Selam Kidane…

Eritrean, psychotherapist, writer, human rights campaigner


November 2015

How do you remember what you can’t forget for a moment?

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…Baby Brother it is that time of year again, it is that time of year when we used to all pack our school books away and bid farewell to the dusty walks to school and back and get ourselves really muddy… well you and your friends got really muddy and us girls worried about the floors we will be mopping tomorrow morning. The crickets have already announced the dawn of another kiramat, the frogs are in their elements… the greens have deepened and the grey sky promises much too much too…and the gaping gap in the shape of you is even more defined… and this year it is not just the absence of your presence that is marking it… your absence we got used to… your absence is painful and pain is something that human beings can get accustomed to… it is the presence of your absence that the entire family can’t get over… the ever present death of your friends and playmates…

…there is still a reminder of you everywhere… we live with it… memories of the day you left for the front… a picture of you and your skinny companions on the wall in a wonky frame… the books that you casually piled in an order only fathomable to you… your neatly assorted pants and socks that mother lovingly washed and sorted in a hopeful anticipation of your return… it is these presences that continue to haunt our daily ‘lives’… along  with the absence of sound in the house… the house fell absolutely silent the day your absence came to live with us… no one needs to call anyone in for dinner now, no one bothers to gather for coffee and chat anymore and no one dares to start a jovial conversation about a funny woman with a stubborn gait and moustache in the market square…only you had the presence of the faculties required to bring those characters to life right in the middle of our home… it is as if the market square or the streets around town were suddenly emptied of all their character the day you left and never returned… war is cruel Baby Brother…but I never knew just how much crueller it can get until last April…

…I so often only tell you about how things are here at home and that is kind of selfish of me, because knowing you, I know how interested you would be about all the things that are happening to people in the neighbourhood as well…. That I suppose, was always the difference between you and me… you were always like a two way mirror, Baby Brother, always looking in and looking out, for everyone, with a massive heart that has room to carry the whole world in… including the funny woman with a moustache and  the cheeky boys who used to tell you all them rude jokes!… anyway gezawtna has never been quiet the same since you and your rowdy friends took away the noise, the life and the light with you the day you were drafted for the war that they later dubbed the ‘senseless war’.  After it took you away, the senseless war  eventually claimed every single one of your friends too…

No they didn’t die there in the carnage of war… well maybe they did … but it has taken all sorts of cruel turns of event to finally confirm them dead…last month several families ab geazawtna were informed of the death of their children in a boat that capsize or was shot at or maybe simply refused to prolong the living hell of young Eritreans…you know what? People simply fell dead silent… there was no loud waling, there were no priests accompanying grieving parents to funerals… there were no bodies to take to a cemetery… it almost feels like you and your friends have started playing musical tombs on us… too many deaths not a single corpse… and now the women in the neighbourhood have started a new trend of funeral rites they sit next to each other with their gaze locked at a distant horizon and their netsela clad emaciated bodies contorted into a stoic statue… I don’t think mother has uttered a whole sentence, other than the customary greetings, in the presence of the other bereaved women since the day she rushed in wailing hiji hade koina do ye? Into the house of the last victim of musical tombs… (now we are all the same aren’t we?)… then they all fell into a mute commune… mothers of death I call them… Mama, Mama Letensae and Mama  Zaid… sit in each other’s neat court yards… not in the coffee circles of yester years… with you boys darting in and out running errands on good days and running in circles around them up to no good in exceptional days… one of them chasing you with her slippers whilst the other two cry in laughter…they don’t sit and undo each other’s hair one on the floor the other two on stools,  and catch up on gossip either… or sit to share their chores of preparing their annual herb and spice consignments… they sit in a row close to each other and stare into the horizon imploring on their creator to explain this to them… occasionally one of them would sigh and shake her head and the other two make the sounds of a muted whimper in response… I haven’t seen a single tear out of any of them… it seems that the wells of their tears dried out… and the mothers who used to pray qdmeKa yistehani  (let me die before you) after every fall and stumble of you boys of constant motion have now become motionless in the realities of that unanswered prayer…

