My travel journal of my experience of both anthropology research and the visit of my family country in Eritrea

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Tale of Two Cities

Today is your lucky day. I have two travel stories to tale about my most-anticipated trip to Metera/Senafe and a long-missed journey to a beach city: Massawa!

Three Men and my Poor Bladder
Metera-Senafe recently modified into one united town. They both are located extremely close to each other so they have a single adminstration for the whole area. Once my hawaboy Mesfin and i arrived Senafe by an archaic bus, the first thing i was awestrucken is 360-degrees view of all mountains!! My mouth dropped to the floor once i saw the Emba (Mt.) Metera. It is strikingly resemblance of Mt. Yosemite! I felt i was looking through my father's eyes and immediately understood why he always lightens up at each time he is surrounded or near any mountain!

Once we trodded to Adi Metera, we reached to the end of the road to visit to the home of where my father grew up. I finally met my other hawaboy, Araya who currently lives there. He proudly showed me around and the improvements in the house. They were working on a new wall (prviously demonished) and exhibited how itàs built: rocks with mud then covered with cement mixed with sand and mud and finally, coat it with paint! There is a new W.C. (water closet) and crop field of corn/miza. I could not get over the view outside from their door! It is mesmerizing once u sit inside looking out of the montemental Emba Metera neighboring.

I was very gleeful to learn the difference between my hawaboys, Araya and Mesfin. Araya was the most affectionate and had most faith in my ability whereas Mesfin was the most protective and concerned for my health and treated me like a princess! Both men and a friend of family, Hadish, all took me out for bar-drinking! To my gain, I learned drinking a shot of Zebib, vodka, will help to digest and kill any virus. So you know of the notorious diarrhea, it became a custom for me to drink a glass after a meal of any meat.

Next day, a massive fog struck overcasting the whole area. Hawaboy Mesfin and I were set off to explore all 3 Orthodox churches residing on all different altitude, elementary school of my DAD and to the top of Emba Metera! I boasted all morning that id reach to the top of the mountain but after my long-struggle to climb over the monstrous Metera, I remosefully could not achieve my goal. The platform of rock was too slippery, thanks to the thick fog. I was ego-bruised all day.

Later, both hawaboys took me for a nice stroll to BelewKelew, an archaelogical field containing 3 seperate ruins and a Washington-Monument-shaped, erected pole(?) . I learned how to travel like an Eritrean with a simple bag of neccesities, alas i was unfortunate to not carry battery charger so... my battery died just when the last shot took of me with hawaboy Araya standing next to the monument. To hit the finale note, the sky opened and poured a great bucket of water! We were drenched then back in the house, we cuddled up and warmed ourselves up by the tiny heater with charcoals. This was definetely an adventure to my father's sweet village.

Barren City
Since I felt being robbed from exploring Massawa, I committed another trip there with a fantastic guide who became a great friend, Eden (deaf teacher). To my surprise, this infamous city was barren of any local life. It felt like a gloomy, spooky venture thru wild-west town where everyone disappeared, leaving the buildings alone barely intact. To my understanding, most residents leave for the summer or live like a bat (sleep during the day and awake at the nighttime)! I have never visited New Orleans or Turkey but yet I could identify this old city possessing many resemblances as French Quarters and Turkish designs.

As we planned to visit here for 2 nights, so we splited our stay in 2 different hotels to save money. It is indeed the most expensive place to travel, comparing to any other Eritrean city/town. The first day we were adamant to go swimming, so Gurgusom Beach it is--we went to lax out there! I learned that i TRULY missed the beach life, ocean, and marine atmosphere, which warms my heart and soul. It was fascinating, almost surrealistic, for me to see all AFRICANS swimming without any caucasian in sight. Again, not many tourists were there which allowed us to feel free with all the space available to us.

