An Eritrean refugee woman crying in the Sinai. She is a refugee. By Kiki Tzeggai June 7, 2018

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To those Eritrean women in power, why do you accept to stagnate in the same “political
position” for decades and never fly higher to even dare to ask this simple question: “Will
our daughters have the right to run for the President’s office in Eritrea?” This is a spraining
question in each of our throat.
All our Veterans worked and fought hard to be on equal stand be it at war or at survival.
How did it happen the males in power outnumber the females? Those hard earned freedoms
being suppressed are enraging to any woman I talked to. It is a strain at the corrosion of
women’s rights in Eritrea.
The few in power have to start talking and walk along the oppressed woman in the desert
of Sinai; in the containers of where-ever-it-is in and around Eritrea. When I left Eritrea and
learned to pick up each fight life threw at me, my dream was to one day- sit down with
the grandmother that raised me, with Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa at the same time.
To Ms. Indira, I would have asked to tell me about her strength and cruelty required to lead
a country of billions of people where women were and still are sitting at the lowest
echelon of human rights. To Mother Teresa I would have liked to ask if some hurting
created all this kindness, or was it even possible to be born within her. To my grandmother
I would ask her to look back and see some Eritreans becoming traffickers or some others
hold labels and dismiss us all as “economical refugees” and want to know if she would still
tell me that the answer to all this is waiting for me at her Enda Mariam Church in Asmara.
Today all are gone and my life never allowed me to meet Indira Ghandi and Mother Teresa,
My grandma died while I was exactly that: a refugee in a foreign country and the per/hour
salary could not feed my kids and my age-old mother.
So today, I would like to sit down and talk to the Eritrean female Ambassadors be it in
Paris or elsewhere and to the Eritrean female Ministers holding a semblance of power.
Since I fear to miss the opportunity to have the chance to talk to them in person, I am
putting my request and my feeling in writing in this article. The few women in power back
home are Veterans of our war of Liberation from the Ethiopian occupation. I hope each
will un-load her title, put aside the protocol’s rules and the half talks required by diplomacy
and talk to me. She will help me. Because help I need for my own sanity.
A common friend, a late Veteran and former Ambassador, introduced me to some of you
from afar. He said these words about you all, almost verbatim, “each is a great fighter, all
strong Eritrean women and few speak French. You have a lot in common.” I always knew
Eritrean women are strong. One raised me. I always knew that our female fighters did
wonders; so much so that our history books can be filled with their lives’ stories. What
made me smile at the end was that some of you are francophone. Somehow, that link I felt
strongest without negating all of the above. Then I hear interviews and I read articles about
statements and dismissal of Eritrean refugees labeled as “economy’s refugees”.
I come WITH PEACE to you and I will not discuss politics with any of you, but would like
to list my feelings about how you and I have different views while pretending to be chatting
sitting next to one another. Where you and I differ is that I am a refugee and you are not. I
know how it feels if your life is owned by others. You never did. I know what hunger is, a
delicious meal sitting in front of you, your stomach gnawing, and your kids’ eyes longing
for it, and you cannot eat unless their conditions are met. You never did go through this. I
know what it means to be trafficked. Many Eritrean women did/do. You never did.
Therefore, our lives split in two parallel lines. We walk along each other because of where
we come from. But we cannot blend. For, you are free and I had to gain my freedom back.
My kids’ freedom was a high price to pay for. I had to give freedom to my girls, so they
would not become women owned by others because of their refugees’ status. I told them
they can be all they want to be, because I would die to give them freedom and options. I
am sure you do the same for your kids back home. You chauffeur them to school and
to soccer games. Many of our young refugee girls have no one to tell them and no one to
protect them in those dark back alleys of the Sahara desert. . They need you to change their
future. Being a refugee is becoming a reason to commit suicide. They need all of us and I
need all of you to use your power back home and change things from the roots of the
I also know about the pain and humiliation of lining up at foreign immigration offices and
have to prove that the kids I was holding are mine. I could not provide a death certificate
for the father/my husband. Because the enemy never provided such proof after killing
Eritreans. I had to go through DNA tests to prove it. You never did I assume. I heard you
had beautiful babies in foreign clinics. Nurses catering to each of your medical needs.
