ሰላማት ኩቡራት ኣሕዋት ። ስመይ ማና ዮሴፍ ይበሃል ። እብ North Carolina, USA ይነብር ።
I’m writing this today to join my brothers and sisters in the #Yiakil campaign, a social media movement started in order to shed some light on the situation in Eritrea. I’m not much of a speaker, but I thought this was important, so I wrote some of my thoughts.
As you may know, I was born and raised here in the States. For some of you that may give you enough reason to dismiss me. To say it’s not my place to speak, as I have not directly felt the impact of Isias’ rule in my own personal life.
To that I say, you are right.
Because of the early sacrifices of my family, I did not grow up in a home where the lights and water come and go. I did not have to attend military training in order to be able to continue my education. I’ve never had a day where I could not spend the money in my pocket how I like, nor a day where I could not take my own money from the bank.
I’ve never been sick and told by doctors that they didn’t have the equipment to properly to treat my illness. I haven’t gotten into trouble for practicing my religion or been jailed for speaking my mind. I’ve never worked for little to no pay. I haven’t had to wait for family members to send money in order for me to survive.
I haven’t been arrested for thinking about leaving my country nor for trying to leave. I’ve never been separated from my family.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve gone more than two months without hugging my mom.
I did not have to pay a smuggler to leave my home. And I did not lose a close friend on the journey to freedom: on the border, in Sudan, in Libya, to the angry seas of the Mediterranean.
I didn’t have to wait in limbo in some refugee camp. My sister was never beaten and tortured; held captive, because there was no one to pay for her freedom. My brother wasn’t used as ISIS propaganda in Libya, murdered like he was no one.
He was someone.
None of this happened to me because of one decision my father made 30 years ago. These things, however, continue to happen to our fellow Eritreans. And it’s more than enough to pull at anyone’s humanity, all it takes is a little empathy.
It does not take much critical thinking to know the problem starts at home. As my talented Somali sister Warshan Shire said “no one leave home unless home chases you – no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”
Our brothers and sisters choose these dangerous paths because they decide being free to build better lives for themselves and their families is worth the risk. And if you take a moment to be honest – I mean really honest with yourself – you would realize you’re not much different. The reason you’re sitting reading this in your home or at work or at some Starbucks in the US, Europe, Canada, or wherever else is the fact that you’ve made the same decision. You’re living abroad, away from your home, because you or your family weighed the situations and decided the opportunity for a better life was greater outside.
Why do we do this? Why have we normalized and accepted what’s happening to us? Why don’t we have higher expectations for our leaders?
I am tired. Aren’t you? I want to go home. Don’t you?
Being Eritrean is not just knowing your culture.
It’s not dancing and waving flags at festivals and conferences or just singing old songs. It’s not visiting for a month or a summer to sip macchiatos and sight-see. It’s not then returning to our “real” homes abroad and forgetting about her until the next guayla. Eritrea is not our vacation spot. Eritrean is not just a name we call ourselves.
She is our home. Our pride. And without her children, she is just land.
Being Eritrean (to me) means being truthful, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. It’s not saying everything is good, when clearly it’s not. It’s love. It’s community. You see your brother or your neighbor struggling, you help him up. It’s saying ajoka. Everything will be okay, I’m on your side. It’s respect. And knowing your respect is directly tied to that of your brothers’. It’s not calling names, spewing hate when you disagree with someone’s opinion. It’s not trying to make those who want positive change for their home feel small.
So many people paid a heavy price for Eritrea, for us. And it’s our responsibility to protect and take care of her. This means we have to take care of her children, take care of one another. Our current government has failed us in doing so. We have failed one another in not uniting and speaking up fast enough.
I’m not here to point fingers.
I’m saying yiakil to the way we’ve handled things in the past. Let’s come together to solve our problem, because it’s our problem. We can’t wait for others to fix it for us. The only way to stop people from leaving home and to end the suffering is to make home a place people can live. This means actualizing the dreams of our fathers and our martyrs: freedom, justice, and democracy.
Our borders need to be demarcated. Our constitution implemented. Our innocent prisoners freed.
Yiakil to fear. I am not too proud or too big to admit I was hesitant to post my opinion in such a public way. All because someone might see and hurt my chances to go back home again. Then I got angry at myself – how selfish of me. And angry at the situation – how could I have allowed myself to feel so small, all these miles away, in a country that is only about freedom. For a short moment, I allowed them to take my hope from me.
But no more. Yiakil. Silence is no longer an option, at least not for me. I have faith that I will see a free and thriving Eritrea one day – as long as we stand together.
I encourage all Eritreans, especially those born in the diaspora, to say yiakil and to make their voices heard. To those who say this movement is pointless, that we can’t make change from abroad: I encourage you to think harder about the power of positive morale. It can motivate and mobilize a people. And to those making jokes, saying yiakil under blankets. You’re better than that. I know this because you are my brother. And this change we’re asking for is not just for ourselves. It’s for you.
So friends, don’t let people tell you your voice doesn’t matter. It does. It makes our collective cry for justice louder.
That’s all I have for today. Wishing you love and light wherever you are in the world.