“Ye’fkireka-eye” (I love you): A Story about Home
“Ye’fkireka-eye” (I love you): A Story about Home
Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion
Fikri. What’s fikri? It is love. Fikri is the little, sweet child who, whenever I come back to visit the neighborhood, excitedly runs towards me with pigtails bouncing and arms flailing, before elatedly jumping into my arms. Then, as I lift her up to give her a hug, she smiles widely and quietly whispers, “Ye’fkireka-eye!” (I love you).
Hiwenet. What is hiwenet? It is brothership. It is how everyone has a great fondness and appreciation for roasted peanuts or qulo (seeds) during a long, bumpy, winding bus trip. Fikri is hurrying off the bus during a brief rest-stop in a small town to purchase a handful of roasted peanuts or qulo from the makeshift stands set-up by the locals. Hiwenet is first passing the peanuts and qulo around for everyone else to have a share before you take some.
Bahli. What’s bahli? It’s culture? Bahli is lining-up at the sink before korsi (breakfast), mesah (lunch), and dehrar (dinner). Bahli is grabbing the jug of water and requesting to wash the hands of your brothers, your colleagues, and your elders. It is the long hold-up and delay that tend to arise – since everyone adamantly expresses the desire to wash the hands of others before washing themselves. Bahli is the deep graciousness expressed when, subsequent to you having washed the hands of another, they smile and politely say, “Yekineyelay” (thank you) and “Hasabka yi’semerealka” (may your desires come true).
Bahli is the fact that greetings and departures with family, friends, and colleagues are not a simple, perfunctory hello or a quick, lackadaisical goodbye; rather, they are an extended, gracious, and warm exchange of handshakes, shoulder bumps, bear hugs, and kisses on the cheek.
Kibri. What’s kibri? Kibri is respect. It is when, as a teacher, you’ve just completed a long class and wished the students “bruk mealti” (blessed day). However, the students remain firmly seated and do not rise to depart because they are waiting for you to do so first – as a sign of respect.
Kibri is how before and after every class, students volunteer to wipe the chalkboard or ask to carry your books and bags.
Kibri is wonderfully illustrated on the crowded city bus during a hot day. Every seat is occupied, while people are tightly crowded, standing shoulder-to-shoulder within the aisles. A young man, who has the benefit of a seat, rises and offers it to a young woman. Smiling, she thanks him and sits down. At the next stop, only several minutes later, an older man gets aboard. The young woman stands up and again smiling, she requests that he sit. As he settles down, he thanks her. The bus snakes and winds its way throughout the city, and a few minutes later, an even older woman ambles aboard. As if on cue, the seated man arises and insists she sit. Expressing her gratitude, she sits down – but only for the duration of two stops. Why? Onto the bus jumps a young child. Closely following him is his young mother, who has his young sibling, who is fast asleep, strapped to her back with a mah-zel (large blanketlike cloth), and her hands full of bags. Up gets the elderly woman. Refusing to take no for an answer, she insists that the young mother and her children take a seat.
D’liet. What’s d’liet? It is passion. It is walking past the library late at night, seeing it teeming with students reading books, enthusiastically jotting notes, and exchanging ideas. Not necessarily because they are obligated to – but because of an inner burning passion for growth, improvement, and learning.
D’liet is readily apparent during an extra, optional seminar held late in the evening. Although the students have had a full day of classes and though the evening is windy and cold, the seminar is packed, with nary a seat left unattended – because of the students’ inner burning passion for growth, improvement, and learning.
Haben. What is haben? Haben is noble pride, best reflected by a recent encounter, never to be forgotten. It’s late in the afternoon on a warm, sunny Saturday in Asmara. Waiting for the bus “kotcera shomonte” (number 8) just up the road from Cinema Roma, my young cousins and I happily recount our enjoyable day spent walking through the park, visiting the central library, taking pictures with Pushkin, and eating gelato (ice cream) while sitting on the steps at Mai Jah Jah.
The bus arrives, not a minute too soon, with engine purring and closely trailed by a storm of dust. The driver honks the horn, gesticulating his hands towards the kids running around on the edge of the sidewalk curb. Relieved, a throng of Asmarino’s, eager to get home after a long day of shopping in the crowded shouk (market), visiting friends, and running errands, quickly ascend the bus steps, enter the doors, and handover their 1 Nakfa notes. I bid my cousins “bruk mishete” (good evening) as they cheerfully wave from the window, and then I turn to head home towards Tiravolo.
Ahead of me, less than a block away, I notice a figure, fully clad in white, and slowly crossing the busy roundabout. Nearly completely hunched over, she grasps two large bags in her hands, with another large one on her back, and she glances from side-to-side as she inches across the busy street. I quickly jog towards her, and encourage her to let me take the bags, “Adey, habeni” (mother, please give them to me). Grabbing the bags, I am instantly taken aback at how heavy they are. I steal a glance inside. Dinesh (potatoes), bani (bread), shukor (sugar), qemem (spices), kukunay (a live rooster), and ahmilte (vegetables). I shake my head, quietly wondering how it is that this woman, appearing to be so much older than my own grandmother and being such a tiny figure, has managed to move, let alone, carry these imposing bags.
As I take the bags, our hands brush; hers are rough – no doubt weathered from years of hard work. I sneak a look at her face; it’s wrinkled. Then I move alongside her, allowing her to take hold of my arm, which she grasps tightly, and I motion for the cars to slow down as we slowly cross. I make sure to slow my pace and revise my gait, so as to keep in step with her. We are barely moving. As we finally reach the sidewalk, I ask her where she’s headed, offering to accompany her; however, she responds that she’s almost home.
Then, I notice her feet. She is not wearing any shoes. Her feet are dark, calloused, and rough. I look back at her, making eye contact, and I suggest that we go to the ketema (city center). I’d like to buy her some shoes. Even some simple plastic sandals. She smiles, and politely responds, “Zi’wedey...ane lemanti aykonkun” (My son, I am not a beggar). She retakes her bags, thanking me again, and heads off.
Fikri. What’s fikri? Fikri is love. What’s love? Love is Eritrea. What’s Eritrea? Eritrea is home...
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