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Eritrean relationships Between Diaspora and the Homeland: Does it work?

Young Eritrean couple from Seattle on their wedding day. (Photo Credit: Seare and Beri)

By Mellu Gual-Jerry

I am quite sure that many young people ponder on this question quite often and the arguments vary between those who are against and the others hoping it could work. This discussion comes on the table quite often and I have to say even my friends and I have had this topic raised.

Nowadays, with the ease to communicate through different social media and also the fact that many youth are travelling to the homeland, little romances often start with someone living in the country. But how often does it end up with a marriage?

Many would consider that it is unthinkable for many reasons while others would think that love has no limit.

Well, here is the first point of debate: the question of love, and consequently the issue of trust. The latter, obviously, often goes in hand with love. For different reasons, long distance relationships are seen as improbable and difficult to handle because of the trust issue. I have to say that most women believe that they cannot trust men and that distance would make it even more difficult to build up this trust.

When looking back in our culture, most men had difficulties in being faithful but that’s probably general to the nature of most men. Not to generalize, but let’s be honest, a man is a hunter and with the high beauty standard of Eritrean women, the statistics in regards to Eritrean men as being faithful is usually lower. I am sure many of you would think this is too stereotyping but from what I see both in the Diaspora and also here in the homeland, there is some truth in it. And at all levels of society.

So how could we build a relationship between someone who was raised in the Diaspora and one within the country? What would the challenges be, apart from the distance? In fact, distance is usually a matter of time and it could be just a temporary step before deciding on the best place to settle together.

I believe there are more important challenges to face linked with the question of trust. Trust is not just about being faithful but also being true to the other person on his/her aims. Most parents living abroad warn their children before going to Eritrea to be careful and not trust men or women. On the other hand, stereotypes on those living abroad are immense too as being individualistic, lacking values and not carrying traditional values or for being too liberal.

Many also have the ‘inferiority’ complex as feeling not financially stable enough to manage a relationship with someone raised abroad, which could end in losing the person because of this fear.

But does money really matter if you find the right person?

I am a true believer of love and in my opinion when two people are meant to be together, the external factors can be managed in the easiest way by putting both strengths together. This might sound too ‘nice’ and ‘naïve’ to many of you but let’s face it, human beings, by nature, are not meant to be alone and most of the time happiness and challenges are overcome when two people are facing them together.

More seriously, let’s talk about the meaning of love. Am I the only one to notice a change in our behavior, in our society both within the Diaspora and in the homeland? As the question of love is a rare feeling, it is more and more often misused by many for other aims, mostly material gains or opportunities such as getting a foreign passport or for financial stability.

This brings us back to the main issue of trust. Nowadays the romantic move to find your love is overwhelmed by other hidden goals. Without a doubt, love is, many times, used for other opportunities. This is not the case just of Eritrea but in many parts of the developing world.

From what I see, in recent years many young women in their early 20s are getting married to someone double their age or more, usually a man who came from abroad for a couple of months just ‘to find a wife’. Families would then rush to find the appropriate one to marry. Without even realizing it, many girls would accept to marry an unknown person for the sake of having the opportunity to go abroad, for financial purposes or more often because of family pressure. That takes us back to the old days of arranged marriages, which I personally prefer to call forced marriage.

In fact, while our culture is giving more empowerment to women, we witness a return to backward idea where women and girls are just given away by their parents to the first rich guy that comes asking or to the one living in America for instance. Where is the place of love in all these cultural pressures by some families?

Just the other day, I saw this beautiful young bride (probably around 19-21 years old) getting off the car and I was expecting to see a young man in his twenties as her husband. Well, to my utter disappointment, the groom was this man old enough to be her grandfather. This young girl had nothing else on her face than sadness. Even my mother, who was walking right beside me, could not stand it.

She said, “What’s wrong with the parents? As a mother only the happiness of your child matters. You carry your child for 9 months and you raise her to only sell her like a goat to anyone just for the sake of material gains.”

I couldn’t have said it better. While the National Union of Eritrean Women is working hard to eradicate such practices, it seems like this return to backwardness is directly linked to economic purposes or the false ideas about living abroad. There are even many local movies showing these practices and hopefully some would be aware of the harm they may cause.

Going back to my initial question, is a relationship possible between someone raised in the Diaspora and the other in the homeland? It could be a difficult one as there are cultural differences or when other aspects excluding love are involved.

From my opinion, the question of love is diminishing which, subsequently, could hinder a healthy relationship. Anyone doing anything without the feeling of love would at some point end up in a failure or mistrust. Yes, the question of trust is less likely to be undermined when there is love between two people.

Thus, dear readers, when you make a decision make sure that, feelings are involved and not just opportunities… There is nothing worse than living with regrets.
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