Who are we as Eritreans?

By Aaron Berhane January 2010 Last month, Jamila wrote about seven common Eritrean traits. She started her article by saying, “Was the description tha...

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By Aaron Berhane
January 2010

Last month, Jamila wrote about seven common Eritrean traits. She started her article by saying, “Was the description that Berhane gave to the Toronto Star reporter, Debra Black, a fair description of the Eritrean people in Canada?”

Taking a quote out of context, Jamila tried to make a comparison as if I was trying to describe the Eritrean community with two- or three-line statements. This is surprising for anyone who possesses a reasonable mind. Jamila, you made totally unfair comparisons even as you were speaking about fairness.

As I said in my previous article, I mentioned a weakness and strength as well as the ups and downs of our community in my two-hour interview with Debra Black. I’ve even featured more than 20 success stories of members of our community in Meftih since its inception. So, no one can make unfair comments when the documented evidence already speaks for itself. The facts will remain long after we’re gone.

Anyway, I couldn’t agree more with your positive description. But I would like to assure you that that’s not all. We have many more positive qualities. Let me give you an account of the best traits that describe us as Eritreans, and I will speak only about the positive elements here so that our readers can make a fair comparison with what you wrote.

Principle: We are a people of principle. We don’t compromise our principles no matter what happens. We are prepared to die for what we believe. We are a people of integrity. We keep our word to ourselves and others. You won’t see Eritreans changing course because some people are lashing at us, against our stand or ideas. As soon as we’ve established our beliefs, we march forward with them. We don’t change our stand every day like the Canadian weather does. We don’t change our colours now and then like a chameleon simply to avoid objections or to become popular. We don’t chant slogans with anyone simply because it is popular. We absorb the idea, digest the concept and test how it sits with our gut. This trait is highly recognizable in us.

Truth: We love truth. We even have a Tigrigna proverb which says, haki tezaribka ab mengedi babur dekis (when you speak the truth, sleep on the railway). This is a powerful proverb. Who cares if the train crashes against us after we speak the truth? That’s what this proverb means. If Eritreans know that something is true, we won’t just say so but we’re also prepared to sacrifice ourselves for it. Eritreans don’t care because we know that’s the most valuable part of our culture. The anecdote is very clear: the train won’t have the strength to overrun us if we hold fast to the truth. Neither will false statements have the power to dilute the truth. We truly love truth.

Confidence: We like talking directly with the source about whatever concerns we may have. We don’t flatter people in their presence and then stab them in the back. We really believe in confronting people upfront about issues that concern us. If we see a mistake, we point it out immediately. We say right away, ‘That’s a mistake.’ We don’t wait for the support of the majority to proclaim that it as a mistake; we trust our judgement and go with it. By the same token, if we happen to be wrong, we will apologize immediately. This shows our confidence in handling our day-to-day issues.

I could go on and on to describe more positive traits, but these may be enough to satisfy you for now. I’ll always expect you to lay the above elements first when you talk about Eritrean traits. Nothing describes us better than these qualities if we wish to talk about our strengths. When we keep these points in mind, it will be so easy for us to tackle our weaknesses, tolerate harsh criticism and entertain innovative ideas. Therefore let’s be true Eritreans, not hybrids.