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I almost collapsed, but instead I said I had to pee and ducked into a café. From then on, I barely had a moment when I was not thinking about the freedom fighters. Whether I found the fighters or they found me, I can’t say. I only knew we needed each other. I kept seeing the face of Wedi Sheka and hearing him say with more and more confidence, “Anybody, young or old, educated or not, from the city or the country, boy or girl. They all need to fight to free our country.”
Before long I was meeting more fighters, and they all said the same. I admired their conviction, and believed their earnest accounts of the oppression of the Eritrean people. Still, I wondered: in all our conversations, the families of the fighters never came up. Didn’t they care about them? How could they sound so detached? Didn’t they have any feelings? Then again, when we talked about the oppression of women, and I thought about how my family oppressed me, it felt like maybe the fighters were right about this, too.
They never shared their plans until they were almost about to happen. Like the day a fighter brought three women who were my age to my family’s house. The custom of fighters giving new recruits one last night of the relative comforts of civilian life before sending them into the field to sleep in the bushes was still unknown to me. “Let them sleep here. They came to fight,” I was told. I kept my thinking to myself, “Why do they have to sleep in my house? Why can’t they sleep with you?”
Thank God my mother was away. None of us slept. As I saw them packing plastic sandals, bed sheets, sanitary napkins, bras and panties, the girls giggled like bridesmaids. They got me giggling, too. Yet at the time I hadn’t realized that young Eritreans would think to buy things that they thought they would need when they decided to run off to the field and join the armed struggle.
I envied them, especially when they started cutting off all their hair. “Me, too,” I said. They knew immediately what I meant.
At first they acted shocked and begged me to stay in the city, but they stopped when they saw that I really wanted to go as much as they did.