Please ask how many Eritrean women that were fighters along your side for our freedom
are today refugees giving life to kids they cannot tell who the father is because of a group
of Bedouins abusing them? You and I please- put politics aside, cry for them, then hold
hands, and help them. Come down from your ivory tower, for ivory towers collapse with
time. In addition, the collapse might make you discover the hate produced by wrong
politics and burying a conscience is one of them. You and I become Eritrean women saying
“ajokhee, alekhulkee” {be strong, I stand by you in this pain}
The view is not good and we need each other to absorb the shock of screams of our refugees
in Libya, in Sinai, in Sahara desert. The roaming engines of traffickers speaking our own
language and gunfire making kids shake for a lifetime.
Dear Eritrean woman in power, if you happen to walk holding your Hermes bag with your
name’s gold initial engraved in leather, or your dollar store plastic bag – please- leave it all
behind and hug the Eritrean babyeaten up by mosquitoesin the jungle of Calais or other
refugees’ centers. Give a hug and use the cut off piece from your silk shirt to provide as
sanitary napkins to the refugee woman that cannot control nature. But you and I know that
silk does not absorb any liquid and that silk clothing is just useless and cannot walk along
our misery. In those centers, Eritrean men are cutting their clothing and give it away to
women so nature will stop humiliating them. Think about it. I would like you to sit next to
each of us and tell us that it will be OK and you will never label us as “economic refugees”
for, it is much more painful than that and much more truthful you need to be. We are away
from our land and it is painful. Period! We feel miserable. Double period!!
I feel exhausted to reiterate that it is not politics, it is not economics, it is not religion, and
it is simply humanity we have lost all along. It bears repeating, it is a lost sense of humanity.
You and I proud Eritrean women – should change the definition of all Eritrean refugees
are about. They are the definition and the theory of wrong political, economic and social
issues, wrong decision and stubbornness from some. Be it our government or our so-called
opposition groups. In our society, women like your Mom and my grandmother made the
wrong right because they faced the problem, owned the mistakes and found solutions. It is
not a solution to label refugees as “economic problem”
Because I want peace with you, allow me to say, “OK, it is economical and what is your
solution dear Eritrean woman holding government’s power? Walk away after sticking a
label on our foreheads?”
Do not leave me there please. Sit down with me and explain because I have no explanation.
None what so ever! You and I Eritrean women- should talk, hold hands and find a way
to tell Eritrean women like all of us that they have rights. Rights to work, to study, to have
a clean house, to walk to a store and buy sanitary napkins. To take anyone to court if their
salary are not matching their male counterparts. But how to do that if you and I Eritrean
women are not even looking at the problems the same way? The correct way? That is
to admit the obvious and then uplift each other. Not stick a label and walk away. That
refugee woman will still be sitting under the scorching sun of Sinai and bleed because
either she cannot stop nature or one of her kidney was the price to save her family. In this
entire struggle, we have to be alert and inclusive of others’ struggle. Men included. The
collocation of one-size fit-all solution is not for Eritrea.
Because you and I share a birth country, a common struggle for independence background,
but the path I was forced to take once in exile, you never have. And I applaud your chance
to freedom. I am happy fellow Eritreans never chased you, made you leave your country
and ended somewhere in Africa and took the beatings, with no brother to jump and defend
you. I am happy for you and I will never stick a label on your forehead that reads “This
Eritrean woman is the lucky one”. No, I will not do that. But I will wait for you to share
my tears of yesterday and clean the tears of today. There are plenty of suffering Eritrean
women around you.
I need you to simply show humanity towards the refugees. I will call them “economic
refugees ” for the sake of this open letter to you Government’s employee woman , but I
wish I saw you rushing and hug a child in that group. I wish you told your driver to
approach the limousine to the gate of refugees’ camps you were staring at and took time to
go buy some change of clothing with all the needs of a refugee woman.
