Eritrea: The ruins of a crushed dream

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Sep 11th, 2013

Selam Kidane

The ruins of a crushed dream

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand: there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend; some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.

Lord of Rings: Return of the King

The best thing that can happen to an Eritrean dream is to only be a victim of pfdj’s brutality…that fact has become the Eritrean reality of this wretched generation… Even after surviving Sinai and overcoming reality as ‘unwanted infiltrators’ in Israel Eritreans remain victims of a regime that squandered their youth and vitality and then snuffed out the light of their dreams… for nothing will now change the reality that has scattered them in every direction and delivered them into the hands of evil, the type of which the world still continues to not grasp.

… I have been avoiding writing this piece for long enough, I didn’t trust myself to narrate the horrors of our reality and do merit to the narratives of the people that looked me in the eye and asked me: ‘who really cares?’… I do care but a lot of good that will do, for many of the victim-survivors that continue to live the horrors of the Eritrean reality…

Our reality of the victims of pfdj’s barbaric grip on our young nation (a nation of the young too)… who can only hope to be survivors of brutes who deal in human life and those who deny others the protection that they themselves were accorded when they were brutalised like we are being brutalised now.

The story begins where it ends really… ‘what is the meaning of life?’

…to anyone looking we would have looked like any other group of visitors to Tel Aviv… breakfast outdoors, sunglasses, shorts and sandals and cameras and mobile phones… the conversation at that point was quiet ordinary too… but it suddenly occurred to me that life would never be the same for any of us ever again… and I was just as surprised with my own question as the others were: ‘what does life mean?’…

I was looking at Filmon… and the moment took a sudden surreal turn… Filmon started talking and it felt like time stopped…at 28 everything that happened to him could make a gruesome reading… too gruesome even for the most grisly horror story… a very young and extremely bright person who had dreams bigger than is permissible in Eritrea these days…. You know the old fashioned dreams of our parents and grandparents?… well Filmon had those… to get education and improve his prospects and live up to the expectations of his forefathers… but in Eritrea these days a young man with a dream has only got one way of attaining them… leaving the country and so following several years of dodging the grip that threatened to snatch that dream he left the country…only to fall into the grips of those who had their own dreams…describing what happened to him in Sinai is describing the depth of the darkness in human heart…it is frightening to realise that we share a planet with people who think so little about the value of another human being… and when you know that other human being, happened to be such a beautiful soul as Filmon, who is able to delve into his experience and describe the horrors in such details and is still able to carry on…the bitterness is multiplied untold times over…

‘life is to experience…to discover…to be present… to be all there’ he was going on and nothing in what he was saying and the way he was saying it says of the fact that the barbaric kidnapers who extorted $30,000 from his family had left him hanging from the arms for days on end and until he lost consciousness temporarily and lost his arms permanently… still in his twenties and escaping the horrors with only his dream intact… a life of education and opportunities…despite a reality poked by a brutal experience and now a disability that blights the dream.

In our Eritrea, it is a crime to dream… in our Eritrean reality it is an offence to diligently seek the realisation of your dream… a self-taught IT expert (he didn’t own a laptop until he left the country) has to bribe his way around the city where he grew up to remain safe from being sent to the trenches as a sacrificial lamb to a paranoid deity. Top of the many questions that went through my hazy head every time… I looked at the deformed hands… and the stolen childhood…’where is justice?’…

Even in Tel Aviv… amidst people whose reality wasn’t that different from his, just a few decades back… protection and support is another dream to add to his list of unrealised dreams…unrealisable… just like the dream to eat injera with his own hands… or hold a pen or tinker with a laptop like he loved to do…

…justice continues to elude the boy with a stubborn dream… those who saw him as an absconder drove him to those who held him hostage to that dream and now he is in the hands of those who see him… only as an ‘infiltrator’ and threat to their own dreams…It seems there is nowhere safe for an Eritrean boy to have a simple dream…yet the dream refuses to die, but continues to feed on the sacrifice made for its realisation…It is absurd but I think the lesson for mothers across Eritrea should be to raise their children with few or no dreams…

The conversation continued and at some point…somehow… I dared to ask to see the deformed fingers (carefully covered in a pair of dark gloves), that I had thus far refused to see even in video footages… Filmon indulged me… and it was worse than in the footage… not just the extent of the damage to the hand… but now that I knew the searching eyes and the stubborn dream that were contained also contained in the body that would never be the same again, I realised that my own life would never be the same again too…This pain is deeper than the usual frustration of an unaccomplished ideal (even an ideal as noble as the quest for justice)
Nothing mundane has made sense to me since that morning… no conversation has registered much significance and yes no action could quell my personal feeling of total failure! Over ten years of activism…. Tens of organisations committed to the ‘Eritrean cause’ and hundreds of activists…thousands of sympathisers and millions of Eritreans seeking change… yet we are still unable to secure a world safe enough for an Eritrean boy to have the simplest of dreams: ‘… to experience…to be present… to be all there… all intact’.


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