By Haile A.
I am one of those thousands of Eritrean who drove thousands of miles to attend this historic event in New York City. Personally it is one my most memorable journey that I will never forget for variety of reasons, including some of the blunders committed by the so-called “PIA Visit Organizing Committee.” True to its nature, the OC may have had some logistical problems organizing this event in a city as big as New York City. However, reserving a hall with a capacity of only 2,600 without considering that twice as much could show up is simply unforgiven. I may not have the exact count, but without exaggeration if I am to say that a crowd of about 5,000 to 7, 000 had shown up for the event, I don’t think I would be accused of lying. One of the blunders that I though the OC had committed was its announcement on the internet askinng [sic] people to show up at the venue by 9:00am. Well, by 9:00am there were already more than 2,000 people inside the hall and the rest of the crowed had ended up waiting in line for over 3 hours hoping to be the next one to get in. By about 12:30pm the huge crowd was disappointedly [sic] told to leave the area because the hall is already over capacity. So two quick questions come to mind as far the OC is concerned: 1. why did the OC reserve such a small capacity hall? 2. Why didn’t the OC have a contingency plan as it observed the crowd growing exponentially? The OC, for example, could simply divide the session into 2 or 3 small formats to accommodate for everyone in the crowd instated of simply and helplessly watching more crowd on the outside than in the inside.
But despite of the disorganized nature of the OC, I would like to share with all about something extremely self-organized event that was conducted by those of us who were not lucky enough to be admitted to the event due to overcapacity. While were waiting in line one NYPD rep cracked up his bullhorn around 12:30 pm to announce that there were already 2, 600 people inside the hall and that the no more people could get in, the disappointment in the faces of the more than 3,000 people waiting outside was indescribable. But as disappointed as we were by not being able to attend the seminar inside the hall and be a part of the highly anticipated event, which was the main objective of our trip, many of us, respecting the orders of NYPD, blended beautifully with the busting tourist crowd of Times Square without any incident or any kind of outburst of anger. Instead many of us, although from different parts of the world and yet didn’t even know each other, sat in nearby cafes and chatted for hours about our country as well as about the bankrupt agendas of those about 20 so-called “opposition” lost souls, that were crapping the beautiful event. Here I must emphasize that at the cafes, the Eritrean camaraderie that we were exchanging among each other was surreal as we were all feeling like we were just one big happy family in the Big Apple..:-)
As to those not more than 20 misfits, who call themselves “opposition”, they tried to blend in by joining the crowd outside the hall, but once the crowd saw their bankrupt banners, NYPD quickly plucked them out from the cheering crowd and dumped them across the fence to continue their irrelevant existence. And if there were any sort of notion in their delusional mind that these rats would somehow disrupt the huge event by inciting some type of altercation, they miserably failed because many Eritreans had completely ignored them and that’s what they should be. Ignored!!!
Now back to the rosy side of the story to our disappointed denial entry to the hall. As you would guess by now, most of us had learned that PIA was let in to the hall not through the front doors of the Manhattan Center but through a security door at the back of the center. Previously only one or two lucky people had seen him going through the back door so many of us had anticipated when the meeting was over PIA would leave through the back door. At that time what we heard was that the meeting would be over by 5:00pm so many of us had decided to hang out near the center or around Times Square for few hours and then go to the back of the center around 5:00pm and greet our president as he leaves. The meeting was concluded by 4:00pm but by then thousands of us had gathered by the back door of the center and so NYPD quickly set up a new barricade to control the fast growing crowd. By now the crowd had already reached more than 2 thousand and NYPD quickly closed 35th Ave due to an amazingly fast-growing but yet very peaceful crowd. At this time the variety of songs and chants that we were loudly singing could be heard from miles. And as we continued to wave our flags and chant our traditional songs, the anticipation to see PIA had grown increasingly. This scenario might have puzzled NYPD and the FBI security details as I am sure that this was perhaps one experience that they had NEVER seen before.
To me personally, this was one of the most remarkable events that I will share with rest of the thousands of my fellow Eritrean who had been deprived from entering the hall due to over capacity and lack of organization for the res [sic] of my life. We patiently waited for over 20 minutes for PIA to show up through the back door mainly I assumed due to some intense negotiation between NYPD security team, which is responsible for PIA’s security and the PIA delegates, who insisted on PIA’s desire to greet the hungry and deprived crowd up-close. I assumed, at some point, perhaps after 20 minutes of intense discussion, NYPD may have painfully agreed to allow PIA to just step in front of the back door and wave at the frenzy crowd. Oh, were they wrong!!!!
As soon as PIA showed up, I still can not describe how the crowd went crazy with uncontrollable cheers of happiness and satisfaction. This emotional moment was so out of this world and even right now it is extremely difficult for me to explain it in writing. I just hope that someone had captured this moment on a video because it will be easier to see it or be a part of it rather than merely try to explain with few words. I mean to see PIA defying and shrugging off security personnel just to come to us and shake hands with us was a moment very close to UNREAL and extremely difficult to express it in writing. For us it was a pay off, sweet pay off at that, to have PIA come and greet us, especially after being denied access to the event and waited for such a long time to see him. It was a genuine exchange of greeting between us and the President.
The President had blessed us with his daring heart, defying security protocols and all, just to be a part of his people. We, if also I could speak on behalf of the thousands of my comrades who were left out from the event, are extremely grateful that our President had decided to come out and shake hands with us because we believed that our President had the consciousness of our plight as well as our feeling and emotions. For many of us that were there, that moment was something we will never ever forget and will continue to treasure it in our hearts and minds for ever. The President had affirmed through his LION heart that WE are the People and the People is us; that out [sic] President is the People and our People is the President of our beloved county. May Gog bless our Eritrean!!!!