Translated from Tigrigna
Years have passed since the Eritrean people especially, youngsters longed to live outside of their homeland in search of a better life. And this is primarily due to the ill-treatment of youngsters, in the pretext of national service, which seemingly is slavery, subjecting every adult citizen to indefinite national service. This barbaric treatment has goaded many people to search for slipping mechanisms which they consider it as boycotting to the existing situation. Therefore; surprising not is it to see, people taking unimaginable risks, to escape from this situation. Often, I have wondered when this “bad-omen “would be over asking ‘ when will this be fixed? ‘. Seeing families scattered here and there, resulting the tremendous social problem our people have ever witnessed shakes me to my bones. It is obvious that nobody fancies in seeing youngsters fleeing their beloved family and country at large; in search of normal life. But I am at times speechless and lost in words to see children and minors deserting leaving their families behind. No such thing is as agonizing and painful as what is happening right now. Surprisingly enough, this agony and pain strike equally both the long-gone and the ones living back home. Nowadays; it is a public secret that many children and minors are flowing to the Ethiopian refugee camps daily.
It was in the last day of my four days and tiresome journey of my crossing to Ethiopia that I met ‘ Haben ‘ aged about 11to 13 years (my own estimate). It was at the time we were traveling in our consciences the brooding, trying, hard and dangerous journey and the route we have passed, while sipping tea from the cup that I was holding that I saw this little girl carrying her tattered shoes, approaching towards us. Although, at first I thought she was from the villages around, later I realized that she was actually one of us when I saw her being called for a preliminary interview by the soldiers, who had welcomed us warmly when we first stepped on the Ethiopian territory. Utterly startled and surprised I couldn’t believe my eyes, for it was way beyond my rational thinking. Knowing that this little girl had not the slightest notion of what she is being into, I uncontrollably started diving into my own thoughts, wondering what might have pushed her out to seek refuge outside her home contemplating “what could have happened to her?” Though I had tried to gather my thoughts and reason out some plausible answers on her behalf, unfortunately I couldn’t pick any explanation for this incident. Thus my endeavor ended up in vain and was left just to guess.
Having crossed the Ethiopian border through the “Tseorona ” area, we were transported to the nearby provisional refuge center ” Gerhu-Sirnay ” , by a military vehicle and were provided with all the necessary basic supplies and facilities. During our stay in this center, almost every refugee was teasing and cajoling Haben, implying what could have befallen this little girl. I could guess, almost everyone around her has tried to approach and get some concert information as to why she had come to Ethiopia. I couldn’t comprehend from a distance what her responses were but could notice that she would just see every question off, with a glaring and innocent gesture, as if she didn’t care. Knowing that we would be staying at least for 2-3 days in this center, taking my turn, I started talking to her, thinking I could make use of my time and expecting some innocent replies. Undoubtedly, I was having a great time with Haben, and one day looking into her bright eyes, I asked her, “Why did you come here Haben?” Pausing for a while she replied, “I just missed my brothers”. Listening to her saying this was beyond my expectation and felt as if I was drowning in a pond. Although, I didn’t know what to expect from my question, never had I expected such an answer.
Haben didn’t seem to have traveled a lot as she is from mai-Agam, a village along the Eritrea-Ethiopia border but her fright was vivid. According to her words, she set out this lonely journey around 5:00 in the afternoon. After walking for a while, she came to realize that she was accompanied by their adorable [family] dog. Though she tried to shoo him back, fruitless was her attempt. “I tied him to a bigger tree “, said Haben with a childish smile. She embarked this arduous and daunting journey believing she knew the places ahead of her adequately, recalling the places her brothers were mentioning, when they were intending to cross. After walking for a while no sooner did Haben realize that she was lost in the middle of nowhere. While searching to find her way out, she heard hyenas roaring from afar, as it goes things were, ‘from a frying pan into the fire’ for Haben, as her worsening fear left her no choice but to climb a tree and wait till dawn. Trying to imagine the magnitude of the risk made me numb and speechless.
Haben grew up in the middle of a cheerful and loving family, born eldest to the last-born of her younger brother. Although Haben’s father casually came to visit them for a while and go back to his military station, her elder brothers’ and sisters’ love and compassion were what she most cherished and enjoyed. Unlike her brothers and sisters who went to high school, she dropped her studies at the junior level. After finishing high school, her two elder brothers, trying to escape the inevitability of enlisting in the infamous military training center “Sawa”, decided to cross the border to Ethiopia. Unable to bear the loneliness and boredom, Haben told me, often did she cry lamenting her grief. Trying to hide her laughter, Haben recalls how her mother and other family members had tried to console her saying “they will be back soon.” It was right after two years of this incident, when her other two brothers too fled to Ethiopia, following the footsteps of their other brothers. And her two sisters got married to the neighbouring villages which struck Haben terribly. Recounting her loneliness, Haben said that they were left all alone with her youngest brother whom she loved most along her mother. As if she knew the exact whereabouts of her brothers, Haben exclaimed that she was dying to see them. Trying to conceal my curiosity I asked,“What will you say to them?” expecting to read her emotion. However, she recklessly told me that, she would go back to her mother and her youngest brother after staying for a couple of months in the refugee camps implying she had no intention of leaving her village. Knowing what not to say, hearing Haben saying this and looking into her eyes, I asked: “you will go back to your village?” Nodding her head back and forth, she agreed saying, “I just miss them terribly, but I had to get back.” Unable to believe my ears, I undoubtedly envied her.
We departed from the refugee center by land-cruisers to the town of “Gerhu-Sirnay “on our second day. After staying there for a while, we were transported to the UNHCR headquarters in the region “Endaba-Guna“. Long was it not when I saw Haben, the little girl was called and took her to the under-ages center. And here I am contemplating Haben’s courage and wondering if she might have eased off her longing.