- People assume that being a realist is similar to being a pessimist. Rahel disagrees. She calls it the “necessary beating”. In fact, in her literary works she searches for fallen heroes, real characters with real problems and dilemmas. If literature is the mirror of times, then any writer is the reflection of actual individuals in the society –at least so I was taught, and most of them, seekers of truth and meaning in real life. I dare to say that just like Oscar Wild and his Dorian Gray, Rahel is her own many rambler characters. I admire the guts of her, writing in English while being surrounded by a public that savors Tigrigna publications.
- Rahel Asghedoa professor of literature, has authored a novel: ‘Before She Breaks My Heart’ and ‘Colorful Stories and Some Sweetly Kept Thoughts’, a collection of poetry and short stories. Rahel has also authored.
- -Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in Asmara and my love for Asmara gets renewed every single day. I am currently teaching literature and language, and doing works related to literature and children’s books. I am currently devoted to my children. I want to give them all the time in the world they’d ever need.
- -How much would you say your upbringing, and particularly your parents, contributed to the making of ‘you a writer’?
My mother raised me; my father died when I was young. I don’t remember him much. I was raised in a beautiful and big villa in the Ferrovia area. Because my father had a high ranking position in the railway he was given a big house near to his place of work. The villa had big and many rooms. A glamorous garden with all types of fruit trees. I used to eat a lot of fruits, so much so sometimes my lips would go dry. That was my world.
My house was near the station. It was situated in the outskirts of Asmara and eventually Ethiopian soldiers were stationed in big numbers. My sisters are beautiful; they were a lot more beautiful then; tall, light-skinned, long hair… So my mother had forbidden any contacts with the outer world. We were not allowed to set foot outside the yard for the reason that my mother feared Ethiopian soldiers setting eyes on my sisters. And we really didn’t need to go out either. After school we would be enclosed in the house. What kept us company besides the Eden of the garden was the countless books we had. My older siblings used to buy many, many books. And me, as the youngest one, I just read whatever. So my ‘making the writer’ traces back to then. Books made me form an imaginary world. So all the warfare and disruption in Asmara were nonentity to little me. Of course my older sisters had the fervor for freedom because I remember them listening to Dimtsi Hafash; ‘the Radio from the fields’. And maybe they were involved in ways I was too little to understand. When Eritrea got its independence I was still a teen.
My mother thoroughly believes in education. She made sure we were all extremely serious about our education. We had everything we needed as far as school materials were concerned. And we studied a lot under her supervision. I graduated from Asmara University in 1999 ELS and I pursued my masters in UCLA, University of California, USA.
- -So when did you discover you were going to eventually be a writer?
I can’t pin point it exactly but I do remember reading some of Dr. Seuss’ books, stories from the Bible, some picture books. And then Charles Dickens books, the Bronte sisters etc. That gave way to thoughts of writing and to express my ideas. In time, I began to realize how easier it is for me to express myself while writing than speaking. I began to take it seriously when I joined the university in 1994; I decided it was time I chose the Department of English.
- -Let’s now talk about your writing style.
Writing is definitely a painful process. ‘Before She Breaks My Heart’ was just my first novel, but as a writer, you don’t get to feel satisfied and happy unless you go through the painful process of writing. I am lucky I was discovered by Mr. Zemhret Yohannes who encouraged me from early days. Personally, I prefer writing novels, and that’s what I normally like to focus on. It allows me with a maiden to write freely, express my ideas and speculate about my own doubts by creating characters and involving them in altered events. Short stories tend to limit things. And also short stories are just not for everyone. Accuracy is key when it comes to short stories. Moreover, one needs to handle conjuring language and styles in writing poems, and although I try, I am not sure if I am that good in creating stout images.
- -Your characters, the fallen heroes, what is so distinct about them?
My characters are special. They are not heroes nor of notable ventures. They are not strong, not good-looking not smart… they are just humble personalities; odd and sometimes eccentric. They are me. And I say this because I liberate my queries in them. I create them to find answers, explanations and ways.
- -Which makes me think… is that why you write English novels? I see you selling out if you’d go for Tigrigna novels.
Maybe you are right. But I write in English for apparent reasons. Larger part of the society wouldn’t sympathize with my characters. The conventional characters inked in our novels are heroes. They are almost perfect, and if I may, those characters nauseate me. Therefore, me, writing in English is a deliberate run away from people who would absolutely condemn my characters. So when I write I write for readers whom I can relate with. Those who’ve dove in classic and western literature. And I do that in English. I think that this fondness our society has towards stories of trophy and heroism should tune a notch down. I mean realism is not necessarily pessimism. We should be also able to accept human calamities. After all, breakdowns, ruins and insolvencies are essential for correctional purposes… Some sort of instructive beatings.
- -Rahel, care to share with us your experiences as a professor in class?
I love teaching. It is the only time in which I actually talk a lot, you know I am a rather reserved one. My earliest experience was that of GA as soon as I graduated from Asmara University. And after attaining my MA I taught English in British Council and other schools. Now I am teaching basic and advanced literature at SMAP Institute’s THA, Theatrical Arts Department. I feel honored to teach. However, most of the students there are artists aging in their late thirties and above. And sometimes I can’t help it but to eagerly wish for younger students. I wish such opportunities would also be provided to college students. Nowadays generations are well acquainted with English language so it would be amusing to venture with young students. Also I am utterly certain if such opportunities are made accessible for the youth. Then we really could see great advancements in Eritrea’s literary and entertainment sectors.
- -What books do you like to read?
Over the years, I would say more writers are appearing in Eritrea. Personally, I read Alemseghed Tesfay and find his writings very inspiring. His writings show a real writer at work. Many people admire Beyene Haile’s writings as well. There are many young writers who attempt writing and seem to be doing better in time. But I wish for our society’s reading habits to be upgraded. People nowadays rather go for commercial writers than the classics.
- -Is there a novel coming out soon perhaps?
I haven’t published in long, I know, but I never stopped writing so why not? But I am certain for a children’s book. I find that very refreshing. I began working on this project after I got married and began entertaining the idea of having children. Our children need books to read or be read to them; books that take our culture and background into prodigious consideration.