The Eritrean Diaspora and ‘Travelling Without Seeing’

Articles - General

Every year the Eritrean diaspora from all parts of the world return to the homeland. Most stay for less than a couple of months. Some are lucky to stay and visit for a longer time.

The Eritrean diaspora primarily visit major cities and stay in locations that represent the closest version of Western style of living. If they get to visit their home village, it is likely to be just for a day, which does not give them time to form a connection with the area.

This, in my opinion, amounts to ‘travelling without seeing’, a phrase from an old New York Times opinion article which makes the point that in this modern era people are so attached to their technology that even when they travel to a new place, their hearts and minds are emotionally elsewhere. Many in the Eritrean diaspora are guilty of this.

It is sad to hear or see people who were born or raised in Eritrea but now have residency in foreign countries suddenly belittle the very land that raised them. Some make remarks that their son or daughter came from X, Y, Z place and they are worried that the food, water, etc. in the village or city in Eritrea may make them sick.

Ironically, these very Eritrean diaspora parents seem to have lost sight of the risk of bringing up their children in the West surrounded by smartphones and other modern technologies that cause them to be addicted to the technology and develop anti-social behavior.

My advice to the Eritrean diaspora is not to make the mistake of ‘travelling without seeing’. Visit every town and village, big or small, while in Eritrea and encourage your children and grandchildren to do the same. You do not need a lot of time or other resources to visit as long as you put your heart and mind to it.

A trip that equals ‘travelling with seeing’ creates memories that last a lifetime. You are never going to know your Eritrean heritage by simply staying in the four walls of your apartment, villa, or hotel in Eritrea or by simply visiting a rural community on a one-day trip. You create lifetime memories walking, sitting, eating, sleeping and living alongside your fellow Eritreans. You make connections with people living in the country that is real and lasting.

I am writing from personal experience about travelling in Eritrea with an open heart and mind. Do not listen to relatives who may mock your openness to travel to experience Eritrea. I was blessed and fortunate to visit Eritrea a couple of times. Both my visits were for extended periods, and I was able to visit a variety of cities in Eritrea.

I made sure not to stay in hotels in order to get the authentic experience with my relatives. As a result, even though I still struggle speaking fluent Tigrinya, I was able to enjoy authentic travels by living in the village with my grandparents for several months. Of course, the majority of my relatives were not supportive.

Urban residents of Eritrea tend to look down on someone who lives or stays in rural area for an extended period of time. This is simply a wrong outlook. Our village communities are not representations of backwardness. They are the very foundation of the wealth of our culture and knowledge as Eritreans.

You will find relatives or acquaintances who bother you about returning to your life abroad as if being a diaspora takes away your right to live in and enjoy being in your own homeland.

Eritrean diaspora face similar challenges as any diaspora to deal with the issues of cultural integration. One good idea would be for administrators to work with the Ministry of Tourism in rural areas to organize annual gatherings to welcome back the Eritrean diaspora so that they may learn to love the traditional ways of living that made Eritreans who they are.

Regardless of what people say, be yourself and enjoy the beauty of ‘travelling with seeing’ the highlands and lowlands from Teseney to Tserona, from Adi Quala to Segheneyti, from Asmara to Agordat, from Sahel to the Red Sea.

Eritrea has a lot to offer to her people both inside and outside the country. As we approach the beginning of a new decade in 2010, I hope that many more of our sisters and brothers in the Eritrean diaspora will have a chance to truly ‘travel with seeing’ by always remembering and living the values of our nation.