From the Archives: Sheila Heti reads to Temesken Ghebreyesus

 The Other Side of Silence: Speaking out for Eritrea’s Imprisoned Journalists

On September 23, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the arrest of PEN Canada Honorary Member Dawit Isaac, we invited five Canadian authors to write letters to five Eritrean journalists who had been arrested and detained, without charge or trial, for a decade. Marian Botsford-Fraser (reading for Susan Swan), Karen Connelly, Camilla Gibb, Sheila Heti, and Rosemary Sullivan, read their letters at an event entitled The Other Side of Silence: Speaking out for Eritrea’s Imprisoned Journalists,  at Ryerson University.

Sheila Heti’s letter to  Temesken Ghebreyesus:

Dear Temesken –

Yesterday I drove with some friends to see two writers speak on stage, the South African Nobel prize-winner J.M. Coetzee and Paul Auster, and they read letters that they had been writing to each other for the last three or four years. Long, beautiful letters about love and about education, sports and everything. It was really beautiful. On the way there we saw a huge flock of birds suddenly come up, probably 200 hundred birds ascended to the sky and they kept changing directions and we were talking and saying there was no way to tell which bird was leading, which were the birds that were following or perhaps they all just had the same understanding; they all understood the same thing, or perhaps it was an illusion, maybe there was just one bird in 200 hundred bodies. And today I think maybe this is also true of humans and of all life on earth, that we seem like billions of separate bodies but actually we’re one thing, one human, with the same inner resemblance with an eternal sameness to each other. All ultimately moving in the same direction like those many birds.

Temesken even across the world we know your situation and we know your name. Your nightmare is happening in the real world where there is light for us to see it. We know how you entertained your readers, how passionately you wrote about soccer and cycling, and how the thing you most loved to talk about was sports. It was never politics, it was always sports.

We know how you smiled so much all the time in the newspaper offices, and how easily you made friends with everyone. We know how eager readers were to read your stories because if they didn’t see a game your reports made them feel like they were there, watching. Even the people who did see the game, they didn’t really see it as clearly until they read about it from you.

Your son and your wife wait for you and remember you and are faithful to you. Your son is 14 years-old and even across the world in separate bodies we know how you used to act in theatrical dramas and that your wife still acts for the national theatre.

We know that many of the people who loved your writing have lost interest in following soccer without your writing there to join them together in a common conversation. I’m thinking now of your beloved team the Red Sea. They went together to Kenya to play a game, 26 of them, and only 13 returned – the other 13 remained in Kenya seeking political asylum. Your fans and your readers agreed with you that the Red Sea boys – if  they ever made a mistake – it was never their fault, it wasn’t the goalie’s fault. It was always the fault of the wind.

Temesken Ghebreyesus you are not forgotten.