Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Picture is courtesy of Yared Tseggai

E R I T R E A: sketches of a trip

Issayas Tesfamariam

Note: This series has an introduction and five sketches. A total of six postings. This is ...

Sketch Three

A couple of days before a scheduled travel to Kohaito with Dr. Yosef Lebsekal, I visited the National Museum of Eritrea with a colleague from AVIE, Yared Teweldebrhan. The National Museum of Eritrea has different sections that represents different eras of Eritrea's long history. Pre-historic, historic, medieval (both Christian and Islamic periods), cultural eras are some of the examples that are represented in the National Museum’s exhibition. The pre-historic section houses a one-million year old fossil that was found by archaeologists in Buia, in the Southern Red Sea Zoba of Eritrea. There is also a fossil of an ancestor of the modern elephant, which is considered to be a missing link. There are many other unique historical artifacts, such as a small-sized sphinx, which make Eritrea an archaeological gem. The National Museum is a place where Eritrea’s rich history and culture is preserved. With minimum resources, the National Museum has managed to collect numerous historical/archaeological artifacts. However, for the National Museum to grow and prosper it needs financial, technological and human resources. As the motto states, “preservation is access, and access is preservation”! Thus, the first thing that the National Museum needs to do is to have its own website. Eritreans who would like to help in setting up a website for the museum, or help with resources can contact them at 011-291-1-122389.

From a copy of a brochure of the National Museum of Eritrea.
The National Museum of Eritrea had a pictorial exhibit in 2007
entitled, "From Buia to Nakfa: Journey into the Past."
The picture in the middle is the fossil found in Buia.

On the morning of our travel, my colleagues from AVIE (Yosef Habtai, Azemra Fitwi and Ruta Frezghi) and Hiyoba Ghirmay, and I met at AVIE's office and went to pick up Dr. Yosef. At 6:00 AM we left Asmara and headed south to Kohaito. After we ate our breakfast in Adi Keyih, we continued our journey. As we got closer to Kohaito, the fog and the sun were fighting for attention. The Kohaito plateau covered with aloe vera (E're') looked like Mongolian steppes. Half way on the plateau, we met Ibrahim Kelil, the very knowledgeable local employee of the National Museum of Eritrea. At the suggestion of Ibrahim, we went to Karibossa. Karibossa is not far from the famous Delhimna road construction that is being undertaken by Biddho Construction Company. The constant struggle between the sun and the fog rendered the scenery unbelievably fascinating. The shere size of the mountains in contrast to human beings and machinery makes one marvel with awe of nature. It is at this point that I realized that the pictures and the TV footage that I had seen before don’t do the scene justice. Firstly, one has to be physically present to admire nature; and second, the amount of brain, muscle and sweat that the dedicated workers are putting into this engineering feat is worthy of admiration. Seeing the construction workers working on one hand, at the edge of the cliff, and on the other hand at the mercy of the humongous rocks above them is heartening and at the same time fills one with pride. To top it off, the person who is in charge of this miraculous undertaking is a twenty-nine year old engineer.


Azmera Fitwi filming

After we left Karibossa, we headed back to the plains of Kohaito. We first visited the ancient trade route to Adulis. The ancient steps that are carved on the side of the mountain are astonishing. While Dr. Yosef was narrating for the film, an old couple in their sixties passed by us, returning from the same ancient caravan route that the people of Koahito had been taking for thousands of years. The couple told us that they had left the coast six hours earlier. It was at this point that Dr. Yosef mentioned to me that the National Museum of Eritrea had organized a caravan route to the coast three months earlier. It took the participants three days to reach the coast with their donkeys and camels. Ivory was one of the items that traders carried on the ancient trade route to Adulis. This Ivory Road was to Eritreans what the Silk Road was to people of Eastern Asia. I hope the museum makes the caravan route travel a yearly event. As I told Dr. Yosef, I would sign up for a travel like that anytime without any hesitation.

Ancient caravan route still being used.

Dr. Yosef Lebsekal

The crew filming

Yours truly, facing one of Kohaito's oblesiks.

We then went to the other part of the mountain where the landscape resembles the Grand Canyon. Still yet another amazing and spectacular scenery! After filming there we headed back to the place where the ancient market of Kohaito used to be. The sun by now had won over the fog, but the fog still was fighting its last battle. It was here that we filmed villagers who were collectively working to repair a fallen roof. The able-bodied villagers had turned out to help in this community endeavor. The elders were there in person entertaining and giving advice. We witnessed the traditional know how of constructing building of the villagers which were inherited from their ancestors. What Dr. Yosef had been narrating about ancient Kohaito and their masonry in the morning came alive through the traditional village masons in the afternoon. The hospitality accorded to us and the talk given to us by the elder of the village was what a filmmaker would dream of.

After the heart warming speech of the village elder we headed to Safira. Safira is where ancient and today's dam is located. It is a pleasant small village which is located on the Kohaito plateau. It has a big school and a beautiful mosque whose minaret can be seen from any part of the plateau. After Safria we went to the stele of Kohaito and the Egyptian tomb. At this time, the fog had a come-back and the sun was giving way to darkness. After we had tea in a small village, we headed back to Asmara. We dropped off Ibrahim where we picked him up earlier during the day. We had left Asmara thirteen hours earlier, and we still had to visit the rock painting not too far from Adi Keyih. After we had dinner in Adi Keyih we took a short tour from the main road to film the rock painting at Heshmele.

Finally, we hit the road and right before we arrived in Segenetti, the densest fog that I had ever seen blanketed us. Thanks to the driving ability of Yosef Habtai, we slowly arrived in Dekhemare. From Dekhemare, the fog had cleared and we arrived in Asmara at 11:00PM. We were up for a total of 17 hours straight and deserved a good night sleep.

Ibrahim on top of the world


The two pictures above are courtesy of Yared Tseggai
Next: A visit with Dr. Asmerom Legesse and Memher Tewldebrhan Amdemeskel.