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31/08/2016 21:39 PM



Dr. Tesfa G. Gebremedhin, West Virginia University

Things change and life goes on. It is inevitable because change is the natural law and order of life. A person has to look not only the past and present but it is also essential for the person to see what and how change has to happen in the future.  As Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often.” If we don’t change, we don’t grow and if we don’t grow, we cannot say that we are really living in this changing world.  As Barack Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or for some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” In other words, we must be the change that we wish to see in ourselves, households, community, religious institutions, and generally in our society. If we do not change the direction in which we are heading, we may end up walking into the same situation where we were, with no change or growth. Our attitude and way of thinking determine the kind of change we expect to observe in our lives.  Those people who cannot change their attitudes and perspectives cannot change anything else. We have to be the change to make the necessary change in our Eritrean society in Diasporas.

If a situation is bad, it has to change to a better situation. To create a better situation, an effort has to be made, or a struggle has to take place, to make the change. However, any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and obstacles. There is always some discomfort, resentment, and struggle in the process of making the desired change. If there is no struggle, there can be no change and progress. It is evident that some of us do not like change because we don’t like to take risks. We have to take calculated risks because not doing so is the greatest risk of all. We need to embrace change, particularly if the alternative is disastrous and counter-productive. In most instances, only the ultra-opportunists and ignorant people never change. If the struggle for a change is supported by the people affected – by making them actively participate in the process starting from the initial stage – making the change will involve minimal problems.  The following story, adopted from our Tigrigna traditional folk tales, narrates the need for change in a dreadful and life-threatening situation. The story is slightly modified in order to fit and convey the desired message.

Once upon a time, a great number of mice used to live in holes around a farm house. The farm was raising livestock and producing a variety of crops. The mice ate the fresh, tasty wheat, corn, oats, and left over food of rice, bread, cheese and biscuits that were kept in the farm house. They were having a great time and living easy, comfortable lives, as they grew fatter day by day. One day a certain unexpected crazy cat came to the farm house and started troubling the mice every single day. From the day he came to the farm house, the cat began to catch and kill the mice one by one. The mice were terrified of even stepping out of their holes. They could not reach the food anymore. This was a great cause of worry and anxiety for them because they started to starve to death. They decided to call an emergency meeting of the entire mice in the farm to discuss and solve this big and horrible situation. Immediately, all the mice got together and started talking and thinking critically about this horrific problem. The mice wanted to get rid of the fat cat, but no one could think of a better way of doing it. So, they kept thinking of other practical ways and means of solving the problem. The mice sat and talked for a very long time, but they could not come to any meaningful solution.

Finally, one young mouse stood up and said, “I know what we should do! We should tie a bell around the cat’s neck. When the bell tinkles, we will know where the cat is! That way, whenever the cat is near or is coming in our direction, we would get to know by the ringing of the bell and we can quickly run back to our holes.” All the other mice liked the idea. Since the idea was much appreciated by all the mice, they began dancing and celebrating with joy. They thought that this was the best plan to solve their problem. But their celebrations did not last very long for soon an old and experienced mouse stood up and said, “You fools! Stop celebrating and start thinking again. You may think that tying a bell around the neck of the cat is a good idea. Yes, it is a wonderful idea, but tell me: who is going to put the bell on the cat’s neck?” None of the mice had the courage to give a reasonable answer to the question of the old and wise mouse. They had not thought critically about the other obvious constraints of this major problem in their seemingly perfect plan. The old mouse then boldly said, “It is easy to sit and have big ideas. But it is never easy to carry them out.” This is why it is said that making a plan is one thing but executing it is an entirely different thing.

It is certain that the mice and the cat cannot co-exist in the same place in peace and harmony. A cat is a predator and a mouse is its prey. Cats by virtue of nature are major predators of mice. If these mice desire to save their lives and live in peace, they have to change their situation. The mice have three choices. The first choice is to go on as it is and do nothing. To plan to do nothing is by itself a plan to fail. The result is that the mice will starve to death because they will be confined in their respective holes and will not be able to get their food. If, at any time, they get out of their holes, they will become the daily meal of the cat.  The second choice is to boldly face the enemy all together. If they collect their resources and bring themselves together and angrily shout and scream at the cat, it is possible that the cat may get scared and run away. If that doesn’t scare him, they have to fight him to change their grim situation. They are many and he is only one, though he is huge and scary to them. If every one of them dares to take a bite out of him, they can win the fight even though they may sacrifice some of them. The third choice is to remove themselves from their old holes and go somewhere else to a new location where they can find a safe place to live in peace.  They will need to dig new holes for their new residence and start a new life. Hopefully, the cat will not follow them to their new location, but a predator is always a predator who naturally and ruthlessly preys on others. It may seem to be a safe alternative, but it is not a good choice.

