Asmara Eritrea - September 9th 2002
On day one, I am committed to the perfunctory
activities. Sooner or later the family of my wife will know I am in Eritrea,
waiting for a letter, a little package, or a small gift. Old Sembel, where Mebrat's
brother and mother live lies close to the Sembel Residentional Complex and is the
most logical place to start. The place looks better than last year. The Asmara
authorities are constructing little canals through the area, to direct the small
rivers that used to flood the area during the long rains. Mebrat gave me the rough
direction. Last bus stop, 50 meters back, first street on my right, .......
Eight year old Alana recognizes me when I walk into
their little sandy street. Hand in hand we walk to the house of her parents.
From the way she holds my hand, I can feel she is proud that she has found me
first. At home she shows me the picture of the two bears waving the Eritrean flag,
I sent her 6 months ago. Her father Feshaye tells me she is so happy with the picture
that she takes it to school every day.
I give a few toys to the children and the letter
to Feshaye. Yordanos reads it to the family. It is in Tigrinya, unintelligible
to me. And of course there is some euro notes to support them. Feshaye is the only
one in the family who speaks reasonable English, so every question to the other
members of the family will be answered through him. Yordanos, eight months pregnant,
starts to prepare Eritrean coffee. Coffee beans are roasted on a charcoal fire
and grinded by crushing the beans with a oval stone in a clay pot. Then the
coffee is boiled until it is sufficiently strong to drink. With lots of sugar.
And popcorn and araki, hembesha, a traditional bread. Feshaye wants me to stay
for lunch, but there is more letters to be delivered.
Before I visit one of Mebrat's sisters, who lives
close to Harnet Avenue, I change half of my euros at City Exchange in Liberation
Avenue. They give me 10% more for my euros (and all other currencies) than
Himbol Exchange, just a few hundred meters further on the same street. I ask the
man at the counter of City Exchange why there is a difference. "Himbol is
owned by the government, just like the Commercial Bank of Eritrea." I do
not ask any further questions, but wonder who will change his money at the
government owned exchange office. Himbol must have some economic right to exist,
but I haven't the faintest idea what this comparative advantage is.
After visiting Froyni and Haile and their
children, I go to Senait and her family in Edaga Arbi. Reading letters, little
presents, drinking Eritrean coffee, eating some bread and injera, invitations to
come back soon to have lunch or diner. Later that day I deliver a letter to the
Halibet Hospital. I have no idea what is in it, but it must have been rather
important. The doctor at the hospital received a call from Holland that the
package was coming, and were waiting for its content.
I also visit the Ministry of Tourism. It is my
fourth visit to Eritrea, and this time I will meet the Minister of Tourism
herself . We drink tea and chat about tourism, about my plans. Amina Nurhussien
is a smart lady, but apart from the fact that her choice of words show her more
than average intelligence, she does not give me the idea I am talking to a minister.
Just a nice lady and pleasant company. "We have a government meeting about
tourism in Filfil September 27th, the last day of your stay in Eritrea. It would
be nice if you could be there", she says.
I have lunch with her first assistant, Daniel
Yohannes, in the Selam hotel, one of the better hotels in Asmara. We talk about
the progress of the peace process with big neighbor Ethiopia. I personally
stopped believing the Ethiopians are committed to peace a long time ago, but
Daniel is more optimistic.
I visit some friends of Mebrat who live in a
beautiful Italian style house near City Park.
When I introduce myself, I have to eat. And so, after eating
tomato salad and pasta in the restaurant of the Selam Hotel, I eat injera with
chicken and egg in a spicy sauce. Although it tastes delicious, I have to refuse
a second dish. I am sure Tsega will be waiting in Sembel making me a nice diner,
and I cannot disappoint her.
Sembel Residentional Complex - my base camp for three weeks.
Apartment of Terhas and Feshaye - Sembel Residentional Complex Asmara.
Good public transport - Cathedral bus stop at Harnet Avenue Asmara.
Covered markets - boy playing the krar, a traditional Eritrean instrument.
City Exchange Harnet Avenue - No long queue and a better exchange rate.
Ministry of Tourism in Asmara, always willing to give out tourist information.
Feshaye, my brother in law in his house in old Sembel with his son Alex.
Feshaye and Yordanos' daughter Alana.
Feshaye and Yordanos neighbors son playing his krar.
Feshaye's wife and my sister in law Yordanos, making Eritrean coffee.