There is this Tigrinya proverb I like most: “Don’t be quick to make promises.” I once was a history instructor at Warsay Ykealo Secondary School in Sawa four years ago. On the eve of 2014, I, along with friends, were making resolutions and promises for the upcoming year. When it was my turn, I promised that one day I would return to Sawa to celebrate New Year’s Eve. I honored my promise by celebrating the arrival of 2016 in Sawa. My trip started from Asmara in the comfortable seats of a modern bus. The majority of the passengers were loud and humorous Sudanese tourists who came via Tessenei to enjoy Eritrea and were now returning home. The deafening voice of the tourists, accompanied by music videos blaring from the television screen made it feel like I was having fun in a modern cafe.
As the sun was preparing to rise, we found ourselves at the hair pin twist roads of Libi Tigreay in Anseba region. After a stop for tea at a place called Melhas, we were met by the sun’s rays at the Ela Berid estate. Originally developed in the early 20th century, it features vast fruit and vegetable plantations, small scale industries, a church, school, and residences shaded by large trees.
After enjoying such beauties, we passed through Keren, encircled by a vast chain of mountains, down the slope of the attractive Tinkulhas road. At last, we reached the Gash Barka meadow and had a special breakfast in a town called Aderde. Gash Barka appears to be a sea of endless plains, with fields of cereals, fruits and other cash crops, sustained by its rich underground water resources. It was also striking to observe the areas circumscribed by mountains. Houses along and far away from the road were made up of materials from the surrounding area. The communities rely on animal herding, agriculture and trade, and are rich in cultural heritage and unique traditional lifestyles.
We were travelling on smooth tarmac road, full of large and small causeways. It could serve small and large vehicles without any difficulty. On its side, were modern electric towers distanced far apart. Every now and then, we caught a glimpse of a number of burned vehicles scattered around various fields. These heavy metal vehicles were burned during the major battles of the armed struggle. They long since represented the patriotic fervor of the Eritrean fighters. They are our national heritage, which need special consideration and conservation as an historical legacy.
After very long hours of driving through villages and towns, I got off the bus in Haicota, since the bus was headed to Tesseney. I started my journey to Forto Sawa in a small Toyota minibus with very crowded with passengers via Hashenkit. Haicota’s fields are of great potential to agro-economic activity. The government has initiated investment in such modern agricultural systems by means of building dams. Large agro-economic activities have taken place in Molover, Haykotaa, At Himbol, Gerset, Fanko, and Hamaliet. To realize this, large dams have been built by internal potential at Gerset, Fankoo, and Kerkebet (Anseba).
After a tough and tiresome journey, at last I had reached my destination. In my distant view, Sawa and its hangars welcomed me with flags at the top of their roofs.
This is Sawa – a place of resistance and patriotism. Sawa is always at the heart of Eritrean national self-determination. It is a place where our youth promise to go on with our founders’ historical responsibility. It is a place of endurance, tolerance, creativity, brotherhood and social adaptability. Therefore, as a guest, I was enthusiastic to enjoy those national ideals. As planned, I met with the Sawa’s current occupants: The 29th round, military men, teachers and other civil members on the last day of 2015. I had the obligatory coffee ceremony with my former colleagues under the vast gaba trees that seem to cover most of Sawa.
This was the last day of 2015. Sawa youth, as expected, were hurriedly preparing for the New Year celebrations. Every Sawa member was eager to contribute to the beauty of the day. Different food varieties were cooked from meat and vegetables. Especially at the teacher’s hall, meat was cooked in up three to four types of kilwa, dilot, and zigni, with hot pepper and without. Beverages including, beer, Coke, juice, and traditional drinks like Sewa and Dummu-Dummu were prepared. The halls were decorated with colorful ribbons, flags and various quotes in English, Arabic, Tigrinya and other Eritrean languages with national and inspirational messages. Voice magnifiers were set for recreation and dancing.
My former colleagues were hospitable beyond recognition, with more generous attitudes towards guests like me. In Sawa, there are more than 300 academic teachers. All are professionals in their respective disciplines, hardworking and keen to learn more. They are highly committed to the responsibility they were entrusted with: to be accountable to thousands of their younger brothers and sisters, to teach and organize them and act as role models. It was an extremely astonishing moment for me to ring in the New Year with such kind of patriots, who are full of hope and initiative. As the New Year approached, we simply immersed ourselves in the pleasure of dancing to the Eritrean tunes that were playing in the speaker and stopping for a second or two for the camera flashes that created photographic memories.
Sawa is more over the place of a sophisticated organizational structure with both militaristic and academic ends. It is a place of thousands with cohesive military principles. Decisions for thousands may be hard somewhere else, but not in Sawa, which is built under the deep consciousness of our founding fathers. They are always the nucleus of Eritrea’s national survival. They teach the trainees historical legacies, encourage physical fitness, and empower them to realize their dreams. By in large, they teach tolerance, resistance, discipline, self-responsibility and integration. Therefore, it was a great opportunity for me to celebrate with those who are at the heart of such contribution.
As the New Year’s came near, their faces were full of hope and love. Combined with their fitness and well-designed military uniforms, they fulfilled the charismatic appearance of being soldiers. There was no hierarchy among them, but the boss and the layman, the military officer and the store keeper, the driver and the cook together enjoyed the utmost fun of the New Year’s celebration. What I witnessed through my own eyes was that in more than 20 brigades, things were all the same and everyone expressed lovingly their hopes for the prosperity of the coming year.
Moreover, Sawa is the melting pot of Eritrean society. Each year from all parts of the country with different backgrounds of ethnicity, religion and region, arrive Eritrean youth. This is entirely for educational purposes, aside from the obligation of every youth to promote his/her natural and social essence. Here were the new occupants of Sawa, the 29th round, with two strategic objectives and inseparable missions: (1) to have an access to an environment which is full of mutual academic cooperation and (2) to fulfill the national service program.
New Year with those students was also very unique. They celebrated it through sports competitions and enjoyed the day with Cokes, juice and attractive and tasty pizza with ‘’Happy New Year’’ written on its top. They were also exceptionally good at decorating their homes and enjoyed the the day through fashion shows, poems, and with their “do the best with the least” approach.
Some of us we may enjoy New Year’s celebrations by going to Massawa, some by going to modern night clubs, or perhaps enjoying a pint at bars with friends and even some not at all. From all of those I had experienced in the past, New Year in in Sawa was the best one. Having fulfilled my promise, I had returned back to Asmara a more proud Eritrean.
Last but not least, to Sawa, the hub of Eritrean national self-determination, it is my pleasure to say to you “HAPPY NEW YEAR”.