As a child of immigrant parents, I was taught that even though I may be American by birth, I will always be Eritrean/Ethiopian by blood, and my parents worked extra hard to ensure that our culture and traditions were instilled in me from an early age. Growing up, I spent my summers playing on the streets of Tiravolo (a neighborhood in Asmara) and never felt different than the local children. I want this for my children. They might be second-generation Americans, but they hold a piece of something beautiful inside them. They hold the habesha (meaning from Eritrea/Ethiopia) blood and just as my parents instilled our culture and traditions in me, I want to do the same for them.
I’m a firm believer in the saying “everything happens for a reason." This trip was planned to give my mother a gift of having Novena (our youngest daughter) baptized with her presence and in the church that my parents both grew up. The timing was perfect because we would also be able to spend the holidays together. My sister, aunt, and cousins all got on board and purchased their tickets even before I did. All to make my family in Asmara happy. It just so happened that Grams (my grandma) fell ill weeks before our trip which got my remaining aunt in London to come down for a visit.
The past few weeks were nothing short of a miracle. Grams enjoyed every minute of the time we spent with her and the children embraced their culture. I showed them all my favorite places in the city and taught them something new about Eritrea every day. We spent time with the family visiting historical sites, talking, laughing and just being together.
We visited Holy Sites like Mariam Deárit in Keren, where there is a blessed statue of the Virgin Mary placed in an oak tree and has been there for over 500 years untouched by anything. I took them hiking up a mountain in Dar Limba near Elabered to see the exact spot where the Virgin Mary was seen by two visionaries. She first appeared to an elderly visionary and told him to pray pray pray and that God was watching over Eritrea, that we would get liberated but if we did not pray there would be even more bloodshed after independence. She also said there would be rainfall for over a year after independence and as dry as that area is, rain was pouring for precisely one year as she stated. Years later our Lady came back and started visiting a young girl from that same village. The girl said she had light surrounding her and was very beautiful, she told her to pray and that God is watching but is disappointed in what he is seeing.
We went to the beach and enjoyed family time at the famous Gurgussum beach resort. We swam in the Red Sea and collected shells together with my mother. Lorenzo and Bini went fishing by Dahlak islands, and we spent our evenings sitting on the beach with a bonfire and playing cards or walking around the city of Massawa.
As a way to teach my son Lorenzo the importance of his name and heritage, we visited the church and school where my great grand-father Lorenzo Taezaz was educated in Keren and became a Catholic. My family and I learned why he was given the name Lorenzo by the missionaries and that it was during his time at St. Michaels Church that he learned the importance of education. Later Lorenzo became the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia during Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign and held a permanent delegate seat at the League of Nations representing Ethiopia.
The amazing part of our trip was the time we spent together. I’ve never seen my mother this happy. My kids loved playing in our yard and with the dogs. They loved taking long walks downtown in the evenings. They learned words in our language, and most importantly they learned about their family history. They know more about where they come from now, and they understand why Asmara and the people here mean so much to me.
I’ve saved the best part for last! For all those that know about Eritrea and Ethiopia, the two neighboring countries are typically not on good terms. I will not bring politics into my post because that’s not my agenda, but I will say that I had my doubts about bringing Bini (an Ethiopian) with me to Eritrea. I was worried about the language barrier and him feeling left out or not enjoying his stay, especially since he is such a businessman and always wants to be on the go. Naturally, he got to work helping my mother and aunts with their properties and teaching them new ways to monitor their funds. He learned new words in Tigrinya with the children and used them often. He also learned that so many of the people there speak Amharic (the Ethiopian language) and to make him feel comfortable, they talked to him in his language. Those that didn’t speak it and were around us a lot, starting teaching him words to make him feel at home. Several of the traditions and words were the same, so that also helped make Bini feel at ease. I was worried about nothing; he loved his stay and is willing to go back anytime. More importantly, though, he now understands why I love the city so much and why I want the children to hold it near and dear to their hearts as well.
For all the Eritreans living abroad that have married Ethiopians, feel free to bring him/her to your country and enjoy it. Let them see for themselves that beauty we call Eritrea and I guarantee you they will fall in love with it just as you have. Don’t waste time the way I did. We all got so much out of our trip. The kids learned more about their culture, the value of family time and how wonderful it is to serve others and do good for those in need. Bini learned more about my past and got to experience first hand the beauty of Eritrea, and I got to fall in love all over again with Asmara and all its wonders as my family immersed themselves in the culture.