BY BEREKET KIDANE
The month of May is a special one on the Eritrean calendar. We are in the midst of Eritrea’s national holiday season with Independence Week (ቅንያት ናጽነት) a mere one week away. But this year is a little different.
Instead of gathering in various parks and outdoor concert venues in the diaspora to honor Eritrea’s 29th birthday while Eritreans back home parade through the streets, hold carnivals and party late into the night in celebration of Eritrea’s Independence Day, the Eritrean people may still be sequestered in their homes with their nuclear families to fight the spread of COVID-19.
But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be celebration and pride in abundance. During the current global pandemic, Eritreans at home and diaspora have proven that they truly are “One people, One heart.”
If there is anything that we have re-learned from the past two months, it is that Eritreans, wherever they are on this planet, will always open their hearts and wallets whenever the State of Eritrea faces a national challenge or threat of any kind.
We saw this clearly, unequivocally, and abundantly over the last 20 years when Eritrea faced sustained threats, sanctions, and invasions to its sovereignty.
The images seen over the past month on Eri-Tv and YouTube during songs and videos such as Yonas Maynas’s “you’re in my heart” a shout out to Eritreans sequestered in their homes with their nuclear families and proudly waving the Eritrean flag from their balconies couldn’t help but melt the most hardened hearts.
I love to see this. Spreading peace and love through the streets of Asmara, Eritrea. ?????? pic.twitter.com/L5wPYPSNMC
— Eritrea’s own (@KingSenay) April 21, 2020
It is during trying times that we see the connection Eritreans have to each other and their land. The stories of generosities and compassion coming out of Eritrea during this pandemic are truly heartwarming.
Landlords and landladies have stopped asking for rent from their tenants. People in the countryside are sharing their crops and harvests with their neighbors and fellow villagers to make sure everyone has enough to eat. Relatives and strangers are checking on the elderly whose children live abroad or were martyred during the war to make sure they’re coping with the extreme situation. The list goes on and on.
UPDATE: In #Eritrea, landlords have waived rent for tenants as show of solidarity with country's fight against #COVIDー19, says Information Minister Yemane Meskel. There is just a single person still in hospital with the virus infection. More than 3,000 people are in quarantine pic.twitter.com/xEZ4PDhHOk
— The Chronicles (@ChroniclesRW) May 12, 2020
Although the Coronavirus has not swept through Eritrea due to the government’s early and decisive intervention, of the 39 stricken citizens 38 have already undergone a lengthy treatment at the nation’s referral hospitals and released to their families. And you can be sure they didn’t go home with a big bill either as is customary in the West. Healthcare is free and a basic human right in Eritrea as it should be.
Of course, as Eritreans, we are alive today because our forebearers knew how to survive plagues and pandemics. It was interesting to read centuries-old literature written in Tigrigna with specific guidance codified into traditional law on how the village chief “ጭቃ ዓዲ” should go about quarantining the stricken and their households during plagues. The laws were sophisticated, compassionate, and rational.
The Coronavirus challenge and ban on large social gatherings will be with us for the foreseeable future. Car parades of hundreds of vehicles with people waving the Eritrean flag that go through major streets and virtual events will have to be among the innovative ways we celebrate Eritrea’s birthday this year. Eritrean millennials may have to take the lead in organizing this year’s celebration. Time is running out.
Eritrean communities in Scandinavia have already announced that Eritrea’s 29th birthday will be celebrated virtually. I sure hope they stream it live. This is an unprecedented opportunity for Eritreans around the globe to unite virtually and celebrate Eritrea.
— Yonas Manna (@YonasManna) May 12, 2020
As it turns 29, Eritreans can be proud of so much. The Coronavirus challenge will pass, but the attributes that make Eritreans such a cohesive, compassionate, patriotic, and great people will always be with us.
Next year, may we be together to celebrate Eritrea’s milestone birthday.
One people, One heart!
Eternal Glory to our Martyrs!
Awet n Hafash!
Our 29th Independence Anniversary will be celebrated next week under prevailing global reality of the "New Normal".. the eerie environment of "partial/total lockdowns".This is of course anathema to our rich cultural mores of vibrant/joyous social spectacles, street carnivals..etc pic.twitter.com/n1DwfVvGYX
— Yemane G. Meskel (@hawelti) May 13, 2020
Yet, COVID-19 and the "New Normal" of "social distancing" has amplified characteristic stoicism & equanimity of the Eritrean people in the face of adversity; their unparalleled sense of mutual compassion & solidarity for the collective good. Happy 29th Independence Anniversary! pic.twitter.com/ZeHgJExBZC
— Yemane G. Meskel (@hawelti) May 13, 2020