Friday, November 1, 2013

Serkalem Fasil's heart-breaking letter to her jailed husband Journalist Eskinder Nega

Dear readers, especially those fans of Eskinder Nega and other thousands of Ethiopian prisoners of conscience. I listened on Friday morning, this heart wrenching, powerful, inspiring and genuine letter written and read by Nega's wife from exile in the USA. I was weeping like a baby while I was typing/transcribing her original letter written in Amharic ( Ethiopia's official language) by this courageous woman to her jailed husband who is serving 18 years of jail term at the notorious Kality prison, at the outskirts the capital Addis Abeba. Can you imagine saying goodbye for good to your loved one by just locking your fingers and with a few words? No hugging, no kissing, not even shaking hands. That is how Sirkalem and their Son Nafkot departed from Eskinder Nega; we take so many things in life for granted. Against this background, another Ethiopian journalist who had claimed 2 years ago being targeted by government authorities, returned back home saying 'he realized that he made a bad decision two years ago'. Ethiopia, is just a land of paradox; a mother for one and step-mother for the other.

I known Eskinder Nega from a distance while I was working as a journalist back in those days. We had met a few times at the internet pool of ECA (Economic Commission For Africa) for journalists. I remember, he comes early in the morning and/or late in the afternoon. He says hi to everybody, chit-chat for a few minutes with those close to him and then he prints out papers and copy the things he wants from the computer into his floppy disk ( I'm sure this is foreign to many of the Smart-phone generation:) and leaves. I wish I had the opportunity to know him; Insh'allah, one day we might meet somewhere after his release.

Let me not take your time. This is just a rough translation which I believe will help you to understand what Serkalm Fasil was trying to say in Amharic. Here's the full transcription of Serkalem's letter. 

Eskinder Nega is in my mind while I was writing this letter. It has been three months since I left my country, my friends and Eskinder of course. I left out the detail on how I have spent all these days, I think it's boring.
The Last Farewell with Eskinder.
Tuesday Morning, Hamle 26, 2005 according to Ethiopian calendar ( August 04, 2013), tonight my son and I have to be at Bole Airport. Many pressing issues are awaiting me before 12 pm (6 pm, Ethiopia has its own time time counting system 12 hours daylight &  12 hours dark-time the day begins at down 6 am which means 12 am internationally and ends at 12 pm (6 pm) at dusk) but the most daunting task was saying goodbye to the prisoner who serving his 18 years sentence at Kality prison. Boring day- one of those ugly days. My thoughts were scattered everywhere; the hardest thing was to look into Eskinder's eyes and say ciao, I am not coming tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, next month or next year. Which phrase could explain a broken heart, maybe tears. At least we [Serkalem and her son] are travelers; we could be distracted easily while traveling. I was wondering how that hero, who is living in a small gated place  surrounded by Kalashnikov welding soldiers, is going to feel to be separated?
Better to be lucky than good as the saying goes. I was talking to myself. what am I going to say? I was choosing words. Shall I say to him 'Goodbye, we are leaving for the USwe shall meet when you are released' or would be it better 'be strong, face every consequence accordingly; I wish I could stay by your side but we decided to leave?'.
My son and I had left home at 1 am (7 am) in the morning, the last farewell journey to Kality prison; however we didn't go directly there. I started to buy stuffs necessary for Eskinder. 'hmm, what does he like?I know, 'what does he need ?I buy. Even though I knew I had bought last week all the things that he needs I was buying today as well, I was a bit redundant in buying stuffs on that last day. My 'Kurtu' plastic bag (a household plastic bag in Ethiopia) filled into its rim; Kurtu plastic bag is like prisoner's luggage.
I looked at my watch, it was 4 0'clock (10 0'clock), oh my God the time flies. what makes you fly, I was arguing with a mere object. It feels like the clock is deliberately running against me; who could turn it back? It only goes forward.
We arrived at Kality around  4:35 am (10:35 am). Oh there was this long line. A miserable night seems never to end. Waiting in the line had took some time. I was angry very angry. Finally, I reached at a place where prisoners of Zone two are being visited. We get used to know each other with the inmate who is in charge of calling prisoners, so he had immediately called Eskinder's name through his megaphone as soon as he saw me. I was scared, Eskinder came with a big smile after 2-3 minutes.

