Red Sea Dahlak Islands, Eritrea. Image Credit: Anabel Loyd Red Sea Dahlak Islands, Eritrea. Image Credit: Anabel Loyd

The Deacon

I secured a seat to a meeting with the creators of a parent’s guide for parents’ living with a disabled child at the National Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities office in the final week of my stay in Eritrea. The team, independent from the board members of the hosting organization, comprised of ministry workers that held a meeting every Wednesday for some weeks working toward a tentative December to January release.

A bit nervous and anxious about how the meeting would fare, I left enough wiggle room in my commute and arrived to a closed office. Not able to read Tigrinya at the time, I stared blindly at the door’s sign and peered through the glass hoping someone would answer.

Then a voice calls out to me. I quickly glance over and flash a sign of distaste. Ten months later, I brood over the kindest person I met in Eritrea – a beautiful soul named Eyobied.

A few unanswered knocks on the doorstep.
A voice behind me.
A dark man now within view.
We stare.
I stare. Deeply.
I’m frightened.
Incoming.

Diyacon is of my height and dressed moderately. His pants are cream-colored. His skin resembles dark cocoa. I tasted his skin before – somewhere glazed on top of a cousin’s nutella and Italian bread breakfast sandwich.

I noticed compassion when he switched languages. I held my breath for seconds. That was the longest exhale of the summer. Now my ears are perked, but my heart is stiff. Between a clear sky and a silent street, I stood idly not knowing what to say or think.

The door opens. I’m running on American time. Awaiting our meeting, I notice the density of a few board members. Their bellies are full of tayta still simmering in jalapeno juice. I’m not offered any tea — It must be four in the evening in Asmara.

Diyacon confronts me, again.
I’m indifferent, says the walking contrast.
His lips curl up in disappointment.
Eyes remain soft.
I am forgiven. Amen.

We’re in the room. Everyone knows everyone except me. I am the journalist. This is what I tell them, anyway. I am an observer. I am consciously observing humanity and office culture in my ancestral country.

Talks of a guide scheduled to release later that year begin.

I become fidget. I am patiently impatient with the tardiness of others as they trickle in. Diyacon is on the other side of the room. He watches me. And my insecurities. I create a safe corner to sit in. It’s safer here.

Young. Female. African. American, in a new country where accents, intonations, and tones are unlike that I’ve experienced in my ethnically diverse state. I am not among dogs, yet I’m still naked. I’m naked in a room where people prefer to be clothes less. When you are the youngest and speak one and a half languages. You are insecure. I might go. I don’t know.

I fight through imposter syndrome. I am usable. An older tegadelti says so. And so is deacon. It feels safe with him. He is my savior. He looks into my corner. I’m conflicted by his sharpness. His sponge-like of senses. His sponge-like of senses. Now we are on English-speaking terms.

He challenges me to a question of writing style, rather than one of detail. The guide is geared toward caregivers of Eritrea’s disabled population. Not the physically handicap nor the Martyr’s but their children. Who don’t speak or are silenced by their own minds.

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Diyacon’s retorts – subtle interruptions – rhetoric – revelations. I discover Ariam’s meaning in Ge’ez. I am quizzed on its meaning and motivated to think parent’s don’t always teach their seeds the meaning of their own names.

It’s beautiful, he tells me. at this point, diyacon has my whole heart.

Meeting adjourned.

Diyacon kept his bike in repair at a nearby shop. The one around the corner from Barbereket. A neighborhood hop-scotch game away from an orange-yellowish building in need of a paint job.

In Asmara, diyacons live by the bible and ride on cycles. I walk beside him in silence, comfortably, bridging communication across cultures. I am too sprung off homeland life. Not only ’cause it’s summertime and the deafening sound of Mr. Frosty ice cream trucks in the middle of muggy New York City nights are absent. There is nothing to distract me from present day Asmara where work isn’t given more affection than family and street harassment is minimal. I am honoring an afternoon with a servant of Eritrea’s Orthodox Tewahado Church.

We are not holding hands — but it could happen.

Adey, y’merowiyom?

Here, in the Red Sea Pastry shop, diyacon orders us the national drink — shahi. You learn a lot about an Eritrean with whom you have shahi with. And a lottery ticket appears. a Raymoc lottery ticket. We’ll split the earnings, he says jocularly.

And you say God sent him? I say it was God.

For more stories from the author, please visit her journal.

By Ariam Alula Frezghi

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