“Conscience is a thousand swords” Richard III
I want to tell you what happened to me, but first you will have to sit at the edge of my bed and accept the stench of my rotten mattress.
I left my parents’ humble house in Eritrea. I thought we were poor, but I had my own bed and so did my siblings. I could take showers and my Mom knocked at the door because I took too long.
We had a yard where I would walk in from school and find my mother, my aunts and neighbors enjoy their traditional coffee “bun Jebena”. She would allow me to have a cup as long as some milk was on it.
One day we heard screams coming from our neighbor’s house. The son was being taken away by the elite secret agents of the Ethiopians’ army. We called them “aafagn”. He had a gun pointed at his chest. His nose bleeding, but his head held straight. He looked straight at my eyes, wink and smiled a bit. The next night his dead and tortured body was thrown at the gate of his family’s house. Just by our door. His shirt tainted with blood.
I decided to leave and join the fight for independence when my mother started looking at me and my siblings with more fear than love. We had a peach tree in our yard. We – the young ones – use to grab the fruit and eat it, only to hear our Mom asking us to rinse it before.
Mom liked to seat below the tree. I now remember that peach tree as the tree of our life. I imagine my Mom sitting under it, enjoying her coffee and her voice calling us for using the shower too long. In my dreams, I water the peach tree.
I was part of a group fighting the enemy at an ambush. The bomb hit me and the shrapnel pierced my flesh. The last I remember is my Mom’s voice calling my name. Gunfire crackled around us. The humid air tickled my legs, I was told later that blood was running havoc from my body. I was saved by dedicated Eritrean doctors; some came from abroad and some field doctors. They had to tell me that the enemy searched our house and arrested my father. Our home no longer the home I left. The peach tree neglected by my mother.
Now, I am a refugee in Sudan. The only country that gave me asylum. I still dream about my parents’ house. I still water the peach tree in my dreams. I sit here paralyzed for the last forty (40) years and ask all guests to never mind the stench in case the volunteers helping clean me are late.
I whip my memory, then implore my mind to stop remembering because the pain of all it was and all we dream for Eritrea gives me pain. I can describe you the details of the bomb, of the bullet, but I want to forget and own the faculty of my legs like those that walk around me. I want to own the faculty of my mind and learn. I want to have a family and go home after a day of work; pick up the kids’ toys all around the kitchen. I cannot have all that because I am a paralyzed refugee for eternity. I daily regress into my own mind and refuse to portray the peach tree’ shadow with my Mom sitting below it.
Forty years in this same bed, I learned to overcome despair. I want to be the person my own mother was. The way she raised me and told me to be like all my ancestors. To show adversity that with trust in the country and belief in my people, I will overcome this depressive state.
Never to bend to sadness, to displacement because I raise from the grave of death and an Eritrean never surrenders life to exhaustion.
Before you leave me, I want to ask you: when will you come for me? You might not be able to give me back all my physical faculties, but my broken heart you can fix.
I want to ask you to not let lassitude take over your mental nature against further work. A matter of conscience I have become to my own country and my own people.
I am a refugee of your conscience.
June 30, 2017