Eritrea: The givers and the takers

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Aug 27th, 2014


The giving and the taking, making words from the gossip line

A quiet afternoon turns interesting as a group of young men enter a building. They knew where and what they needed. They enter through the back and go straight to the closet. This was the customs office of Asmara. A few minutes later, they walk out with their items safely hidden in boxes and get into one of the cars. An officer, now turned bandit, goes with them in a car which had a government license. They had just in the lingo of the times, “liberated” these items for the cause. This accommodation of “stealing” to “liberating” items was what the 70s had taught liberation movements. Everything belonged to the “people” and was there for the taking. It is the value of honesty, accountability, and the respect of property that flew out of the window on that sunny afternoon.

The taking had begun and there is no end in sight

We are the children of our times, someone said. Yes, but are we so tied to it that we are unable to face the results of our actions and undefined demons before our own unavoidable demise? The taking of “stuff” continued by the elaborate organizational ferocity that the young are so good it. They gave orders, asked for elders, and took sustaenance from the villages that were the source of their being. A source is like the lake that makes it into a stream and then a river. The stream thinks it would go on to become one big river which would join a big ocean. That is its purpose. The big ocean was independence. A kilo of flour here, a plate of injeras there, a jug of honey wine here, and a plate full of meat sauce there were needed to keep these hungry children nourished. It was all for the taking and the “qadere” or the messenger for the village seemed to be the active apostle in a religious quest for victory. The source was considered everlasting and always ready to accommodate even in the most difficult of times.

For the taking were also the individual ideas which helped to make the way easier. It did not matter who and how was it to be implemented. If it helped the bigger picture, then the idea was there for the taking. The only problem was what to do with the forerunner once his/her idea became a permanent feature. One has to make sure that this person did not feel “special” or “was recognized” as the person who was the source of the idea. No one was to deserve praise. This was not acceptable. So those who survived from being the pioneers of small, big, and medium ideas that were later presented as belonging to “all” did so by completely submerging themselves into the notion that denied being the source of the idea itself. One did not take credit. One ignored, lied, and or gave credence of the idea to some unknown source of another place and time. Anything not to get noticed.

How many ideas were presented that made sense? Tampon making, Spaghetti, chicken farms, breeding goats which easily multiplied across the escarpments on green leaves jutting out from among the rocks. Volunteering is one thing and what comes out is the desire to make things go smooth. This is one attitude that made the miracle that was Independence. Because the evil was shelved, at one point when it seemed that there will be no life after Sahel, individualistic ideas and advice was given a “free” rein. If it helped get things going, then it was accepted, if not it is declined with no fuss whatever. Decision making at its best, made quickly and efficiently.

In this a young man who taught that breeding roosters and chickens was a good idea in the middle of Africa’s longest war was given the green light. Baking bread was tried to substitute for the injera which took too much firewood. The normal injera making process from barley, corn, and or wheat was going well. However, the amount of fire needed was a lot. Many were sent up mountains for firewood and came down with heavy logs strapped unto their backs. The trees around the area were dying and the nomads were also taking their share to make their small tukuls. Instead of the wood burning injera stove another oven was built for baking regular bread loaves.

Newspapers reported and visitors came back with stories of small miracles happening underground and about schools beneath acacia trees. The Diaspora was surprised but uplifted. This meant that in the long run and slowly there were some things can be taken from the outside world. These unusual people were going places, how and when was not contemplated.

The Diaspora had been giving and giving for a long time. Now, it was ready to continue in doing so as there was real hope in the horizon. There were some who did not save for their old age. There were those who sent money to relatives to build them homes in their names. There were some who left school, took a plane, a bus ride, and a camel ride to meet and be part of this ship which was coming up for air from the desert. There were many givers and one receiver. The taking was on one side and the giving had many sources.

Doing the right thing

Then givers decided to see for themselves. Their counterparts in the movement felt the same and started to voice their concerns about their bosses and chiefs who were taking it easy and taking it well. Glimpses of callous behavior towards their women were not admonished. Others saw the kitchen cooking special sauces and food that were expensive. The buses going to the port was bringing in luxury items instead of food and sugar. There were parties in the evenings with music and dancing. Those who were watching could stand it no longer and they started to talk against the taking.

There seemed to be a change. There wasn’t. The system just could not function anymore without new ground shaking initiatives. It was not enough to survive, one must also thrive. Control was not the only thing. There were enough defections to show that the blasé feeling was finding souls willing to listen. Some committed suicide, some just kept dreaming and drinking, some were left to roam the desert with no real attention to detail, and some decided to accept the inevitable and “blend” in. Some decided to play the fool, listened to open conversations, and then in the darkness of cover went to holes and told everything to the person who was the least conspicuous in the group.

Once upon a time there was a movement which was slowly dying. There was no more a elder brother who was an enemy. There was a relaxation in discipline. Women decided to cook special dishes. The men created an aroma for barley wine. More time was spent on chatting in slow motion along the riverbanks and in the dark while waiting for the outsider to show some attention. The foreigner was busy consolidating power and creating new versions for the citizens under its thumb. It had time to deal with the rebels, just not yet.

Among the pebbles of the small rivers, and the aloe vera leaves across the mountains, in the middle of the ongoing dry river beds, there came a small cry. A cry for change. The brain was first to acknowledge it. Later the decider could not ignore it anymore. As usual momentum could not be wasted. A few persons were needed to decry the game. They were made to collect and get meetings together. The ones who were enjoying themselves were made to admit that these pleasures were there for the taking. Good food, fine homemade wine, women, and the space to let it happen.

One by one they admitted their mistakes and were made to listen to the voices of those who were not part of the game. Those who were on the outside were persons who thought that one day they would enter the City of unity and hope. Their leaders had left them outside the game on the journey. Individually believing in the righteousness of the experiences and beliefs, they came out in meetings and in private discussions. Theirs was hoping to do the right thing. After all that was what criticism and self-criticism meant. They were outside the special dishes and special pleasures and were happy. They had their day. The journey would be continued.

The next morning the pleasure seekers were taken out of their small cottages and were sent up to the office on the hill. There they were given tea and bread. They were told their small mishaps were just a fool’s errand but they were forgiven. It was the others that needed to have a lesson. When did they start thinking that the journey was theirs? The moment a person thinks he has a way to go and needs the others in the movement to reach its destination is a normal beatitude. But not if that meant it leaves the devil back in the desert. Such dramas as truth telling lessons were enlightening. Underneath its very nose people were having hope and thinking about doing the right thing. The perpetrators were now fully examined and were found to have or actually to lack thereof of values. Their temperament was for power to get pleasure and not politics of journey making. They would be the newfound friends of the party. Their only crime was that they had been eating eggs and chicken and enjoying the show. Not the shadow. The shadow did not need to eat. It ate what it cooked.

The taker takes care

Then it was daylight. In the afternoon, a meeting was held. In this new event, speeches were made that said that eating chicken and eggs was not bad. There were special times for special situations. Those who were talking were really not very busy and were not doing their jobs properly. They needed to be cautious and more caring about the journey or was this forgotten? After all we were all brothers and sisters. At the end, please note that your concerns have been taken into consideration.

The following weeks the givers were sent to get more education. Not all were sent to the same place. The schools and lessons were to be given in different places in order to add variety to the experience of the journey.

Are these whispers turned into words for what happened in 1987?

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