Eritreans in New York
Eritreans gather to welcome their president, Eritreans in New York
October 3, 2011,
By Amanuel Biedemariam,
There are not enough words to describe what transpired on September 25, 2011 in New York City before, during and after the gathering with His Excellency President Isaias Afwerki.
The festive-charged environment was indescribable and the event was a smashing success. The number of Eritreans who came in droves covered the gamete. Florida drove eighteen, Minnesota over 21 hours, Chicago 14 and Grand Rapids Michigan drove over ten hours. From Edmonton Canada people drove for two days and Toronto drove for over ten hours. People drove from everywhere. Those that flew in from the West-Coast and Europe came to Washington DC and boarded onto buses to New York with those that gathered in DC from everywhere.
It will be disingenuous to discount logistical problems people encountered on the way to New York but once they were loaded-and-ready, everyone was happy and enjoyed the ride. People partied all the way to New York. They laughed, danced to patriotic songs that played inside the busses.
We started boarding about 3 a.m. and arrived in New York about 9 a.m. which is considered good time for a trip from DC to New York. When we arrived, we were greeted by long-lines of Eritrean crowd trying to get-in to see the president. The crowd covered many blocks of New York city creating a traffic nightmare.
It was serene to be received by crowds of Eritreans adorned with colorful Eritrean flags and dressed in traditional outfits that beautified the glorious New York city. They accorded New York grace and dignity unmatched by any. These Eritreans were smart and conducted themselves with unmatched civility because they understood the magnitude of the event and it mean a lot to ensure a safe and successful event.
The weather was calm and cloudy as we arrived. We hurried to get out of the busses to join the crowd. The people I came with all joined the long lines and I found my station in the media section.
From that point-on, I was oblivious to what was taking place outside as cell phones and computers were-not allowed for security reasons so we did not have a way to communicate with the outside. My focus was inside and the assigned job.
The event had so many moving parts readily visible. The stage was graceful and fitting. The stage was designed by volunteers who did a great job setting stage worthy of the moment. The mood was festive. The security was tight making it difficult to move once you are inside because movements were restricted.
When the president arrived, the hall was raucous with greetings that lasted a while. And after a brief exchange of greetings, the President and his delegates got seated on the front and program details were read by the organizers.
As is customary, the program started with a moment of silence to remember Martyrs accompanied by graceful saxophonist Eritrean veteran musician Tesfamariam. Soon thereafter, the EriAm Sisters sung Eritrean national anthem adding flavor to a memorable event.
Amidst cheers of welcome that emanated from deep feelings of happiness, after the crowd cheered and showed much they missed him and expressed deep love, the president and the delegates were lead to the stage and sat for the seminar.
President Isaias’s presence was grand. He occupied the seat with grace and comfort. It was incredible moment for Eritreans to witness their beloved hero seated in front of them. The President was beaming with a glow of happiness that filled the hall. There are thousands of pictures that showed the grandiosity and beauty of the moment and the presence. However, there exist no picture that can describe the feelings and the happy expressions in the hall.
I sat close enough where I can see the action closer than many. However, the whole event appeared like a dream and passed way-quicker especially relative to the time that passed to prepare and travel for the event
This event was by far the most significant even more than the February 22, 2010 demonstration against sanctions Eritreans held around the world. Because in this occasion Eritreans wanted to send clear message to the world. The messages were loud and clear for all to see and bare witness to. It was saying loudly that Eritrea is in the house in New York City, hitting New York like lightning. It said Eritrea is one, dedicated, unwavering, unperturbed and will persevere to victory. It said, Eritrea is one with President Isaias Afwerki. It said we love Eritrea.
The event showed Eritreans are patient, disciplined and resilient. It showed that Eritreans speak with one voice, the same tone everywhere and all the time.
When I first approached the crowd greeting people and finding my way, I bumped into a Caucasian approximately six feet two in height. I said, “excuse me” and I realized the man had communication equipments in his hand. Not sure what he was doing, I asked, “what are you doing? he replied, “I am a reporter from Expressen.” Expressen…? I asked. He said it is a Swedish Newspaper. I asked what he was doing and he replied I came to film this event. And I asked him what his impression was? He said, I am surprised…I thought I was going to see more on this side not the other. He was saying it in a surprised and, disappointed tone.
Evidently, he came with a predetermined idea to film President Isaias embarrassed by thousands of demonstrators. Instead, he learned the truth about Eritrea and learned first hand that Eritreans are one with the President.
That is one message that reverberated sending shockwaves to detractors and enemies. That is the message Eritreans wanted to send loud and clear to the world, the State Department and, the stooge-agents of the criminal junta in Ethiopia that were parading as Eritreans. It is a message of solidarity. It is an answer to those who wanted to weaken Eritrea systematically by targeting one specific strength, unity . They delivered the message in New York City where Ambassador Rice can see clearly that President Isaias Afwerki and Yemane Ghebreab are the people. There is no way to extricate any Eritrean from another for whatever reason. Eritreans are one with one-voice and, that is the message those who traveled millions of miles-collectively wanted to send and sent it loudly and clearly.
There was not a whole lot of new information that His Excellency divulged. One of the first things that he said was that; ten years may have elapsed since I last saw you but you were never far away from me. That is expression of affection. And the feeling was mutual. Because nearly every question that people asked was accompanied by expressions of support and praises for his bravery. However, there were a lot of memorable statements that he made.
