Asmara Eritrea - September 23rd 2004
The ETSA program will
start in the evening. During the daytime I will try to do some of the
activities on my agenda. One of them is
artwork of Fred Siwak. He asked my to take his work to Eritrea and to
picture it in a very Eritrean entourage.
So I ask Jerusalem, my little
nice, to put on her best clothes and help me to picture the art work in
front of the cathedral. Actually I preferred a beautiful Eritrean woman
dressed in a flowing white cotton dress with colorful embroiled trim,
called "zuria", but I could not find anyone patient enough to
understand Fred's project.
At the office of Eritrean
Airlines, located in a building called Palazzo Falletta, Harnet Avenue, I confirm my return flight
on October 7th. "Check in time 22:00 October 6th, flight time 1:30
October 7th." I noticed that Asmara Airport is only used at night. I
guess it is for security reasons. From young
sidewalk merchants sitting on a piece of cloth I buy some candy to eliminate my
When I pass the market,
Merhawit offers me an orange. The Eritrean people are exceptionally
welcoming to visitors. Generosity is a salient Eritrean trait. She asks me
to sit in her little stall. Children gather around the stall to witness
the photo session, when I picture her traditional Tigrinya kuno hairstyle:
micro-braids hugging her skull and long curled extensions.
In Freweini and Haile's house,
one room divided by a curtain into a living and a sleeping zone, I drink
tea and eat injera. Yodith brings me a handful of Eritel telephone cards,
collected from the nearby telecommunications office. LogicaCMG colleagues
will welcome the cards for their collection. And Yodith is happy with the
Nakfa's I give her for every decent card.
When I pass the front office
of the Ministry of Tourism, I am invited to come in for a few minutes to chat
with Meaza. She invites me to drink tea in the neighboring Sweet Asmara
Caffee. I give her a set of copies of this weeks ETSA program. Part of
the program is on the streets of Asmara. I guess other tourists may be
interested as well.
When I am close to the Nda
Mariam Church, I find some women selling beles, fruits of the cactus.
"25 cents sir!". It is an offer I cannot refuse. I give her a
Nakfa, and the girl peels four beles, handing them to me one by one. They
taste good, and I guess they will healthy as well. So when she suggests I
should eat more, I give her an extra Nakfa for four fruits. Wrong! Later I
would hear that beles will activate your stools.
At 18:00 I prepare myself to
witness the closing ceremony of the ETSA workshops. I have my shoes
polished in one of the many stalls, take a shower and change
When I arrive at the Expo
compound, I understand that the program is delayed. A Kunama traditional
group is entertaining the guests with traditional music and dance. I join
Mariam, representative of the Ministry of Tourism, Gash Barka Zone. From
her eyes I can read she is proud of her people, dancing in front of us.
Both the music and the dance
are very basic and therefore touching my heart. So glad I am here watching
them dance and sing, so sad when I realize that these lovely people
are living in the recent war zone, Barentu and its surroundings. Victims
of the mediaeval values of the genocidal Ethiopian regime, supported by
"What is wrong?"
Mariam asks me, when she observes my wet eyes. I tell her that the camera
hit my eye, and it hurts. I am not in the mood to start a discussion about
politics and war. It is party time.
When the minister arrives, it
is time to go in. Speeches, waiters serving drinks, various top class
restaurants present their dishes to the guests. I eat a little bit of
every traditional food and watch the women in their beautiful traditional
"Please have another
beer". I am invited to take a seat at various tables, and chat with
the other guests. When the entertainment starts, I make sure I am in a
good position to make some nice pictures. When I look to the right, I
realize I am sitting at the table of the minister herself, with Mariam on
Four giant cakes, decorated
with marzipan pictures of various Asmara landmarks are cut into pieces and
handed to the guests. And although I had my own piece, Mariam is feeding
me bits of her cake as well.
Actually I cannot describe
what this gesture expresses. I will have to guess. At wedding ceremonies it is
supposed to mean "we will always take care of you", a promise
of the mutual families, the bride and the bridegroom. Mariam's
gesture is the nicest thing that happened to me during my three weeks stay
in Eritrea. I guess I have a little sister in Barentu from now on.
At midnight the party is
finished. It is only a 15 minutes walk to our apartment, so I will walk.
An elderly man joins me. "Is it ok if I accompany you on your way
home?" He tells me he is a member of the party, the PFDJ *). He is
living in Tiravolo, which is in the opposite direction, but he wants to
make sure I will arrive safely. For the second time this evening I experience the
"we will take care of you".
Jerusalem, holding the
artwork of Fred Siwak, of Ipswich,
in front of the Roman Catholic Cathedral - Asmara Eritrea.
Merhawit showing here beautiful plaited hair creation - Asmara Eritrea.
Kunama traditional group singing and dancing - Expo Asmara Eritrea.
Several restaurants presented their most delicious menus
at the ETSA party on the Expo grounds - Asmara Eritrea.
Women, traditionally dressed at the ETSA party on the Expo grounds.
Fashion show at the ETSA party on the Expo grounds.
Kunama traditional group at the ETSA party on the Expo grounds.
One of the four giant fancy cakes at the ETSA party on the Expo grounds.
Minister of Tourism Amina Nurhussien and her staff.
Mariam - Ministry of Tourism - Gash Barka Zone (Barentu).
*) People's Front for Democracy and
Justice, the ruling party in Eritrea.