Selam Kidane…

Eritrean, psychotherapist, writer, human rights campaigner


December 2015

Dearly Departed

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Prison walls
Torture chambers
aDesert torturers
An angry dark tide
In the dead of night
Eerie lonely frozen streets
Fiery eyes and cold gaze
And so I live nd you don’t?
One ‘survives’ and the other not…
Is my luck a blessing or a curse?
Was your life a tragedy or prophesy?
Were your parents merely unfortunate?
Are mine a sign of our times?
You are dead I am not
Is there a difference?
Below grave or above
Is a question of location
Not a pronouncement of life
You are dead and so motionless
I am all inert and utterly voiceless
You are dead now but not lifeless
I am simply a poor listless refugee
You have a name: Dearly Departed
All I have is a bane
You have a grave
You have a place
I have…none
You are dead
And I…I am
…I am…

Kill the War Drums

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The birds want to sing for you

Children are skipping…

Laughing and calling

Listen to them

Chanting alphabets

Alif…ba…ta… tha…jim…ha…

Listen to the calls for prayer

Life is calling you by name

Kill that drum… not my son…

The sounds of everyday…

The sounds of life

Clanging school bells

Chalk against black board

Footballs from feet to post

Laughter … banter… chatter…

Calling and responding

Pretty little girls giggling

Kill that drum …not the school

Da dum…dum dum dadadum dum dum

It really doesn’t belong here

With the sound of women hard at bargaining

The vegetable sellers and all their colour

The chicken market and all that cackle

The goats bleating over the sheep and their pomp

The smell of sweet tea and fresh bread

Tiny spoons clicking against neat cups

And mischievous boys running between crowds

Coy girls selling their basket ware

Kill that drum not this market…

Under the old tree where you can’t hear them

The elders are making their hushed deliberations

Loud in their head… the caution of their wives…

The wind rustles the leaves of the tree above


In the distance the river flows

All the way from the mountains

Fwha fwha fwha…

Do you know how long they have all been here?

The mountains feeding the rivers

The rivers feeding the land

The land feeding the men

The men feeding their families

Kill that drum not the village

dudup-dup dudup-dup dudup-dup

Is that your heart beating?

In our village that is still alive

Amongst friends at school

At the bustling market square

Under the big dignified tree

Please don’t kill yourself

Kill that drum …









There is hope

April 2011



I will not look the other way

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Wailing  at my shore

A stir

A thousand tears that caused a wave

Ten thousand notes of untold woes

A hundred thousand hands reaching out

From the depth of a dark sea

In agony

A chorus of a million anguished voices

My name on their lips

A desperate knock on my door

Of three million silent deaths

Of shattered dreams

Mine included…

Washed ashore

Strewn to vultures

Of cruel deserts

In foreign lands

Or fed to sharks

In angry tides

In the stillness of my peaceful abode

A persistent quiet plea

That won’t let me be

The unheard slaughter

Of an old freedom fighter

First they killed his voice

Then his dreams

Then snuffed out his life

With him the light…

His last breath was my name

A disturbance at my shore

A muffled groan

Of a generation spared

From war that claimed




And sister

Saved only to be crushed

By the survivors of the crushers of yesteryears

A familiar stir at my shore

From the far away land

Whence once I fled

To rescue my own

First I rescued my life

Then my dreams

Then my voice


What good is a voice

That has no roar?

What good is a dream

That has no colour?

And what good is a life

That has no honour?

Wailing at my shore

From the empty hut

Of a loin that bore

Ten sturdy boys

And five stunning girls

Who are all no more…

With quivering lips

And trembling hands

She spelt her name

In my heart…

And now I can’t let my eyes shut

An echo at my shore

A cry

A boy yet unborn

Whose death warrant was writ

As his mum tried to cross a border

With barbed wire piercing her feet

Whilst patrols shoot from behind

And in front

Her end also ends his start

Their last breath a loud shrill

All the way to my far away ear

And now I can’t hear excuses no more

A call has reached my shore

Of a thousand more plights


And I refuse to look the other way

For what good is my voice

If it doesn’t roar against injustice?

What good are my dreams

If they don’t make a difference?

