by Haile Bokure
A young American once said, ” Why I dream of the State when Kagnew is my place.”
In the sixties, about three thousand American servicemen excluding their family members were stationed at Kagnew and Track-A (radio marinaio). I used to sell sling shuts (fionda or mentig) to American kids who used to live around Campo-bello, TiraVello (Expo), Fiat Talero, Comboni, Gejiret, Geza Banda Tlayan (Addis Alem), and around Scuola Santa Anna adjacent to American Embassy.
Some of the American kids were good friends of mine. Names such as Tony, Stanley, Freidi, Winoz, Jack are still fresh in my memory. I used to play marble and baseball with them outside their beautiful villas. Those who could not buy my sling shuts, were able to get them in an exchange of books, and empty cans which I used to sell at Mercato area (shuq) reserved for the natives since the colonial era.
But most of my customers were Italians who were not fond of playing with me in the presence of their parents. That is how I learned English and Italian naturally during my early teen years. My nicknames such as “Kennedy” or ” I don’t care/non mi cura” are associated with early experience with Americans who influenced my behavior and style of speech during my formative age.
I could write at length my experience with American kids including at post chapel, baseball field, Oasis club, and hospital where I had an ear checkup a year after I lost my normal hearing. Almost two thousand Eritreans used to work with them as house boys, house girls, and skilled personnel at Kagnew and Gura around Decemare. The radio station was available for Mr. Speedy of the Gospel Center who used to broadcast God’s words every Sunday to local people. Some members of the Army were active in local churches such as Sudan Interior Mission. Their benevolent contribution in cash or kind is beyond measure. You can tell this by reading the following story of mine which was featured as an introductory note in my earlier book “Lulu: Living in Silent Eritrea.” which had been adapted into play last year at a time when the Eritrean Deaf Festival was held in Asmara.
DEDICATION On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy the youngest President in the history of the United States was assassinated in Dallas, TX. One day after that unforgettable event, I lost my normal hearing due to the deadly typhus fever that claimed the lives of two young men who were my roommates in the hospital. After two months, my youngest sister died after a similar prolonged illness. In January 1965, my late father lost his job as a result of its relocation and went to Addis in search of meager work. As a daily laborer, he was essentially unemployed for almost two decades and thus was unable to support our family of six. Because of this, I quitted schooling and started to sell slingshots to European children and most Americans who used to live at Kangew Station and around Asmara.
Luckily, I got acquainted with Mary Watson whose husband was in the Army along with their five children Ronda, Zina, Gary, Ricy, and Allen. Mrs. Watson sent me to Sudan Interior Mission, a boarding school for the orphans located at Decemare. After her return to the States, she continued to help me even up until my graduation from high school in Asmara. Due to the political crisis in Eritrea, we were unable to maintain correspondence with each other. Finally, when I came to the States as a Fulbright student, I was overjoyed to see her and her fully-grown up sons and daughters along with their beautiful children. It was like welcoming a prodigal son, and life started anew with my marriage and arrival of my fraternal twin girls who also joined the loving and caring Watson family.
Mary Watson was a strong Christian woman who dearly loved the Lord. She was restless and active in her community and church where she would often play the piano. During the last twenty years, she worked at home of the disabled as a caretaker and counselor. On March 31, 2003, the Lord decided it was time for Mary to come home. She was seventy-one years old. Her untimely death shocked us at a time when we were expecting to see her at the beginning of spring. It was a painful separation that I have never experienced in my lifetime. Therefore, in Mary Watson’s memory, I am dedicating this book as a token of gratitude for all that she had done for me during the most critical times of my life.