Within a few months of living in Asmara, I felt as if I had roughly understood the ins and outs of the city. In reference to my last article “The Importance of Adapting,” I noted that what I wanted the most out of my time in Eritrea was to become as close to “Gual Asmara” as possible – but there was, once again, another flaw in that game plan: I wasn’t working to become “Gual Eritrea.” I was noticing that although I was beginning to understand and embrace the culture and way of life in Asmara, life seemed to be completely different in other parts of the country. Sure, Beleza is only around twenty-minute drive from the city, but it definitely holds strong changes in comparison to the capital.When I began sharing my idea of going to Beleza to see if I could learn something new, I was met with the occasional “whoa, good luck.”
My grandmother (on my father’s side) resides in Beleza. Upon getting familiar with this area, I began telling people who helpfully pointed out my Tigrigna accent that I was from “Beleza,” when asked “Adiki abey diyu?” To this day, I fiercely argue and maintain my stance that I am from Beleza when anyone attempts to get me to admit that I am “kab dege.” It’s the little things that really makes my father proud of me!
Since my dad grew up in Beleza, I thought that I would perhaps feel a stronger connection with my roots there than in Asmara. In a sense, I was right. Spending time with members of my father’s family, I was able to learn more about his life prior to fleeing Eritrea at the age of sixteen (my father was a shepherd. I don’t even see shepherds back home!). I noticed how well-known the name “Haile-Emnay” seemed to be around Beleza. And, the best part, I noticed how big and family-oriented “deki Haile- Emnay” actually were. From the siblings that remained in Eritrea, all but one live in Asmara, and it was seemingly mandatory for all of them to come to Beleza, at least on the weekends, and definitely once a week. I was allowed to ask anything about any relative, dead or alive, and I was learning a lot.
What was best, I was able to see for myself how cool my relatives were and realize that my father was right about all of them. Growing up in the states with no extended family nearby made for some slightly unfulfilling memories. Birthdays… holidays… although spent with my immediate family (and always an appreciative experience) always seemed to somehow be lacking. Arriving in Eritrea and essentially having my entire bloodline available to me was an absolute blessing. Questions of homesickness have always been dismissed without a thought – now I know why. Growing up, it is often difficult to understand why your parents are the way they are – especially for those of us in the diaspora with absolutely no access to our parents’ relatives. Spending time with my father’s siblings and cousins helped me grasp a million and one of his character traits – and made me appreciate him even more for the way that he is.
Living in Asmara provided me access to different things – for instance, I was able to gain a volunteering opportunity, learn my way around the city, develop relationships with my cousins and make friends, and overall evolve from who I was just a few months ago. Being in Beleza played a different role but offered me something just as beneficial – a connection with my father’s history, and in a sense, my history. My last name has always been a source of pride for me because of its meaning – but seeing that the rest of “deki Haile” defended the name with pride as well made me feel even more confident in who it is that I am. Seeing my own personality and character traits being reflected back at me through aunts or cousins made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than just me – and it also makes me even more excited and prideful to represent my family.
I would argue that because I am connecting with and understanding a part of my background, it is making me an even fiercer advocate for getting the Eritrean diaspora connected with their own background. In the majority of my articles, I write about the importance of forming a solid identity. Knowing who you are and where you come from allows you the ability to take your background and form your personal perspective on a multitude of things. It allows you the ability to stand firm and defend what you believe in and why. If you’re not able to catch a flight here, it would be just as beneficial to simply talk to your older relatives about how they grew up – and you can go even deeper than that and ask them how they believe their past affected their future. It may have an impact on how you view yourself as well.
All in all, I would say my time in Beleza made me appreciate Asmara that much more – I have definitely grown accustomed to the city life. However, the experience of living as “hagereseb” (as my father has begun referring to me as) helped me add on to my perspective of who I am and what I have to offer – and is seriously helping me get to the point of “Gual Eritrea!”
So I guess if I’m here to commit – I have to commit. Up next, Tereamni!