Asmara Eritrea - November 19th 2006
Zewdi and Gebrehiwot woke up early to go to
church. At 6:30 I wash myself, get dressed and leave the house to find a cappuccino
and some cake for breakfast. In our Western world we would sleep until
9:00 to be just in time for the 11 o'clock Mass, but in Eritrea life
starts a bit earlier, even (or especially) on Sundays.
Orthodox Christian Services begin at dawn
with monotone chanting, drumbeat and praying. Muezzins call the Islamic
believers to prayer. Dogs start to bark when people pass the gates they
are watching. Gabriella, the maid will start mopping the floors. I don't
want to disturb her asking for tea or breakfast.
After my coffee & cappuccino breakfast
in the Sweet Asmara Café, a start today's program. Every once and a while
I receive curious requests by e-mail. Although I have to disappoint most
people (these visit it is my holidays and not a search party), there is exceptions.
And usually they involve a lot of walking and unexpected encounters.
One of these unexpected events is the visit
to Villa Mussa. It is a beautiful villa in Asmara's villa quarter, and I
must have passed it many times. In an attempt to picture it, I ask the
owner, an Italian residing in Asmara, if I can picture his house, and open
the gate (which was not closed) just a bit more for the sake of a better
picture. "Please come in and have a good look be walking around my
house." He guides me through his
beautiful garden, adorned with flowers and a fountain, and invites me for
a cup of coffee. He tells me about his life in Eritrea, and that he
remembers me from my earlier visits to Eritrea.
I guess I am a familiar face for more and
more citizens of Eritrea and Asmara, and it gives me the good feel to be
at home in Eritrea. Since I got stuck in Eritrea in June 2000 as a result
of Ethiopian aggression against Eritrea, a genuine "one heart"
feel has developed. But the heartily welcome of the Eritreans, and the
interest in your background is an attitude every visitor will experience
when visiting this country.
Later that day I engage a bicycle race. The
public is watching on the outer sidewalks of Afabet Street. I ask the
police if I can cross the street to watch (and picture) the race from the grass strip in
the middle. It is okay. as a tourist in Eritrea, you as treated as a guest.
I join a police man on the grass strip, standing in the shade of a palm
I notice a slight confusion in his eyes. as
if he is wondering what a white man is doing here. I shake hands and tell
him I'm from Holland. The word "Holland" does miracles. The
Dutch were the first (with the Canadians) UNMEE representatives in the
still effective "Temporary" Security Zone. And, even more
important, being Dutch means that I am not from the United States, a
country that is regarded an Ethiopian ally.
Via Abbashaul and Edaga Arbi I walk to Haz
Haz, a district of Asmara know for its typical houses. The shortcut from
Edaga Arbi to Haz Haz involves a climb to a higher level geological
plateau. I follow the people walking the same route. They will know the
easiest track. In Haz Haz I snake through the small alleys between the
houses with their conical roofs. Children are following me. People watch
me from their door opening. "Selam" is the magic word to greet
them. The usual answer is "Merhaba" (welcome).
From Haz Haz I walk back to the center of
Asmara. When I am near the Ambassador Hotel, loud Tigrinya music attracts
my attention. It is a wedding in a tent just behind the hotel. When I am
close to the party, I am invited in. And offered suwa, and araki, and
food. I have to be careful with the food, but the araki is okay. I write
my name in the guest book and make an appropriate donation.
When I show the picture of my Eritrean wife
and kids, the people is surprised. "You are an Eritrean by marriage",
they say. The family of the married couple takes my upstairs, to greet and
congratulate the bride and bridegroom, Eden and Yemane, and their parents.
In their living room I have another araki and some hembesha. We have a
I join the guest in the tent. Family of the
bride and bridegroom, military men (the bridegroom is a member of the
Eritrean Defense Forces), neighbors are enjoying the live music and
dancing. I park my camera bag on the small stage, so everyone will watch
it, and join the people in front of the stage to dance and celebrate the
happy event with them.
At 15:00 the party is over and the guests
say goodbye. The military men climb in their 1950 Mercedes Benz truck to
return to their camp in Adi Guadad. "Need a ride?", one of them
asks. We all are a bit drunk and I accept the offer. Standing on the back
of the military truck, I drive a few kilometers with them through Asmara.
When the truck turns to the left or right, it is not easy to stay in
balance, which makes the ride even funnier. Some of the military treat me
as their brother in arms, other are a bit suspicious about the tourist on
I get off the truck in Kahawta to visit
family in this district.
Mocambo Night Club - Adi Hawesha
street Asmara Eritrea.
Scuola Elementare Italiana -
Berasole Street Asmara Eritrea.
Villa Mussa - Villa Quarter Asmara
Bicycle race - Afabet Street
Graveyard - Arbaete Asmara.
Traditional dwellings - Haz Haz
Traditional dwelling - Haz Haz
Orthodox church - Haz Haz Asmara
Bar - Haz Haz Asmara Eritrea.
Eden and Yemane, the just married couple - Asmara