He referred to those who went to Addis as ‘nefseher‘ meaning they are none but dead souls walking. He acknowledged that there is exploration for oil. He said that there is not much any one can do to us if we are united. He said that all the lies the Weyane clique spewed over the years are exposed. He said it is opportune moment for Eritreans to engage at the UN. He said that the highlight of his trip was his meeting with his people.
The audience asked many penetrating questions and the answers were satisfying. One young woman said, all issues in Eritrea are being addressed adequately. How about human rights?
He answered, “I have been fighting for human rights for over forty years.” The primary focus in Eritrea is and remains, to ensure that the basic needs of Eritreans are met. That is the number one focus. He emphasized that Eritrea does not tolerate human right abuse at the government level and we have mechanisms in place to prevent abuse by the private sector as well.
He also said that a great deal of effort is exerted and, steps are in place to get the Diaspora involved in development efforts of the nation. Eritrea is shifting to a higher gear toward development. And if we are going to succeed in achieving the outlined objectives for 2012-2013, we need to make sure the concerns of Diaspora Eritreans are addressed. Regarding the border, he said, it will, in due time. Moreover, he stressed that we need to focus on what we are doing to develop Eritrea.
It was incredible to witness the harmony, affection and support the public showed President Isaias. The people did not come there to find out any thing new. They did not travel to demand anything from the President. They just showed up to show support.
After the President left the Manhattan Center, I briefly spoke to Dr. Berhe Habtegiorgis and asked him what his observations revealed. His reply captured the moment precisely. I still remember his focus, enthusiasm and the exuberant tinkle in his eyes as he said, “The world can not understand or believe what just transpired because it is in complete contradiction to what is taking place all around the globe!”
I was dead-tired barely able to open my eyes but, as soon as the President arrived the energy and excitement took over and managed to communicate on Facebook with Eritreans all over the world that were eager to be part of it any way they can.
Afterward, I was excited to reconnect, to talk about what transpired with my wife and friends that traveled with me. I asked with excitment, “did you have fun…?”
I saw dazed gaze of disappointment. I saw teary-eyes. And heard, we didn’t get in.
I melted. You didn’t see the President? I shouted? No.
They said, “We did not see him. We didn’t even see him leave as we were expecting him to come on that side and he came out on the back.”
Very few people saw him. Who else did not get in? I found out nearly all the people that came with me didn’t get-in along with over 2,000 people. Apparently, President Isaias knew large size crowd was unable to get in. As a result, he expressed his disappointment by saying “I thought the City of New York was a big city with bigger venues.”
We were all tired beyond expression. We wer hungry and sleepy from travelling all night but captured by the moment and surprised by the fact that thousands could not get in. We knew there were people that were not able to get in but we did not know the size. I was disappointed but, as I spoke with those that did not get-in, my feelings started to change dramatically.
The sadness that I felt turned into pride. I begun to understand the resolve and satisfaction that they felt. My friend Haile said,
“Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to have been inside and enjoy the moment but, the purpose of my journey was to give support, show solidarity with my President and I have accomplished that regardless where I was. And, I am satisfied.”
Every story that I heard was more uplifting than the other. A father with his four grown children came from California, paying thousands and said that he was proud to have been there even if he was not able to get in. A group from Grand Rapids Michigan were very popular because they kept the mood very uplifted by singing “Masse” (a form of traditional rap) entertaining the crowd. A family that came from Edmonton Canada after driving two days, a family that drove from Florida and unable to get in expressed the same feeling of satisfaction. Those that did not get in were there without rest, food and water for over six hours. They stood with disciplined. NYPD were wowed by patience and cooperation.
The organizers were faced with logistical nightmares considering the short notice, the security considerations, the uncertainties and the distance they had to deal with. The list of details that they needed to sift through, the coordinating efforts were nightmarish. But it turned-out beautifully and there were many reasons why it succeeded.
Firstly, it is because Eritreans are very organized, can mobilize fast and in greater numbers. They travel distances for their nation any time and anywhere. That is due to years of experience and organizational structures that were formed during days of the struggle for liberation. For example, in February of 2010 Eritreans successfully organized large demonstrations to oppose the illegal sanction levied by the US against Eritrea.
Secondly, it is because Eritrea takes center stage in the life of every Eritrean in ways unseen anywhere. Eritreans sing, dance, laugh, cry, wed and talk Eritrea every single second. Eritreans think and talk Eritrea all the time. Eritreans live for Eritrea. Eritreans are aware and educated about their country. They are cognizant of all the threats, the challenges and opportunities. And they know how to fight and make use of the opportunities presented to them. This is one occasion that Eritreans seized like there is no tomorrow.
There are moments that change lives and take place once in a while. This occasion was one of those moments. There were many heads of states that gathered in New York for the same UN conference President Isaias attended. But, none were received with the passion and enthusiasm. No one received the kind of welcome President Isaias received from his people. None of them came to demand or complain; they came to support and show solidarity.
It has been a while, since there has been a concerted effort made to demonize President Isaias and give inaccurate picture about Eritrea. There has been many hysterical noises made by handful opportunists.
It was exposed on Sunday 25 September that they truly are the walking dead (nefseher) as the President called them.
Eritreans came with a purpose united in a vision in a surreal environment making indescribable spiritual connection with each other and their president.
President Isaias embraced the moment and gracefully delivered unscripted speech from the heart in a presidential setting confidently. The journey was tough and long but joyous and historic. The sacrifices made were all worth it because, in the process and in the moment, we affirmed to each other that we are all Eritreans in a mission to express that we are one, “Eritrean in New York” in support of our nation and President!
Indeed “Hade hzbi, Hade libi”!