Second day, the weather was amazingly kind to us with warm sun, cool wind and cool clear water; oppose to yesterday lukewarm water filled with seaweeds allover. Eden has been a phenomenal teacher so i wanted to return a favor of teaching her something new: how to float and swim! We swammed alll morning in this shallow calm sea where we felt utterly safe and at ease. I did the most popular touristic thing to do... ride on a camel on the beach! People asked me if I was frightened?? Heck no, since this camel was tamed by this tiny young Rashidan (Arabic tribe of Eritrea) boy, I knew I wasnt goin anywhere else. Later the day, we explored the rest of Massawa to see the ruins of many lovely mosques, all damaged by 1991 bombings of Ethoipian air force. It was saddening to see those forgotten buildings, some of them are scheduled/planned to be demonished and rebuilt. I have mixed feelings about that on whether they should leave the ruins as memory.

Last day, the heat was astounding a-flaming at 8 o'clock in the morning already!!! I immediately understood why the locals ran away from this killer heat. We tried to get a cup of cappucino then learned the city is suffering a shortage of milk AND Coca-colas. We rushed out to the bus station to set back to ol' trustful (ever-changing whether) Asmara!

Now its time to say Ciao, Eritrea. I shall plan another trip there. My research is indeed not finished. I am grateful to have this chance to explore the country, meet my family, and build a great relationship with the Eri-NAD. I shall continue my cooperation and anthropological research with them. 'Till next time we meet again... *kisssing cheeks thrice!*

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Multifarious Venues

Eritrea is indeed a MARVELOUS tiny country with a wide variation of climate environments! One hour drive from a solid green fertile soil to suddenly dry sandy desert or rocky boulders or flat plateaus or pointy mountains/hills! I’d say this country has it all except Snow!
On the first day, the tour took a group of 40 people to Duburwa, stayed at "HANNIBAL" hotel then explored 5 different industries: wheat, vodka/gin/cognac, plastic, cookie/biscuit, and cement. I was surprised by the quality of catering for each meal—I was genuinely impressed by each servings! We'd eat at restaurants or public halls. The second day, we traveled to Mendefera to stay at a nice hotel and participate the Youth center of that city. There was music therefore we finally boogied in our traditional dance. I did seek for Deaf club by myself and it wasn’t hard to find it being nearby to a mosque. Met 6 deaf males and was able to communicate w/ them flowly. :)
Next day, we visited Adi Kuala with an incredible view over hills, where is a historical site of many Ethiopian fighters died down bottom of the cliffs from stone-throwing. I had a neat foto taken of myself w/ a soldier’s gun. Next, the tour took us to Kohaito (koo-why-to) and saw a duplicate of Grand-Canyon, an erosion area, and an archaeological area of Egyptian tomb (500 B.C.) then return to a new hotel to sleep there. I was hoping to see Senafe/Metera part of this tour but, sadly, no.
Then, before Massawa, we made a pit stop at Adi Ghinda, a small village and I really appreciated this most becuz I felt independent at last when I explore the shops to buy an Islamic scarf and thin beach/desert clothings. I was able to interact w/ the locals, 2-3 Islamic females assisted w/putting on my scarf. Next, we were finally set off to Massawa to take a boat to Green Island which was the most outstanding vacation!! The scenery was just like any advertisement of tour agency would love to promote! Amazed, I couldn’t believe and handle it well of the fact we actually SLEPT ON THE BEACH!!! Heck, I’m a California gurl and still this was my first time to sleep on the beach! A bit difficult with all sand on my sleeping bag. This is when I let my hair OUT and looked like chaos! ;) On fifth day, we went back to Massawa which was only 2 miles away, not to explore but just to eat. :( After that we took a looong drive (4hours) on a bumpy, unpaved road to Ghelalo just to stay in its fancy brand-new hotel which was pleasant but not truly representation of the whole village! The place was extravagant designed, Roman-era, which look intimidating comparing to any other hotel! Puzzlingly, we simply returned back to Massawa for dummy food and agaiiin, not to explore the historical site and we LEFT! I objected to this part and found out it was due to "technical problems and permission" the tour couldn’t take us to travel around the port, not let alone to drive through it!! So, I am determined to return back there by myself or w/ a deaf guide.
It was an incredible tour to explore a part of Eritrea but it was a torture not to evade on my own to explore all the cities by myself and yes, I was suffering from internet-withdrawal!! I sure miss my buddies and family to share this experience with.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Semper Fi!

