Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Sitting in the corridor, in front of the emergency room of Ayder Referral Hospital, I was listening to the sad story of Adem Kahsay. Adem, 35, and his 11 years old son arrived at Mekelle from Shire, two days ago after travelling for 9 days on foot through the hostile ups and downs, gorges and deep valleys of Qelaqil, Hirmi, Zana, Adet, Weree, Guroro, Guya, Tanqua and Gibba.

After 9 tiresome days of thirst and hunger, his son fainted a few kilometers into Mekelle. Adem carried him for hours on his shoulders, and he was admitted to the hospital’s emergency room on learning his breathing difficulty. The boy was completely dehydrated and exhausted.

Full of awful emergency cases, the hospital was in a complete disorder. Used wound bandages, syringes, blood-stained pieces of cotton and other dirty garbages piled up everywhere on the passway curves. Due to the horrible war, many staff didn’t resume office yet. Nurses run here and there pushing people with fresh wounds on stretchers, starving kids under comma, young mothers painfully struggling for delivery and all sorts of emergencies. Uninterrupted syren pitches coming in from the ambulances controlled our ears. Every other minute, you hear collective people yelling and screaming from the mortuary room.

Adem and I knew each other seven years ago, when I was in Gondar for a short visit with two German tourists. He gave us a free shuttle from the airport on his way back to the downtown piassa. He was kind enough to deliver us up to Goha Hotel. When he was departing, he passed over his business card to me, and told me that he was available in case we need to hire a minibus for our tour. Since then I use his service everytime I stop at or pass by Gondar. We developed an intimate relationship through time.

In 2015 when the Gondrines attacked, killed and plundered Tigreans, he was a victim. One afternoon, on one of the open streets of Gondar, he was dragged off his car by slothful youths, belabored him with sticks, robbed him of what he had, put fire into his minibus and threw him on the roadside with his head downwards. This happened in broad daylight on a busy street. Without the police stirring a finger to help him, his life was only saved by weeks of hospital treatment. He soon fled to Shire along with his wife and his son. Many friends of him were subject to mass murder, looting, and deportation, for their ethnicity.

Looking at his face, anyone can clearly understand what happened to this young man. Ripe drops of tear hanging on his eyelashes, painful words were coming out of his dry lips.

I was afraid to ask him about his wife and his 3 years old daughter. But he understood my curiosity.

“I don’t know what to say, but I can’t find a place where I call home, a place where I can live peacefully”

I was almost crying with him. He was right, what can I say to stop him? I didn’t find either.

“You know, when we were deported from Gondar empty-handed and tried to settle in Shire, I thought everything was over. I thought it was the end. We started all over again. It took us a lot to come back to a normal life.

But soon, this war broke again on us. Amhara and Isaias beasts came and bombed our home with heavy mortars. When on the evening of 17 November Shire was blindly shelled by heavy artilleries, I ran back home from work to only find my family buried inside a ruin. I lost my wife and my daughter. To save his life, my son was playing in the neighborhood.”

Adem witnessed many killings, including children, and damaged businesses and homes. “Fresh bodies piled over one another were transported on chariotes” he added.

His voice frequently interrupted, when telling this, going up and down, and sometimes crying loud. I didn’t say a word to help him, all I remember was I was soaked with tears too facing down onto the floor and my hand on his shoulder.

The doctor came out of the emergency room and shouted at us. He handed us a prescription and ordered us to buy it immediately. I cleared my throat and told Adem to stay there. I almost knocked every drug store; the medicine in the prescription was never to be found. I hopelessly returned back to tell the doctor.

Adem’s son was crimped on the bed, his knees folding close to touch his chin. Glucose drip hanging on a metal hook against the wall was tied to his hand. Only a slight heartbeat can be felt on his chest. He has developed severe trauma. Combined with hunger and long days of walk, he felt heavily ill. Thanks to the doctors who took self initiation to avail themselves in the hospital regardless of all the risks, he looked recovering.

We spent the night in the hospital corridor without taking a nap, talking all night long. Adem later told me how horrible the incident was. Innocent civilians were shot to death. Dead Bodies were left fallen on the streets. It was like a 3D game. Life was so cheap in the hands of the soldiers.

Everything happened so fast. The four of them were inside their warm home playing and chatting two weeks ago. He is now sitting on a cold terrazzo floor with me after burying his wife and daughter, and hospitalizing his only son.

I remember his phone call three months ago. He told me to use his car for my tour services. ‘Your car?’ I laughed at him. “yes my car! I’m serious!” He insisted. He told me that he went through a long process to withdraw a loan from a bank and along with support from his wife’s family, he bought another minibus.

And now, what happened to him in Gondar five years ago, happened in his own hometown. Eritrean soldiers dragged him off his car, beat him with butt-ends of their old Klashinkove, threw him at the roadside to die there and took his minibus. His eyes turned red when telling me this, he had already run out of tears.

Hopeless Adem asked me “Where is the place we can call home? A safer place that we can live in peace?”

“I don’t know Adem, I don’t know. You can choose a friend, but not a neighbor. This is our home. Maybe it was our fault, good fences make good neighbors.” I mumbled, I’m not sure if he had heard me.