40,000 women fight in bloody war of attrition - World - News - The Independent

40,000 women fight in bloody war of attrition

FRONTLINE: TSORONA, ERITREA-ETHIOPIA BORDER

SHE HAS a tape of Mariah Carey in her Walkman. She enjoys playing volleyball. She is reading George Orwell's Animal Farm. But very little else distinguishes 20-year-old Yordanos Tekeste, who for a year has lived and fought in trenches, from her estimated 200,000 Eritrean comrades in arms.

For 14 months, the Eritrean army - including 40,000 women - has been at war with Ethiopia. At least 50,000 people have died since a border skirmish in May last year escalated into a full-scale war along the border which separates the two neighbours in the Horn of Africa.

To Tekeste and her fellow fighters from 491 Division, stationed along the 150km Tsorona front, the war is about safeguarding Eritrea's independence - won in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war with Ethiopia. Their commitment is unquestioning. They know no other way than nationalism, because every family in this nation of 3.5 million people had a part in the independence war.

"I have been fighting for a year and I have never been back to Asmara [the Eritrean capital] to see my family," says Tekeste, who had finished high school and begun her national service when the war started.

"My mother writes to me but I do not write back. If I tell them I am in Tsorona and they hear of something happening here, they will worry. If I come back from the war, they will be happy. My father fought in the independence war, so I know," she says, to approving nods from her comrades.

We are hunched in a two-metre-square underground dug-out - a kind of siding off the trench - where Tekeste and her mess-mate, Nuguse Hailab, 25, have slept for the past three nights. He is not her boyfriend. "They are all my boyfriends," she jokes.

Overhead, tree trunks have been laid to cover the sleeping area. The Ethiopians are about 400m away but there has not been intense fighting lately. Every day, Tekeste and her team rise at 4am for a two-hour shift on full alert. They keep a similar watch between 6pm and 10pm. The daylight hours are filled with digging new trenches - the rainy season is beginning, so they must prepare for floods.

Tekeste is one of three women in her mess of 13. She claims that all tasks are performed by both sexes. But it is clear that, for commanding officers on the front line, women always light the fires and prepare the tea.

Seasoned male fighters say that the women are the most ruthless. But it is also whispered that, while the powerful moral pressure to join up prevails, women on the front who become pregnant are delighted to have an excuse to leave. Indeed, sex is probably one of the few pleasures available to Tekeste and her comrades.

It is hard to fathom Tekeste, with her girlish face, dainty earrings, soft voice, hair in a bun and big, baggy combat khakis. All around, the scrub landscape is littered with burnt-out vehicles and mementoes of the dead - photographs, boots, buttons and caps.

"We do not feel anything about the bodies," she says.Dozens of corpses are left to decompose between the Eritrean and Ethiopian lines. This landscape of horror is where Tekeste sleeps, eats - and listens to Mariah Carey.

Alex Duval Smith

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
i100
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Project Manager (upgrades, rollouts, migrations)

£350 - £425 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager - 3 mont...

DT Teacher -Key stage 3 all areas

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a DT teache...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week