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IN MEMORIAM: Dirge for Temesgen Alemseged Tesfai

Selamat Friends,

I write this brief note with a heavy heart and I hesitate to share with you a terrible news about the death of a young man, Temesgen Alemseged Tesfai. The only son of Alemseged Tesfai -- the great Eritrean writer, historian and preeminent man-of-letters -- and Abrehet, Temesgen was just 16 when he died tragically on Monday, September 7, 2009. An exemplary student and promising young man, Temesgen was stabbed to death by another teenager outside his school at Dembe Sembel School in Asmara. Temesgen himself was not involved in a fight but was only trying to act as a peacemaker in the fight between two young students. Temesgen was buried on Wednesday, September 9th, in his ancestral village of Adi Arkai (between Mendefera and Adi Kuala, near Shekha Iyamo) in a funeral ceremony attended by thousands of mourners. The whole of Asmara is still in a state of shock. It's been now almost 10 days since this tragic loss, and I am writing this sad news just after coming back to the office from visiting the family's "Hazen" in their residence in Embagaliano, near the University of Asmara.

I remember Temesgen as an impressive and bright young man, with a positive spirit and strong character. The last I saw him was at his home when his parents invited me and a colleague for Lidet dinner back in January. He had grown tall and matured significantly and I was quite impressed with his friendly yet serious demeanor. You could see that both his parents were proud and fond of him, especially Alemseged, who always treated him more like a friend than a son. Like his father, Temesgen was an avid reader, with sharp intelligence and was well liked by his peers. A bus load of his classmates and students of Dembe Sembel came to bid him their last farewell at his funeral.

In the course of my numerous conversations with Alemseged, he would tell me how he enjoyed writing in the last few years the two novellas for young readers, inspired by his son's constantly asking him to tell him stories and write something for the youth. The first one is titled Gitano, loosely based on the recollection of a Mexican film that Alemseged saw as a young student in the 1950s. A few years back while I was working for Eri-TV, I had interviewed Alemseged for a book program (which was sadly never aired), and he recollected to me how that book came to be published. Many years ago, he used to tell the story to young children of Bet-Tmhrti Sewra (EPLF's Revolution School) in the field, while he was assigned as a teacher there. Later after independence, his son Temesgen would always ask him to tell that story as father and son went early in the mornings to get milk from the neighborhood grocery. Temesgen in turn would tell that story to his friends, and as a result the story assumed a life of its own in the imagination of the neighborhood kids. One day, Alemseged recollects, Temesgen asked his father why he never wrote any book for children. "All your books are for adults; why don't you write one for us kids too?" Temesgen implored his father. And that's how Gitano was written and published several years ago. Recently, Alemseged has also published another novella for young readers titled "TmTm ab gejret: selste a'EruK". It's a kind of a crime thriller about how three young friends in Asmara foil a criminal ring. I enjoyed both books, and whenever I read them from now on I will always associate them with the memory of young Temesgen.

A few days ago, in the mourning gathering at the "das Hazen" Alemseged stood up and begged the people to allow him to speak a few words about his deep feelings pented up inside -- in his own words "ab bahlna ekua lumud aykonen: gen qurub neti ab wushtey zsmeAni metenfesi kKoneley kzareb afqduley". He spoke with great feeling and eulogized his late son Temesgen. He thanked all those who came to comfort them and said that though they will always miss their son, he is beginning to come to terms with the loss, and that it is important to learn from this so that such tragedy does not repeat in the future. I missed this moving eulogy, but many people have asked him to write it down and I will share it with you all once I get my hands on a copy. Alemseged said that they named their son Temesgen, because they were happy and satisfied they had a son after so many years. He was also named Temesgen after the martyr radical university student leader Temesgen Haile who died in Addis Ababa in the mid 70s by jumping from a multi-story apartment complex rather than be captured by the Dergue's death squad. Alemseged was a close friend of Temesgen Haile and highly admired his courage, integrity and exemplary leadership.

In my own way, I am also writing this to find some "metenfesi" and share with you the loss of a good friend and generous mentor that Alemseged has been to me in the past 8 years of my stay here in Eritrea.

Below, I humbly share with you a short poem that I wrote last Friday as a dirge in the tradition of "melqes".

IN MEMORIAM: Dirge for Temesgen Alemseged Tesfai

The whole city mourns tonight
The death of our young prince
Forever shall you live young in our heart
Praise be to Him that gives and takes at will
Praise be for our young prince, Temesgen.

In the distance the mothers wail for their sons
While the men silently mourn with stony faces
The mighty pen of the father momentarily frozen
And all we could think of is Praise Be,
Praise be for our young prince, Temesgen.

May he rest in blissful eternal sleep
May he never know of the sorrow he’s left in our midst
You have gone far too soon at sweet sixteen
But praise be to Him that gives and takes
Praise be for you, our young prince, Temesgen.

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May God grant Temesgen's family comfort and fortitude in their time of sorrow. n'nefseher Temesgen dma mengste semayat yewarso!

Elias Amare