Translated from Tigrigna
I always see her in the street selling tea and embracing her son, whenever I go and get back from work. She is an Eritrean refugee, with big eyes, small body, and reddish skinned middle aged girl. Her situation has always touched my feeling. However, according to the Sudanese customs, it is disgraceful for a girl to work out as a tea seller, which made it difficult for me to find an opportunity and know her real situation.
One day, while I was going early in the morning to do personal tasks, suddenly I met Hermon carrying her properties to the street, where she sells tea. I approached towards her and thought to use that opportunity and said, “May I help you please?” She was surprised, because she might have thought me as Sudanese girl in the first instance. Then, after staring at me with her big eyes and she heard my Tigrinya language, she said in a decent words, “No problem, I am worried I put you in trouble. You might be in hurry.”While looking down. I said, “No, no problem. You are my sister and we can know each other more in our way, right? My name is Neema”, I said. And shook her hand. Then she said, “Okay, my name is Hermone.” After greeting me warmly, I carried part of her properties and we continued our way until the place, where she works, while exchanging conversations.
After we arrived at the place of her work, I asked her permission to give me her phone number. We made appointment to meet again, after I assured her of the reason for that. I told her that I have been continuously passing by the same street and I indicated to the place. Then I promised to call her again and left her in her work place.
After three days, I received a call from a girl with loud voice who said, “How are you Neema?” I said, “I am good, who is this?” I asked a bit worried, because of the unknown number. “I am Hermone”, I heard the voice of the girl who called me. Then I said, “Hello Hermone, how are you. I am sorry, I did not recognize you in the first instance because you called me from unknown number. I got a bit confused.” I tried to bring excuses. She replied, “No problem Neema, my phone number has been stolen, that’s why I am calling from my friend’s phone.” I felt very sad when she told me that.
The next day, when I was getting back home, I passed by the street where she sells tea and called her. Then she came towards me wearing “Ebaya” and carrying her son. I noticed the effects of suffering on her beautiful face. I asked her, “If you do not mind, I will come tomorrow and take you to my house in order for us to know each other more? “ I said, “I think you live in this area, and if that is right we are neighbors. My home is next to that avenue. It is not very far. Would you please devote your time and stay with me tomorrow?” I asked her. Thanks to Hermone. She did not refused my invitation and she asked, “So, where shall I wait for you tomorrow?” Then I replied to her, “Okay, call me from any number when you reach that road. You know my phone number right?“ I asked her for confirmation. After she agreed to my request, we thanked each other and each us departed.
On Thursday morning, my phone called with another unknown number and I expected the caller to be Hermone. I received the call and it was her as I expected. She told me to come at the place where we agreed to meet her. Then I wore my pajamas and went out promptly to her. When I reached to the place, I saw her sitting and embracing her son. After we greeted each other, I took her to my house. First we took some food and then I started to prepare a traditional coffee for her. After she had been staring at me, she said shyly “Please Neema, do not bother yourself with making coffee. What you already served me is enough, let us just talk.” I told her that it is not a problem and we can talk, while we drink coffee.
We started to talk while drinking coffee and her son was watching TV. I told her that I have been continuously took note of her, while passing by that street, where she sells tea. I explained my sympathy with her situation and by considering her as my sister, I told her that I liked to know more about her. After a bit of silence, Hermone said, “My sister Neema, life became very difficult for me”, and she started to tell me her story.
I was born in the Gejeret area in Asmara in 1989 from a poor family. When I was studying in a secondary school in 2003, I had a schoolmate boyfriend named Semere. After having a love period with my boyfriend Semere, I got pregnant from him in 2005. When I wanted to tell Semere with the good news, he denied me and disappeared.
Since I was physically and mentally not fully mature then, I was very confused on what to do with that fetus, but I was aware of the consequences, if my family knew about it. But since I had no alternative, I decided to tell my family about the pregnancy. I knew very well my father’s behavior and what could be his reaction, if I tell him about my problem. He was very alcoholic addict person, and when he heard of my pregnancy, he started to beat me severely. He used to beat me every time, whenever he came home drunken and he poured his anger on me. When things got beyond my tolerance, I decided to leave home and move to the town of Keren while I was still pregnant. In Keren, I started to work as a waitress in a hotel. After not a long time, I got introduced to other baristas around the place of my work. In such situation, one day I told one barista that I was pregnant. The barista advised me that I can easily abort the fetus and named a list of girls who have undertaken such operation.
Then, I decided to do abortion which was dangerous and horrible operation and I almost died. There was too much bleeding and I lost consciousness for three whole days. My life deeply worsened and I became addict of alcohol and smoking. Seeking for more income, I left the bar work and began to work as sex worker, however, my mindset never got stable.
