The effort make this movie a reality has been more than a journey. I know that filming in Eritrea will be an experience filled with emotion and self discovery. I was not prepared, however, for the level of gravitas that would be involved with the pre-production of this project. Today my mother and I had lunch with Michael Beyene, a very close friend of my father’s I had only seen once since I was about 3 years old. The last time I had spoken with him in person was at a funeral when I was 14. I remember him being excited to see me then and wanted to get me connected with my people. But life, with it’s various ups and downs, has kept us a part until today.
Before sitting across the table from him today, he was just a face I would see in my mother’s old photo albums from time to time. I used to wonder what his name was or how he was connected to me. And now, sitting here looking him in the face after so many years, I feel that strange combination of loss, regret, happiness, and hope that has become an all too familiar sensation during my quest to learn more about my father. You could see it in his eyes and my mother’s as well, a sense of grief all those years gone by disconnected coupled with the joy of finally being given the chance to help put the pieces of this scrambled family story together.
We spoke about many topics: my life after he saw me as a teen, his experiences with my father in Adi Kieh and in the States, and how he could help me with getting this project filmed. I have had to struggle blindly to navigate the intricacies of learning how to communicate with Eritrean community in the states and abroad, and I have had a difficult time understanding how to deal with the process of getting all the permission I need to film in Eritrea. Michael has offered to help with both of those challenges.
Meeting with him after all these years, along with recently hearing from a few other people in the states that really knew him, has helped reiterate something that I used to see only in my mother’s reminisces about my father. Araia Selassie Tesfamariam was important to a lot of people, and when he passed away in 1978, the loss weighed heavy on the hearts of a lot of the people he had known. I never had those feelings. Having never met him, it is hard to feel the same sense of grief. My pain from his death manifests itself in a sense of separation from my people and their culture. When he died I lost a father, which is tragic enough, but in a larger sense I lost a people and a part of my identity. America is a dangerous place to be spiritually and psychologically when you don’t know who you are, because it will start to dictate that to you if you let it.
I am looking forward to moving this production forward at a quicker, and more efficient pace. This experience, along with a great fundraiser thrown by my friend Michael Tekle in DC last week, have given me renewed energy. Included in this post are pictures of Michael Beyene’s wedding in 1980, and one of our wonderful lunch today! Seeing my mom that young (she’s wearing the long blue patterned dress in the second photo) is odd – we really do look alike. God bless and don’t forget to donate to the film here -> http://bigaraia.com/?page_id=21 2000 people donating $25 makes this film happen.