My eldest sister and her hometown Mekelle

Solomon Tadele

12-21-20

My nephew called from Mekelle as soon as the telephone lines resumed working and informed us about our eldest sister, who has now turned 80, that she had a health emergency after sunset, and they were unable to take her to the hospital or buy some first aid drugs from pharmacy. For an entire month we were stressed out by fear that they may die of hunger or shrapnel wounds; whichever comes first.  The news of her illness, but not death, was far from being good news. If she does not get treatment it is all the same. The news here is not that she was seriously ill but that she could not go to a health facility in the second largest city of Ethiopia. The dusk to dawn curfew in the City does not allow movement be it to a hospital or to a shop. My nephew and my youngest sister who live in the same house in the center of Mekelle were scared to open the gate. They were weeping and helplessly waiting for devine intervention to save her life. Miraculously my sister recovered. There was no one else in the compound she lived in since the Italians left in 1940-41. We are scared to death that if that emergency happens again that will be her last. For God's sake, did she deserve this? No! The story does not end here; there is much more. The long life of my sister is punctuated by invasions which affected her family. She was born in 1940-41 when the Italians left Ethiopia. Our parents named her “Birhane Ethiopia”. They had a sufficient reason for this. Just five years before her birth her grandfather and uncles were killed by Italians, their house burnt, and their cattle slaughtered. Our mother gave birth to her first child still in deep grief about the loss of everything. For "Birhane Ethiopia" it took only three years to realize that invaders come not only from outside but also from inside. What she experienced when she was only four years old, before the tears of her (our) mother had the chance to dry, was another death and destruction less than a hundred meters from her home. She heard the deafening noise of explosion and people crying while she was playing in the neighborhood. She witnessed the arial bombardment of Mekelle's central market and the death and injury of hundreds of women and children. From the tragic story her mother told her, when she asked: "Why are you crying all the time?”, she may have suspected that the Italians who murdered her grandpa and uncles may have come back. She soon realized that those who were running around brutalizing innocent people in the streets of Mekelle were not whites but armed Ethiopians whose name she happily bears. As a child she lost the sense of liberation, which is implied in her name: "Birhane Ethiopia". She might have asked as a confused child why do the Italians and Ethiopians do the same thing? Although none of her family members died from the bombardment and the subsequent invasion of Mekelle after the failure of the Weyane Rebellion, invading soldiers have ill-treated her (our) mother in her own house; she was pregnant with her second child (*The male child was killed by the Derg for his involvement with TPLF). The soldiers have also stripped her (our) father naked and knocked him down by the butt of their guns when they found him returning to his home. My sister grew up in the same house until the Derg left Mekelle on its own but turned to bomb it. Her (our) mother had died at an early age of 56 burdened by the lifelong grief of her father's and brothers' brutal murder by the Italians. When the Derg's jets started bombing Mekelle my three sisters were in their residential compound attending to our father who was close to 80. He had a chronic stomach ulcer, and he was worried about my sisters' safety. They had refused to leave him as many residents of Mekelle were flocking to Dessie. He was stressed about his children and died of bleeding ulcer within the week of arial bombardment. Our sisters and my father too were jumping into the hole they dug as air raid shelter. They were horrifying days for these innocent family members of mine. My eldest sister saw the second arial bombardment of Mekelle by the same internal forces from the same direction. By the way, "Ethiopia" was removed from her name and the adjective remained. In fact, this was not out of hate, but it was too long. Despite the brutalities from their own side Mekellians like my family never bore grudges. They felt that it was not the Amhara people but their rulers who were committing the atrocities. The patience and forgiveness were harmfully endless! My poor sister was still living in the same house when she experienced the third aerial bombardment of Mekelle in less than 10 years of the second. This time it was from Eritrean air force. Innocent school children were killed. My immediate elder sister was a nurse in Mekelle Hospital and had to deal with the horrors of injured and dead children. My sister died of sudden illness a few weeks after that. She might have been overwhelmed by the carnage and the blood that she saw. At the same time, she was looking for her son who was missing during the mayhem. My eldest sister saw the death of her (our) father a week after the bombardment of Mekelle by the Derg and also saw the death of her (our) beloved sister in the immediate aftermath of Aider bombing.
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