And what good is a life

In this valley of death

If I refuse to hear the dejected…?

Their call has reached my shore

And woe unto me if I look the other way walk off

May 1st 2010

A strict order from above

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You shall not speak your mind

You will not demand change

You cannot question

You will not pray

Will not sell

Or buy

You must not have any dreams whatsoever

Nor have any hope or aspirations

You will go to war on demand

Or dungeons unknown

Will denounce friends

Betray conscience

Have no faith


Or ethics

And there will not be a free thinking soul

You will not uphold your honour

Cannot celebrate heritage

You will have no history

Nor pride in culture

Total submission

No questions


You shall assume the identity ascribed to you by us

You will only use the languages we tell you to

You will have the kind of education we allow

Worship the gods we create in our image

You will only eat as much as we tell you

You will read what we want you to

We will call you what we want

Only live where we ask you to

Give up anything we ask for

If you refuse we shoot

To kill, no hostages!

Order from above!

May 24, 2010




Don’t postpone our healing….

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Talk about our pain by all means

Discuss the origins of all our ills

Log every victim… identify every perpetrator

But don’t postpone the healing

Make plans for amends…

Recommend recompense…

Shed light on the past… illuminate the future

But then don’t postpone our healing

Highlight all difficulties…

Analyse all drawbacks…

Agonise over pain…sigh over the strain

But don’t postpone the healing

Open up the wound…

Scalpel the scars out…

Scratch those itches…undo the stitches…if you must

But don’t postpone the healing

Deliberate till dark…Plan till dawn…

Call on the experts…pour over all the papers

Throw hands in despair… see the mess beyond repair

But don’t postpone the healing

Gaze into the darkness so deep and weep

Look evil right in the eyes…

Judder before the gnashing of teeth…

But don’t buckle and postpone the healing

Shed all the tears for the past…

Mourn all those that we lost…

Face all the anger within… and sorrow without

And then get on with the healing

Heal your wounds… and then theirs…

Sooth the throbbing…bandage the gash…

Can’t you see we are all hurting?

And now comes the time to let our healing begin…

16th July 2009

I will write it in tears

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I will write it in tears

…one day I will write a story

But I won’t write it in ink

… It fades…

And I will not write it on paper

… It rots…

Not black… or bleak…

Or bright… in blindness

My story of you… for you…

Are colours of unparalleled gallantry

And celebrations of the free…

Betrayal unimagined

Spelling out pain untold

Inside crumbling prison walls

Of silence…so deafening…

And of wailing so loud

… Yet unheard…

Sleepless nights

Of endless quests

Vacant eyed young refugees

As dreams die

Bowed headed old heroes

With cold bones

As despondence seeps


That which ink cannot write

And paper will not hold

I will spray on rock faces

And into the rivers

On tree trunks

And on sea shores

I will write it on city walls

And prison gates

On our foreheads

Into our handshakes

For I will write it

Using these very tears

Jan 2009

May I live this moment for you?


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Can I pick that flower you so tenderly grew?

Name it ‘freedom’ and replant it by your grave?

May I borrow your ink and pen a verse or two?

And narrate that unfinished story for you?

                     That child out there with vacant eyes…can I pick her up?

                     And tell her all the things you wanted to…

                     Can I shower her with love so tender?

                     And instil in her your convictions unshakable…

                     May I tell her that this was not meant to be?

Can I borrow your voice for a moment?

And tell the world what the promise was…

That which nineteen-year-old boys grew old holding on to

May I grab hold of a compatriot’s shoulders with your hands?

And shake them until they wake up and remember what the dream was

                               May I pat the shoulders of that comrade you left behind?

                                   And encourage him that it is not over yet…?

                                   May I call him by the nicknames you came up with?

                                  May I resuscitate his jovial smile?

                                 And make this valley echo with laughter… once more

Can I wipe the tears off your mother’s eyes?

And tell your children that you don’t regret your life a bit?

May I gather your siblings and tell them it was well worth it?

Can I trumpet your deeds? Shall I tell the world all that you achieved?

                                Can I finish that poem you were writing?

                               Could I perhaps sing the song you were humming?

