By Girma Feyissa
Last week was one of the most nostalgic weeks I have encountered here in Brussels. The general environmental shifts are enough to provide some insight as to how it feels at this time of the year. The long nights have started losing their sunshine; all the deciduous trees, which were standing green and beautiful along the sidewalks, have now shed their leaves. They now stand naked, as their branches bear the image of dried bones escaping from the grave.
The temperature has fast dropped down to 3 degrees Celsius at best and it has started raining ceaselessly. That is the general atmospheric situation we now find ourselves.
Add to that the devastating news that came last weekend of the untimely death of Kibreab Dawit, who was found burned to death next to his children in the middle of the night. His wife was also found near him, as she gasped air, near death. As sad as it was, this looked like a page from a Yilma Habte novel.
The young man was talented and had the potential to be a great footballer. He had the making of what former Ethiopian coach, the Portuguese Mariano Barreto, would appreciate. There were widespread rumours that Mariano had wanted to coach Yilma to international stardom.
The news of the footballer’s death forced organisers to postpone the Ethiopian Premier League match between Awassa Kenema and Commercial Bank. Fans and former colleagues gave Yilma a beautiful farewell and I too cannot help but pay tribute to him. His wife’s corpse was taken to her hometown in Arba-Minch.
I am homesick and this tragedy makes me emotional. I miss my friends and relatives in Ethiopia and my tears rolls down my cold cheeks, as every tragic milestone becomes yesterday’s news and I am forced to embrace new ones daily. I shy away from discussing such sensational issues under the conditions in which I am in. Sometimes, I feel like writing articles for this page on everyday issues, like the weather. The best thing, or virtue, of European life could be made good with the fact that the water supply and electric power is never interrupted even for a second.
Like all differing circumstances of the week, we had positive stories for FM Radio listeners. The jovial page of the week takes us to a weekly presentation of inquisitive circumstances, based on semantics and nicknaming. Although journalistic ethics could prevent me from revealing the producer’s name, I, being an ordinary writer, use my liberty to cross the hair-thick line. With due respect to all, I find it unbearable not to reveal the producer of this weekly programme; it is a journalistic endeavour that has gained popularity in recent weeks.
The producer, Wondimu Hailu, assisted by many listeners, bases his findings on semantics and nicknaming after villagers. Take the example of Aregash. This tells the story of Cotes Bus N°13, which traverses from the North-Eastern end of the city to Merkato. Bus N°13, like all other buses, never arrives on time. Milk sellers, like the residents of the former Military Hospital, nicknamed the Bus Aregash. This was good enough material for the producer’s inquisitive mind to produce an interesting story, which he did.
Last week’s collection, however, was not in the same genre. It had nothing to do with semantics or nick naming by villagers. It was about the true face of extreme poverty and humanity’s resilience to live with it, as well as the importance of mankind’s formidable and almost incredible effort to free oneself from sheer poverty.
Tagesech and her poor husband were living together and working hard to earn their daily bread, in an attempt to make ends meet together.
She gave birth to an unfortunate disabled child, who was not able to show any positive change in his physical growth. The husband left the brunt of the burden to his wife and abandoned them to their fate, disappearing into thin air. The gossip that went around about the unhygienic handling of their crippled child took its toll. Customers distanced themselves her. The thriving business could not last long, despite the fact that she had tried as many options as possible.
At last, some pathetic souls told her life history and her unfaltering love for the child whom she carried on her back for an incredible number of years. The news reached the ears of the producer. He presented the nostalgic story to his listeners. His telephone was flooded by listeners from far and near. These calls were coming with promises and donations from as far as Holland.
The humanist values of the age-old country came out in a flood.
At first, she had no option but to weep and depend on people’s altruistic actions. She had gone out to the church gates and side streets, covering her head with a piece of cloth to serve as a mask. But that did not do her any good. The small titbits could not cover her expenses. The house rent could not be paid. Depending on begged money could not finance even her basic needs.
She seemed to have a little of the spirit of the late Tomas Sankara of Burkina Faso in her blood. She joined the vending community and tried to make ends meet. That went well for the first few months only.
Donations flooded to Wondimu’s telephone. Perhaps the best came from a group of doctors, who offered to diagnose the disabled child whose limbs could not carry his body. Could there be a defective gland that is blocked or could a head scan reveal anything? The police, on their part, could try to trace the fugitive and bring him to court for his due verdict. Crime novelists could work hard to find the nuts and bolts of the mystery – who knows?