ERITREA : It’s About Time We Share Our Stories

by Billion Temesghen

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Time goes by and generations come and go, but no early life of any Eritrean youth passes without beholding a miracle. This makes Eritrea a place of legends that needs to be preserved and passed down but, unfortunately, the humbleness of our culture prevents such chronicling. Imagine hearing our forefathers’ and foremothers’ gallant history while camping… a priceless experience not to miss. And so nowadays, even if in small measure, such platforms are being organized by both senior and young volunteers.

The Women’s Association of Blikat is responsible for this commendable effort. Senior journalist Mrs. Mana Kidane conducted a televised live interview with the chairperson of the association, Captain Adhanet Ukbay aka Cairo, of which I present a written account.

-Tell us about the Women’s Association of Blikat? What is the meaning of the name?

During the armed struggle for independence, Blikat was the women’s training place. It was sort of like today’s Sawa but for women only. The climate was a lot better than where the men trained.

Anyways, in Blikat’s history, the first time it ever hosted a massive number of women trainees, I am talking about hundreds and hundreds of young girls training to be soldiers, was in 1978. I was one of them, and we go by the nick name of “Cambodia”.

After independence, in 2000, some of my ‘Cambodias’ started planning for our yearly reunion to be upgraded to something more than just a celebration. “Why don’t we sit down and tell our young ones how we were when we were their age and how our generation was?” That was the original thought which started the whole thing in the first place. It took us five years to complete the structuring of our association, and so in 2005, the Women’s Association of Blikat became an official constitutional association.

Not every former trainee of Blikat is a member. For now, we have limited the membership to former trainees currently in the Eritrean Ministry of Defense nationwide, however we are joined by many female compatriots whom find our cause dear. I would love for all trainees to be a part of our association,as it would mean thousands of my female compatriots from every ministry and profession.

-What is your aim?

Our main aim is to convey the value of heroism, sacrifice and nationality; concepts that impacted greatly our lives as freedom fighters, as well as on Eritrea’s history of struggle for independence. We travel around the country and narrate our stories of our days as young freedom fighters and we take on the responsibility to tell the stories of our martyred brothers as well.

Also, we take pleasure and dignity in hearing about our youngsters’ feats, hardships and achievements. We respect them and are proud of how they gallantly they sacrifice for the nation’s sovereignty and development.

We spend days with our children, we tell them our stories, we pass down the legacy of those whom we left behind. And as our youngsters are really to be acknowledged fondly, we thank them for being extremely special and darling, we tell them how proud and lucky they make us feel.

Our aim in few words, is to renew our pledge while showing our appreciation to our juniors: our little brothers, sisters and children.

-Does the organization travel?

Yes, we travel a lot. We schedule visits to every part of the nation in which the youth is present and answering the calls of sovereignty and development. The members are always enthusiastic to meet with Eritrean youth. We are mothers too, so we spend days beforehand preparing food and drinks for our children with love and care.

The members of the organization come from different backgrounds, got united in the struggle, and after independence, went on with their separated lives. This special factor makes us rich in ideas, points of views, insights and it also as makes us strong in our shared and commonly accepted beliefs of freedom and nationality.

Some of the things we organize, for example, are celebrations of our anniversary, reunion and national holidays in places where our youth are doing wonders. We went to Kormenae, Afabet, Ala, Kerkebet, Adi halo, Massawa, Filfil and more. We also plan on going to many more.

-How do you schedule your trips?

We plan around national holidays. We are members of the National Union of Eritrean Women, and because Women’s Day is widely celebrated nationwide, that is a viable schedule for us. But mainly our schedule is according to military trainings and whatever activities of development is going on. We go to support our young ones.

-Can you please share an example of one of the most memorable trips?

We once went to Kerkebet. We enjoyed it the most because it’s really far from Asmara. Many of us former freedom fighters are war disabled and older in age now, so it was tiring. But we got on the bus and sang our trip way with the songs of our time. Once we got there we could see the amazing things our young ones were achieving, despite the humidity of the sea, and just felt proud about the endeavors our young ones take on.

-How do the youth respond to your organization?

It’s incredible. They respond with great respect and excitement. In Kerkebet, they awaited us with so much food and drinks, they actually prepared a whole full-on celebration to welcome us. And when we heard that they were arranging such a feast, many members volunteered to go a couple of days before and assist the youngsters with the preparation.
Also, the local residents helped with fetching water and chopping firewood and the end of the day it became a massive gathering remembered by everyone who was there.

Because they welcome us with love, some also organize entertainment programs for us, some do fashion shows and more artistic activities, which allows us, the seniors, to get a glimpse into their youthful world, where we also find our themes from the struggle and values of our culture as new and fresh as when we had them at their age. In their own way, they show us how important and valuable our country is and the extent to which they will support it.

-Are you satisfied by the outcomes?

Definitely. This is not a business venture. It is a spiritual healing. It is a heartfelt thing. We do seminars and open discussion forums. We simply don’t transmit but we also lend our ears, we hear their concerns and problems if they have any.

And talking about the outcomes, there is no financial gain we get but the divine feeling of coming together with our youngsters. The fact that there is no generational gap between us gives us a lot of relief. We can rest assured that for eternity our struggle’s cause will be treasured.

-Where do you get the financing to organize all of this?

We all voluntarily pitch in a few bucks each month. Now, we are about to open a fast food so that we can use our incomes to fund many things.

-Is there anything else you want add, Captain?

Eritrean accounts are of heroism, sacrifice and patriotism. Our history is a history of young women fighting when pregnant, youngsters dying altruistically, offering their life and time, donating whatever they have for the country. Our country is just something divinely special.

We have so much history that we know but that our children don’t know much. And also, so much history is being done by our children that their children won’t even know, as we don’t have the tendency to brag about our achievements. So I worry very much that our history won’t ever be documented. Therefore, I call for journalists, historians and scholars to do their part in researching and documenting. Also, for us as community to be more open about our own stories.