For a long time now, all I can think of is her – my sister, the young mother of Tigray. And now that it is Ashenda season, even more so.
As you can see, my sister, the strongest and most resilient woman I know, has lost control and fallen unconscious in the very streets she used to come out to celebrate Ashenda. I know her spirit won’t but her body has succumbed to the extreme brutality she has been subjected to for the past 640+ days. My sister, the lioness, has been forced to leave the care of her baby daughter to fate. And when you know how kind and overprotective she is to the neighborhood children, let alone her own little one, your heart breaks to pieces to see her like this and you won’t be able to take this image out of your mind at all.
This was supposed to be her week. These were supposed to be the couple of days in a year she should have been devoted to herself, her beauty & joy. She should have been gracing her hometown with her breath-taking beauty.
She should have been losing herself in the moment, with overpowering joy, and unashamedly showing off how beautiful and free-spirited she inherently is.
She should have been dancing and singing “ኣሸንዳ ኣሸንዳ ዓደይ” in the streets of Mekelle, Maichew, Adigrat, Abyi-Adi, Adwa, Axum, Shire, Humera and in every little town and village of Tigray, care free.
She should have been beautifying her little girl with ኵሕሊ (kuhili), jewels, fancy traditional hairdo and what have you, to get her ready for ዓይኒ-ዋሪ (Ayni-Wari)
I should have been scanning social media to catch one more glimpse of my graceful sister, shining, glowing, and simply being her.
I should have been waiting for her calls and texts with overwhelming anticipation, nostalgia and pride. She should have been sending me snapshots of the most exquisite hairdos and outfits. She should have been catching me up on the highlights of the Holiday.
I should have been telling her I am so delighted for her, but I am also feeling down because I am homesick. I would have told her I miss her and I miss home so much. She would have comforted me, the way a sister always does. She would have known to say the right thing to lift my spirits up and get me laughing out loud, in no time.
You see, Ashenda is my sister’s absolute favorite time of the year, and she should have been doing all of the above and much more. She should have been shining. But she isn’t. Instead:
She is in refugee camps, in a foreign land, depending on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter. She has been forced to flee from her home with nothing, except the clothes on her back. Worse, I hear that her family is not whole. She does not know the whereabouts of most of her loved ones, including her own children. She does not know whether most of her family members, her friends and neighbors are alive or not.
She is in an IDP camp with no sustainable access to any life-sustaining necessities, weakened and emaciated from hunger, illness, and trauma. She has been chased out of her home leaving everything she has worked for her entire life behind. Her property, business, farm, crops, and livestock has been looted or destroyed. Her home has been burned down. She has heard several of her family members have been massacred before they got a chance to flee. Her daughters have been brutally raped right infront of her eyes. She has been sexually violated herself, as she flees.
She is anguished – she is still in shock. She has borne trauma and witnessed atrocities no human being should have.
She is numb from the unimaginable loss and grief she has suffered, yet has not even gotten a chance to properly mourn and process.
She is in safe-houses and shelters, beset by unfathomable physical, emotional and mental trauma she has sustained. She has been subjected to the most cruel, barbaric and horrifying weaponized sexual violence our world has witnessed in recent history. She has been tortured, gang-raped and kept as a sex slave. She was raped in front of her family members. She has sustained unimaginable physical injury. She has contracted HIV and other STDs from her rapists. She has gotten pregnant from the assault. The barbaric and savage rapists have put foreign substances, including hot rods and nails inside her. She has not gotten basic help or treatment for the physical, emotional and psychological injuries that have been inflicted upon her. Because after they had looted and destroyed the healthcare facilities that could have served her, the perpetrators have put her under siege so that any help wouldn’t be possible to reach her.
She is helplessly watching her severely malnourished and ill children languish in the hospitals of Tigray, which offer no help whatsoever because they have run out of therapeutic food and basic medication, because of the siege.
She has become a target of weaponized starvation, along with her family and her entire community, by the very government which was supposed to protect them. Thus my kind and generous sister does not have anything to give to her hungry children. Of all the unimaginable and horrifying acts of cruelty she has been subjected to over the past 21 + months, I hear that this has become the most unbearable of all. Of course, I knew it would! She is suffering the most cruel punishment a mother can be subjected to – helplessly watching her children die from hunger.
A mother, weakened from starvation herself, forced to watch her babies languishing from hunger and preventable illnesses day in – day out, month after month. Words fail, utterly short. to even attempt to express her anguish, her bone-crushing pain, her desperation and agony.
