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Eritrea September 2002
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 2002 Touring through Eritrea
 

 

Filfil Forest Eritrea - September 27th 2002

 

"7:45 sharp in front of the Selam Hotel" said the invitation. I arrive at 7:30. My hosts should not have to wait for me. It is at 8:15 that the bus leaves to the Filfil Forest, where the manifestation dedicated to eco-tourism in Eritrea will take place. Being a regular guest of the Ministry's offices, asking for information or how to get to places, I see a lot of familiar faces in the bus. And of course a lot of people know me. "You showed me your work last year in my office." I remember her face, but I have forgotten her name. I feel ashamed. I am not good at remembering names.

After one and a half hour, 25 kilometer from Massawa, the bus leaves the road to Massawa and we take the rough road to the Filfil Forest. The road has numerous hairpin bends over which the land drops away for many meters. At some points the road is so narrow that the bus has to make breath-taking maneuvers to snakes its way uphill. Another hour later we reach Filfil, an area that contains the last remainders of Eritrea's once abundant tropical forest and still holds a wide variety of birds, many of which are confined to the 'Horn of Africa'. An area therefore popular for bird watching and also historically important for being "the garage" of the EPLF during the 1961 - 1991 struggle for liberation.

The trip has made me extremely thirsty (forgot my bottle of water again), so after a short walk through the forest, to reach the actual site of the manifestation, I am glad to see the large supply of mineral water and beer. The military has cooked us a variety of traditional Eritrean food. Not used to eat just with my fingers, I try to find a good place to sit, to make it a bit easier to eat my injera.In a little, half open building, I spot some comfortable couches. I politely ask if I can sit here to eat. "Please have a seat."

It is than that I realize that I entered the VIP room. I immediately recognize the man sitting in one of the door openings. Its the president himself! And, although I do not know their exact names, I recognize many of his ministers. I do my very best to remember every possible table manner, eating my injera, being in such unexpected company. The two guys on my left are two generals. I try to start some kind of conversation, but what should be the subject? I am just to impressed. They tell me about the minister of tourism "She is a fine lady, working very hard for her country. We sure hope you will help her a bit." I finish my injera and ask for some water to wash my hands.

I ask the general sitting next to me if the president would mind to shake hands with me. "He's just like you and me, please feel free to shake hands with him." I must admit that I needed this encouragement, because I was not sure how safeguards would react if I would approach the president spontaneously. But with the general's permission, I stand up and introduce myself. It is then that I start to realize the honor of the invitation I received the fist day at the Ministry of Tourism.

After the dinner there is speeches about the prospects of tourism for Eritrea. They are in Tigrinya, so I hardly understand a word of them. The participants in several projects are honored. They receive a certificate and an applause of the audience.

And then there is live music and people start dancing. One of the women of the Ministry of Tourism challenges my. "Why don't you dance?". Actually a am a bit stiff and not a good dancer, but the ambiance, the beer and the band were all in my favor, so I ask here to watch my camera and I dance and have fun with the Eritrean military and the women of the ministry, hiding a bit between the crowd, to prevent that the president will notice my stiffness, but I cannot hide for the crew of the Eritrean television. Later, having returned to Holland, I would hear that people recognized me on Eritrean television, dancing with Eritrean ministers.

After the party I eat injera with the two female ministers, Amina Nurhussien and Askalu Menkorios, before returning to Asmara. Socializing with the people of Eritrea is one of the main goals of every year's visit. Eating from one large injera with two Eritrean ministers is a lot more than I expected on forehand. Not used to eat with my fingers, I tell that I have been instructed by my wife, Mebrat not to eat as if I have not eaten for a week. But the ministers show no mercy. "Mebrat is not here now, so you will help us to eat the injera."

We return to Asmara with the minister's 4WD Toyota, taking another route than this morning, through the harsh, rugged landscape of Eritrea, uphill in the direction of the road to Keren. It is very dark, so there is not much to see, apart from the landscape lighted up by the headlights of the Toyota. But the minister knows the area. She used to be an EPLF fighter herself. At 20:30 we arrive in Asmara.

I have two hours to pack the last things that friends and family brought, as presents for my wife. Only with a lot of force, I succeed to close my suitcase. So many souvenirs, Asmara Zibib, berbere, ko'lo and other typical Eritrean products. At 22:30 I check in at the Lufthansa desk at the Asmara airport. A lot of overweight: 32 kilo for the suite case alone, plus four goat skin drums and a cabin case. I suggest to leave the drums at the airport. The Lufthansa clerk melts when I tell them they are for my four little children. and at midnight we take off to return to Amsterdam, with the four drums in the belly of the Airbus. At the luggage belt in Amsterdam, the four drums that I bought in Asmara cause a lot of hilarity. Before I can confiscate them, some of the other passengers give them a try-out.

 

The road to Massawa (descending from Asmara).

The road to Massawa (descending from Asmara).

Employees of the Ministry of Tourism.

Employees of the Ministry of Tourism.

The chartered bus arriving in the Filfil Forest.

The chartered bus arriving in the Filfil Forest.

Members of the Eritrean government - Askalu Menkorios, minister of Labor.

Members of the Eritrean government - Askalu Menkorios, minister of Labor.

President Isaias Afworki next to two members of the Eritrean government.

President Isaias Afworki next to two members of the Eritrean government.

Minister of Tourism Amina Nurhussien addressing the audience on tourism.

Minister of Tourism Amina Nurhussien addressing the audience on tourism.

President Isaias Afworki presenting a certificate to one of the participants.

President Isaias Afworki presenting a certificate to one of the participants.

The audience watching the various officials talking about tourism in Eritrea.

The audience watching the various officials talking about tourism in Eritrea.

And after the speeches there is life music and we dance until sundown.

And after the speeches there is life music and we dance until sundown.

And after the speeches there is life music and we dance until sundown.

And after the speeches there is life music and we dance until sundown.

 

 
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