Recently, I have had the pleasure of meeting a man who has a boundless love for Eritrea, Giovanni Fasanella, from the Italian Embassy. He knows a lot about Eritrea which some of us don’t give much attention. Eritrea, as a nation and its people, has a great part in his heart. He calls it “My home in a place far from home”. I present you Giovanni.
- -Thank you for joining us today Mr. Giovanni.
My pleasure, thanks for having me.
- -A little introduction about you.
I am from a small region in Italy which has a great connection with Eritrea. It is the village that gave birth to Abune Yaqob, the first man who brought the Catholic faith to Eritrea. My grandmother used to tell me his stories and the passionate love he had for the country. He arrived in Eritrea long before the Italians settled in their colony. He lived his life here and chose to be buried near the people he loved, the Eritreans. I grew up listening to his magnificent stories that made my interests in the country grow bigger. In addition, I also had my mother’s uncle, who lived in Eritrea. He worked with the construction companies here, and he was also a photographer. I used to enjoy listening to his trip and looking at the photos he had taken. Then I started to read and dig in more about the historical and magnificent country. Moreover, when I was studying Law at Perugia University, I had to present a research paper on International Relations. I chose to present a topic on ‘Eritrea the colonization”. Afterwards, because I am an employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Italy, I was presented with choice list of more than 100 countries to work, and without hesitation, Eritrea was my choice.
- -Your role at the Embassy.
I am at the Administrative attaché in charge of Cultural and Commercial affairs. Basically, what I do is promoting the initiatives related to cultures and commercial affairs. It is obvious that the embassy is a link between the two countries. Since I like the culture department I felt responsible to preserve the culture between the two countries. I feel like people of the two nations are close and had been a while since they met. So, it is important to keep the great cultures alive. Otherwise, it would be a shame to forget these shared heritages.
The embassy promotes the Italian archeological missions in Adulis and Buya in collaboration with Eritrean Institutions. The findings were given a full coverage in Italian media. Almost 100 articles were published inside Italy and another 70 are distributed worldwide. Further, the embassy supports the activities of the Asmara Heritage Project that prepared the dossier for the UNESCO candidacy in the city, which I think is an important task. It is very nice to see that the two countries use their past history of brotherhood to help each other.
- -Eritrea for the Italians…
Absolutely their second home. As people we share a long history. They feel at home, of course, never anywhere else. They would go to a bar and find old elegant people who call them wedey (my son) while playing billiardo. Going to cafes and seeing people enjoying a breakfast of macchiato and paste. That is the Italian tradition, still been carried out by the present generation. For the Italians, these habits are one of the many things treasured. Moreover the roads, the architecture, cinemas, and rail ways are almost similar to the ones in Italy. So, I guess they like to visit and enjoy these experiences.
- -Of the buildings of the country…
The most interesting part is the art-deco old buildings you have here. Asmara is one of the modernistic architecture in the world. As a matter of fact, the coming month is a big month for Eritrea as the results will be revealed if the country would make it to the list of UNESCO World Heritage. I hope that it would make it as it is going to be a big accomplishment for the country. Number of tourists would rise tremendously. People would pay a lot to stay here. Making it to the list would help Eritrea be recognized for its historic places and backgrounds. There are some buildings which could be one of the first in Africa. They are also very remarkable, as the Italians first built Asmara then Massawa. But if you care to take a look, Massawa is a totally different city. They obviously used their mind but used the local architecture as well. We have a beautiful example, for instance, Enda Mariam Church. The shape is of a typical Italian style of the time but the technical construction is Eritrean. The same goes for the Massawa’s buildings.
Not only the buildings but the railways also are the best features of the country. It is actually one of the most beautiful railways of the country. Even after a 100 years of its establishment, its technical foundation is still functional.
- -You enjoy long walks outside the city…
Yes. We have an Asmara hiking group. We go hiking and enjoy the beautiful natural resource Eritrea offers. It is nice to spend time enjoying the nature. But the most beautiful time I have had was walking to the old railways to Keren, which is a beautiful place for a tourist attraction. The tunnels and the view from the upper hills are just mesmerizing. I went to Ghindae through the Drfo valley. I read a book in the past which talked about a time during the Italian colonization at the Drfo valley. I wanted to see it and was really impressed to see people speaking different languages of different ethnic groups. To be honest, the diversity in Eritrea is what makes it more interesting and beautiful, I would say.
- -Places that has astonished you?
Besides the infrastructures, art-decos, railways, cinemas and historical caves, and the islands. The Dahlak islands. The Red-Sea is the mine of Eritrea. I feel like there is heaven under the waters. There are no many places as pure as Eritrea’s waters. By the way, that is the not only place that amazed me in Eritrea, people as well are good. They are the most friendly and peaceful people. As a foreigner, I would walk in the middle of the night without fearing anything would happened to me. They are always there to help if you need them and I appreciate that.
- -You will be leaving Eritrea by the end of this year, how do you feel?
Uneasy! Uncomfortable. I have been here for almost six and half years. I was supposed to leave last year but I begged my ministry for one more year, and I got it. When the year was over I asked for more, but it doesn’t seem to happen. I am going to dearly miss everything here.
- -Anything you want to share with us at last?
Great people and great culture. What I recommend to Eritreans is to take time to know more about their historic country. To enjoy the natural advantages they have, because people would pay a lot to see these places. Also, I think that the Government of Eritrea has been doing a great job in preserving art-deco buildings. It is a great heritage and I think that it is time for Eritrea to be considered one of the beautiful places in the world.