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Blessings and Lessons: A Story about Home (Eritrea)

Vibrant & Beautiful Asmara, Eritrea (Credit: Paul/

Blessings and Lessons: A Story about Home
Fikrejesus Amahazion, Ph.D.

Bang. Banng. BANG! "Fikre! Aleka? Tesi'e ata! Fikre!" I rolled over, groaning and rubbing my eyes, confused with the loud commotion at my door. "What is going on?" I muttered to myself. As if on cue, a loud, shrill sound made things quite clear. "Cooooo-Coooooo-Crooooooo!" Crowed the rooster in the yard. Then I remembered. The night before I had promised my cousins and several of the neighborhood children I would take them for an athletic training session (what they referred to simply as "sport") in the morning. Yet, when agreeing to do so, little did I imagine that "Tsebah negho," meant 5:41am to them, and not something along the lines of 7 or 8am (which I had foolishly assumed). Oh well, let's go get it!

I got out of bed, threw on some slacks and a sweatshirt, and went to open the door, lest the boys break it down. Opening the door, I saw that it was still quite dark outside, with the sun yet to fully rise. The air was cool, crisp, and clean. I inhaled greedily and stretched my arms. In the far distance, I could see "Haz-Haz" (a nearby neighborhood); some of the donkeys, horses, and cows were already out, ambling along lazily. Returning my attention to the boys at my door, I glanced from left to right, seeing a bunch of warm, smiling faces, eager to get going. Their ages ranged from ten to fourteen, and they all had "shidas" (rubber sandals that became iconic during the country's liberation struggle) on their feet. Rubbing their heads playfully, I headed to the bathroom, pleading with the boys for some patience. As I turned towards the bathroom, I noticed that the faucet feeding into the large water drums was running smoothly. I smiled to myself, engulfed with happiness; water is life, and it was wonderful to see a clear steady stream of water running from the tap. This is what we would drink and wash with. I couldn't help but recall how, not too many years ago, this country's rate of access to clean, running water was amongst the lowest in the world (thus breeding terribly high rates of disease and mortality). Yet now, after much national investment, the vast majority of people could simply turn a handle and fill-up large drums with clean water. On top of the various health and wellness benefits, an added bonus of running water was that people could more efficiently get on with their day - heading to school or work, rather than having to walk long, barren, dusty, rocky miles to fetch water.

Quickly snapping out of my thoughts, I was met by the rooster outside the bathroom. My aunt (with whom I was staying) had purchased him for a special meal sometime later in the week. Appearing quite content, the rooster was slurping water out of a shallow pan. I cautiously stepped around him, making sure to avoid stepping on any of the messes he had made (and there were many!)...but hey, sh-t happens.

As we all headed out, we exchanged goodbyes with my aunt and my mother, who were still in their room, preparing and organizing for the day. The housing layout is far different to that in the west. Generally, people have small compound-like living areas, with large steel doors at the entrance. My aunt had a small bathroom (with toilet, sink, etc.), as well as a storage room (to store various items, food, etc.). On one end of the compound was a room, sub-divided into two more rooms. The smaller one was her young boys' bedroom (and an area for more storage), and the larger one was her bedroom, living room, and dining room - all in one. Then there was another general room on the other end of the compound (where I slept). The rooms were not connected; instead, one had to walk outside to enter a different room. In the small common area outside the rooms, yet still within the compound, there were several large water drums (to be filled to the brim with clean water from the pipes, and others that were used to collect rainwater caught in the eaves troughs), a kitchen-like area (for prepping or cooking food' and washing dishes, clothes, etc.), clothes lines to dry wet clothes, and also a large collection of firewood. Although relatively small, the homes were cozy, comfortable, and welcoming - like the people.

Closing the large front door behind us, I noticed that though it was still early, the streets were buzzing with activity. To the left of our home, there was a small convenience shop where one could purchase almost anything. The owner, a small, wiry, middle-aged woman, was organizing her stand and preparing for the day. Greeting her as we passed by, I noticed there was already milk in jugs and warm bread, both delivered fresh, and she pleasantly assured us that "beles" (local fruit) would be arriving soon.

Much like the reaction to the running water at my aunt's house, I was again overtaken with positive emotion. Seeing the woman busy at her shop, my mind drifted to thinking of how, years ago, the girls and women of this young country were oppressively shackled by an array of overbearing, traditional, patriarchal norms and traditions. Amongst the many societal customs and beliefs was the notion that the only place for women was in the home, away and out of sight. However, many things changed as a result of the country's 30-year long liberation struggle. Beyond the pursuit of political emancipation, the struggle was also focused on bringing about a large-scale socio-cultura, economic, and societal revolution. The success of the liberation struggle in 1991 ushered in a monumental societal shift, leading to women no longer being categorized as inferior, but as full equals and key members of society. I quietly thought how this woman and her shop beautifully embodied the concepts of independence, liberation, empowerment, and agency.

"Allah-uuuu Akbarrrr!" The loud call to prayer broke my train of thought. The path toward the "meda" (field) took us by the neighborhood mosque, and there were droves of people hustling to pray. Quietly admiring their dedication, I looked to my left and saw another amazing sight. What seemed to be hundreds of people were making their way towards the neighborhood church. Appearing angelic, many women were wearing the traditional Eritrean "zuria" (white, robe-like clothing), and their collective movement created an elegant sea of white. Shaking my head slowly, I began to think of the unlikely beauty of the scene unfolding before me.

Here were two houses of worship, representing two different faiths, each with steady streams of people making their way to the respective entrances, and both separated by no more than forty yards (or less than the distance that one of the boys with me could kick a ball). I asked the boys how common this type of scene was and whether the neighborhood or general region had ever witnessed any conflicts (particularly religious based). Somewhat taken aback, the boys described how this was a basic daily occurrence, and just shook their heads to signal "no" at the suggestion of conflict. Then one of the boys, with one eyebrow raised, asked, "Why fight? We are the same. A family." I smiled and nodded in agreement, ruefully thinking how much more peaceful the world would be with such a simple, yet profound, outlook. Then almost as if to prove his point, the group of boys quickly parted. Half headed to the mosque, while the other half made their way to the church. As they all sped off, they assured me thT they would be right back.

And there I was. Standing alone, yet smiling. On a dusty road, in the middle of Eritrea. Awake for less than one hour, but having already absorbed a world's worth of blessings and lessons.

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Blessings and Lessons: A Story about Home (Eritrea) Reviewed by Admin on 9:08 AM Rating: 5

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