LIVES: LONDON, UK
BORN: ETHIOPIA, 1958
MOTHER TONGUE: TIGRINIA AMHARIC
GRANDCHILDREN: SAMI, ZOE NOEMI
THEY CALL HER: ABAYEYE
COOKING: KECHA FIT FIT, HAMLI AND PUMPKIN STEW
Food is important. It’s like fuel to a car but we shouldn’t be too obsessed about it. As long as you have something to eat, that’s the important thing. Being from Eritrea and having lived in Ethiopia has shaped how I see food. When my boys were younger and would ask what we were having for dinner, I would say, “We’re going to eat food,” not list their choices. There are so many mothers and grandmothers who can’t feed their own families in this world that we should respect food and be happy with what we have.
This Kecha Fit Fit is my son’s favourite. I used to make it for the family on Sundays for breakfast or a late lunch. The Hamli reminds me of back home. My grandmother and my mother in law would make it and serve it with pitta. The lentils are a typical Eritrean dish too.
When I was 18, it got too unsafe for me to stay in Ethiopia so I left to go back to Eritrea. I was the only youngster left in the city because everyone had left to join the guerrillas.
We (the Eritreans) were fighting for independence from Ethiopia. All the youngsters fled to the fields to become guerrilla fighters. This was in 1978. So I had to leave. When I went back to Eritrea, the soldiers put me in prison because we were still under Ethiopian rule and they thought I was going to leave and join the other fighters.
I went to prison twice so my family insisted I either join the fighters or leave. I didn’t want to be in this guerrilla war. I wasn’t up to it. I was looking forward to meeting my boyfriend (my now husband) so I thought it was better I didn’t go. Instead, I walked through the desert towards Sudan.
Of course I got lost. I left Eritrea in January and I got to Sudan in August. I was by myself and had to stay with others in the desert. I got completely lost because the land was a flat land and I couldn’t navigate it at all. I just collected dates and fruits on the way but it was so dry and arid.
When I arrived in Sudan, I didn’t have anything. No clothes, no shoes. Nothing. The final leg of the journey was for eight days and eight nights with little food or water and I was completely alone. My (now) husband thought I didn’t want to be with him because he hadn’t heard from me in such a long time.
The first thing I did was found an Eritrean family and asked to have a shower. I asked for two buckets of water, a towel and some soap. I had only sipped at the little water I had left and ate dates for eight days. I didn’t even know how long it would take me to get there.
I never thought I would die though. Someone asked me, after all this, were you scared? I was never scared. I always think, “Yesterday is finished so I can now look forward to tomorrow”. Tomorrow, you don’t know what life is going to bring and what is going to happen to you. Whatever is going to come is going to come. You have to embrace it.
Shewa runs and owns Blue Nile Restaurant in Woolwhich, where we cooked, shared stories and a hefty table of Eritrean food.
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