Letter to Qaliti
I wonder if you know. I wonder if you know just how many people you have touched.
I am sitting around these days, waiting. Through all the anticipation of having another child, I feel a twinge of sadness that my children might never know the
I don’t mean to flatter you. Or canonize you. I just need you to know how much you have touched me.
I’ve been reading and re-reading your January letter from Qaliti. History is paved with people whose spiritual strength made hope possible. To me, Birtukan, the greatest gift anyone can give humanity is hope. As long as we have hope- hope for a better tomorrow- anything is possible. You gave me hope. How do I start thanking you for that?
What the Red and White Terror campaigns did to our parents was kill their spirit, and thereby their hope. So much so that they became the first generation of Ethiopian exiles. Regimes are cruel not just to keep their detractors in check, but to make sure future generations don’t dare hope for a better tomorrow. It’s what happened to my generation: we were so galled by what the Derg did to our parents that we severed the nerves and deadened our will to hope for a better
What the EPRDF, in turn, is doing is trying to convince a new generation that it is the best Ethiopia can do. If shiny buildings don't convince you of that, then gunning you down will. And when you stop believing you deserve leaders who are honorable, when you are thankful for a government which is “better than Mengistu”, when you start reasoning out that you should be grateful the EPRDF is at least not “boiling alive” the opposition (as Donald Levin keeps telling us to do), that’s when you lose. It is so subtle, this shift, that most times you don’t know how much of yourself you’ve allowed to be beaten down until you find yourself in the middle of the ocean and can’t even make out the shoreline.
There are ways to fix political maladies. There are mechanisms to ease economic degradations. But how do you fix a broken spirit? How do you restore hope? How do you keep holding to that one unempirical, intangible ingredient that allows you to say, “I am worth more than this.”
That’s what you have given me, Birtukan. You gave me, and countless more like me, hope. You made it possible for me to see that
You made it difficult for us to give up on
I read the stunning account of the court proceedings from this past week.
At this point Birtukan entered the room through the back entrance and stood on the passage between the benches dividing the men and the women defendants. She tried to sit with the male detainees but the guards did not allow her. Some argument ensued at the scene while Birtukan and the guards were exchanging words. Adil finally asked Birtukan if there was any thing wrong. She told the court that the police did not allow her to sit with the other defendants who are jointly charged with her in a mass charge. She further argued that there is no law in the country which requires female and male defendants who are jointly charged for the same crime to sit separately in court and asked the court why the need for the introduction of this new rule. Adil then allowed her to sit with the male defendants.
It was probably a small gesture to you, visceral and natural. You probably didn’t even think twice about rejecting such a capricious slight. But you stood up to one of the many small, every day injustices we’ve been conditioned to accept. Not just accept, but to be grateful for. (At least they are letting her attend her own hearing. So what if she has to sit with the women?)
But Rosa Parks started the civil rights movement just by refusing to give up her bus seat, didn’t she?
If we don’t stand up to the small injustices, how can we aim for bigger targets? If we don’t pick up our neighbor, how can we claim to care about changing governments? Where is it that I read that one has to build a shack before one ventures to tear down a palace…?
You are extraordinary. Your action in that courtroom may have been extraordinarily ordinary to you, but for me, and hopefully my generation, you restored hope.
I know you don’t do this by yourself. You are surrounded by other strong men and women. I know that, and this letter is as much to them as it is to you.
Thank you for reminding us that the state
Thank you for giving me hope that my children will perhaps know an
I wonder if you know.
You are in my thoughts.