Back from the boot camp and i have grown an inch or two.... The first day of the festival was an outstanding and thrilling event, especially the time of a funny encounter with the President Isias Afwerki! It was amazing to see and sit only 2 rows away from him! I didn’t expect to see him upclose mainly him running into ME! Yes, its true! I wasn’t paying attention of his motion; my eyes were busy checking my snapshots of him on a diggy camera. When I look up, I was startled of his approach and my 2 hands were occupied with camera equipments! I felt wedged at the moment. Finally, the soldier, (walking w/ Prez) w/ a huge machine gun, effortlessly flung me out of the crowd surrounding him! I didn’t feel a thing cuz my body turned numb. Moreover, a cabin-mate succeeded taking a photo of me next to the Prez! Yay. I just learned that it is typical of the Prez to walk around with low protection! He trusts his country entirely for his safety! It’s utterly Impossible if Prez Bush can do the same.
The most fascinating and remarkable sights of this festival were the marching band of soldiers and the militants in the audience!! The number of them overwhelmed me! In same time I was intimidated and in awe of the great number of the soldier participating this event or watching the march.
What floored me chiefly was seeing hundreds of male soldiers holding hands!!!!! It was like seeing a genuine oxymoron: 2 ideal warriors showing affection and warmth toward one other. Seeing this brotherly-love is a stirring and astonishing experience for me.
The activity I enjoyed immensely was tree-planting. I wish I could do more than just one. I hope to participate more similar events that will contribute to the nature someday soon. To my understanding, this country is suffering of low supply of wood, since a large amount of trees had been chopped down for fuel.
I Requested to Leave a day earlier from Sawa camp, wishing I knew I could’ve left on the second day instead on the third. For me, this festival would have been sufficient if it was just for ONE day. I felt it wasn’t truly contributing to my travel experience or research if I remained for the full 5-day stay. I did NOT want to miss the Eri-Sign Lang research mtg on Saturday mornings. I was so glad to make this decision or else id be stuck on the bus for 11-hour trip! In addition, the transportation mode they provided was the far most interesting I ever rode on—they told me id fly on a plane. Since it was a small group of us who signed/paid for the trip back to Asmara, I assumed itd be a small passenger plane. To my surprise, it was an Army Helicopter (the one which they’d drop off supplies in the air or soldiers jump out) flew us for only 45 minutes!!

FYI, ill be gone on the tour program for 6 days.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Amazing creatures!!!

People stare at me while i am dumbfounded looking at those amazing 4-legged humongous creatures!! DID U KNOW PEOPLE DRINK CAMEL-MILK?!?!

Interesting. Women here keep asking me "U arent afraid traveling?", "You arent afraid to stay in hotel alone?" or "You arent afraid of visiting towns alone?" I replied each question--why should i be afraid of my sweet country?? I need to go out and see it myself in-order-to have the firsthand experience. If something happens, well... i'll always be glad to have this chance to travel outside America, esp. my family country.

Good news!
i just visited Keren and met the Director of KSD (Keren School for the Deaf). I was able to videotape his interview. It was all arranged within a day!! wow! Im so grateful for those people helping and offering their time investing to my research. Plus, they are awestrucken at how much i know ESL!! I can speak/sign to a Deaf Eritrean w/o any ASL signs!! YIPPEEEEE!!!!! Yes i am still spoiled by their English vocabulary/lip-readings. I promise you, Im gonna learn Tigrinya to return my respect for my home country's native language. Im already working on my fidel (alphabets of Tigrinya)!

Currently, im all packed and ready to go off to Sawa camp (eri-youth festival). I was very lucky to find a sleeping bag at a shop here. After 23rd tiny shops, I really thought it was no way for me to buy one here in Asmara until the last one which saved my neck! Now it'd be a great addition to my sleeping bags collection! ;)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

So much to see!

My vocabulary of ESL (Eritrean Sign Language) is growing indefinetely! It's virtually rousing at each time i learn a new sign. Those deaf Eritreans are fabulous teachers--they love to feed me new signs/words in Tigrinya. I feel like a sponge, absorbing the beautiful language of this country!

