Deciding to temporarily move to Eritrea a few months ago was the most spontaneous decision I have ever made. I was a fresh college graduate not entirely sure which direction I wanted to take my life in. A very privileged problem to have, I know. I figured that living in Asmara for a few months would help me collect my thoughts and inspire me to curate the future lifestyle that I wanted. My parents fully supported this plan. I was able to create a game plan within one month: live in Paradizo with my mom’s parents, volunteer with Eritrea Profile, take some classes, and eventually move back to the United States and buckle down as a well-rounded adult, ready to get my MA or enter the workforce with practical experience and knowledge.
You can see how this game plan was very self-beneficial. However, I immediately hit an awkward snag within my first few weeks living in Asmara: I felt like an inconvenience for my extended family. Vacationing in Eritrea over the summer is one thing – everyone is used to “beles” during that time of the year. Deciding to stay for an unspecified amount of time, however, was sure to become an issue. In essence, I felt like too much of a guest in the homes of my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Was I burdening them? How long could this possibly go on for? I wanted to adapt, to become as close to “Gual Asmara” as possible.
I started small. I began helping out with household chores: dishes, laundry, and other tasks. You would think this would be light work (tedious and unimportant), but it was actually a huge shift from doing chores back in the United States. Cleanliness is huge in Asmara, and it tends to take up a lot of time. I wasn’t aware of that until my cousin handed me a broom and instructed me to clean the “kansholo.” For those unaware, I was being asked to sweep up outside; literally dirt, leaves, and miscellaneous trash. Disdainfully, I began splashing water on the cement to get rid of the “dorona.” I was very confused. “Isn’t cleaning outside useless? It’ll naturally get dirty again within hours,” I tried reasoning. “Yes, but dust gets easily swept inside so it’s best to try to minimize that,” my cousin explained. Laundry would take around four hours on a good day. I would find myself begging my youngest cousin to massage my sore and aching back by the end of the night (he has yet to say yes).
I began walking around everywhere, trying to find a shortcut from Paradizo to ketema, from ketema to Tiravolo. I wanted to learn Asmara like the back of my hand. What I ended up learning is that walking around the city for an extended period of time in the afternoon is sure to cause dehydration and intense tan lines. I was exhausted. My body wasn’t used to what seemed to be so simple for the rest of my family. I kept at it – adapt or die was a real mission statement for me! The more I began to follow the daily routines of my family, the easier it became for me to appreciate and understand the lifestyle that they live. As I visited the same places, I began making new friends, which helped provide me with even more perspectives of the Asmara lifestyle.
I began to forget the original game plan. I wanted to spend hours talking to any and all of my family members, attempting to expand the topics of our conversations as my Tigrigna began to progress. I learned that I wasn’t the only person with a game plan. I had cousins who were intent on marrying soon, others who were attempting to apply for scholarships, and still others who had no idea what tomorrow was going to bring. There was also aunts and uncles who simply wanted me to go on Messenger and check on their children who live abroad. As I got closer with my relatives, I began to feel more satisfied and comfortable opening up on my real purpose here: I wanted to understand myself more. My character traits, my vices, my values, and shortcomings. I wanted to know if I could trace if I am the way I am because of my Eritrean background. Could I find that I am related to some family members in more ways than just our DNA? I am fortunate and lucky for the upbringing that I was given and I simply wanted to do more with that luck than the average youth in the diaspora. By studying and involving yourself in different ways of life, I think one is able to become better-rounded. You are able to acquire new skills and levels of compassion that can potentially take you very far in life.
With a few months left for me to go here in Asmara, I feel more confident in why I am here. Although adapting is an everyday process, I am excited to continue using this unique experience to further learn more about who I am and what I want. I hope in doing this I am able to give something tangible and of substance back to all of my family members and the Asmara community. Additionally, since the Eritrean lifestyle isn’t monolithic, I figured it would be a great idea to branch out and attempt to learn from other areas in Eritrea as well.
Beleza, I’m coming for you next!