The Eritrean Releif Association

It’s a blue sky morning here in Exeter. Shame to leave it behind.  At about one PM the train pulls into a  Paddington station from where  I catch the Bakerloo  to Oxford st.      My reading is at 2pm at Marble Arch Thistle Hotel. I take a walk up Oxford St.  Manthis place is busy.  People come from all over the world to shop on this street.  I buy a pair of Nike's.  All hail the sale. Everything must go.  I'm gone.

Within a couple of hours I’ll be in drenched in tears.  I enter the marble Arch thistle hotel passing the formidable top hatted,  cromby coated   doorman,  Mohammed.  He nods. Beyond the polished glass and dark wood swing doors, from the inconsequential porcharea I am transported on a giant moving elevator upwards to a glitzy wide openlobby, as if it were the lobby in the sky.  There’s a delicate sign .  It reads ERA TheYork Suite This Way.   ERA is The Eritrean Relief Association. I walk the longstretched corridor along its  fake golden gilt and faux wood and arrive at The Suite.

For the first time in my life  I  read to an audience of my own people of Eritrea. My father and his family are Eritrean. All the aunts and uncles in the US too. The room is full, there’s a couple of hundred eritreans. I am extremely nervous and extremely honoured to be here: to be invited here to speak.   Within minutes my film is showing on a giant screen. Thequality  is better than my own which is worn as it has been watched so many times.  It is called  Internal Flight and was made in 1995 broadcast on BBC 2.       My life story  unfoldsin front of me but it is the kind audience of people  ravaged by revolution, split and thrownto all corners of the earth,  empathising with me (!) which makes me weep.   I watch and listen to the film and their murmurs of empathy.  I am in floods of tears, sat at the back of the room.  Thank God I didn't sit at the front of the room.  I huddle into my seat.

The film ends and somehow I have to get on stage and give an half hour reading. I speak for forty five minutes, at times to spontaneous applause and sometimes to sombre attentive silence. These are my people and I am theirs. To be accepted here means the world to me as it does to be accepted by my family. The event is absolutely electric.  For every door that closes another opens.    We, the journalist and I, get to the apartment and collapse.  

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