I am unequivocal in saying that Eritreans have experienced tragedy. They have experienced loss of lives of loved ones in war and violence. They suffer from traumatic effects of violence and war on individual basis. I have been to Eritrea five times in the last 18 years. I have talked to many people over that span of time. There is a lot of grief in the lives of many Eritreans.
How could they not grief? Sadness is a common occurrence and tragedy has become the defining norm in society for so long. Having seen and known persons who died in battles, too many to count, is a fact of life for almost every Eritrean family and individual. The dead have left, but not completely. They have left their traces deep inside you, in the remotest depth of your soul, memory and you are haunted by that memory---unconsciously. That is an indisputable fact. No one could say we did not know that the wars meant tragedy for many people. There is a lot of pain inside many individuals and families. This is common knowledge.
The fact that in a society like Eritrea, that tragedy is born with pride and dignity does not diminish from its bitter hurt. How the hurt manifests, shows up in individual lives I do not know. I just know of my friends and family members and know that there is unspoken sadness; mentioned in little hints. It is whispered in moments of remembrance that comes in casual conversation when someone mentions and says, “I know that person, he was a friend of my brother or sister.” And you ask, “Who of your brothers or sisters?” He will say, “The one who died in the front”. “A friend I used to have,” would say another one and you say “who?” and she would say, “A friend I lost in the last war.” These memories stay between friends, partners, in private thoughts, and in family conversations.
This remembering is not planned, orchestrated, dated, or ritualized as we see on June 20. It is a daily event. It happens when one lets the mind wonder to places and moments in the past once in awhile, in fleeting moments of memory. It comes as a flashback, images of remembering the persons or a person you miss so much and you do not have anyone to talk to about it, and stays with you, inside yourself. It sometimes comes up in family conversation or among friends, if at all; if you trust them; but often it stays within you. It is mostly private thought; comes to the surface once in awhile; when you remember something, when something reminds you of the person you miss. In a passing moment of the day, you do remember and then it is shelved into the recesses of your mind, but not for long. It comes up again and the face shows up again unexpectedly. It is just another short moment and then goes away, just as thoughts come and go so does your mind travel scanning things randomly, the fleeting moments of memory. The difficulty is when you do remember them, with whom do you remember them—(with none). You have no one to remember them with. You are not in the same line of thought with the person next to you. Even family members are not on the same line of thought. You remember someone but the family member does not know how you remember the same person, and in what way you remember. They do not know if you loved them more than the ones that are alive, where you closer to them than to the living, are you trying to say you were closer to the person than they are. The memory is your own. It stays in your head. You do not want to cheapen it by sharing it and have to explain yourself and your thoughts and why you thought of it. You just stay with it.
You remember the person through names you take or give to your children, through pass words for your email address, through going to your imagination and staying there for a short time and then snap out of it, leaving it there to be visited later, another time; but the short time you spent remembering them, you say you will visit them again because you cherish it. It is a private thought. It is a cherished thought. It is unexpressed and unspoken thought. There are no words to express it. The feelings are just feelings; they are feelings of longing, missing, spaces in your thought that not be filled with anything else, but those raw feelings. If your memory lingers, then tears start to stream in your eyes, just raw tears. You did not will them. They just come and you let them wet your face. You are alone. No one is looking. You let the tears stream down your cheeks. You wipe them out. You choke. Your breath deeply, you sob, you sniffle, and you breathe in pain. You breathe heavily with a heavy heart and dry throat. You get up and walk a bit. To change the mood, you walk away; you look out of the window. You get distracted. You are back to your normal state; but you are not finished.
You will revisit this place and this mind, this recess of your mind, this far place in your memory again. It will happen again. You know it. It comes on its own. You do not summon it. It can be triggered by simply listening to music, music that is nostalgic. Music that is sad. Now, you can go back to your normal life. You are back. That fleeting moment is gone. But the memory will be back. The mourning is not finished. Another time, it will be there when you least expected it. It will be while you are asleep. The dead come in your dream. You are with them. You are happy meeting them and wonder where they have been. You are so happy to see them again. It is a longing, a missing and a wanting some continuity from the past, to continue your interrupted moment with them. You were not finished with them; you have so much to tell them. You want to see their faces, hear their voices. You are ready to embrace them and hug them and at that moment you wake up and you realize it was a dream. You just roll over and say your prayers and go back to sleep. You wish in your heart that scene in your dream was true. For a fleeting moment it was true. You were with them …
This is all private. You are mourning and grieving, and remembering. But that is all inside you. You and your memory are friends. You share a secret with yourself. It will stay a secret as long as you live. For you do not want anyone else know your secret. It is all yours. If you mention to anyone, they do not appreciate it, they can’t sympathize. They have their own grief, but not yours. It is a personal loss. They have their own personal loss. You wonder if they live in that world too. Institutively, you know they do. You are not going to say anything. Just leave it as it is. It is your grief. You keep it under control. They keep theirs under control. You can’t expect them to grief with you. You do not want to open a box, a closed box. You do not know what is inside. Someone might have a lot more grief than you. Another one might have escaped all grief for reason you do not want to know. For knowing will bring out who lost and who did not in the last war. You do not want to envy them. You do not want to hate them for not suffering equally. You do not want to resent them. You just want to have cordial, friendly relationship by keeping your secret within you. You do not know their sufferings. They do not know your internal pain, your grief. You leave things unsaid. Keep them secret. It is your secret. You expect them to keep their secret. You just go on life. The fact that there is annual commemoration of martyrs is not really a release; not a way of getting this grief, this pain out in public for you. You are just glad they do it. There are some moments during the commemoration that allow you to grief. This often happens when some musicians sing songs of mourning and memory of their friends. You use that occasion to remember yours. It helps a bit, may be.