If You Don't Want Your Mother To Cry Mulle

Diaries 4

I lived in my own country in a peaceful way. I had a happy childhood, I was happy with my family. Then the revolution came. We thought it would be good – land reform. But that wasn’t the case. After Mengistu ruled for four years, his attitude changed. The Derg came and Mengistu recruited “cadres” in every corner to strengthen his power. Their power was supreme – they could put you in prison without any reason. Then the Red Terror. You can’t say a word. You can’t have an opinion. Three or four people can’t talk together. You can’t read any pamphlets written by opposition parties. Three brothers – kids – 10, 12 and 14, shot in front of their mother, my neighbour, because they had picked up a newspaper in the street. Every day people killed, stepping over bodies on my way to work. I could only recognise my friend’s body by his t-shirt, his face no longer there after the bullet to the back of his head. Always when we went out until we came back, my mother stood at the main gate praying.

“If you don’t want your mother to cry – go.” A warning from a friend. I knew my choice was between dying and trying to escape. That night I left with F. We told no-one. We climbed down the sides of the gorge to the river below. It was dark in the depths so we knew we would not be visible from above. We wanted to get beyond the military patrols that stopped and searched people and cars as far as the borders of Gondar. They had long made leaving the house in a white shirt pointless – by the time you got to your destination all it would show was evidence of all the times you had been patted down. Our plan worked. We reached the mountains. We wouldn’t have known which direction to take to Sudan but peasants guided us and gave us kita (bread). After the mountains, we found ourselves in what seemed like a jungle. We had been walking day and night and I had been talking to try to keep awake when I suddenly realised F was not behind me. I sat down. I had heard no noise, no struggle. I looked along the path, clearly visible in broad daylight, and no sign of him. Fortunately, at that point he made a noise. F had more or less slept walked into a hole made by one of the four-legged occupants of that area.  Soon we were back on track. After walking for a while, the grass was so high we couldn’t tell which way we were going. Burning the grass around us seemed the only way of seeing over it. We didn’t expect the speed at which the fire spread. It did stop and we continued on our way. It had taken us six days but we had made it to Sudan.

A farmer saved us. We were hungry and weak. He gave us food and a place to spend the night. We expected him to want us to work in payment for his hospitality but no. In that part of the world it was the custom for Muslims, as soon as practical, to build onto their house a room for the stranger. He said Allah had brought us to his house and wanted no return for his kindness and generosity. We then reached a small town – Bereket Nuri – and begged a truck driver to give us a lift west on top of his vegetables. Another driver, with his load of sorghum, carried us to Gedaref where we spent a few months. There were Gonderais living there, who had escaped earlier. However, it was not possible to stay. Prejudice against people from different parts of Ethiopia had managed to embed themselves even with these people who had had to flee because they were not currently the people in favour. Also, we felt ourselves to be too near the Ethiopian border. In such desperate times, could you be sure no-one would betray you? And money – we had no money. So fear and lack of money made us move on.

Khartoum. A train from Port Sudan to Khartoum passed through Gedaref at 8.15pm every evening, the return journey early in the morning. One day we decided to jump the train. All was well until a ticket man came. We jumped from one carriage to another and I found myself on the roof. F managed to hide in a carriage with livestock so one way or another we got to Khartoum. It was evening and we had no money, no food, no place to sleep. That first night we slept on the bank of the Nile. The next day we found the UN offices, to find out if we could get some help. They gave us some money, not much, but we could eat proper food – foul medames. It had been a very long time since we had been able to sit and eat. We survived in Khartoum with the help of other refugees who had lived there for a long time. In my turn, I helped others to survive.