“Hanti Terifa” is a short story by Mokonen Tesfai published in the collection of 12 best works selected in the short story competition of Festival Eritrea 2005. The story is about two children who are 11 and 9 years old who came from Germany for a visit to their father’s native village in Eritrea. Living at their grandparents’ home, they are served with chicken dish which their grandfather slaughtered every single day.
However, the children did not understand traditional courtesy shown to guests by Eritrean society. With every chicken killed in the house for their lunch, they felt their grandfather was a very cruel person. And when the number of the chickens in the compound started to dwindle their fear climbed. Everything their grandfather did was to make them happy. Nevertheless, they felt that their grandfather would later make them his victims when he couldn’t find a chicken to slaughter.
Bearing that feeling they ran away when the last chicken was slaughtered and hid themselves high up at a sycamore tree as their father was away to town to make a phone call. The whole village set up a search party and looked for them in every cranny of the village. The children, though, stayed put in the big tree until they heard their father’s voice. Then the problem is solved with their confession of their fear of being slaughtered by their grandfather whom they considered as the cruellest person in the world.
What keeps one engrossed to read this short story is its characterization which leads the twists and bends of the story. The two children sink into a reader’s mind listening to their words. The writer has used German dialogues between the two children which clarifies their inability to communicate with their next of kin. This element of characterization helped the writer in the continuity of the story; and the few words that they exchange between each other reveal what they think and their mentality. In addition, it expresses the core issue of the story – clash of cultures to an extent of assimilation on the part of the children.
The descriptions of the children also help the reader to have an image of them. As is often with children who come from abroad for a visit to their home country, they are shown as chubby dressed in fluffy jackets. This look of them also misleads their grandfather to consider them as children yet to mature; he thought that they were only children who wouldn’t differentiate wrong from right, and who couldn’t analyze a person’s behaviour from their observations.
Their action also reveals their confusion with the way of life in the village compared to the country they came from. For instance, when their grandfather was running around a chicken to slaughter for their lunch they just stand still looking at him bewildered. That is unlike of any child in Eritrean society.
Their grandfather is also well described in the story to an extent of showing the joy of grandparents when they are blessed with grandchildren. The comments he made about his grandchildren’s inability to speak their parents’ language is also a typical attitude of elderly people faced with such things. In addition to this, his insistence to teach the boy how to slaughter a chicken reveals the desires of such grandparents.
The author of this short story has also weaved wonderful descriptions of settings with the plotline. For instance, he did not just tell us that the village Halibo located on a mountainous area near Dekemhare. The narrator states that Tekle, the children’s father, had to carry the groceries he brought for his children with the help of shepherds as the mini-bus he rented couldn’t climb up the hill.
Moreover, when the search party is organized and went outside of the village in search of the children, the narrator indicates that the howling of hyena was heard in the neighbouring village of Enda Deqo, and the dogs in the villages of Tewro and Mai-Aha were worried. Although these descriptions were used to heighten suspense, they were descriptions of the setting inserted appropriately into the story.
The narrative technique employed in the story was also very economical and revealing. It starts with the major issue of the main characters – the two children from Germany. They are shown worried as they counted down the number of the chicken in their grandfather’s house. And it also uses very short flashbacks which are nearly unnoticed since they are used to clarify a few past events.
One could guess why the children run away to the end of the story; however, there is no clue that dilutes the suspense to the end of the story. One will have to read to the end to find out why the children decided to run away. The above stated descriptions of howling hyenas and worried dogs in the neighbouring villages also push the suspense to climax; that seems a good narrative element employed at an appropriate part of the story.
Speaking of the theme of the story, we could glean a number of them. One, it reveals the weakness of parents in the Diaspora in teaching their children their mother-tongue and some values of their society. It could serve as a reflection of various similar incidents when Eritreans come to visit their homeland.
These could also be related to issues of acculturation and assimilation. In this case, we could fairly say that the children were totally assimilated with the culture of the country they live in. Starting from the names of the children, David and Anne, to the language they use to express what they feel – anger or happiness – shows that they have nothing in common with their grandparents.
Second issue we could raise here is individualistic as opposed to communal life. David and Anne, the two children from Germany, are seen worrying about their parent’s generosity to his relatives. They even say that their father would give away all the clothes he brought including theirs. Sarcastically, they compare him with a doctor Müller who is known to be benevolent to refugees in Germany.
On the other hand, the villagers form a search party when David and Anne run away and hide at the sycamore tree. Many of the relatives and villagers also bring various gifts, especially chickens for them. Along with this, Tekle – the children’s father – generously presents his own gifts to those who came to visit him and his children.
The author’s usage of sycamore tree as a place where the children hide is an allusion of a well-known Eritrean folktale – Zingibab. He probably used it also as a symbol of safety and return to cultural elements of our society.
All in all he has remarkably put forward the assimilation problem that Eritreans living abroad are faced with in a very simple and clear manner. David and Anne, the two main characters of the story, do not identify themselves with their grandfather even if he tried to please them. They do not have a single clue about their traditions and very importantly one of the values of Eritrean society – helping one another. Born in the west, they are totally immersed in the individualistic way of life that they consider helping other people as a mistake.
Of course, many parts may not be like that in reality; however, it probably is the case with no few parents too. Therefore, it is a reminder to many parents that they need to reorient their children with their culture so as they are not complete assimilated with the culture they live in.
One limitation of the short story probably could be the usage of point of view. It is written in third person objective point of view. The narrator gives us all the actions and conversations as they are seen. It has achieved in revealing some traits of the characters through their words, actions and descriptions. However, it would have been more revealing had third person limited omniscient was applied. Applying this point of view through one or two of the children, the reader would have enabled to clearly understand what they were thinking and feeling exactly.