He came closer, we rose our hands as if to shake but how? There is a huge mesh-wire fencing between us. I squeezed my two fingers through the wire mesh, so did Eskinder. Did we shook or just touched? 'How are you doing?', he geeted both of us. 'Nafkot, please talk to me. You're going to America, cheers I love you.he was talking to his son. As he was talking to him, he said to me 'please be strong, don't worry about meand then continued
talking to his son 'Nafkot, be a good student. You've to  educate yourself properly to make your dad happy. What do you want to be when you are big?Nafkot replied,' a car driver.'  Eskinder grinned and said 'you have to be a good student in order to be a driver. If you are clever you can drive a car.' He interrupted and said 'Ok Serkalem it was the situation of you guys which was more harder than my imprisonment; today I'm going to be relieved. This does neither mean hate nor wanting you to be far away from me. I want to be punished by my own. I know you know it. But, my son turned seven and he starts to know what's right and wrongI don't want him to grow with hate inside him. I wish I will never miss him for one day but I don't want to be selfish. This a very hard decision.' 'Nafkot please talk to me'. how hard it must have been to comfort two persons. To hide his feelings, he was switching between his son and me; I pity Eskinder. When he was saying this his eyes were getting red. 'Eskinder are you going to cry?', I asked him struggling to hold my own tears. 'No, how could I ever cry?', he replied. 'Your eyes are red', I said. Squeezing his eyes he said 'I'm not going to be released in the near future; as you well know I'm not going to seek for clemency either, since I have committed no crime. Therefore, I'll be imprisoned as long as it takes. This is my conviction.' Then he turned to his son 'I love you so much, OK?' What a confusion! I cursed the cruel government which is the reason for all these things. Well, don't dig too deep, you might burn by molten lava. Eskinder you are paying your debt, you are paying the price you are expected to pay for your country and people. You have an inner peace, pure and clear. Devotion, conviction and perseverance. The majority of people are not as lucky as you are. Be proud where ever you are! You're a hero; heroism cannot only be measured by being at the battlefield. Heroism equals Perseverance for me; it is overcoming the challenge; it discharging responsibilities;
heroism means being true to oneself; heroism is listening to your heart. My last word, 'Eskinder be strong, I'm responsible for our son; I'll do my best to raise him playing both roles. Don't worry'. I was not finished. Didn't I tell you the time is against me? The fence was knocked 'Enough!', barked the police, 'your time is up, go inside!'. I was writing this letter three months after I left Ethiopia, at 8:35 ( 2:35 in the morning) on Tikimt 26, 2006 , according Ethiopian calendar (October 31, 2013). The Ethiopian local time system is still on my old cellphone; I kept charging it in order not to loose the Ethiopian time. But I don't know why I am doing this. 'Why did this bad airplane bring us here', said once my son. When I talk about the eve of our separation, it reminds me also the eve of Eskinder's imprisonment. September 11, 2011, St John, Ethiopian New Year day. Grim and foggy morning! It didn't have a holiday vibe, it was depressing and heavy day! Oh I cursed the day so much.

This mood, I think was only happening at our place. Neither of us were enthusiastic to celebrate the day, especially Eskinder; his all attention was drawn into the Arab spring which was going on at that time. Since in the morning he had been staring on his laptop's screen following the updates. He had been telling me the latest news from what he had read. 'Gaddafi had disappeared' 'Gaddafi was surrounded'.

We had tried our best to celebrate the New Year but it had not been so good. We locked our house and left at 5 am (11 am). Nafkot and I were sitting at the backseat while Eskinder was driving the car. We went to a Cafe at Bole area. During holidays, cafes and restaurants are deserted; only people like us visit them. The cafe was empty, We ordered Miranda for
Nafkot, Coffee for Eskinder and Coke for me. The cafe which we were supposed to be entertained was even darker than our house; so we paid our bills and left the place after staying there for a moment. The street was empty and there were few cars. 'Pay good attention to the place I'm going to show you today', said Eskinder suddenly, 'it is children's recreation place where you should bring Nafkot to have a good time...' I didn't let him finish 'I don't have the patience to entertain a child; bring him yourself, why should I bring him?' Eskinder never raises his voice, he is not bad-tempered either. He said calmly 'just in case I am not available...' I didn't let him finish either now. 'Where are you going?' He said 'they are sending threatening phone-calls and emails to arrest me; I'm just trying to prepare you for this.'

'One doesn't talk such things on a holiday!', I interrupted him again. Why was I so wicked? He said, 'I want you to know it.' and then he kept quite. I felt bad for him but at the same time his composure gave me strength. So, was this why the holiday looked so gloomy? Let this shall go over. But it didn't; it brought misery a day after. Those persons who had been threatening him, kept their words. Oromai! Today, it has been two years and two months since Eskinder was imprisoned.

My son and I are in America while Eskinder is in Kality. I don't have an answer how long I'm going to stay in America or how long Eskinder will be incarcerated at Kality prison. There is nothing like home. For me, an exiled person is not complete; he/she wanders with a void; one will never have satisfaction. 

Eskinder is just an example; there is freedom fighter Andualem; there is Reeyot Alemu who dreams about a brighter future by fighting back with strength, devotion and conviction; Nati - the true patriot; the self-confident Abe; Woubshet, don't worry, the darkness will be shattered soon. And all other prisoners whom I didn't mention; tomorrow shall be a brighter day, stay strong!

Meskerem 21/2006 ( September 29, 2013). Alexandria, Virginia. Serkalem Fasil.

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