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And then he died. Major General Haile Samuel 'China'

18/04/2024 23:45 PM

And then he died.

Major General Haile Samuel

by Kiki Tzeggai

And then he died. Major General Haile Samuel - China

And then he died.
Major General Haile Samuel “China”

As we consider the power of words as resistance, we need to explore how a slice of history I witnessed can be a light in the darkness to help us build empathy, solidarity and truth. In these difficult times for Eritrea, how can we unlock the possibility of a new future for all and remind us of the price paid for Eritrea’s sovereignty.

As his name “flies” around  as social media groups patronize each other, Haile Samuel’s legacy will be one that will master thunders and monologues.

One day between the end of the year 1993-1994, I was in Asmara visiting family and summoned to face a judge. Only my uncle by my side, each Eritrean lawyer I contacted refused to represent me.

While savoring a quiet day at my family house, my aunt  said “Someone is asking for you, he looks like a Tegadalay.". I was puzzled to see a young man at the gate, all his manners looked like a Tegadalay / Freedom Fighter.

To my “Selam” he politely pointed to his car parked outside and said ተበገሲ፡  "ኣብ ቤት ጽሕፈት ተጸዊዕኪ ኣለኺ!” I will wait in the car, you have been called to an office. “Who is calling me?” I asked. “you will know once you reach there” was his answer, and he walked to his car. My aunt was frightened and told me not to go. I decided to follow him and I asked her to note the car’s plates. How naïf I was believing that government’s car plates stay permanently on same car!

The driver was silent, but had an aura of kindness.

We reached there and the driver pointed at a door. Inside there were few people. The gray haired man shook my hand and said “ Good to see you  Kiki, how are you?” His name was Haile Samuel “ China”. Tea was offered and the ONE way talks began.

I again met Samuel “China” few years later in Washington DC, at the late Ambassador Girma Asmerom residence; himself a former soldier. Girma tried to introduce me to Samuel…. … to my hesitance , “China” replied “how are you my comrade’s wife?” That felt the best acknowledgement I ever heard about my husband.

I asked him if we could take a walk and finalize our talk left on a sour taste on that far away day in Eritrea.

I respected Haile Samuel so much because he stood up for freedom of my opinions on that day.
Why did Berhane die if I couldn’t be free to speak my mind, I asked him. For,  to be told that besides beauty and frivolousness ( and some more harsh words), I built nothing in my life, was a wound I couldn’t heal!

Samuel abruptly interrupted me and said: "I repeat what I said that day, ሓቅኺ ነይርኪ/you were right. Let the anger go and think about the trust a nation has on you. Above all, the trust Berhane has on you. Care about his legacy and - as a citizen of Eritrea - tell about our fight for freedom, some aspects might not be clearly understandable to the people!"

I am glad I suddenly hugged you Haile, and your surprised reaction made us laugh. We talked more and hopefully, I will be free to share it all one day.
YOUR LEGACY. ALL I KNOW ABOUT IT and I humbly try to write about it.

Where to begin? We all know how this ends. Haile’s  departure from this life, I mourn deeply and still feel sudden pangs of sadness. Eulogies and obituaries being what they are, pitched high to remember only the deceased’s virtues, I dare to say that despite the fact that nearly every Eritrean is eventually flawless in their love for country and infectious trust when able to share, Samuel “China”  was all of those things in such abundance, that I have never encountered elsewhere.

His life was a tireless battle against lack of justice and through his speaking, he silently enlisted allies to fight with him. He left the dream we share for Eritrea, closer to enlightenment.

I am a bit misty eyed today. Got mixed feelings and It happens to me every time I think about our long walk in Washington DC.
“When you are in Eritrea Kiki, notice not only the unusual things but also the  steady, unchanging things like trees , mountains which offer a sense of permanence during a time when we increasingly face the scary obvious.”, he said, That “scary obvious" I wish he was willing to dissect and explain.

As I heard the news of his death, I hold on a moment while I put all  in reverse; I realize that our history can pull our heartstrings and even in the course of using mere words, if we get to meet and listen to  Eritreans like Samuel “China” …. he earns our respect and I wish he was still among us, the living.

The key to it all comes in Samuel’s last words to me : “Eritreans, we are looking for something that when we see it, we will know all we are looking for is unity and respect for one another.”

This hero  has won the fight with death. We are all going to die , but what really matters is how we live.
It is a mighty gift for him to be able to look at death in the face and say “I did all I could for my I country!” The last stage of his journey, he never balked at the last ditch! He scaled all before him.

Negative talk about his difficult life saps the hope and courage needed to jump the last fence. We owe it to ourselves, to him and to his family, to go the distance and leave a legacy of hope and courage to our young generations.

These effects are not the tolling of a bell announcing death, but the comforters of a well-won dignified life.

Rest in courage Major General Haile Samuel “China”. My Berhane and more Eritrean heroes waiting for you at the gates of Heaven.

“ሓርበኛ ኣይነብርን እዩ ታሪኩ እዩ ዝውረስ”

Kiki Tzeggai
April 15, 2024

ckdu Voice of Eritrea -
Naz Yemane (Sunday July 12, 2015 show)
Martyr Berhane Tesfamariam (Wedi Balilla), member of EPLF underground activists in Asmara, Eritrea, who was killed in the notorious Derg-prison "Gibi" (Asmara) in 1978; his story is told by his wife (Kiki Tsegai), his colleagues፡ fedayn Hidray Fesseha and others. What a sacrifice!

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