Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sketches of a trip : Eritrea 2011

Sketch One

I always look forward to my regular visits to Eritrea because of the surprises that await me. Even though the physical distance between Eritrea and the United States (where I reside) is far and wide, the distance has been shortened (time and space, circumvented) because of ERI TV's (Eritrea's national television) 24/7 physical presence in our living rooms.

This year’s trip was different from my previous trips because this was the first time that I was visiting Eritrea at the same time as the rest of my family. Therefore, most of the time was dealt with family reunions, visits and travels. As Dawit Haile mentions in one of his series on his travels entitled “Ghosts of Famine and Drought, where art thou?” (Part II), first and foremost, we had to visit families whose loved ones had died since our respective last visits. After all the family visits were taken care of, I was able to sneak in some research and filming here and there. I also had the opportunity to give three lectures. The first lecture was organized by the Organization of Eritrean-Americans/ Eritrean-Canadians Returnees. The organization has over 130 members, with its office located in downtown Asmara. The organization also manages a café. The returnees are engaged in various activities and contribute to the development of Eritrea. Among them are chemists, economists, lawyers, IT professionals, engineers, physicians, professors, agronomists, scientists and etc. With the turnout and success of the first lecture organized by the aforementioned, two other invitations (by Orotta School of Medicine and Dentistry and Asmara Public Library) followed. The turnout in both places was large and discussions were lively. Even today, I am still getting e-mails about the discussions. I would like to thank the board members of Organization of Eritrean-Americans/Eritrean-Canadians Returnees,Professor Andemariam Gebremichael and Professor Abraham Kidane for inviting me to speak at the Orotta School of Medicine and Dentistry and Asmara Public Library,respectively.

The first place that I did some filming was at the site of the Egila - Dem'Hina road construction. Since my last visit to the same place in 2008, the construction has progressed tremendously. It is an engineering marvel. The commitment, dedication and professionalism of the work are evident with every turn. To check the progress, five of us (four from the Audio Visual Institute of Eritrea) left Asmara one early morning. We stopped for breakfast in Dekemhare, and continued to our destination. Before we reached Adi Keyeh we made a left turn on the road to Safira. The entire area (Qohaito, etc) is an archeologist’s “heaven”. After traveling for hours (it didn’t feel like we were on the road for hours because we had so many laughs along the way) we reached Biddho Construction Company’s camp. Biddho is the company that is building the Egila-Dem'Hina road . The camp is located on top of one of the mountains whose chain crowns the area. With the finalization of the road, south central Eritrea will be connected with Foro, which is located in the eastern part of Eritrea. The government of Eritrea has been working to connect every part of Eritrea. The time is not far when all of Eritrea will be connected like a spider’s web.


                                                Member of Warsay Yekalo chiseling Biddho's logo

As soon as we arrived, we were offered water to wash our faces and feet. Dinner (tasty Shiro) and coffee followed right away. Members of Warsay Yikalo in the area joined us and the fun and laughs continued until the wee hours of the night. We were shown our room for the night. At night, I experienced first hand the saying that “necessity is the mother of invention.” The “guest house” is entirely made out of zingo (corrugated roofing sheets), which makes the rooms hot
during the day and cold during the night. However, the interior of the rooms (including the ceiling) at the camp, were entirely covered with tenkobet (handmade traditional straw mat), which keeps the rooms cool during the heat and warm during the night. Eritrean ingenuity at work!

The following morning, I woke up and toured the camp and stood at the top of the mountain and viewed the spectacular scenery. We had a good breakfast and set out to film the community who reside in the area participating in building canals and bridges. The participants included children, the youth, the elderly, women and men. We visited several places where people were already participating very early in the morning. I talked to some of the villagers and asked them about the changes that the road is making in their lives. They told me that with the road being operational they were able to go to Adi Keiyh by bus for services such as hospitals, etc. Their only concern now is that of water. I witnessed the bus service that they mentioned in my conversation. The bus leaves for Adi Keyih twice (leaves on Wednesday afternoon and returns on Friday morning and again leaves on Friday afternoon on returns on Sunday afternoon) a week. The market days in Adi Keyih are on Thursdays and Saturdays.

In the afternoon we reached the spot where the construction team is painstakingly carving a road out of the side of the chain of mountains. The construction has reached the point where one can see Foro in the distance and the sea shining like a mirror behind it. What remains to be built is a short distance of road to get to the bottom of the mountain range, and after that the road will be flat from then on. After filming there, we returned to Biddho’s camp and were treated to an early dinner. After that we headed back to Asmara.

Wedi Feraday, Wedi Zere (in charge of the road work
to Foro), myself, Yemane and Yosef.
Akiliu is missing
from this picture.

Four of my co-travelers (Wedi Feraday, Aklilu, Yemane and Yosef) are my colleagues from the Audio Visual Institute of Eritrea (AVIE). AVIE has a very talented group of young professionals (both male and female) who are engaged in producing films in Eritrea. They have recently bought the latest expensive HD cameras, computers and editing software. Since the beginning of September 2011, one of their members, a promising director of photography, Samuel Alazar, is in China studying film. There is no doubt that AVIE would be in the forefront of producing and presenting Eritrean narrative to the world, both in documentary and feature, in the coming years. After our return to Asmara, my colleagues went to Zoba Gash Barka and Nafka. Unfortunately, I was not able to make that trip. Another member, Azmera, joined them for the trip. The pictures from their trip is also included in this sketch below. All the pictures are taken by Yemane Andebrehan.