By Meaza Petros Solomon
I am sure you remembered, wherever you are, to mark my 17th birthday last week. However, I can tell you it wasn’t like my fourth birthday in Asmara when you celebrated it with me. Unfortunately, mother missed the celebration because she was out of the country to pursue her studies in Arizona. Can you imagine, thirteen years later, knowing I cannot fully relive the events of my fourth birthday I am still trying to cultivate those traces of happy memories by hanging on to them. The experience of that distant day, which has somehow fused together with my spirituality over the years, has left residues of love, grace, and gratitude in me. Frankly, I find it hard to explain how lucky I am to have safeguarded that very last memory which ended up depicting a portrait of you in my mind. Without a doubt, it is that very portrait which reminds me of the fact that you are my loving father, flesh and blood, and I am your baby daughter who misses you very much.
Later in life, when I learned what happened to you on 18 Sep 2001, that is a week after my fourth birthday, the day you disappeared from my life, I uncompromisingly refused to accept the story. It wasn’t until that dreadful day when I googled your name that things became clearer. That day changed my life completely. Mind you, that was the day I was left more stunned after I learned that mother was also missing.
Again, I cannot explain to you how I felt on that day; how that day drained me of all my energy and the will to face the world around me. Since then, once I started asking questions, I could sense my age of innocence slipped away as mistrust and disbelief began to take hold of me. I was only ten when tragedy hit which felt like someone dropped a bombshell on me. I wanted to go into hiding and I didn’t want to go back to school to confront my school mates. It felt as if the pillars of my faith that supported my confidence suddenly crumbled into dust. Oh how I needed you more in that moment, more than ever, to hold me and tell me the Internet got it all wrong.
I am not sure if your jailers ever told you that mother is also languishing in prison like you. She came back for us upon your incarceration only to be picked up by security agents at the airport as we waited to welcome her. It is beyond my comprehension why mother had to end up in prison for acting in accordance to her motherly instincts - to look after her own children whose father suddenly disappeared from their lives.
Dear father, I cannot close my eyes and make the 18th September vanish from my personal organiser. On the contrary, I have eventually learned to be strong by forcing my reality march in tandem with my wounded memories of the past. I am not going to allow your plight and that of mother’s to deform my youth – I have to remain strong for both of you. I must have something to keep my thoughts busy, some object in life which will fill this vacuum you left in me. Even if it feels as if the sadness is too much to bear, I need something to prevent it from wearing away my heart. I will be the best I can be in order to overcome the tragedy and to lend a voice to your ideals.
Dear father, in your absence we have created a family tradition and lasting memories that are keeping our family together over the long haul. I will consider myself a failure only if I forget your ideals, objectives and principles that landed you in jail. I must uphold them to the best of my ability for I know a day will come when I will be in a position to carry them out with many others. The dark powers of your jailers can only be broken by the spirit of light which is growing in me day-by-day. I can tell you that those who have been infected by your ideals and touched by your unjust incarceration continue to set brushfires of freedom in the minds of many Eritreans.
I feel your presence around me all the time. I can hear your comforting voice in my quiet moments. During those quiet moments I try to tell you that you have been robbed of your precious liberty by the current leaders of the very country you and your fellow comrades liberated. Your only crime is demanding liberty for your own people. In my mind that is not a crime but an act of courage. Our family unit has also been robbed in the process – a husbandless wife who has been thrown in jail and fatherless children whose upbringing has been seriously compromised.
Before I finish, let me say that I love you and mum a lot. I miss you so much I am ready for a family reunion now. Please send for me when you are ready to welcome me home.
Your loving daughter,
I hope you will attend my graduation in June 2015.
In collaboration with FOP – Eritrea
POCs: Dawit Mesfin and Tsedal Yohannes