(By H. Abel, 23 February 2021) –
I arrived in London from war-torn Tigray just two weeks ago. The trauma is therefore still fresh in my mind. Every day passed with a nightmare and sleepless nights and at times with flashbacks. As all of us could understand, the tension of war on Tigray was building up (stretching over the previous three years) before the full-blown war of the 4thNovember 2020 started. As we already know, the war on the Tigrayan people was already there on the ground for centuries implicitly and/or explicitly.
It is difficult to tell all the details of what happened in Tigray during the last 3 months. I will therefore try to dwell on the geographical area where I come from focusing on a few significant moments which I can never forget. I can never forget the evening of Friday 20th November 2020. It was around 6pm local time when so many rockets (I did not know how many) were launched into the City of Adigrat from the north (I did not know exactly from where) but guided by local informants on the ground known as ‘astequash’.
Most of the rockets landed around church vicinities where so many people gathered to save their lives. I could only watch from the top roof of my house and see smoke rising to the sky where the rockets have fallen. That evening everybody was running for their lives including my housemaid and her three children the youngest just 4 years old. My life turned dark and became miserable ever-since that fateful evening. Later on, I learnt that so many people have died as a result including a family of 7.
I had a sleepless night that night and woke up early in the morning to see from the top roof of my house if the churches, where the rockets landed such as St Gabriel, Abune Aregawi and the Catholic Cathedral, were destroyed or not. To my delight, all the churches were intact and said to myself, THANK GOD! THEY ARE ALRIGHT!
Next morning, (21 November 2020), we heard that Shabia [Eritrean] soldiers have already arrived in Adigrat heading towards Mekele killing anyone on their way. That morning, I had no choice but to lock my home and flee empty handed southwards to the nearby mountains (most specifically to enda gabir mai-abaa where my closest family members live). I found hundreds of internally displaced persons – IDPs in the church vicinity and around 60 people in the house I went to including 3 wounded Fluy Haili members.
The misery starts here. All of us were hungry and therefore were looking into the host family with weak and inviting eyes to bring us lunch. Luckily, all of us were served with plenty of food (Tihlo with shiro and some suwa). I was amazed by the amount of food served and whispered to my aunt (the host) and asked: ’where did you get this amount of food? were you aware that all these guests were coming to your house?’ ‘No’, she said: ‘but as today is St. Michael’s day, all this food was prepared to serve the local people to mark the Saint’s day’. How lucky we were! but what about dinner for the evening and breakfast for the next morning? Could they continue to feed us for the days and perhaps weeks to come? That was everyone’s worry. In my case I had to go back to my home taking all the risks whatsoever. I did not sleep all night as there was no bed and blanket. I suffered from cold and discomfort and stomach complaints, so I had no choice but go back home.
Before, I left the place, I had a few chats with some women who told me an amazing story of their ordeal. They told me that they were at St Gabriel Church when the rockets landed there on the fateful Friday evening of 20th November 2020. ‘How did you manage to escape?’, I asked. One of them says: ‘as we gathered beneath the Church, the first rocket landed on the rock above the Church and all of us ran away immediately to save our lives. However, the second rocket landed beneath the Church where we gathered just minutes before we vacated the area. St Gabriel therefore miraculously saved us from a disaster’. She told me with weak smiles on her face.
The rest is now history. Daily killings, lootings, beatings etc. I woke up every morning just to learn that the guards of so and so bank are killed; young people around that kebele or this kebele are shot dead; this shop or that hotel is robbed; Adigrat University, Adigrat Hospital, Addis Pharmaceutical Factory etc are ransacked; computers, light and heavy machineries are taken from all these places including the building site of the future referral hospital. Moreover, armed local thieves were also at large looting and killing in many neighbourhoods. The only question you can possible ask was who is next.
The Shabia [Eritrean] soldiers where checked on their way to Mekele, particularly in Edaga Hamus where there was heavy fighting. As the Eritrean soldiers return to Adigrat with their dead and wounded in several lorries, they start killing indiscriminately anyone on their way just out of frustration. They eventually settled in Adigrat doing anything they want: killing, looting, beating. Those people living in the inner city were forced to move their family to the southern part of the city where it was relatively quieter. A family of 7 once moved to my house in the south of the city seeking refuge as their place was disturbed with shots every evening and their children were having nightmares.
At first, heads of families were busy taking their wives and children to their extended families to the countryside and remain behind to look after their properties. As time goes by the countryside which was meant to be a sanctuary became a battlefield, and therefore the heads of households were forced to bring their wives and children back to town. This means you have nowhere to go but stay indoors and lock yourself inside your home. If you do not store food, firewood, water, matches, candles etc you automatically get starved as there is no electricity, running water, and other supplies. That was also everybody’s worst nightmare for the poor or the rich alike. I was not an exception. I had moments my own nightmare added to that my first horrifying experience of two consecutive days of aerial bombardments. Luckily no one died of these bombardments.
To be honest, I embraced death as I felt that I had nowhere to go. It was just a matter of time and mere luck. However, I had a very strong feeling and regret of dying in vain without doing anything that could contribute to my people. I was under medication of my blood pressure and my misery has already increased as medicine runs out. It was only when the Adigrat – Mekele route was re-opened for public transport that I received a message from my family in London via a blessed lady from Mekele who brought it to me, that I decided to travel to London taking all risks on my way.
Luckily when I arrived at Mekele passing all checkpoints, I received a phone call from the British embassy in Addis Ababa with reassurance of my safety on my journey to catch my flight in Addis Ababa. That was arranged by my wife. With the Grace of God, here I am with my family but my trauma still lingers in my mind.