Translated by Micol Berhe
Our guest for today is a 2012 Civil Engineering graduate Saba Tekeste. Saba graduated from the College of Engineering of the Eritrean Institute of Technology (Mai Nefhi). She was born in 1990 in a town called Ararb in the revolutionary area; and after Eritrea’s independence in 1991, she moved to Asmara with her parents. She attended primary school in the Finland mission; continued in the Harbenatat and finished her secondary school at the Cathedral School. She attended 12th grade in Sawa. Lastly she graduated from Mai Nefhi in Civil Engineering.
What follows is a translation of an interview Efrem Habtetsion conducted with Saba for Menessey Magazine.
How would you describe yourself in school?
I was very interested in school. I was ambitious to learn new things everyday and that was why I was always eager to go to class every day. I can say that I was competent at school because not only was I a prize winner, but also because I used to believe that people should always do as much as possible where ever they are. We should always push ourselves to the limit; do what lies in our capabilities, nothing less than that. Therefore, I used to be in competition not against the other students but within me, my opponent was myself and I would always try to surpass me.
How did you come up with this kind of mentality; was it inborn or you were showed the path?
Actually, I was always like this, since I can remember.
But surely there must have been a starting point for you to develop it?
I guess it must have come from my father; because whenever we used to get back home from school he would always ask me what I had understood that day in class not what I had learned. I remember, always trying to earn the good marks, I had to believe that I actually deserved them. I would never try to compare myself to the best students in class. It was up to me to either get the best or lay low or even stay average.
Being a student, how would you evaluate yourself without comparing it to the other students? How would you know you are actually gaining knowledge without having a set of measurements?
The ancient scholars used to have one-on-one classes that didn’t involve a big number of students in an enclosed area. They learned new topics and issues without having to compare to other students in their class because there was no one to look to. And in our times the school has defined curriculums that are prepared for us, for the students in each level. So for me to evaluate myself I just needed to learn in class and see how I would answer in the test papers. They were my set of measurements. If most of the students in my class were not good, would that make me a better student?
So are you saying there wasn’t anyone that struck you somehow, that you felt jealous of?
Well, obviously there were some students that I used to envy especially when we were children. In fact there are those types of students that seem to understand everything without taking notes or studying hard, you know, simply who can remember what they heard in class.
I’m curious to know, in the race you had with yourself, were you winning or losing? Do you believe you were able to gain what you were supposed to gain?
I don’t think that we are able to judge ourselves on our own. For me I had to rely on the tests that were given in class. So that, based on these, I could evaluate how I was proceeding. It had always been that way since elementary school.
And your evaluation..?
I can say that it was a positive one. If the next step never seems difficult or unobtainable then you are on a successful path.
And your academic year in Sawa..?
Living far from your family is not easy; and the place, the climate, the life itself is challenging at first. But that is where all your accumulated lessons come in handy because you can never think of passing the exam by just studying that last year in Sawa. You definitely will need to remember all the schooling you have had so far. And afterwards when you come back from Sawa you gain so much insight that you start looking at life differently, which means you have definitely grown up; stronger of course.
How was the matriculation then?
Even though I had my sack of knowledge, I didn’t obtain what I was looking for; but still I was happy with it.
Going through college might be demanding but it is the path where you construct your future, how is it that you decided to enrol in Civil Engineering?
Well, this might seem quite strange; at first I was more intrigued by archaeology with all the ancient constructions that exist around the world, the pyramids in Egypt and the remains of Axum, Metera and many others. But, unfortunately, in Sawa there wasn’t that sort of choice for me, the closest to it was engineering. So, I said if not the Ancient, at least the Constructions are in Civil Engineering.
Most of the people who choose to join civil engineering are mostly boys, what was your understanding about it?
Actually in our consignment we were only four girls out of 56 boys; but we used to console ourselves by thinking about the girls that joined Mai Nefhi the year before; they were only two of them. They must have had more to endure than us. And then we joined in some classes with our seniors and we got to meet them and see how they were handling it. But generally girls tend to join other type of fields like Arts or Computer Science.
Why do you think the reason is?
In truth I believe it is due to the general understanding people here have about Civil Engineering. We think that it is all about going to the sites under the scorching sun, handling heavy objects needing endurance and a strong body which girls don’t necessarily have. This doesn’t mean that all the girls that choose Computer Engineering are weak; it is just a positive proof of the digital revolution that happened in our country in the past years.
Life after college…How was it? How did you cope with the real life?’
Just like when we were in school, we would have mentors and people we looked up to life after college. I mean how can you think of dealing with what you only knew through textbooks when in real life it is completely different? Civil Engineering deals with big amount of money projects that are related to the safety and good state of people; so it needs critical and precise decisions. You definitely need always someone senior to you to explain and show it to you, slowly introduce you to it. In fact after I graduated I was lucky enough to meet elder Engineers in my workplace that helped me.
Where is your workplace?
At first I was assigned to Segen Construction Company; later I was transferred to the Gedecc Construction Company. That is where I had the chance of meeting our seniors who happened to be very supportive and ready to lend a hand.
Tell us about Mentor, your online Magazine.
It all started when we were about to end our year in Mai Nefhi. After high school we all get scattered in different fields of knowledge but we are still able to keep in touch. But after college real life catches up with you, it sucks all your. In this type of scenario it is hard to keep track of all your old friends and you end up losing touch. So this idea came to me; that we should open a facebook page that would link us together since we were all familiar with it. At the beginning its name was Eritrean Scientific Society and we used it to update each other on our knowledge and share our insights. Gradually it grew bigger with people liking it and following it so that it became Mentor and more solemnly we started on posting topics that we believed would help the younger generation in high school to get to know things better.
We do receive very positive feedback from our followers and in fact some of them contribute with their articles or essays. For anyone that wants to reach us our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
How is it developing now?
We have been posting online on our facebook page till October 2016. By then we were able to obtain, under the shield of NUEYS, our first running cover and it has continued for four more numbers. At the same time we started collaborating with NUEYS and we have launched it on their web-site; eriyouth.org.
The best way to graduate from college is to push yourself to gain more knowledge. What would you say to those who see graduating as the end of their intellectual path?
There is no right way or right decision in this world. You just need to understand which path is best suited for your dreams and pursue it. If you believe that after college you are a grown up and therefore you can’t stand in line with the younger students you are completely wrong. My favourite quote of Martin Luther King Junior says: “If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving.” If you just remain docile, not taking any risks, nothing good comes from being passive.
Lastly, is there any dream in the closet for you that you would like to see put up one day in our city?
Yes, there is this plan for a museum that I collaborated in projecting while we were in college with some other students. It is the Shida Museum and it would represent ideally the strength and value of our martyrs and the Tegadelti in general. If I could see it built one day in Asmara or in any other place I would be extremely pleased.