Asmara Eritrea - September 10th 2002
Today the Orthodox Christian Eritreans celebrate
the eve of the traditional Ge'ez New Year. For most families this means the
slaughter of a sheep or goat, or for the less blessed, a chicken. Children are
reciting old chants and preparing bundles of dried twigs to light in the evening.
Feshaye has bought a goat. I join him to visit
the slaughter in Kahauta, who will prepare it for the evening. In the meantime I
do some walking in the area. I do not like the bloody scenes. The meat disappears in
the trunk of the Toyota and Feshaye drops me at the covered market, where I will
start my stroll through the city.
At the covered markets I ask for the prices of
some souvenirs at various stalls. The drums made of oil cans and goat skin will
cost me 70 Nakfa. No price differences between the merchants. But the drums are
not as beautiful as I expected them to be. I will wait to find better ones. I
try to make some pictures, but the women immediately hide behind the stalls when
they see the camera, as if I am pointing a gun at them. The boys on the other
hand are amused by the shouting of the women and encourage me to make pictures.
In the small workshops surrounding the markets
the workers separate, sieve and prepare the various grains to make flour. Little
horse drawn carts are waiting to transport the merchandise. Children are
playing with used tyres, or playing football with a ball made of a sock, filled
In the afternoon I walk to Edaga Arbi to visit the family of
Mebrat. Saba wants to come to Holland, or Europe. I ask her what she will do in
Holland. "Find a job, and get some education". We chat about the
subject for more than an hour. I try to convince her that moving to a rich
country is not a guarantee for a better life, about immigration regulations. Things
have changed in Holland. Rules are strict. Turned away asylum seekers are living
on the street and in churches, or have to hide themselves. How can she expect
education or a proper job under these circumstances? "The same government
that has to provide your education, will be looking for you if you decide to
stay in Holland illegally". I cannot convince her.
Saba invites me to drink coffee made in the
traditional Eritrean style. She shows me her room.
Stone walls painted olive green. A carpet with Jesus Christ against the wall.
I recognize the picture of Mebrat's father on the cabinet in Saba's room. Life
must be a bit dull without a job, switching between her home in Asmara and the
military camp in Adi Keih. I feel sorry for her but I don't think there is any
chance for a nice career for this girl in Holland. Her education is virtually none, her
knowledge of English is poor and she does not want to get married.
In the evening I witness the feast of
K'ddus Yohannes, the eve of the Ge'ez New Year. The children set fire to their
self made torches in old Sembel, Asmara. Children are running on the streets with their burning
torches, shouting and singing. I am invited to step across on of the burning
torches. Tree times forward and three times backward will give me their blessings. Part of the
tradition is to give the kids a few coins, but coins are scarce in my wallet and
I need some for the telephone, so I appoint one of them to share out a twenty Nakfa note (one dollar). In the narrow street the neighbors have constructed a
tent. One of the neighbors sons drowned in a nearby lake, the family and all neighbors are mourning.
Girl selling vegetables at the Asmara covered markets.
Three wheel motorized bicycle for handicapped ex-soldier.
Busy street next to the covered markets.
Woman selling chickens and eggs near the Asmara market.
Senait in the court yard behind their house in Edaga Arbi.
Neighbor of Senait and Saba roasting atar on the court yard.
Grinding the atar to make shuro (vegetable stew).
Senait and Saba cooking me pasta in the small kitchen next to the house.
And of course there is a
traditional Eritrean coffee ceremony.
Children lighting torches to celebrate the eve of K'ddus Yohannes (New Year).