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Juvenile Politics

Asmara, Eritrea

Juvenile Politics

Politics stole into our family, when I and my three younger siblings were only kids, in the luring form of a satellite dish. In its bowl, the satellite dish shoved into our noses numerous colorful choices of channels—of movies, music, sports, news, education—that were foreign to our simple family. That ushered in the chaotic politics of who watched what and when. 

Before the bowl of chaos, as mom would call it, we had good old television. Television was a luxury not many could afford to buy back then in the 90s in that part of the world, Eritrea. When it was imparted to us that we were going to buy one, we were very excited that we were going to have our own tv at home. No more going to our well-off neighbors’ house to watch the English Premier League, ‘like house flies’ (another of mom’s term). Dad, in his eagerness to meet our excitement, brought the tv without its stand. The awkwardness! We did not have any spare table to put it on. We did not mind. We could not wait any minute to switch it to life. So, we placed the black, 14 inch, JVC CRT TV, that has since become our household, on the cement floor of our living room and hurried dad to set up the antennae. 

Thus we welcomed tv into our family.

There was no politics then. Television had only one channel on the menu: Eri-Tv. Broadcast started at 6 pm with the national anthem, followed by national and international news, with variety of educational and cultural programs afterwards, and ends with a movie around 11 or midnight. Except on the weekends. Weekends were the days when you felt very glad that you owned tv back then. Weekends were feast—we were treated to continuous, often live, streaming of major European soccer league from 2 or 3 pm till after midnight. We, together with our friends and the neighborhood kids, huddled together before our small, goat-head sized tv and lived the experience. 

Then came the bowl. Television has not been friendly since. 

All of a sudden, we turned from one happy family into irreconcilable roommates. Although we were born from the same womb, grew up under the same roof, eating the same food from the same pot, our tastes were so dissimilar and contradictory that we felt incompatible. I felt there was nothing worth watching other than Hollywood movies on MBC 2. I craved action, the adrenaline rush of chasing the bad guy in the dark alley, of trying to save a little girl kidnapped by a serial killer. My younger sister had other ideas: she got a kick out of watching reality television such as Star Academy Arabia. Her younger sister demanded that she be let to watch musalsal all day. Our youngest brother would not hear of anything other than soccer—I don’t mean major league soccer we all loved, but any soccer, including minor neighborhood football. And then dad wanted his daily dosage of news three times a day! As for mom, she learned to keep away from it all from the start. She preferred the solitude of her kitchen instead. 

Politics infests in lack of empathy. Our raw child’s mind was incapable seeing beyond its taste. I did not understand why anyone would stand watching a bunch of rich men and women in their fancy houses, who have nothing better to do than gossip and sob? It was too sugary at best. It baffled me to see my sister take to the phone at the end of every show and talk for hours over “Why didn’t he ask her nicely?”.  I felt reality television were bland and watching Arab League when the stadiums were empty preposterous. The feelings were mutual. We even found our old man’s ‘pre-occupation’ with news absurd. “Does it suffice him to read Haddas Ertra?!” we grumbled resenting his brief interruptions.   

The bowl of chaos comes with the orb of power called remote control. Our life was reduced to struggle to clench the orb of power. Often, after class, we would race to get home early. Without putting down our school bag, changing our school uniform, greeting our mom, and in my case, sneaking into the kitchen and taking a peek at what is for lunch and stealing a mouthful, we sunk into soothing passivity, and stared at the dancing, hypnotic images on the screen. When one got home, one found the orb holder bracing for what they knew too well was coming. They would assume an angry face as if they were going to explode any moment. This was the prelude to the war. The silence before the storm. 

I, as the eldest of son, was a bit of a bully. I would snatch away the orb from whoever was holding it. Theatrics ensued. They would act as though I had snatched away their arm and break into loud wails. How the cries came so easily for them! It would have earned them the Oscars! Dad would come hurtling, sometimes startled out of his sleep, thinking a dynamite had detonated in the room. He would find my puffed and defensive sight, face contorted and hand tight around the remote, surrounded by my aggrieved siblings. His diplomacy was called into action to settle the dispute. No matter how determined I or any one of my siblings in my position was, dad’s diplomacy would find a way to stroke us to calmness and sweet-talk us into a compromise we could not help but accept. The diplomacy often gave precedence to the younger and it usually ended with dad unclasping my acquiescent fingers off the remote, handing it over to them while they tried to conceal their mischievous triumphant smiles and me storming out in indignation. 

Today, the old childhood tastes are still alive in us, albeit to varying degrees, but satellite dish does not hold the old charm upon us. When we happen to meet in that embattled living room, whoever is holding the orb asks the one who has just come if he or she has any program he/she would like to see. The reply is, often, something in the line of, “No, I will watch it later”. We have learned to sit beside the ‘other’and watch their favorite show with them. I have grown to like, despite myself, soap operas and reality televisions and there were days I smiled to catch myself watching for hours and getting into heated debate about “Will she ever forgive him after what he has done?”. News, movies, soaps, or soccer, we sat watching together, long past our primeval politics, yet doubtless that sly politics has already stolen into our individual adult lives in other forms.

Gebriel Alazar Tesfatsion

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Juvenile Politics Reviewed by Admin on 10:42 AM Rating: 5

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