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Touring through Eritrea
November and December 2006
 
Asmara and surroundings
November and December 2006
 

 

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 tree.

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 short conversation.

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 their truck.

I get off the truck in Kahawta to visit family in this district. 

.  .

Mocambo Night Club - Adi Hawesha street Asmara Eritrea.

Mocambo Night Club - Adi Hawesha street Asmara Eritrea.

Scuola Elementare Italiana - Berasole Street Asmara Eritrea.

Scuola Elementare Italiana - Berasole Street Asmara Eritrea.

Villa Mussa - Villa Quarter Asmara Eritrea.

Villa Mussa - Villa Quarter Asmara Eritrea.

Bicycle race - Afabet Street Asmara Eritrea.

Bicycle race - Afabet Street Asmara Eritrea.

Graveyard - Arbaete Asmara.

Graveyard - Arbaete Asmara.

Traditional dwellings - Haz Haz Asmara Eritrea.

Traditional dwellings - Haz Haz Asmara Eritrea.

Traditional dwelling - Haz Haz Asmara Eritrea.

Traditional dwelling - Haz Haz Asmara Eritrea.

Orthodox church - Haz Haz Asmara Eritrea.

Orthodox church - Haz Haz Asmara Eritrea.

Bar - Haz Haz Asmara Eritrea.

Bar - Haz Haz Asmara Eritrea.

Eden and Yemane, the just married couple - Asmara Eritrea.

Eden and Yemane, the just married couple - Asmara Eritrea.

 

 
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