Saturday, 6 October 2012

Eritrea - The Final Word

I'm really reluctant to say goodbye to Eritrea, as I've enjoyed learning about this small country and I'm curious to know even more!

A summary of the themes

I've managed to stick to just over a month, this time round and, during that time, I have learned about the different ethnic groups that live in Eritrea.   I've learned about Eritrea's 30-year struggle for independence but I've also learned about Eritrea's great potential as a tourist destination and the state of tourism in Africa and around the world.   I taught myself how to make a traditional Eritrean dish, Tsebhi Derho with Injera and I read some Eritrean plays, notably The Other War by Alemseged Tasfai. 

Tools for research

Books I read as part of my research on Eritrea
I read several books whilst researching Eritrea:

Ethiopia, Eritrea & Djibouti (Lonely Planet, 2000 edition) for background research.

Eritrea: Even the Stones are Burning by Roy Pateman, for a more serious look at the history of the conflict in Eritrea.  Pateman is a good advocate for Eritrea and his book contains a lot of interesting information.

Ciao Asmara by Justin Hill - a more light-hearted account of the time that Justin spent working in Eritrea as an English teacher.

My Father's Daughter by Hannah Pool - a really moving account of Hannah's search for her family in Eritrea - she deals with the themes of adoption and cultural identity - highly recommended!

The Other War by Alamseged Tesfai from Contemporary African plays (Banham & Plastow ed,)

Three Eritrean Plays (from Hdri publishers in Asmara) with plays by Solomon Dirar, Esaias Tseggai and Mesgun Zerai

I also watched one movie set in Eritrea, Heart of Fire (dir. Luigi Falorni in 2009).  I really enjoyed the movie and I thought the child actors were fantastic - it was also great to hear Tigrinya being spoken on film, as I'd never really heard spoken Tigrinya before (only in song!).  I'm embedding the trailer, from Youtube, so you can hear for yourself!




Other themes

If I had time to continue blogging about Eritrea, I would be interested in researching the following topics:

Italian colonisation in Africa
Press freedom (Eritrea is currently bottom of the list on the Press Freedom Index - even worse than North Korea!!)
Diving for pearls in the Dahlak Islands
The Great Rift Valley and the world's highest cities
Orthodox Christianity
The bee-keepers of Saho
Consensus democracy
Women in the military
The world's hottest inhabited places (which includes Dankalia)
Trade in Salt
The Land of Punt
The Tacaruni people, originally from Nigeria, who got stranded in Eritrea and settled there

Dinner party trivia

And here is some trivia about Eritrea that you can use to impress people at dinner parties!


Pages from an Eritrean newspaper
- Eritreans use the word Gedli when talking about their 30-year struggle for independence.
- The Horn of Africa was known in ancient times as  Bilad al-Barbar or 'land of the Berbers'
- The Italian census of 1939 showed that half of Asmara's population was Italian - no wonder that Asmara was known as piccola Roma.
- Eritrea has one of the largest armies in Africa, despite its relatively small population (5 million)
- The US government considers Eritrea to be a CPC or Country of Particular Concern because of restraints on the freedom to practice religions other than the main religion of the state.
- Seyoum Tsehaye is a jailed Eritrean journalist, who was awarded 'Reporter of the Year' in 2007, by Reporters without Borders.
- Eritrea's highest point is called Emba Soira and is more than 3,000 metres (almost 10,000 feet) above sea level. 
- The Hedareb tribe use ritual scarification - the Italians called them the 111 tribe, due to the three linear scars that men carve on their faces.
- The Kunama tribe are mostly animists and believe in a supreme deity called Anna.
- One of the Dahlak Islands, off Eritrea's coast, in the Red Sea, is called Nora!
- The only newspaper in Eritrea is the state-run Haddas Eritrea.
- Traditional Eritrean houses, known as Hidmo, require the felling of 100 trees to build, with a lot of wasted wood.  Eritrea, like many countries, has suffered from massive deforestation - whereas 30% of Eritrea was covered in forests, a century ago, nowadays, only 1% of the country is forested. 

The Final Word

One of the things that surprised me most about Eritrea is that fact that cycling is considered to be a national sport.  I guess it's another legacy of Italian colonisation but, if the country's national cycling tour, the Giro d'Eritrea is anything to go by, Eritreans take their cycling seriously.  The first races were held in 1946 and 1947, but didn't happen again until 2001 and have been held every year since.  I can imagine it's quite a tough ride, 700 miles in ten stages, including some very mountainous terrain.  It's quite reassuring, in a way, after reading about so much war and suffering, to also read about something as mundane as a cycling tournament.  I'd recommend this Guardian article from 2006, which cleverly captures the mood in Eritrea when the Giro is in progress!

An Eritrean Swansong

And, last but not least!  I've had a great time listening to the music of the Asmara All Stars and the beautiful voice of Eritrean songstress, Faytinga.  Eritrean music sounds different than music in other parts of Africa - the high-pitched female voice reminds me of Bollywood, or traditional Chinese songs - the rhythm is more Arabian than African.  It certainly makes for an interesting combination of sounds.  I'm going to leave you with a Youtube video featuring Faytinga that I found really touching - it's called (simply) Eritrea -  I hope you've enjoyed my 'journey' to Eritrea as much as I have - next up is F . . .



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Both photos on this blog post were taken by me - please feel free to reuse them with the Creative Commons License:

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