June 20. Just another day for most people around the world. But for Eritreans, it is a day full of meaning and of utmost importance. It is Mealti Sematat. A day set aside to give thanks and remember the thousands who gave their lives and limbs to make May 24 possible.
The sheer significance of June 20 is extremely difficult to appropriately capture in words. How do you adequately convey the courage of men, women, young, and old, who encountered unfathomable odds, yet approached their challenges with utter fearlessness? Or the resilience and steadfastness apparent in fighting, scratching, clawing – just surviving – year after year? Attack after attack? Drought, famine, illness, and setback? How do you properly describe the sacrifice and selflessness of individuals who fought and gave their own lives with the full understanding that ultimate success would only transpire much, much later – and without them there to experience it? What words can sufficiently express the nobleness of the hamadie (mothers) who graciously blessed their own sons and daughters who went off to contribute to the great cause, with no guarantee they would ever return? How to convey the coming together of Eritreans – men and women, inside the country and across the diaspora, young and old, of various religious backgrounds, and from any of 9 different ethno-linguistic groups – united by a common goal?
June 20 inspires a wide range of emotions and sentiments. Reverence, respect, and sorrow, to name only a few. But you also feel blessed, in that you are blessed to have the opportunity to know your history, and able to play a contributing role in the future. You feel thankful, in that there were, and continue to be, people providing amazing examples for you to follow and standards to maintain. You feel love, as in the unfaltering love we all have for one another, our country, our history, and our culture.
However, the word “obligated” is most apt. June 20 is a reminder of our obligations to our heroes and martyrs that sacrificed everything, and continue to, so that we have a country to call our own. Not only must we proudly cherish their memory, we are obligated to strive to fulfill their dreams of a prosperous, harmonious, golden Eritrea.