Similarly, we have a bad situation in our Eritrean society in Diasporas. Our dysfunctional communities are dismantled beyond repair. Our religious institutions are fragmented to our frustration and they are struggling to survive against all odds. It is absurd to observe that there are Eritreans who worship and receive spiritual services for wedding, funeral, baptism, house blessings, and others from Greek, Egyptian, or Ethiopian Orthodox Christian churches when they can worship and receive the same spiritual services from the Eritrean Orthodox Christian Churches which happen to be located in the same town and neighborhood. It is appropriate to put matters into proper perspective when you observe that the Greeks, Egyptians, or Ethiopians, under any circumstances would never worship or receive spiritual services at the Eritrean Orthodox Christian churches because they respect their own churches and cherish their own ethnic identity. In addition, the evil and backward regional, religious, and political polarization and alienation is adversely affecting our social relationship in the Eritrean society in Diasporas. To anybody’s surprise, our scholars and professionals are usually the main actors and leaders in all these ugly and offensive social episodes. Consequently, our innocent children are at risk beyond their control and became the prime victims of our inconsiderate, egoistic, and self-centered behavior. Honestly, the children have nothing to do with these social and political dramas. Our children do not have Eritrean community centers where they can associate with each other. Our youth cannot find prominent Eritrean role models to relate and emulate their ethnic identity and learn their cultural heritage.  This unfavorable situation in our Eritrean society has encouraged our youth to get married to individuals outside their ethnic identity at an alarming rate. Also the old and aging Eritreans, particularly those who came recently from Eritrea, irrespective of their social, religious and political affiliations, cannot find an Eritrean community center where they can meet and share their experiences on how and where to get health care services for their illness from the federal government.  Our current situation reflects that respecting our traditional practices, honoring our cultural heritage, cherishing our ethnic identity, and strengthening our social values and integrity have become the old norms and order of the past. In short, our Eritrean society in Diasporas is seriously in disarray and confusion. Our beautiful traditional values, our social characteristics and our decent behavioral relationships are currently replaced with enmity, animosity and hostility, causing social chaos and disorder in our society. We are just acting like a swarm of houseflies scattered everywhere without any kind of binding force, or common ground that can bring us all together and support one another. There is an urgent call for change of situations to restore our social values and create a desirable environment for unity and trust by all means and deeds.

Change is good. We may hate change, yet it is the only thing that brings progress in this world. At times we want things to remain the same. But nothing is as painful as remaining in the same desperate situation. The cost of doing the same old thing is far higher than the cost of making change. As we all know, it would be hard for an egg to learn how to fly while remaining an egg.  It would be odd for an egg to go on indefinitely being just an ordinary decent egg without turning into a bird. Sooner or later, it must hatch into a bird and fly in the big sky. Likewise, the situation in our dysfunctional communities and divided religious institutions is not getting better. In fact, it is getting worse every single day.  The situation should not remain in the same norm and order indefinitely; it has to change for a better situation. Many times we wait and expect God to do the change for us. God will not do it for us, not that He is not capable of doing it, but because He has already given us all the resources we need to make the change. If we show effort on our own and face difficulty to do the change, then it makes sense if we ask God for help. God will definitely give us His blessing to boost our effort. However, change comes only through people (us). Situations do not change by themselves because change does not come by itself.  People have to be the change to make the change. We also say that time changes situations. Time goes on, but it doesn’t change situations by itself. We actually have to change the situations ourselves. If we do not work towards changing, a situation, it means that we have lost the challenge and failed in our commitment to change ourselves. We have to change ourselves, if we want to keep up with the changing world. If we don’t cop up with the global change, we will be left far behind. It is evident that, we cannot change the whole situation in our society, may be not all at once and at one time, but we can change one person, one animal, and one good deed at a time. The collective effort is usually the most effective and the very essential tool in this process. It is very interesting to observe that we don’t usually resist changing a situation for the better, but it is a pity to observe that we usually resist being changed ourselves. It is crucial to be aware that we can change a situation only when we become the change. Life gets better only by changing the undesirable situations. We just need to change our attitudes and perspectives and put our anchor of hope down and secured and protect ourselves against all unfavorable situations that keep us offshore and off-guard.

        H.O.P.E. means Hold On, Pain Ends.

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