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Black Saturday: In Memory of Eritrean Martyrs' Day


Gebre in the early seventies moved to Addis Ababa in search of work. He was gregarious, and thus one rarely could see him walking alone in down town of Addis. He was a pencil thin. In his long and thin legs like compass, he looked quite tall. He was soft-spoken too. One could tell from his red eyes that he was suffering from insomnia. He was a hunchback as often happens with tall people. His habit of bowing while smoking every hour of the day suggested as if he was brooding for the reasons that were incomprehensible to his buddies. Particularly upon seeing his long, bony and quite face, one could sense at heart the very generosity, pathos and compassion that Mother Nature endowed him.

Our protagonist whom we affectionately called Gebre was single as any cohorts of his time. But his old-time friends used to frequent in his one-room house with unpainted walls just a bit decorated. Of course, this is not uncommon in case one lacks a housewife who is supposed to be skilled in decorating folk art such as embroidery. Anyway, one could see a poster that read I WISH THE WISH YOU WISH reminding ones bitter experience with English grammar back school. Some were written in broken English, but the contents of their ideas and messages were really great. Life in that dark room as a prison cell was full of homesickness.

Gebre got a job in one of government offices in Addis. His monthly income was good enough to support himself and his two married friends. In the early seventies, the business in Addis was slow, and many Eritreans had to wait a long time before getting jobs. Thus the dream in a faraway country changed to a nightmare.

The second home of Gebre including his friends was a small grocery store owned by an Eritrean. Behind it, there was a little dark room in a basement where many Eritreans used to frequent every night after boring hours of work. Most of them were taxi drivers, carpenters, mechanics, electricians, construction workers, welders and university students. Thus Gebre charismatic persona seemed to draw many Eritreans of urban and rural background comprising the schooled and unschooled ones. They used to have a good time in that small drinking house filled with a very thick smoke. Everyone seemed to crave for a fresh air until the very minute of feeling headache. Anyway, Gebre's popularity impressed the shop owner. He seemed to act without his awareness as his immediate salesperson. Eventually, his profits grew rapidly.

The owner of the shop had a daughter who was born and grew up in Addis. She was very active and easy-going as most young women of metropolis. She was of a very short stature, and a perfect match for Gebre who was of course as tall as bamboo. Both of them were engaged, and planned to get married in January which is one of the beautiful months under the Red Sea Sun.

As usual, Gebre stopped by his friend's house located within a walking distance. The time was December of 1976. The weather was very cool and clear sky light. Unfortunately, no one dared to walk alone at night due to political crisis that engulfed the country.

Gebre and his friend's wife, Abeba who was expecting a baby heard some gun shots. She jumped out of her bed and said, " My husband is still not at home. Please sit and wait until he comes back." Gebre said smiling, " I have to leave now. Tell him that I am there." Abeba said, " Please, Please, have a seat." Still a heavy gun shots continued to disturb the city. Abeba felt panicky and grabbed his hands firmly. She said repeatedly, "Sit!SIt!Sit!." Anyway, the soft-spoken Gebre did not seem to care, and boldly said, " I am not afraid to die. I am used to hearing such shots every night. Let me go. Maybe he is waiting for me there." Abruptly, he snatched away his hands from her iron grip, and left.

The world was small where the Eritreans used to live in slum areas. As a result, Gebre met one of his two friends by the name Michele who was married and with two children. Unfortunately, both of them headed to a place where the gun shots were heard. As they drew near, they found themselves amid the masked Derg soldiers who machine gunned them several times. They left their dead bodies stained with blood for everyone to see…..

Oh, yes, under the very shinning moon
That was already pale with grief
In Shakespearean mood.

After a while, an ambulance arrived from a nearby hospital to pick them up. It was not hard to identify them, for the people who were at the murder scene informed their relatives right away. It was a shocking drama to hear such brutality and inhumane. To our dismay, Gebre passed away before celebrating his wedding ceremony and so was Michael before flying to Yemen just a few weeks later. Michael was writing novels in the mid-sixties in Asmara. I remember one of his books "aybedelkun (I am not guilty.)"

It was really Black SATURDAY!!!! What a bloody night! Soon a word of their tragic death reached everywhere. In the morrow, the blessed Sunday, the hearse was going by to their last resting place. It was a moving funeral to hear an elderly mother mourning with a full of sigh, " Gebre! Why you are leaving your sweet heart behind? Have you forgotten the day you set up to celebrate your wedding ceremony? I wish I could march as her escort to the wedding altar instead to your grave!!! Are you gone and gone? Is that so? "

In front of us we saw his dear fiancée' in her dark dress. Some of her close friends whose soft and pretty eyes got wet from streaming tears of that fateful hour were trying to console her every now and then. From that day forth, we began to question our future with grieving hearts. Therefore…..

Finally we managed to flee the country
Once and for all
Just to tell their story the world.



* Gebre was the only son for his mother. After his death, she sold her golden earning in order to buy a plane ticket destined to Addis Ababa. He was penniless , and as such, his mother said desperately , " I would like to keep his wrist watch as a token of his memory. Please give it to me." Based on her story, I wrote a slim poetic book: "በጃኹም ሰዓቱ ሃቡኒ፡ መዘከርታ ክትኰነኒ" That was in the year 2001. It was composed in midair at a time when I was going to Oakland where the Eritrean Summer festival was held.

Haile Bokure

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Black Saturday: In Memory of Eritrean Martyrs' Day Reviewed by Admin on 12:05 AM Rating: 5

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