Friday, May 05, 2006

Letter to Qaliti

May 5, 2006

Dear Birtukan,

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 Ethiopia of my childhood; the small kindnesses that nurtured me, the safety I felt without knowing why; the understated magnanimity I took for granted.

Ethiopia has broken my heart more times than I care to admit to you. But Ethiopia has mended me also.

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 Ethiopia.

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 Ethiopia can do so much better than the EPRDF. Ethiopians dared to have hope and belief that there is a better tomorrow. For that they were punished by a government which can only survive by killing the spirit of the country.

You made it difficult for us to give up on Ethiopia. How can we? If people like you can stand in the middle of the boulevard of ruined dreams and urge us ahead, how can we say we’ve done our part and retreat? You’ve made it difficult, Birtukan. You’ve made it impossible for me to forget what Ethiopia has done for me, and what I should do for Ethiopia.

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 Ethiopia is in today is not good enough. Ethiopia is better than this; and we can’t forget it is neither whimsical nor fanciful to want leaders who are honorable, noble, humble, dignified and, yes, courageous.

Thank you for giving me hope that my children will perhaps know an Ethiopia I knew, but, most importantly, an Ethiopia I never had the privilege of knowing.

I wonder if you know.

You are in my thoughts.


Anonymous ha to zed! said...


*you* make it difficult for *me* to hide in my corner and pretend nothin's happening, or that i don't have the power to change anything. truth is, i didn't have the WILL.

3:34 PM, May 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was exactly what I was fillig, thanks for articulating it for me.
Do you know that she got a one year old baby as well? The sacrifice she is making is beyond any comprehenshin.

4:21 PM, May 05, 2006  
Anonymous wonchif said...

Rosa Parks - Bertukan Mideksa

The resemblance is all there... the looks, the mild-mannerism, the defiance, the intellect, the cause, the imprisonment and of course the WWG*

btw, Ms. Parks was 42 when she refused to give up her seat... I think Wo. Mideksa is about the same age when she refused to sit in the wrong seat.

we love our heros.

*Women With Guts

5:48 PM, May 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I used to spend so much time trying to explain my point of view via email to my good hearted but misguided friends. Nowadays, I simply cut and paste your you seem to read out loud my conscious thoughts at every point. Bless you.

Note to the privious comment-er. Birtukan is in her early 30s not 40s. To me that makes her even more remarkable. She was in her twenties when she went against Meles' wishes to release Siye Abraha after the TPLF split in half in 2000.

7:29 PM, May 05, 2006  
Anonymous not anonymous said...

This is a call for stock-taking ye self-respecting ET men of wonkville! While you weren’t looking, the WWG (Women With Guts) has cut the very ground from under your feet. Just look around you. Who is out there spearheading the struggle? Who is slugging it out while you, ET-men, are reduced to shouting a borrowed slogan about some Luta Continuing and stuff? It’s the womenfolk, that’s who!

Birtukan and Serkalem, Frazer and Anna, AF and Wonq, and . . .! An alarming trend indeed and one that transcends the gender issue. It would be annoying enough if all that these uppity women did was bump you off your God-given leadership position, but to take over the reigns of the struggle and do a better job of it too? Now, that takes balls. Aygebam.

Gobez, and there’s nothing about this group of WWG that’s “flash in the pan.” From the looks of things, these women are here to stay. Besides, there’s ample precedent in ET-history where women dominated the scene by usurping the authority of men. Taitu, Bafena, Abedech CherqossE, Shewareged . . .

Aya Mankusaw, yihE gudai asasiboNal. . .esti mella mita jal!

10:30 PM, May 05, 2006  
Anonymous washera-2 said...

Hey Wenq:

9:54 AM, May 06, 2006  
Anonymous washera_2 said...

Dear Wonq:

As a regular reader of your blog, my contribution to spread the word is to read your articles in one of the Ethiopian paltalk rooms. I am so proud of you and all you have done to date, and I do not think we have seen the best of you yet.

You capture our imaginations, articulate them in the best of words and while entertaining us, keep us involved inthe affairs of our country.

We are forever greatful!

10:03 AM, May 06, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am really amazed how you create a mythical figure out nothing

10:05 AM, May 06, 2006  
Anonymous Axum said...

