Season greetings: remembering the people who made a difference in our lives
It was dark, the beginning of winter. She squeezed my hand anticipating that I would panic looking at what was about to cross us. We were walking to her hut after a dinner in a distant neighbor. We both didn’t know how late it was; no one had a watch.
It was late June, at the end of Ethiopian school year. When I arrived at Yegmar, a small farmer’s village in Gurage country, to spend the winter months with grandma, I was about 11 years old. That was my first road trip by myself. It took about a 6 hours bus trip to get to Wolkite, a modest town, and a ride on an aging and crowded Land Rover for the next few hours to Agena, the closest town with transportation. Grandma had sent two teen age boys to wait for me. It was Saturday, a market day. We bought some salt, cooking oil and coffee beans on our way to Yegmar on foot. After about an hour of walk, I was shocked to find a river with no bridge that we had to cross. The boys saw the fear in me. They kept me in the middle as we navigated the river, the water reaching our waist, the rocks kicking our toes, one hand holding my shoes, the other one of the boys. I imagined what it would be like had it rained. I would later learn that there were accidents with crocodiles. The farmers lined up couple of long trees on the river banks to crawl on to cross the river but a strong wind washed it away leaving everyone to walk through the river keeping the weak and elderly away from the only market in Agena, why she had to send the boys to pick me up.
When we finally arrived, I was visibly tired.
“Yetenbi, Yetenbi, Yetenbi.”
Welcome, welcome, welcome
Grandma and her friends greeted me with open arms.
The village of Yegmar was dotted with handful of huts of mud walls with a wooden pole in the center and a grass roof, the earth floor shined with cow dung. On one side of the hut I slept with grandma on a mattress on the floor; the other side was left for the sheep and the cows with open fire in the center. Grandma was a widow but as strong a farmer as any of the men. She owned the land. She grew potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers, cabbage and ensete, the principal crop of the Gurage.
For those three months in Yegmar, I became a herd-boy. I would take out the sheep and the cows to the field after a warm milk straight from the udder along with a piece of kocho, thick bread made of ensete.
So in that dark winter night, on our way home from a late dinner, a wild animal approached us. I panicked and squeezed her hand. We crouched motionless, holding each other.
“It’s a hyena…come on boy.”
She picked me up and we continued our walk. The animal drifted away in the forest limping. I was drenched in sweat. She hugged me as we closed the door behind our hut. She lit the fire. That was when I saw that tear had swelled up in her eyes.
Grandma, I said, are you not afraid to live here by yourself?
“Boy,it is my land.”
“This is where my ancestors lived.”
“This is the way it has been.”
“This is the way it will be.”
This holiday season I remember grandma. She was my role model. She meant everything to me.