"ይዓዎይ ስየይዶየ..." It is moving; you feel your eyes bulging filled with blinding tears. In your tears you see the beautiful girls jumping and running with joy. Three days free from household drudgery; three days of liberation. The girls are celebrating St. Mary the symbol of womanhood and motherhood. At the same time they are celebrating long endured culture of beauty and arts. This day is also an opportunity for the cherubs to shoot their tiny arrows deep into the hearts of the young girls and their male admireres: "ኣክትቲ: ክቲ! ኣደዋኒ: ክቲ! ኳሓልኒ: ክቲ! ሰኣልኒ: ክቲ! ብዓል ፈረስ: ክቲ! ክወስደኒ: ክቲ!".
From as early age as five years I was following my three sisters: Sendayo, Kiros, and Birhan who become possessed by the spirit of Ashenda and don't want to talk about anything else. We the Endaba Ananya kids, like other kids elsewhere in the then tiny town of Mekelle, used to follow the girls of our neighborhood with a harmonica like piece cut out from the stem of false banana. The piece is slit in the middle and when you blow it it gives the sound of a whistle. It was only a traditional gesture; otherwise five-year olds cannot provide any protection to the girls. In fact, there is no need for protection because the girls are the most empowered in the three thrilling days. They can say anything to anyone who does not pay attention, dance to their tunes, and give the customary gifts to them. If we take the admiration side, the girls praise those young men who please them as: "ወርቂ ሰዓቱ ስየ ቑመቱ" and when they move away they sing "ወይናየ ወይናየ ወይናየ ሸገ፣ ሰቲ መዓንጣኻስ ለይሰተየ ማይ". Elder sisters and mothers, who have had their memorable days of Ashenda would surrender their silver and/ or gold neckless and earnings to their younger sisters to wear it for three days: "እንኪ ድሪ፣ ኩትቻዶለዎየ".
Ashenda gave me both happy and sad memories. For the good memories what I described above may be somewhat sufficient. The sad memories follow: I remember, the peak year for Ashenda in Mekelle before it was weakened by Military rule was the last I experienced in person. It was in the summer of 1974 when the University was closed and we came back home. I and my beloved childhood friend Zeselassie Samuel posed for a photo with the Ashenda girls, the then Municiplity and the square in from of it; and the graceful Chom'a hill as a background. Since then my trips to Mekelle never coincided with Ashenda. Four years later Zeselassie was shot and his body thrown on to the square, which we used as a background for our last photo. Now the square is named after him. Every time I think of Ashenda it reminds me with bitterness of that brutal death of that jovial young man. One day, after reasoning out with myself that Ashenda did not kill Zeselassie I planned a trip to Mekelle to join the Ashenda fairies after 40 years. As I was preparing for the trip to what I missed for decades another tragedy struck: The death of Meles was announced! I did not care about the Ashenda I missed, how can I be? I felt hopeless for this Country because Meles was skillfully pressing the right buttons from among the hundreds of buttons in the puzzling maze of leading this complex Nation. May people may disagree with me; but when it comes to Meles I would agree to disagree that he, whom I have known since his years of academic distinction at HSIU, is just irreplaceable! For us, this week is a time for celebration of culture enshrined in Ashenda and also a time of mourning for the genius: "ተስካር ሓውኻስ ላበላዕኻይ ላነባዕካይ እዩ:: Happy Ashenda; RIP our brother Meles Zenawi.
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