I wish you told the media that you joined the struggle be it in the field or in the cities –
and never cared about cameras, but cared of your people. If you are asked, now why are
they in this miserable state of living and not equal to you? Please explain that it is because
they were never dealt the same opportunities like you and cannot be equal to you, so they
left to find jobs. To escape prison, to search for their sons and daughter in the hands of
traffickers. They are not equal to you. That is the reality and the first job of an ambassador
or a Minister is to present your rich credentials to the host country and then make your
legacy a richer one by becoming a mediator within pain.
I am not easy at giving up hope because of the strong family background I come from. But
with this silent statement of yours, you made me realize that the road is still long and
women have a long way to go. I always considered adversitywould meet solidarity if
handled by Eritrean Women. You planted a seed of panic in my heart with your looking
away. If we just judge and pretend not to see, dismiss and stick a label, not only we are not
ensuring a better life for our daughters and their daughters, but also we are making refugees
be so for eternity. None of us is perfect, not you, not me, not many like us.
But Iwish you will stop your government’s car next time and take as manyrefugeewomen
that fit in the front seat, back seats and many believe you me will accept to fit in the
trunk and take them to your residential government’s provided home and offer them to
shower. Just a shower. You will make them feel that they reached heaven. Then on your
way back of dropping them to their refugees’ camps as “economical refugees” make sure
you stop by the dollar store and pay for all the things women need. Some make up will not
hurt. It might give them a sense of “make believe life” while sitting in the stench of that
When I open my window, I let air and some sun come in. It is a foreign sun and foreign
air. When you open your window, because you have the right to live in Asmara, you close
your eyes and inhale the air and sun of our Eritrea. You inhale the smell of eucalyptus and
the neighbor’s “bun jebena” all made in Eritrea. You and I are Eritrean women and yet I
envy your right to go back and forth and feel our land beneath your feet. As for me, I will
have to leave you at the airport dear Eritrean female Ambassador or Minister and I go back
to the “I –do-not-even-care” feeling the land I walk in. It is a foreign land anyway.
Now you and I imagine the refugees. They do not even care if they are sitting on human
remains or they are swimming to shore. You and I stare at them. I will cry and
scream. You have your stickers ready in your purse. Alternatively, in your leather folder
your secretary holds for you.
I say please, to all the Fozia, Hanna, Askalu, Selma, Abrehet, Worku and many more, to
never minimize our pain. Never label us. Look at us as Eritreans. Tell your children that
you forgot holding a title and rushed to hug the refugee woman and you never will stick a
label in her forehead that reads “Economical refugee” and walked away.
Our refugees could not care less of your titles and speeches, because they are hungry and
they are trafficked. And they have a hard time being accepted by humanitarian countries
because of the labels you stick in their foreheads. The glue you used is hard to
detach. Please take it away-
Before I leave you all, would you help now with creating an Eritrean Veterans ‘Day? You
won upbeat battles on your own and made Asmara a UNESCO heritage, this should be as
easy as drinking a glass of water for Eritrean women/Veterans like you. I look forward for
you to guide me. It is a day that will unite ALL Veterans and we, your families will
show gratitude. Will you please?
I conclude my letter with assuming rightfully so that from now on you will NEVER
DARE label me and my kids as “economic refugees” My husband, their father, gave his
life to protect you and make ALL of you walk into a free Asmara.
In closing, I send a smile towards you and say: “Come sit next to me where the panorama
is devastating but you and I Eritrean women – can fix it. Because you and I learned from
our mothers never to label people”.
I thank you and look forward to your visit in my area. Or me in the city of light some call
home now. I would love to take a walk with you, just the two of us having a conversation
in French and no bodyguards and let us promise each other – no politics. Just some
Eritrean women that love Eritrea equally; but are – for the moment -sitting at different
windows. I see our handicapped Veterans, now called refugees. Some of you look at the
Tour Eiffel. I will join you next time. I hope you join me soon.
With only love and solidarity, from the Eritrean woman I am to all Eritrean women you
are. The Veterans back home, The Ministers, the Ambassadors, the Professors, the
Doctors, the Military, the housewives and more women abroad.
Kiki Tzeggai
June 7, 2018

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