So there she is, my beloved sister, collapsed helplessly, leaving her baby girl, the apple of her eyes, unattended.
Her unconscious, worn-out self bears witness to the complicity, silence and indifference of the world in the face of the ultimate evil, as much as the immeasurable cruelty and brutality she continues to bear in the hands of genociders.
Mind you, my sister was not weak or helpless. On the contrary she is one of the most resilient, hardworking, and self-reliant women there are.
Before the agents of death and destruction visited her peaceful home, my sister was the formidable Doctor, Teacher, Engineer, Farmer and what have you, who endeavored to serve her community and support her family. She was not only self-sufficient but also supported her elderly parents, uncles and aunts.
She was a University professor, with boundless dreams and aspirations. She was educated abroad and she could have chosen to stay and make a living there – like me. But she was much more selfless and brave than I was and chose to go back and serve her community.
She was an aspiring entrepreneur, small business owner, manager or CEO. She was more than self-sufficient. She had enough savings in the banks, and investment incomes to last her family and loved ones for a lifetime.
She was a daily laborer, a waitress, a maid, clerk, a chauffeur, street vendor, etc, who, religiously, believed in hard work and self-reliance and made sure her children were well-fed, dressed and were attending good schools, even if it meant she had to work from pre-dawn to way later after dusk.
You see, my sister, her children and everyone who has been depending on her are going hungry because the invaders had bombed, shelled, looted, burned and destroyed her farm, crops, place of work, business, and all other private wealth and the public infrastructure she depended upon and engineered a man-made famine. Then they put her under complete blockade with no access to her own savings in the bank, electricity, fuel, transportation services, communication services, humanitarian aid, basic health care, life-saving medication, and all other basic necessities.
My sister is not weak at all – not by a long shot. I implore you not to imagine her so. That would be adding another layer to the injustice she has been subjected to; that would be unkind. The unrelenting act of cruelty of the authors and perfectors of the Tigray Genocide, the complicity of the majority of the world and indifference of the rest, is the reason you see her the way she is today. That all the energy has been drained out of her and that she has collapsed in the streets she should have been celebrating Ashenda now is a testimony to the fact that the world has turned blind eyes and deaf ears to her pain, desperation, pleas for help and the injustice she is bearing. This image stands a witness to the disheartening reality that the world has failed her; that it has failed the women of Tigray; that it has failed their little babies.
So I ache for her – my sweet-tempered, kind and beautiful sister. I ache for her children, the innocent little boys and girls of Tigray. I ache that my world has chosen to ignore her suffering. I feel betrayed by the world that chose to simply shrug off my sister’s suffering, as if it just isn’t happening. I yell, I scream, I cry, I beg, I plead for her – on her behalf. And for me really, because my existence would not have much meaning, without her in it. Not surprisingly, the world which has chosen to disregard my sister’s agony, continues to brush off my cries as well. I feel deep pain at a level and degree I never knew existed. I feel betrayed by the world that I put so much trust upon to do the right thing; to stand up to barbarians, killers and genociders and uphold its responsibility to protect their victims – as it promised it will do, time and time again.
So, at the end of every day, after I pray to my God for mercy, divine providence and deliverance for my sister, and her children. I cry to her, as well. I pray to her to just hold on for just a little while longer. I plead to her ‘this one time, my beloved, and dawn will come’. I beg her not to give in to the complete darkness and utter desperation that is threatening to swallow her whole. I beg her to willing herself to rise up and keep going, no matter how hard. I pray to her to promise me that she will persevere , that I will see her again, that we will celebrate Ashenda together again. And I trust she does hear my prayer; I trust she does promise. I know she does, she is my sister – the selfless, kind, compassionate, strong, unbreakable and resilient one!
Mind you, over the past 2 years, I have lost faith in so many things that I thought were unshakable. But never in her. I never lose faith in her resilience and iron-clad will to persevere. I never lose faith in her innate strength to fight back desperation and hopelessness. Did you ask, ‘why?” ? Because I know her – I know my sister very well . She will rise from the ashes, no matter what. She will overcome, against all odds.
And yes, she will celebrate Ashenda – the authentic and magical way, only she can perfect. The streets of her home towns and villages will once more again be adorned with her graceful beauty. The sweet melody of her music, methodical rhythm of her dances, her infectious laughter and overflowing joy will reverberate across the hills, mountains and valleys of Tigray!