Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Mass Funeral of Meles Zenawi

Bizu knocked on my door this morning, telling me she and Dani were on their way to the stadium for a mass funeral for the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. Did I want to come?


I expected a a dozen sheets safety pinned together to make a screen and a projection a a televised funeral. Nothing very exciting, seeming as I wouldn't understand it, but it was a good idea to join in community event and be seen.

The first clue I got that this was nothing like I expected was hearing a loud chant behind us on the road. I turned and coming down both side of the road was a mounted cavalry, red tassels swaying from bridles as the mass of riders trotted at us. We crowded against the median to let them pass and then mad our way to the stadium.

When we got there, the place was packed. The stadium was filled with people and two of the banks surrounding it were covered with mourners. The far side of the stadium was a mini bus station, people from neighboring towns and villages had come to. The other side held grazing horses. The group that had passed me had swarmed onto the field and were riding around it, but they weren't the first group there. Eventually they dismounted and joined the other groups on the field. They stood on foot in small groups in the fog or under tents, chanting and displaying memorials to Meles Zenawi – wooden signs, black and white posters stapled to palm leaves, flags.

We took a spot on the corner nearest to the stadium entrance, and had a prime view of the other groups coming. There was a church, led by a children's choir. Several more groups of mounted riders. Trucks filled with habasha and decked out in palms and flowers as if float parades. Most common though were simply groups of marching/running people, led by men with trailing women. They thrust wooden sticks in the air and they went by before walking onto the field, but sometimes the sticks were substituted with canes, umbrellas, and, nerve-rackingly, guns pointing into the sky held very insecurely.

Every group marched passed where we were standing, and then made their way down onto the field below. Groups just kept coming and coming, there seemed no end to the mourners, and when the fog rolled in you could see lit candles in people's hands as if it were the Easter midnight service.

It's crazy the amount of support and love Meles Zenawi had in his people. There's been a song composed about his death, I hear it everywhere, and the TV shows picture of him all the time as well as street testimonies of those who are sad at his passing. Kids sell pictures of him, the market has shirts depicting him, and when I went to Adama last week there was a huge parade of bajas going up and down the street. (It actually reminded me of Rhodes when Greece did well in the Euro cup, cars going up and down and honking and waving flags in celebration. I never would have expected similar activities for a memorial.)

If Obama died, I'm sure people would be sad, but I doubt it would be in the media as much as PM's death is here. Or that it would be a topic of conversation over a week later. People ask me 'did you here our president died?' as if they were announcing the scores of last night's gate. He is at the front of Ethiopian's mind, and it amazing to see how much this country cares for him.

I've been called 'sister' here. I had it explained by a judge in town that because he has a sister and cares for her, it's easy to extend those feelings to others. He wants his sister to be safe, and has similar feelings for me. Thus, I am like a sister to him even though I only knew him for the duration of an hour and a half bus ride.

So Ethiopia hasn't lost a leader, it's lost a brother who has worked hard to improve the life of his entire family. No wonder the country mourns so. 


Liwi said...


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