Okay, let’s calm down. Yes, summer rain is here, it took a while but it is pouring now. And it is awesome —Beles! Shorts! Sandals! Massawa! For those of us who have to keep formal appearances for work, well we can only day dream about wearing shorts and playing in the puddle of water during summer.
The old folks say that if it doesn’t rain as early as it should, then it is our fault. You see, a lot of Eritreans associate rain with the community’s religious performance for that year. If the floodgates of heaven are closed, it is because of our sins. Let us love one another and do good works.
Come every summer my grandmother complains about the inequities of society at large. Once during our endless chats I said that she should brace herself for a very wet summer.
“Who said it will rain?” she asked.
“Our weather bureau, of course,” I said blithely.
“That is the problem,” she sighed. “Trying to play God and predict rains.”
“Well, don’t we in our tradition say that if the wind blows from the sea, or if the moon has a halo there would be good rains?” I said.
“Yes” she admitted.
“What the meteorologists are saying is no more different from what our wise forefathers used to say in the past,” I explained. “The only difference is that modern meteorologist use scientific instruments, while our forefathers resorted to accumulated experience.”
Grandparents past 80 don’t want to listen to reason.
If the seasons were people, Fall would be the attractive, clean-cut, sophisticated one. Winter is just a cold-hearted creature that everyone just wants to go away. Spring is cute and playful and can be pretty fun. But, summer? Summer is a laid back not care about anything hippie.
Recently, during one of our unbearably hot weekend days, my little siblings and I watched movies and played video games all afternoon while eating cookies. We may have set a couch sitting record, but we didn’t feel guilty. We had nothing important to do and nowhere that we had to be. It was the quintessential lazy summer day, and we had a blast.
In the afternoon the young, dressed in their modern attire, are seen flocking to down town Harnet Avenue to meet with friends and hang out at some of the most famous pubs around the city and summer evening are just heavenly.
When I was a kid, as each summer approached, besides having to play soccer and not do homework, the Eritrean festival was among the many other things we looked forward to. The festival gives you a sense of belonging, home is usually were you most feel comfortable and the Expo ground for seven days of summer is to a great extent, home to all nine Eritrean ethnic groups, inventors, different institutions, national associations and many others who are eager to show their ethnic groups trait and in the process prove the harmony Eritrea possess.
This national festival, which one foreign visitor once rightly called Eritrea’s cultural bonanza, provides a ground not only for interaction between local communities but also for encouraging the articulation of local cultural traditions in terms of national integration. This year it will be held at the end of the current month from July 31st to August 8th. I for one can’t wait to be part of it.
On the other hand, we have the wonderful foods during the summer months. This is the time to enjoy fruits, ice-cream, and cotton candy during the festival. Hamburgers are now basically a common staple among the youth and for some reason they taste better in summer and above all there isn’t anything better than eating beles (Prickly Pear).
It is said that our beles was introduced by Abba Jacobis of Hebo in 1953 when he first settled in Segeneti. I am not sure for what purpose the Padre brought it to Eritrea, but beles is a very nutritional type of fruit can be used to fence fields and guard the soil against erosion. When dry, the stem is used as fuel instead of wood. Although some livestock eat its hardy stems in time of drought, they don’t seem to relish it altogether. I have seen sheep sniffing at it and deciding to leave it alone.
When we were young, our mothers used to warn us about eating large quantities of beles. You don’t heed their warning and your intestines simply get clogged and you get a type of constipation that is difficult to explain to even the most experienced of doctors. I remember mothers taking their ‘clogged’ children to the hospital who were then ‘douched’ and sometimes made to drink water mixed with berbere for fast elimination. Imagine unprocessed berbere passing through your anus on its way to the cesspool.
When my parents were kids they bought four for a single cent. If they had ten cents in their pockets, they could buy 40 beles, enough to feed a family of nine for one day, and if you had ten kirshi you could feed a whole battalion ready to go to war.
Now you have agreed one for one Nakfa. The beles vendor unburdens himself of his zembil, you, of course don’t help him for fear of having thorns, coarse and fine, all over you.
He takes his ‘pocket knife’ and starts making incisions on the fruit, first length wise and then sidewise at both ends and ‘unwraps’ it to reveal the flesh inside. You stretch out your hand and take the seed-studded fruit, put it in your mouth and crush it between your teeth, gently and softly. Unable to separate the seed from the flesh, you have no choice but to swallow the whole content. You enjoy the taste and you feel like eating more and more. Before you know it you are hooked like an addict on heroine. Someone has to tell you when to stop.
Usually the summer rain comes and goes in minutes, fascinatingly local when a kilometer or two down the road remains bone dry. However this season’s rain has been quite a spectacle to say the least. It somehow feels as if it is a peace reward, purging and pouring, and inside the storms is another, existential world.
Mercifully, I was in a café shop during one rainy day this past week, I was lucky enough to have a seat by the windows and once the rain started it was hard not to glance through the windows and enjoy the rain pouring down, even have a laugh here and there at the expense of the ones caught in the rain outside.
I had also been lucky enough to experience the phenomena that have dominated discussion hours at home, work places, bus and taxi stops, and even the simplest of walks with friends.
“Did you enjoy the rain, last night?” asks one friend.
“Heavenly, it is like the world was being cleansed and being rid of all sins.” replies the other.
“I hate the rain, kept me woke the whole night!” jumps into the conversation the third, of course there is definitely always one person who hates all things good just as much as everyone hates getting up for work on a Monday morning.
And then the weddings, the streets are jammed with traffic congestion because of the more than normal flow of vehicles, most of which were wedding procession cars. Given that it is summer, rain, as much as it is welcome, it is somewhat considered enemy number one. Nobody wants rain on the day that the bride is wearing white and everybody is on their best outfits.
However, regardless of the ruined wedding ceremonies or that one person who doesn’t like rain for no reason at all, summer in Eritrea is something to enjoy, and that old cliché about Christmas being the most ‘magical’ time of the year has just never quite rang true with me. It was always summer.