When occasionally the ghost of our childhood in the guise of a sound… a smell from the world gone by visits, the astute observer would notice their eyes flickering a bit and the lines on their forehead grow thicker and more defined in reflection of the turmoil inside… other than that not a flinch… not a sound and certainly not a glance to a different direction…

Out there the world carries on as though the lights of the future are not being dimmed a little brother at a time… those who returned from the carnage that claimed you… were claimed by the bullets of nasty men patrolling borders… those who survived these were claimed by a cruel desert… those who survived that were swallowed by an angry tied… those who survived that took things into their own hands and finished what was left… and out there a nonchalant world clamours to sell candles of remembrance to mothers who should be offering candles of thanks giving for the birth of grand children…out there a world that is non-perturbed coins new words to work into slogans  to celebrate death…your death little brother… the death of a boy who never lived long enough to leave anything but the most painful presence of his absence…

All I need is someone to teach me to remember to live and live with the ever present, presence of your absence… in our neighbourhood the death of a young person under explicable circumstance and leaving behind a body for the parents to burry is now considered a blessing…nibur…that my dear little brother is the legacy of you and your friends… and a damning indictment of our times.

May 20 2011

…The return flight

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Hide little brother hide

They have come to get you again

Please hold your breath… don’t make any noise


Run little brother run

They want to sell you and sell you kidneys

Please don’t stop to breath… run don’t halt your pace


Swim little brother swim

They refuse to come rescue you

Take a deep breath and swim…there is no time to think


Fly little brother fly

To the clouds above the sea

To the mountains beyond the borders

To the streets you knew like the back of your hand

Then finally to the home whose very life and light you were

To the side of your forlorn mother who lived for you and will die with you


Dear brother

Now rest in peace

There is no need to run

And there is nowhere to hide

It really is the end… it is all over now

Rest dear little brother rest in eternal Peace

Ode to Yohanna’s baby

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Ode to Yohanna’s Baby


The small cramped quarters

A lone light bulb dangling above

A baby was born

Her bright intelligent eyes wide open


The dusty streets

Where food was as scares as hope

A girl grew up

With rich vivid dreams


The sparse unconvincing classroom

With few books and one tired teacher

A student shone bright

A glorious rising star


The smelly dingy barracks

Where anguished cries go unheard

A young woman was raped

Countless times


The embrace of a devoted companion

Where a promise is dearer than life

An unlikely glint sparkled

Love uninvited


The vast dark sea

His mother feebly fighting to stay afloat

A baby boy was born

No one saw his eyes

Open briefly

Then shut


on October 3 2013, I learnt what despair meant… 366 young Eritrean died and the world watched the whole thing… that hurt but knowing it might happen again fills me with anger… not the righteous anger that makes one rise up and kick something, but the desperate type that makes me want to tear my hair out… the feeling of having so many desperate questions and not a single answer…

One of those who died was a young woman barely in her twenties… Yohanna was eight months pregnant and her baby was born as she drowned… he died too…

RIP Yohanna and Baby, I hope there is no desperate anger on the other side…

Number 92

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I wonder what she called you, little one?

Your precious Mama…

Maybe she called you Berhan? … my light

Or did she call you Haben? … my pride

She may have called you Qisanet… after rest she yearned

Or were you Awet? … Victory …

Tell me little one did she name you after her hope?

Or her aspirations … her dream?

Did she call you Amen as end to her prayers?

Did she name you after the saints your Grandma prayed to?

Or were you named after the brother she lost in prison?

Maybe after her father long gone?

Did she name you … Sina … after the desert she crossed?

Or Eritrea … the land she reluctantly left…?

Perhaps she named you for the land you were to inherit?

Tell me little one what did you precious Mama call you? …

For I can’t bear you being called number 92…

…Refugee go home

20150722_085551 copyRefugee Go Home!

… like the river that passes through…

I have no place to call my own

I stop where life wills…

to let them take what they want…

And dump what they will…

…then on I lumber…

Changing names along the way




…Asylum seeker…

Illegal immigrant…











I don’t remember my name anymore…

I don’t recall my dreams…

Never had the luxury of a vision…

Have lost count of the case files kept on me

I have no history…I have no legacy…

Is home really where the heart is?

Me… I have no use for a heart…


I have no home

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