Embarassed to admit that I've gotten several emails from friends and family asking me to write my senators and Representative about the Ethiopian human rights situation. I kept saying "I'm only one voice. What difference will it make?"

Finally took this story to make me write, and I will continue to write until it is on both my Senators' radar.

Guess I needed the right sign, Birtukanaye.


5:55 PM, May 06, 2006  
Anonymous choma a.k.a. chomarass said...



(wonk: can you ban personal compliments on the comments section?)

11:04 PM, May 06, 2006  
Anonymous Z said...

Dear Annonymous,
Do you really think Birtukan and all the others are indeed nothing? Well, you just witnessed myth created by a truly told truth. Birtukan is a hero who deserved a well crafted Wonkettish comment. Live with it, don't deny facts!


4:37 AM, May 07, 2006  
Anonymous Yawen said...

What is NOT to love about Birtukan?

11:04 AM, May 07, 2006  
Anonymous assir downing said...

Axum, Choma-

Just so you know, those of us in London are also working the local political scene. I had to hold my nose to vote for Tony Blair last time. This time the Ethiopian community is working well with David Cameron. Also, now that Silvio Berlusconi has said ciao, hopefully ETs in Italy can make headway with the new government. Canadian Ethiopians are in with the new government there from what I hear.

If you told me a few months ago I would be this deeply involved in politics I would have laughed. Ye hager guday honebign.

2:42 PM, May 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The woman Saint, the Spirit of Ethiopian Tegbarawi Ti'gel. Her family members suffer while we are praising her in sweet words!

7:43 AM, May 08, 2006  
Anonymous etw said...

woah. Anonymous,

can you elaborate? does anyone have info about her family? are they in financial trouble? Gooch, since you know the innards of CUD, maybe you can help us with this info?

8:49 AM, May 08, 2006  
Anonymous Gooch said...

Wey innards, wey innards! That's a strong word.

I think I need a disclaimer here: I don't have access to the innards of CUD nor CUD Support, but I can get some information - sometimes!

The information I have is that Kinijit Support groups have been getting money to the families and the government knows all about it, but doesn't/can't do anything about it for understandable reasons.

Is it enough money, who is getting how much, I don't know.

1:35 PM, May 08, 2006  
Anonymous phiqir said...

Whether Kinijit support group sends monetary support or not. On the spirt of Wonq's Debdabe to Qaliti and for our respect to Burtukan... Can this group send some money to her baby and show our solidarity. Does anyone have access to her family?

5:48 PM, May 08, 2006  
Anonymous kezira said...

very much agree, phiqir. maybe Dina from Coffeechilisun can help us contact the family. or other readers in in ethiopia?

5:53 PM, May 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about giving it to other poor people in Ethiopia in her honor.

6:02 PM, May 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I se a lot of your readers are
inquiring about helping Judge
Bertukan's family financially.

I need to talk to you about that
How can I contact you?

7:19 AM, May 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have contact with her family.

8:05 AM, May 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can I be a proud citzen than having my hero Birtukan ... I am sure we are nurturing ourselves from lessons of your letters, we filled up with the spirit and I assure you are in minds and hearts of millions - GOD bless you and your family. I can only say you are amongst the most rare precious assets of the century in our nation

11:15 AM, May 09, 2006  
Anonymous not anonymous said...

wonq & phiqr:

Not that you'd do it, but I wouldn't be too quick to give out contact info to some anonymous here.
I think the best way to give support to Birtukan's family or anyone else is thru your own family-member or a trusted friend back home. They would know what to do.

12:16 PM, May 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not Anonymous,

Since you don't know who posted
that message, keep your negative
attitude to yourself. I am sure wonk and phiqir will do their own
homework. I am involved in a project for Bertukan and that is why I asked wonq how I can reach her.

5:35 PM, May 09, 2006  
Anonymous Gooch said...

ETW, did you hear Meles' Rules on VOA today?

Great material for a post, no?!

When will this man learn to control his emotions? That and his arrogance will be the end of him.

12:03 AM, May 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very impressive,i read it like i am reading another Letter from Qality. Once again i am touched, very proud of you. When i run in to the people who feels the same way i feel especially about Birtukan, it makes me so happy. I wish i could write it like the way you put it all together. You are not alone, we are with you.
Ayzosh Berchi

9:35 PM, May 11, 2006  

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