A Moment in Eritrea by Casey Callahan

It’s a Monday afternoon and I’m late for a doctor’s appointment I had no desire to go to. I don’t have a car so I regularly take the bus but then I couldn’t decide what to wear and my hair was doing that weird thing so I just said “fuck it, I’ll uber”. Which always puts me in a bad mood because the 2 things I hate paying for the most are rides and water in a water bottle. Up there with trash bags and tampons.

So here I am, in an uber, in a bad mood, in my own head.

Then, my driver starts talking.

And he doesn’t stop talking. He talks even after we arrived at my destination. He talks like he’s prepared and rehearsed these lines. And there I am, finding myself lost in his words. Lost in an entirely different world. Lost in the fact that I can wake up every morning and choose to be so self-centered, self-aware, self-motivated. I choose every day to disrespect the world around me.

Eritrea is a small country in Africa. it is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast. Every month as many as 5,000 people flee Eritrea. It is a country ruled by an authoritarian regime in which human rights violations are widespread. It is also the country Adel, my driver, is from.

The People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) is the only party in Eritrea and is neither democratic, nor does it uphold justice. The PFDJ has ruled the country since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Eritrea does not have a constitution, or a free press. Every young person is required to serve in the military and therefore a large number of them flee.

Adel told me I’d like it there. Lots of trees and clear blue water and beautiful people. He said it’s a shame the world and the people in it put places like that on pause. He told me how he was a teenager when he left. How he traveled through turmoil in Sudan to get to Kenya. From Kenya he flew to Bolivia then walked to Brazil through Columbia and up to Mexico. Nearly 3,000 miles. At the Mexico border he was held in detention for 2 weeks and then granted asylum for 1 month. He walked 16 hours to Houston, Texas.

“It was time to go. But imagine a life where you are so far away from your home that it doesn’t feel like it’s your home anymore – where you no longer recognize a culture, a community”

I asked him what the biggest struggle has been since moving to the United States. And his answer was simply that in Eritea - your neighbors are your friends, it’s normal to get to know the people you are physically connected to. And in the U.S. – no one even looks up at him. It’s cold here, he’s lost all sense of compassion and community. He wonders why people aren’t more giving, more willing to open their arms. When he asked me why it’s this way, I flashed back to my frustration with taking this uber in the first place. To when I spilt coffee on myself a few days back and basically gave myself the right to be pissed at anyone and everyone all day. I flashed back to how it felt to watch Trump win the presidency and how I trapped myself in a hole for the next few months just so I didn’t have to come face to face with the hatred and pain.

Sometimes we are so damn selfish. So damn wrapped up in ourselves. Our memories, needs, expectations, relationships, hardships.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Adel after I left that car. I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of feeling lost or unclaimed. Stuck in this world where you are no longer a part of where you belong and the place you are presently is not letting you in.

“It’s a shame the world and the people in it put places like that on pause” kept being repeated in my head over and over.

People are not perfect and everyone chooses to be selfish. I get that. But if you really listen, or look up once and awhile – away from yourself, your needs, your expectations – you are already giving much more to the world than you were before. You are stepping outside of yourself and giving a moment to someone else. Someone who desperately needs that moment.

Thank you, Adel. For pushing me to look away from myself and allowing me to share your moment with you.

EssaysCasey Callahan