Remembering the Eritrean Railway
The Eritrean Railway
A short note on Eritrean railway that I read today, reminds me the legendary Ferovia where I grew up during my teen years.
To begin with, the construction of the Eritrean railway during the first quarter of the last century was a major achievement of colonial Italy. The Italians planned it , but the workers were Eritreans who accustomed to back breaking work under scourging heat of the Red Sea sun. It took more than a decade to finalize the Asmara-Massawa railway due to rugged mountains with over forty short and long tunnels extending from Nefasit to Inda Qirqos, about a mile away from Betghiorgis Middle School.
Our forefathers as askari or native colonial soldiers were herded like cattle in ጸላም ባቡር (a smoky train) headed to Massawa where they were transported to Tripoli by sea. The desperate mothers and wives who came to the railway station to bid them good bye were singing as the following:-
ባቡር መጸት ትኪ ተኸዲና
ጓል እኖኻ ትበኪ ደኒና።
The smoky train is approaching
While your sister is weeping.
And those who were unwilling to go to Libya campaign....
ጸላኢና ትሩቡሊ ኺዶ
ኣብኡ ሰብ ኣለውን'ዶ
ብኻራ ገዲፎም ብጋየዶ።
How we wish
march to Tripoli
For there are people
Who live there
Willing to fight
With knife and spade.
However, these Alpanian people were not satisfied with slow railway line winding through a chain of mountains. In the thirties, the Italians built the longest airal ropeway (telefe'rica) in the world which was dismantled following the British Military Administration in Eritrea. The spare parts were sold to South Africa by ruling Britons. In the early sixties, one could see some remaining parts down the horrific ditch of Shegrini about seven kilometers away from Asmara.
On the occasion of the annual pilgrimage to Debre Bizen, the trip by train was the cheapest, and for the most part enjoyable to see the Eritrean landscape with many scattered hamlets, wild animals and fruits such as beles including short trees with their refreshing scent. At night, one could see from the top of Debre Bizen overlooking the mountain scenery of Azienda with zigzag country roads and railways illuminating and flashing by approaching big trucks and trains. Early in the morning, it is possible to see Massawa with powerful binocular.
On the morrow, it was fearsome to go down the mountain hurriedly in order to catch the afternoon train from Massawa bound to Asmara. At times, it was hard to find unoccupied seat, and those who could not afford to pay for train ticket had to hid under the seat. As the train departing under cloudy afternoon, we were singing as the following which is still fresh in my memory:
መንበሩ'የ ወርቂ መንበሩ'የ
ፊሊጶሰይ ወርቂ መንበሩ።
Implying the golden chair of Abune or father Filipos who is believed to be a patron saint of the monastery of Debre Bizen.
And when we arrived in asamra railway station.....,
ዓመት ንዓመት'የ የድግመና።
ዓመት ንዓመት'የ የድግመና።
Which means next year in Debre Bizen.
I hope, as soon as the railway service in Eritrea is restored, the younger generation in the Diaspora will have enjoyable trip with exotic mountain scenery to see down, down the Asmara-Massawa road.
Remembering the Eritrean Railway Reviewed by Admin on 10:55 AM Rating: