Our Martyr’s Day During the COVID-19 Lock-down

This year because of the Covid-19 our Independence Day and Martyr’s Day in Eritrea was spent at home.  I am writing this story on the martyr’s day this past June 20 as I am making traditional coffee with my husband sitting beside of me. The reason I wanted to write this is, because of my memories that came as we were talking about our childhood with my husband. Then I asked my husband to give me 15 min so I can focus and write this story. He opens his tablet to read and I started to write.

Last night we didn’t do anything. We just light candles and we were watching ERI TV.  This morning we wake up a little late and we sat and watch Eri-TV until 1 p.m.  At 1pm the TV and Radio announced for every Eritrean to remember our Martyrs and we stood up in memory of them.

Our martyrs are the most valuable because we wouldn’t have this country if they didn’t sacrifice their lives for us. Not only that, every family in Eritrea has a scar because every family in our country has at least one person martyred. So this day is precious in Eritrean history and for the people.

I miss my childhood friends. I was born and raised in Keren, Eritrea. During the eve of Martyrs’ Day my family used to take me to the memorial ceremony. Usually, this ceremony is done in the center of the city (Jira Fyori). We used to spend the evenings holding candles, hearing songs, dramas and poems expressed for the day. When the ceremony ended we collected the melting candles with my childhood friends.  When we get home we boil the candle to make it melt and fill up a bottle (unusable bottle) with it. Then we would put a string and leave it until it dried. Then we break the glass. This will make a new shape of candle, just like the shape of the bottle we broke.

Before I sleep I tell my parent to wake me up early morning. I would wake up at 5 a.m. I meet my friends to go to the martyr cemetery. It’s around 5 km from our home. But we really enjoyed going there.  We meet a lot of people on our way. The cemetery is located in Ona. Ona is a historical place where the Ethiopian army killed a lot of people and burned their houses during Haile Selassie times in 1970s.

When we get there usually, people would be sitting in the stones of the mountain. The program starts and people started to cry (especially moms).  As kids, we used to cry too even if we didn’t understand deeply about the history. When the program ends the people enter in the cemetery and light candles.  This is the right moment when we use our homemade candles that are shaped like bottles. We light these candles inside the cemetery.  We then go home feeling tired and hungry. It is a long morning for us as kids.

My parents fast that day until 1pm.  My Mom makes traditional coffee and we all gather there. My dad tells us story about the armed struggle. He tells us about my older cousins who were martyred in the struggle. They radio would also be on at the same time. Around 10 seconds before 1pm the radio announces for us to be prepared to stand at attention in memory of our Martyred family.  Everyone in our house would stand silently remembering our heroes. My dad always remind us of the sacrifice paid to bring our country.

This is my childhood story. I am now telling this story to my husband as we are remembering our heroes together this June 20, on a lockdown at home because of the Covid-19. I will tell this same story to my kids in the future.


Bisrat Misghina

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