Editor’s note: This is the second part (see part one) of a series of stories about what transpired in Mekelle and environs following the extraordinary warning an army General issued to the residents of Mekelle on the 27th of Nov., 2020, to save themselves from indiscriminate shelling and bombardments. The story is being recounted by Weyni Abraha, a writer who was then living in Mekelle. For ease of narration, the story is told in the present tense.
29 Nov., 2020. Second day in hiding. We have decided to leave our hideout and return to Mekelle. We are not under any illusion that the situation in Mekelle will have returned to normalcy. But we have no any other option. We didn’t bring anything to sustain us here. And at any rate, the shelling seems to be everywhere. Our hideout might after all not be a safe haven.
Upon our arrival in Mekelle, my mother, my younger brother and I have chosen to go to a basement in my aunt’s house near Hawelti. Like us, most people sought refuge in basements throughout the city.
Some people have decided to carry on with life as usual, arguing, “I might dodge the bullet today but hunger would kill me tomorrow”. And so they didn’t run away like us, nor sought refuge in basements. These are mostly people who rely on menial daily jobs.
Back to myself. Mekelle seems nothing like it used to be. The city I was born and raised in looks completely unrecognizable, in just a space of two days. I feel like a complete stranger. The streets I strolled on freely now look eerie and haunted. I see about ten armed men crammed on a light-duty truck. They are wielding their guns and their heavy weaponry mounted on the car in a frightening way. They seem to have a target. Listening to myself, I ask myself, rhetorically, “Is this what the feeling of being under oppression is like?”
A few shops have started service. Since shops don’t have supply anymore, they’ve run out of a lot of essential items. As a result, prices have sky-rocketed. For example, one Killo of tomatoes is being sold at a whopping 110 Birr. Water supply has also dried up. Mothers can’t find water to wash sanitary items of their newly-born children. Some people have gone to nearby bushes to collect firewood since there is no electricity. Since most people don’t own the traditional firewood-powered Injera-baking pan made out of clay (traditionally called “Megogo“), people are desperately running around carrying dough and baskets to find Megogo. And then there is the matter of curfew by 6 pm. I can see people jostling and shoving to make it home before 6.
After 6, the city is totally deserted. I see no one on the streets. It makes you wonder if you’re in a foreign place. I only hear disturbing sounds of gun shots.
Another day. At 1:30 p.m., I hear a bang from a gunshot from where I am sitting. And the gunshots continue for a sustained period of time. What mothers must be enduring right now is indescribable. If their children are not home by now, they could be thinking the bullets might have landed on one of their children. The very thought of that is unbearable. Every time we hear a bang of a gunshot, mothers helplessly ask “whose son or daughter might the bullet has hit? who’s the poor soul who’s just fallen?” Some are wailing, kicking their knees, imploring their creator to spare their children.
We can’t wait for the night to end. To see the dawn, both literally and figuratively. To learn who might have died and who made it to the next day. For a night of agony to be replaced by a day of hope. But the hope was to be dashed. In the morning at around a quarter to 7, we hear people ululating near Desta Hotel. The ground shook. People hurriedly run to the hotel. We learn two young men have been gunned down. The scene still haunts me. Even with my eyes closed, I see the fallen young men. I mourn but I become more determined.
Tigray shall prevail!