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Paulos Netabay Born in 1967, Paulos Netabay is a leading Eritrean journalist, serving as both the Director of the Eritrean News Agency (ERINA) and as editor-in-chief of Eritrea’s national newspaper, Haddas Eritrea. He started writing poems in 1989 as a fighter during the Eritrean armed struggle for independence. “Remembering Sahel” first appeared in 1995.
Remembering Sahel
Tigrinya version

English version

Remembering Sahel

Who could forget the war?
The battles where we fell,
the awful sun, our wounds
glistening like jewels
in the hell we’ve never left…

Yet more: always barefoot,
always thorns, refusing
to go on except
for one more step, deeper
into Sahel…remember?

Give me your hands to write
the names again now
and for tomorrow’s sake –
Baquos, Ela-babu,
– places still bright

as the tears in our eyes,
recalling how good
and welcome we felt there:
Amberbeb, Halibet,
Hishkib, Himbol, Hager

and Arerb…remember
mountain after mountain,
armies of ghostly killers
on all night marches?
Sahel, I march again.

Rora, I don’t forget.
Amba, Insi, Agamet,
your trenches in my head.
Hal-hal, Arag, Nakfa,
you buried our dead.

We hear them in your names,
the struggle and the war
we carried on our backs,
unsure of the end,
except it led to your door.

Rora-habab, Asray,
forts, say what you know.
Marsa-gulbub, Marsa-teklay,
harbors, testify
to the brutality

we suffered to breathe freedom
finally on May 24.
A chorus joined our war:
Ayget, Qatar, Denden,
Ashorm, Tikse, Koken—

rough song in a rough land
where lions also lived.
But it delivered
our enemies to our hands,
protected our children,

wrote what we did in blood
and offered rocks, caves and trees
where we hid in the shade
and lived off berries.
Daero, Beles, Garsa.

Who can forget your bed
of sand and the juicy flesh
of your prickly pears?
Awhe, Shagla, Kisra,
we lived under your care

and still see your herds grazing
with ostrich and gazelles
in the wild pastures.
Emhamime, Zara
we felt secure,

young and brave in your arms,
fed on your love, and
we still clearly recall
how we chose to bury
our friends with no ceremony

and no shroud, remembering
instead they risked their lives
and died for us to have
peace and stand together
then and now: positive,

forgiving and faithful
to the places revealing
who we are and must
remember to be.
They showed us destiny.

Translated by Charles Cantalupo and Ghirmai Negash.