I was released in September 1989 after a decade of torture and incarceration. Even though my imprisonment was limited to the radius of the prison compound—Ethiopia itself was a giant cell.

Life outside became stranger than what I lived behind bars. I did not have a home to go back to. Worse still, I was conscripted into the military.

If I refused conscription, I would be hunted down as a fugitive and killed. If I accepted it I would be eliminated in the training camps. It was death either way. With the “rebels” closing in from all directions, the country was coming apart and unraveling fast. It was a moment of chaos. I couldn’t decipher between friends and foes. I could not trust anybody. I knew the regime was coming down but I did not want it to take me down with it. I decided at that point that if I had to die I would die running for dear life. I dragged my three kids out of school and ran. We hid in the bushes by the day and ran by the night. My heart skipping beats at every twist and turn and at every rustle of leaves, I wondered if I made the right decision taking all my children with me. What if we were caught? What if they killed us all? I had to leave them behind with my baby brother.

I had to leave my children behind, do you understand? So, please, please, can you help me? Can you help me bring my children to Canada?


Emcee: Ladies and Gentlemen. We are honouring a very special woman this evening. She spent 10 years imprisoned for fighting for equal rights for the Oromo People in Ethiopia who were persecuted for their ethnicity. She was forced into exile and sought refuge in Canada. Tonight we honour Seeyyee Seera.

Seeyyee: Thank you very much.

(She looks at her notes. The crowd is silent. A long pause. She tears her prepared speech up.)

Seeyyee: I had a speech prepared but …

I’d like to ask my baby brother to be with me here tonight.

(She lights a candle.)

Seeyyee: The last time I heard my brother’s voice, I was crying into the phone. I could see the turbulent billows of smoke rise over my homeland. I could see the fire spread and the flames dance all around him. Agitated tongues of flame lashed out to lick my brother. Yet, he stood there smiling, so sure of himself.

Baby Brother: Stay put my big sister, stay put. I’m home; you are the one in exile. Stay put till you come home to freedom.

Seeyyee: But, what is home and what is exile? Oh, I enjoy home in exile, when you are rendered homeless at home.

In my homeland, Baby Brother, in my homeland,

The grass shades me from the scorching sun;

but in exile, Baby Brother,

the sun burns me in the thickest shade of the biggest tree.

In my homeland, Baby Brother, in my homeland

The meat of a flea feeds a multitude;

but in exile, Baby Brother,

Two friends fight over the meat of an elephant.

Baby Brother: Home is freedom, my big sister, home is bilisummaa. Home is dignity. Home is justice. Exile is wherever home is not.

Seeyyee: Exile is wherever they plough the fields with guns and sow the seeds with blood. In an unjust world, home can only be in the struggle to restore freedom and justice.

Baby Brother: Yes, that’s why I took to the woods with the village youth.

Seeyyee: Our father took to the woods, and I am not coming home

Our father’s brother took to the woods, and I am not coming home

Our mother’s brother took to the woods, and I am not coming home

I saw the injustice

And my heart howls.

Oh my heart howls with rage.