by Chaltu Siraj
Watching the bloodshed and genocide take place in your motherland an ocean away has taken a toll on you. As the government is rounding your people up and using their bodies for target practice, I know you cannot help but to think, “who is next?” You have read history and heard the stories as your manguddoo tell their truths, with their eyes full of tears, but nothing can compare to the pictures and videos that have surfaced during the #OromoProtests. From the Ambo Massacre in 2014 to the revolutionary wave of protests in November of 2015 to the most recent atrocity, on the 2nd of October, 2016 with the Bishoftu Massacre, it has all been televised. Every single waking moment of the day, you refresh your social media and see pictures of corpses and videos of fearless adolescents, elderly and children running the streets of Oromia chanting, “nuti abbaan biyya”, “we are the fathers of the land”. You heard the story of the mother who was forced to sit on the corpse of her child. You heard the story of the woman who was killed in cold blood, seven months pregnant. You watched the video of the elderly woman who took an oath that she would shield your brothers and sisters from live bullets if they were fired in their direction. With every picture, every video and every account we heard reported, a piece of you died.
Following the Bishoftu Massacre, the sense of urgency was at an all time high. You held emergency meetings, raised funds and were ready to do whatever it took to reclaim what was rightfully yours. As you are looking to your elders, community leaders and your elites to guide you in efforts to save the lives left and to work diligently to ensure that those lives lost are not in vain, you are finding yourselves at a loss. The government-declared State of Emergency in Ethiopia has hindered your accessibility to the documentation and photo and video evidence of the atrocities being committed against your brethren, with the lack of internet and network access. Just because your feeds have grown thin, have you forgotten that your motherland is crying and her children are dying? Have you forgotten that this ruthless government is on a mission to wipe out an entire population of your people? Have you forgotten those images and videos already?
In the light of recent controversies surfacing on social media, I was reminded of an excerpt from a play, The Taxi Project, written by Aaddee Martha Kuwee Kumsa in collaboration with three others. In the introduction to the scene, Seeyyee (Kumsa) speaks about her decade-long incarceration and her conscription to the military upon her release. She went on to describe that she declined conscription and decided to flee with her children, as the rebel forces were bringing down the government right in front of her eyes. As she fled, she feared being caught with her children and made the ultimate sacrifice as a mother, leaving her children behind with her younger brother. The scene, as played on stage, of the conversation between Seeyyee (Kumsa) and her younger brother is as follows:
SCENE 21: BABY BROTHER
Seeyyee: I had a speech prepared but …
I’d like to ask my baby brother to be with me here tonight.
(She lights a candle.)
Seeyyee: The last time I heard my brother’s voice, I was crying into the phone. I could see the turbulent billows of smoke rise over my homeland. I could see the fire spread and the flames dance all around him. Agitated tongues of flame lashed out to lick my brother. Yet, he stood there smiling, so sure of himself.
Baby Brother: Stay put my big sister, stay put. I’m home; you are the one in exile. Stay put till you come home to freedom.
Seeyyee: But, what is home and what is exile? Oh, I enjoy home in exile, when you are rendered homeless at home.
In my homeland, Baby Brother, in my homeland,
The grass shades me from the scorching sun;
but in exile, Baby Brother,
the sun burns me in the thickest shade of the biggest tree.
In my homeland, Baby Brother, in my homeland
The meat of a flea feeds a multitude;
but in exile, Baby Brother,
Two friends fight over the meat of an elephant.
Baby Brother: Home is freedom, my big sister, home is bilisummaa. Home is dignity. Home is justice. Exile is wherever home is not.
Seeyyee: Exile is wherever they plough the fields with guns and sow the seeds with blood. In an unjust world, home can only be in the struggle to restore freedom and justice.
Baby Brother: Yes, that’s why I took to the woods with the village youth.
Seeyyee: Our father took to the woods, and I am not coming home
Our father’s brother took to the woods, and I am not coming home
Our mother’s brother took to the woods, and I am not coming home
I saw the injustice
And my heart howls.
Oh my heart howls with rage.
Kumsa’s word choice and imagery in this piece is a reminder to you, first and foremost. You fled for a reason. For those same reasons, decades later, your people are still running. This should always be the mindset that you live with. You should be yearning for the day when your nation can stand in Finfinnee and raise the resistance flag and hold your heads high, tasting sweet victory. You should be yearning for the day when you are reunited with your loved ones, no longer fearing for their lack of security. You should be working with one another, alongside one another, in a race to attain bilisummaa from every front. You cannot forget that as fish outside of the water, every victory achieved can only be attributed to those fearless souls, who dodged bullets and slept with one eye open and to those who sacrificed themselves in the name of a free Oromia. Do not forget you are merely an advocate, an amplification of the voice of your people and their plight.
As you are fighting over the meat of an elephant, Oromia is still bleeding; she is crying and awaiting your return to join your brethren under the Odaa tree. Dammakkii! Si waamtii Harmeen.
Chaltu Siraj is a fourth year Criminal Justice major residing in Atlanta, Georgia. She hopes to use her education and skills to continue advocating for the Oromo people.