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Remembering Eritrea's Great Friend, Dr. Samuel Mahaffy (Wedi Sen'Afe)

Dr. Samuel Mahaffy, RIP 

Remembering Eritrea's Great Friend, Dr. Samuel Mahaffy ወዲሰንዓፈ (Wedi Sen'Afe) On the Occassion of 66th Birthday

By Durdaana Rinderknecht Mahaffy

[Today is Dr. Samuel Mahaffy's birthday. He would have been 66. A global citizen from birth, Samuel was born on August 21, 1952, in Asmara Eritrea, to Francis and Arlena Mahaffy. He spent the first 14 years of his life in his beloved Eritrea, climbing mountains, learning to cook Eritrean food, and discovering his love of language by immersing himself in Tigrinya, Saho, Latin, and Italian. Samuel Mahaffy surrendered to grace on July 7, 2016 in Renton, Washington, after a fourteen-year journey with advanced cancer. To commemorate the birthday of this great friend of Eritrea, we republish an article written by his wife Renee for EriHarmony magazine, Festival 2018 special edition.]

Sitting in the tent at the 2017 Seattle Eritrean Festival with my children and extended Mahaffy family, I felt the warmth and love the Eritrean community held for Samuel Mahaffy. I wished he could have attended and returned their embrace. One woman said that Samuel had inspired her with hope. She had become resigned to the negative perception and world coverage of Eritrea. However, Samuel was insistent that we could change the narrative in the world. Samuel believed that speaking and writing the Eritrean story from a non-Western perspective was greatly needed. This woman now believed, too, that the dominant story could be changed and we all needed to be part of that.

Samuel always inspired hope. He always embraced each person's individual and collective story. He was endlessly kind and gracious. He truly loved his Eritrean brothers and sisters and was deeply happy pursuing projects and activities in the broader Eritrean community.

Upon reflection, this work really became more focused and more involved in the last ten to fifteen years. This overlays the time period he was also having significant health challenges. He was diagnosed with stage IV prostrate cancer in 2002. He established Salaam Urban Village Association shortly after that with Amanuel Yohannes to work directly with the diaspora community in Seattle. They worked tirelessly on grants to support Eritrean students in after school studies, to give them access to computers for their school work, and to have Eritrean youth gather stories from the elders to publish. Over the years, we attended the annual celebrations of Eritrean independence, gatherings at the Eritrean community center in South Seattle, and the International Women of Eritrean celebrations and fund raisers.

Samuel was also involved with the YPFDJ Eritrean youth group in both Oakland and Washington, D.C. He wrote business plans and non-profit applications for community members. He assisted in finding funding for one city's Eritrean cultural center and offered his skills in writing and business to anyone that would further individual and Eritrean community goals and dreams.

Samuel loved to cook zigeni, make taita/injera, and share this cultural food with his friends. He taught all of his children to make these dishes. He published a cookbook of Eritrean cooking that brought together making injera with Abrehet in their home in Senafe and making it now with his children. When pouring the batter from his bent aluminum can, as it would close the hole in the middle he would say, "all is right with the world."

Samuel always held the possibility of peace between the Eritreans and Ethiopians. He believed that the experience of "Eating from a Common Dish" could be extended as a basis for peace everywhere. He was tireless on correcting the misinformation about Eritrea. I remember he found inaccurate statistics on the World Health Organization website and he contacted them with an insistence that they change it to accurately reflect Eritrea.

When Samuel was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer he always said that God still had work for him to do on this earth. Upon reflection, I believe this work was tied to his beginnings of life in Eritrea. It was a full circle of his love for his homeland where he was born and raised in Senafe and the last years when he fully embraced his love for Eritrea and worked tirelessly to change the narrative of Eritrea on the world stage. Samuel as Wedi Senafe, as linguist, as community activist, as gracious and self-effacing servant all combined to bring him great joy and fulfillment when he was eating injera, drinking suwa (the traditional Eritrean beer), and being with his fellow Eritreans.

As his dying wish, his cremated remains would be buried in Senafe. His entire family and siblings would travel to Eritrea in December to fulfil his last wish.

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