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Where is Lemlem?

“If you call woman
African woman no go ‘gree
She go say I be Lady o”

- “Lady” by Fela Kuti

Where is Lemlem?

The African woman is legendary for her strength, courage, beauty, and indomitable spirit.  Photographer Jenny Matthews brilliantly captured all of these qualities in Eritrea in 1988 when she snapped the photo of a woman soldier – known to us only as Lemlem – shortly after the battle of Afabet.  Is it her youthful beauty and sultry pose juxtaposed against the AK-47 perched on her shoulder?  Is it the spirit of courage and defiance against the constrictive traditional roles for women?  Or is this photo an icon of the African woman’s often-ignored “her”-story on this planet?  Perhaps it’s all these things that arouse curiosity…

I first saw this photo on my friend's Bilen's FaceBook page.  It intrigued me.  Then one day my endless curiosity inspired me to ask, “What happened to this woman?"  How come we know nothing about these women who stood shoulder to shoulder with men in the trenches?  So many Eritreans know these stories intimately.  However, the rest of us remain oblivious. 

After a little research, I learned that Lemlem also graces the cover of Jenny Matthews’ book, “Women and War” – which is a powerful photographic exposition of women’s untold contribution to the struggle for independence throughout the world.  I asked Jenny if she knows the fate of her subject.  She kindly responded, ”After Independence, I met ex-fighters in Asmara and I thought the women were having quite a hard time, the men seemed to prefer more  docile city girls rather than the feisty women who had been in the EPLF ....”  Unfortunately, there were no sightings of Lemlem.

When I finally received my copy of “Women and War” in the mail, I had a chance to see something in the photo that I never noticed before – her eyes.  They looked tired.  The romantic notions of this “gun-slinging, no BS-taking, butt-kicking” African woman dissipated and I began to sense just how much the war had weighed on our heroine.  War is very real ladies and gentlemen.  It costs lives and scars the soul.

Lemlem’s story is not the only story of Eritrean women soldiers.  Thousands of Eritrean women courageously (and voluntarily) joined the ranks of their male comrades in order to contribute to the future of their nation.  Here are women who were revolutionaries…not just for taking up arms…but for challenging the traditional roles of women in African society.  Today, many of them are mothers, doctors, educators, etc. – but for millions, they will always remain heroes.

O.k., if you weren’t curious before…I know you have to be curious now…

Check out Barry Malone’s piece on Reuters: “Where is Lemlem?”

Please join our Twitter campaign (#WhereIsLemlem) and “Where is Lemlem?” Facebook Group to stay up-to-date on our search for Lemlem.

And definitely get a copy of “War and Women” by Jenny Matthews.

In the meantime, we will continue our sleuthing.  One day, we hope to tell you exactly what happened to Lemlem!!!

13 May 2010 11:21 AM    tag: Site Blog
Comments (2)

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admin (26 Aug 2015 08:05 PM)

We actually found out that Lemlem is alive and well in Europe! Thanks to all who shared this story!

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admin (04 Sep 2010 10:54 AM)

Any updates? We haven't given up our searching...

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