Friday, June 19, 2009

A conversation with Adiam Berhane

Issayas Tesfamariam: First thank you for your time and for all the lovely pictures. Can you briefly tell my readers about yourself?

Adiam Berhane: My name is Adiam Berhane. I was born in Asmara, but I left for Milan, Italy when I was two-years old. I was in Italy until I was almost 10, at which time we moved to Washington D.C. My parents owned a very successful Eritrean restaurant in D.C.I went to Blessed Sacrament, Washington Ethical H.S. , Howard University ( Political Science and History) and Georgetown Law School. I do not practice law. I have worked in the entertainment field since graduating from school. I do brand management for magazines and record labels.

Issayas: What kind of law did you study at Georgetown Law School?

Adiam: I started out wanting to do international law, but ended up studying entertainment law.

Issayas: You mentioned that you do brand management for magazines and record labels. Can you elaborate?

Adiam: I have done brand management for Unleashed Magazine, Vibe and Source. I worked in artist management with Black Friday , we had a deal with Def Jam. I have also consulted for Czar Entertainment. The smaller labels I have worked with are Rockafella, Ruff Ryders, and Soul Life.

Adiam with Jerry Wonder(left) and Wyclef (above) at a benefit for Obama in 2008.

Issayas: What is brand management? What kinds of things do you do?

Adiam: Brand management is when you take a brand- a person, a product, a record, a magazine- and manage how they will be presented and marketed. There are different aspects of it , whether you are there at the beginning of the launch of the product or if you have to come in for a revamp. In brand management you have to make sure the brand is legally sound-trademarks,etc..., after that you establish a goal with your client and it goes from there. If I have a client who tells me that they are looking for a younger audience, then I'll have to work on the product and marketing to make sure that the intended audience is reached. I often have to revamp the websites of companies or even make sure they have a web presence. The work you do depends on the client. Like yourself, a filmmaker, we would talk about what it is that you want to, what type of film you would like to make etc.. That is, it is a matter of looking at your product and determining the best way for you to reach your desired target-audience and how to translate that into revenue for you. There would be cross marketing and a bunch of other stuff. It's is too long to explain on a short conversation.

Issayas: You just came back from Eritrea. How long were you there? And what was your impression?

Adiam: I was in Eritrea from May 5th to June 5th. I spent my first day and my last day at the Asmara Children Home. This is the orphanage in Asmara, and I went the first day to take the two suitcases of stuff I brought for the kids and the last day I had a cake made for them and I went to say goodbye. The place is immaculate and the children are very well taken care of. It impressed me very much, the level of care they were receiving. I stopped by unannounced so there was no time to "stage" anything. The cafes , especially Modka, became a very delicious routine for me. I was impressed by the tech savvy-ness of the young people in Eritrea. There must be an internet cafe on every block-or two per block! I found wireless internet and excellent food at the Midian Hotel , so I became a regular there. I would sit in the lobby and have a cappuccino while working on my laptop.The cleanliness of Eritrea was inspiring.

Issayas: When did you visit Eritrea prior to your last visit?

Adiam: I was there five years ago which is was too long. I am going to try and go every year like my mother. It is so hard for me to take a continuous month off, but I think with better internet connection I will be able to do that. My mother goes for longer, at least 2 months more like 3 ! I think that I will go yearly even if I cannot stay a whole month.

Issayas: Talking about young people being tech savvy in Eritrea, a couple of years ago, we filmed at the Midian hotel. It's a nice place. What impressed me the most during that filming was that their IT person (a young man who has his own company) had created a software that tallies the accounts, and other things. This is a software created in Eritrea by Eritreans. (Note: you can check out their website at

Pictures from Midian Hotel website

Adiam: The young people in Eritrea are all online, chatting, sharing their music and movies with their flash-drives, and they can surf the web with the greatest of ease. Cell phones are common. They watch their favorite shows-such as Prison Break- before they are on TV by going online. There are also iPods and MP3 players all over the place. They are very aware of tech terms and the latest advances in technology. About Midian hotel, the hotel is located behind Nyala building. There is internet connection in every room, there is a business center with computers and faxes, and there is wi-fi connection throughout the common areas. I found the place because my godfather took me to see his photos that are hanging there. I was more thrilled about the wireless connection. I ended up having lunch there one day and the food was better than anything I had had. The place is spotless, the bathrooms alone are worth going there. Yemane, the owner, told me it is because he integrates himself into everything. There were many journalists and foreigners who were staying there. By the way , there is wireless connection at several other hotels. I helped a couple of guys out who are web designers and also did the wireless for Midian and they said that the government was spending some serious money to get broadband over there. Also , the majority of the art and painting he has there are by Eritreans or of Eritrea. Did I tell you I got to see and meet Abraham Sahle, the noted Eritrean artist?