This weekend I will, at last, travel with a guide to Keren to visit the deaf community there. I hope i will build a good relationship with the people of the Deaf office there. Unfortunately, i won't be meeting any faculty of Keren School for the Deaf since the school is out. Although, this guide will lead me to people whom she thinks will assist my research.

From July 18-22, I'll be gone visiting SAWA, the renowned city of Eritrea where the youth are sent for the mandatory Soldier-Training camp to serve the country, to protect its Nation and build their values. Im goin there for the Eri-Youth Festival, where about 20,000(plus) youths (local and international) will celebrate for 4 days together. It will be a honor to attend and view the most dangerous site where the war memories are.

At my return, i will participate Eritrean Festival and see all the ethnic groups' dancing, which will be Fascinating!! THEN, i will travel on a tour program arranged by the NUEYS (Nat. Union Eri Youth & Students) titled as "Know Your Country," goin to 15 different locations for 6 days!! Certainly, it is gonna be a revitalizing expedition!! It is not exactly part of my research but... only to explore outside the city life! This photograph was taken by Eden, a deaf teacher, at point of Bet Giorgish, by the zoo. It overlooks the road to Massawa. This is merely a minuscule part of sightseeings in anticipation of so much more to see on the tour!!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Gettin' Tricky...

People here ask me "what you think of Asmara?" I'd respond--its Fabulous seeing everything in details with my bare eyes, smell each scents and feel each temperature during the day. The weather here just as Walta (my childhood friend) warned me "its a lil Tricky." Id say it run 3-season daily! Although, it resembles as any typical So_Californian weather! Its chilly in the morning, warm most of the day, hot during noon, windy which is bothersome with dust; then it drizzles at late evening, and lastly, it becomes cold in the nighttime. It *is* awestruckening to see EVERYONE as Eritreans walking or hanging out around the city. I feel somewhat an outsider since they keep staring at me--especially at my old beaten-up sneakers. I know... thats unlady-like of me. The women here tend to wear feminine sandals or loafers and i learned they are absolutely useful and rain-friendly in contrast w/ my wet sneakers. My Eritrean friends would find my parka/raincoat stunning, despite i still get wet. ;/

Generally, people aroundthe city have such a sturdy look and i barely recieve a smile when i walk by them or enter in their shops/hotels. Normally, at each encounter among strangers, Id bow my head slightly saying "Selam" or offer to shake hands then they'd greet humbliy or modest. I still got a lot to learn about this culture and understand wholly of hardships what have my own country has suffered through.

Moreever, people quickly assume that I am a non-Eritrean or doubt my nationality, Id correct them, tell them my full name, or show them my Nationality Eritrean ID (Men-net) and declare "I'M AN ERITREAN!" All of their reactions are uniform with a cheer and joy.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Full of Buckets...

Here's the most busy street, Adi Harnet of Asmara. There are repetitive convienence shops everywhere and i am not sure how do they keep standing financially if they got everything what next door got! Bars, food shop, Kidane-Habisha (clothing) shops, jewerlry shops, electronic shops, internet cafes, and restaurants are normally business available for the public consumeration. Otherwise there are factories, junkyard, municipal courts, schools, government services and countless Embassies!

I am staying in Melles' place still and they havent kicked me out just yet. I adore his family; his wife is so intelligent and helpful; their kids are darling and my super fans!

I am being spoiled by their spotless house and their bathroom is unlike any common bathroom in Eritrea. It is truly a privileage staying in this gorgeous house. Id like to show the interesting procedures in the bathrooms, its always come with BUCKETS. The Large, black water storage is almost in every house, then the medium-size buckets to pour water into toilet and finally small pitcher to use to rinse hands in sink or body in showers.

It's endless usage of buckets daily!!

Another thing id like to add for today: It is stupefying to see a wide variation of transportation in this city alone. This picture signifys two contrastive kinds of transportation that's FAR CRY distinct in each economic level--runs by a horse parked near a Range Rover!