                               I will soon retrace the route and start where you left off

                           But right now all I want to do is live this moment for you

Aug 2009

….now you see me!

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You see me

Familiar am I?

Yes we have met…

Remind you?

Imagine this pen was a spade

Then think back to your holiday prints

Me in the awfully tattered khaki

You in baggy shorts and funky t-shirt

Looking out of your designer shades

As I squint into the midday heat

No I wasn’t looking you in the eye then

Nor were head to head like now

With my ears tuned to muffled cries

From the underground prison

Yours to the booming music

Immediately above

Me planning my escape

As you enjoyed your escaped

That September we both left Eritrea

Seventeen hours later you were here

I was shot at on the border

Was sold, bought and resold

The map of that trip is scored on my back

Do you want to see?… No I didn’t think you would

My best friend was maimed

The other one died in a cell

My sweetheart drowned

Countless I left behind

I am hear now

If you can see me

Read my lips


No more



… inspired by Luam Estefanos’ article on her experiences in the military service; two years ago  Luwam and colleagues launched a campaign to stop slavery in Eritrea, please join the campaign and help them make this a reality visit:




Martyr’s Day: Remembering Pain

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There is one pain I often feel, which you will never know. It is caused by the absence of yo…” Aeschylus (Ancient Greek Dramatist and Playwright known as the founder of Greek tragedy, 525 BC-456 BC)


…Little brother, they tell me it is physically impossible to remember pain and they say the sensation of pain that we think we remember is but a reconstruction of emotions ordered by the narrative account of our articulated recounting of the painful event… what do I know? They could be right… what I do know is I could never have reconstructed the sharp sensation I felt the day they finally told me that you were gone for good… oh I knew you were gone long before they told me… I think I actually knew the day I saw you board that truck…that last glimpse I caught of you told me all I needed to know about what the rest of my life would entail…. Untold pain the like of which you would never experience…but the day they actually told me you were gone I felt physical pain that my body has never ever been able to forget…. It was the sensation of a sharp red-hot knife that both pierces your skin and then goes on to undo every bit of your insides… I don’t think I have ever been all there…all together since that moment…

There are moments of brief solace though… like most mornings… well the few minuets between my uneasy slumbers and slow alertness…there is always that moment of amnesiac sanity… where my pain is forgotten…or atleast not so sharp… and even the memory of your departure is not there… we are four and three again and I have just started school and you creep into my bed worried that I will go to school early in the morning and you would miss out on saying goodbye… complaining that it is so long until lunchtime when I come home again…I try to make out that I am now a very important member of society… a school girl and very grown up and you must simply learn to keep yourself occupied with your own little friends… your own little games and your own little unimportant life… you protest and try and tell me that it hurts… right there… I snap out of my haze at precisely that moment every time…you point to the very spot where I hurt right now… you knew! My baby brother knew the pain of separation… perhaps your little body was preparing you for the permanent separation that would come a short while later…I …I don’t know whether to cherish my hazy morning encounters or pray for them to go away… I am worried if I let go and forget the pain I will forget you too… and then there will be nothing but the empty bed space, and the empty chair and your memory will be confined to your physical absence… I can’t… I won’t forget… I simply won’t let myself…

I smile a bitter smile every time they light a candle and call you a martyr… you were no martyr… martyrdom involves conviction and knowledge… you were the sacrificial lamb for someone else’s madness… a sort of suicide but once removed… they commit the act of suicide but you and countless others die in their stead and as their token of gratitude they light a candle and sing of your martyrdom every year…

Their life is very much in full swing… they plan more suicidal feats every coming year and as ever someone else’s brother will have to do the dying for their act of suicide… if they don’t die of war they die of hunger or torture and when they choose to not take things lying down they die in merciless deserts and angry tides… either way they die… the only difference is they are not called martyrs and no one bothers with the candles and songs… no one except perhaps a forlorn sister somewhere out there… and I somehow envy the privacy of her mourning…

…Love always…


Dedicated to all those who have lost loved ones to war and the ills of dictatorship…please join me as I vow to never condone the needless death of our youth in vain silence or meaningless rituals…

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