. Which is why, even years after I regret my decision of leaving the armed struggle. There, I said it. I have been refusing to talk to any journalist about my life. It is because my life is insignificant compared to the heroes I left behind. They made miracles happen and yet they sacrificed their lives without bragging. I have respect for my companions. And I have respect for you, young Eritreans, sacrificing your youth in building a nation.
I don’t move a lot; actually I don’t move. But I can move some of my fingers, I tell my wife to get my tablet ready for me, and there I am fighting on social network. Commenting against false information on social media, tweeting and retweeting… you name it. I am stuck with my tablet disputing on social media. Some Eritreans in the diaspora are stuck in 1960. I was an ELF myself but then I moved, I saw the motive behind EPLF’s policies. And now I stand with my people in Eritrea. I hate it when they give journalists a reason to base their false accusations on the Eritrean government and the people of Eritrea. I do my best to disseminate the truth I know.
I want to pass my gratitude to the youth of Eritrea. You have done a great job building a nation from scratch. I respect you and I wish you strength and prosperity!