Dehai Retreat 2002: A Memorable Event

By Biniam Tekle

July 07, 2002

This year’s Dehai Retreat was no different from the retreats that preceded it, in that, it was full of the usual fun, laughter, recreational sports activities, discussions, and networking. However, this year’s retreat was special for the reason that all those who where present had a chance to honor a great human being, as we have come to know of her, who had passed away at a young age just a couple of months ago.

Here name was Mulu Woldekiros. Mulu had taken part in the previous two retreats driving with her beloved friends from New York all the way to West Virginia. An emotional memorial service was held for Mulu and a tree was planted in her honor and memory. The moment was both sober and a sad one, and I think it will for a long time be etched on the minds of those who attended this year’s retreat. The tree will be now a permanent fixture, a living memorial, at the retreat site and will be all the more reason to look forward to the future retreats. It is my hope that one day Dehai retreaters will get to seat under the shade of Mulu’s tree and drink our traditional coffee. Thanks to Veronica and Emnet T. Kiflu for coordinating and leading the memorial service.

Right after I returned from this memorable retreat I came across an article that sort of dampened down my "after retreat" spirit. The article was written by one who calls himself Mezgebe Tarik, surely one of those who chose to hide under assumed names and engage in the political bloodletting, if you will, that has become the norm on the cyberspace for quite sometime now. He titled his article "DEHAI RETREAT: NgDet OR TesKar", it is unfortunate that he had to use the word "tesKar" for we had indeed held a "remembrance" for a real person, a dedicated Eritrean who touched lots of people’s lives with her kind heart, but it was clear that this nameless character was criticizing Dehai and bemoaning the retreat in order to get at individuals. The so called Mezgebe Tarik goes on to lament that Dehai’s days are numbered and that it is gasping for its last breath and fills his article with more of the same jabbering. It has been a while now since demonizing Dehai has become fashionable, the funny thing is most of those who are belittling Dehai now are the very same people who had found their voices in Dehai. These people know that Dehai is more than individuals; it is and has always been a virtual community gathering place where every one can say their mind. Sure Dehai may have issues to be addressed and there is certainly room for improvement but it is totally unfair to associate Dehai with who ever is administering it or make it sound like it is a tool of this or that group. The fact is Dehai has always been and is a hafash place, it does not matter who dominates the discussion or who opines the loudest or the most, people always say their piece.

Those of us who value Dehai do so because we view it as a useful media for communication on one hand within the Eritrean Diaspora and the on other hand with folks back home, it matters little who is administering it and what their political leaning might be, ultimately Dehai is defined by all its members and their interaction with each other. Dehai is a place where each word uttered does not pass unchallenged, as it is a place where all views are represented. Of course the downside of that is the hate mongers, the extremists, and the down right cruel share the medium as well. But it has been proven time and again the vast majority of Dehaiers are well meaning individuals who are interested in the well being of their country. However, those who are demonizing Dehai would like to have us believe that Dehai is a den of lunatics therefore should be condemned. That is not only untrue but an insult to the intelligence of the large number of Dehaers, silent and otherwise. That is why I feel it is totally unfair to attack Dehai in order to make this or that biased point.

Dehai is inherently different than those websites out there that are being used as a bully pulpit in order to propagate partisan propaganda. The longevity of Dehai has proven that it is a an entity that will continue to exist while those Eritrean websites that came out from the woodworks crumble and die eventually under their own weight or lack there of.

Sorry for digressing there but to continue with my retreat reflections… about a total of sixty adults and ten to fifteen kids attended the retreat; it seemed to me about half of the attendees were new comers. Friday’s evening fireside story/joke telling event was full of laughter, even though Emanuel Tekle, the joke Maestro as they called him, had to miss the retreat. On Friday’s as is customary while those of us sensible people go to bed around midnight those who are not :-) stay until the wee hours of down telling of course "very" colorful jokes, but this year that was cut short by a rather disruptive drizzle that fell around 2:00 AM.

Saturday was a day reserved for different activities and it started with the braver retreaters going hiking through the mountains and following up with sports activities and finishing with all night long gUaila. As usual all of the programs went with out a hitch except they were stretched more than they should have been, that was not new but something that needs to be remedied. Ambassador Girma Asmerom, as he did last year was kind enough to accept the invitation and joined us at the retreat this year as well. His presence gave the retreaters an opportunity to chat with him. The most interesting events to me were the report given by Elias Amare about the developments taking place in Sawa, a brief about the current affairs back home given by the Ambassador, and the subsequent discussion that took place. The discussion was engaging and open, the audience was able to ask about matters that one would consider controversial and the Ambassador addressed them openly in return.

Amongst the questions that he was asked were, about the rumor spreading on the internet regarding Sawa girl recruits being taken advantage of by male authority figures in the camp, the imprisoned 11 former officials, the situation of the free press and the jailed journalists, and about the negativity coming from all corners on the cyberspace. The ambassador addressed each questions at length and I found the whole interaction to be beneficial and quite positive. It is often repeated in some quarters that in meetings where the Ambassador presides people just simply listen without bringing up controversial issues and leave but this Dehai gathering made that allegation baseless. What took place was a real dialogue which is a rear occurrence in Eritrean gatherings nowadays.

A couple of presentations latter it was time for gUaila and happy feet cruised the dancing floor tirelessly all through out the night, a huge thanks goes to DJ Yonas. The next morning the Eritrean flag was lowered, the customary group pictures were taken, addresses exchanged, promises to see each other on the next retreat were made, and one by one the cars pulled out and drove off…until next time.

Many thanks must go to everyone who helped organize and took part in this great retreat.