I hated living in the town of Keren and decided to move to the village of Haykota, in the Gash-Barka region. There, I got back to the bar work. There I got introduced to young man named Matewos, who was usually visiting the bar, where I used to work in. He was a calm man and he was a member of the Eritrean defense forces near Haykota. He was working as a personnel officer in the army and because of that position, he was relatively better in getting leave and luxury times than other colleagues. I liked him and I was feeling happy to see him, as he always came to the bar. Iwas feeling happy with him and began to sit and chat with him.
After a short time, we began to fall in love and live together in a separate house. When I found someone whom I love and who loves me, I felt relatively stable than before. One day, Mathewos came home very worried and disturbed. I felt very concerned when I noticed the unusual temper of Matewos and I asked him, “Are you ok? Matew”. He replied after taking deep breath, “Do you think it is ok Here?” with unclear and broken voices. Then I got confused and began to drip tears out of my eyes and I said, “What are you talking about?”
Then, he spoke calmly to me and said, “I want to tell you something. I was selling movement permits to some people secretly and some of the officers in our unit heard about it, because some of those people have been arrested while holding these papers. I am deeply worried and I have to leave Eritrea to Sudan.” I also insisted to him that I will never stay in Haykota and let him leave alone and I would go with him. I told him that I has to go with him even if I had to face death in the journey.
Matewos then arranged the escape journey, because he already knew smugglers who live in that area. He agreed with one smuggler named Abdu and we began our journey at 1:00 A.M. And after travelling for two hours, we took rest near one valley. I was extremely exhausted because of the difficult journey and Matewos was helping me to continue our trip. The smuggler was walking about 3 meters in front of us and he was encouraging us to tolerate hassles and speed up our walking pace. After three days of very exhausting journey, we arrived safely in the city of Kassala, Sudan and then we moved to the refugee camp known as Wed- Sherifey and then to other camp named Shagarab.
In the shagarab camp, they rented a hat and began living there and Matewos worked in a hair cut shop. Then after staying for nine months there and collecting some amount of money, we moved towards Khartoum. During the journey to Khartoum I was pregnant and through journey I remained much embraced in the arms of Mathewos. We were living in a very small rented room, which could accommodate only two beds. I then, began to fall ill and Matewos was running short of money. He was not able to afford money for my delivery and he was very worried because of that situation. Then he talked to some people whom he knew and got some money. After that, I gave birth to a boy bay safely and named him Tesfay, hoping for better life in the future. Life in Khartoum became harder to us through time and the money which Matewos was earning from his work did not help with the hardship we were facing. In that situation, one day Matewos called me and said to me, “Look, I told you before that I have relatives abroad and they would not support me, but now I am planning to continue my journey to Libya to cross the sea and then they have to support me [they have no choice]. You will stay with my son Tesfay here and when I reach Europe, you will join me soon.” I felt very sad when He told me his plan and my eyes got filled with tears and I said to him, “Look Matew, even now you will not leave me alone and I will go with you.” I made it clear to him. But, Matewos explained to me that will be very risky and after lots of arguments he convinced me to accept his proposal.
Metwos got prepared for his journey and I remained glued to his body, while my eyes remained full of tears before he left. He said to me,” Here honey, be strong and we will live together again after short time,” and kissed me on my forehead. I was gazing at him until he disappeared from my eyes.
After seven days, Matewos called me and he told me that he safely got into Tripoli and he will soon call his relatives in Europe. Then he called his relatives to support him, but none of them offered to help him and I was worrying about his situation. Friends of Matewos planned to fund raise and send him, when they heard of his situation and felt my deep concern about him.
Then Matewos called me before he just left for his risky sea journey and I wished him safe journey while my eyes were being washed with tears and promised to pray for him. But, after his last call and departure from Libya, I have never heard of him. Weeks succeeded days without hearing about his whereabouts and I kept asking his friends about his fate but without any news. Unfortunately, at the end and after weeks, I heard that my son’s father and my lover Matewos died in a boat drowning accident in the Mediterranean Sea. I was very shocked when I heard that sad news and I thought my dreams and my future have drowned with him too. I wished death to come and take my life. My life became dark after Matewos and I lost hope in life. I am crying and suffering day and night.
And now after being exhausted and my face got deformed by all those hardships and tragedy, in order to feed and raise my child, I sells tea in the streets of Khartoum.
At each and every time, she was telling me her sad story, the grief and sadness I noticed on her face was intolerable to any other person. “The worst of all,” said Hermone, “Sometimes, the police confiscated my properties under the accusation of illegality of my work or (lacking license). I had to collect money again from nowhere. Disadvantages of this work are more than its benefits.” Laments Hermone.
Now, Hermone is struggling in her hopeless and miserable life to take care of her only son.