Issayas: No you didn't.

Abraham Sahle

Examples of Abraham Sahle's paintings.

Issayas: Did you have a chance to visit different parts of Eritrea? Where did you visit?

Adiam: I was very lucky on my trip because my godfather Girmay Gerenzei is a noted photographer, and actually his dad (who recently passed) is noted as being Eritrea's first professional photographer. Girmay took me everywhere, with a history lesson to go with it, and best of all he knew the best spots to take photographs all over Eritrea. We went to Massawa and he took me to the old mosque, it is small, and not open to the public. It is one of only two mosques built during the Prophet Mohammed's time. It is different in the sense that all mosques face Mecca, but since there was no Mecca at the time , this one faces Jerusalem.

I went to Isola Verde, a few minutes by motorboat from Massawa. I spent a very beautiful and lazy day swimming there with my grandmother. The best part about Massawa was seeing the unfinished Dahlak hotel. The owner, Primo, is a friend of my parents and he was also in Italy. Primo is a very proud Eritrean and he has made huge contributions. He also owns the Keren Hotel. He grew up dirt poor in Asmara but has become quite successful. The place is a labor of love, it is beautiful just amazing. I saw the new four-lane road in Ginda which is more than impressive.


Interior of Keren Hotel in Asmara .

New road in Ginda. It's four lanes and very wide so that large trucks
do not have to take the narrower road.

Girmay stopped all over for me take photos. We went to Keren, and the most amazing thing there was the new St. Antonio church. It was entirely designed and built by Eritreans. The priest told me that they didn't receive a single penny from the Vatican. This is one of the most beautiful places of worship I have ever seen. The road was great, and we stopped at the new Costina Hotel in Keren and had really good mango juice. The fruit and tea in Keren were great. I saw the shrine of Miriam Dearit. The farms on the way to Keren are huge and gorgeous.

The new church in Keren.

Shrine of Mariam Dearit.

The new Costina Hotel in Keren

New Bank in Keren.

Sarina Hotel, Keren

Azel pharmaceutical company in Keren

Issayas: Thank you for sharing with me the pictures that you took in Eritrea. I noticed that you visited the synagogue in Asmara. Can you tell me about it?

Adiam: Girmay took me to see Sam Cohen, who runs the Sinagoga di Asmara . It's only block from Girmay's Foto Asmarina, so we walked there. Sam Cohen is an Italian Sephardic Jew, whose family is from Yemen. Eritrea had a large Jewish population at one point.The Sinagoga (synagogue) is a beautiful building. The women pray upstairs and the men downstairs. Sam showed me their shofar, he said they were very proud of it, and apparently it is the envy of many synagogues. He said he is the one that blows in on Rosh Hashana. He then opened up the archives for me and it surely is a treasure trove. There were posters from the books- Jews in Eritrea- and the movie Shalom, Asmara. I never even knew the two existed. There were pictures of president Issias Afeworki celebrating at the Israeli Embassy. There was a camp photo of the 400 Jews that were arrested and jailed in Eritrea during British occupation. I remember reading about Mossad leader Rafi Eitan and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir being prisoners in Eritrea but here was a picture. He even found some old Encode beef bullion which was made in Eritrea and was kosher. It was a treat for a history buff like me. Sam Cohen told me that when the Jews escaped from Asmara, Sembel they did so by digging some tunnels. He said that those escape routes/tunnels have never been discovered.

Exterior of the synagogue in Asmara

Sam Cohen showing his shofar which he argues is the envy of many synagogues.

Below: From the Archives of Asmara Synagogue

Visit of Chief Rabbi Yizhak (Isaac) Herzog to Eritrea in 1946.
He was Chief Rabbi of Ireland (1919-1936) and Chief Rabbi
of the British Mandate of Palestine(1936-1948)

Incode beef bullion

Issayas: Adiam, thank you so much for you time and for giving me the opportunity to talk to you about your trip. And again, thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures with us .

Adiam: No problem.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 20th: Eritrean Martyrs' Day

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance"