Traveling back home after several years has been a sentimental and nostalgic experience. What made it special was that I travelled along with my two younger siblings who have never been to our hometown. The following article highlights the emotions, memories and a life time experience that came along with this unique journey.
In the summer of 2022, I decided to travel back to Asmara, the city I was born and raised in until I was 10, with my brothers Mohammed and Adam. I felt an overwhelming sense of pride walking around town and showing my Gen Z brothers the city that made me who I am today.
The thought of returning evoked a mixture of excitement and nervousness as it had been over eight years since I had last visited. It meant a chance to reconnect with our families and meet the new additions; reconnect with my childhood friends whose lives have evolved, most of whom now have their own families and kids, and are leading successful businesses while some are serving their city from reputable positions.
On the other hand, it feels like not much has changed as the memories and emotions that were left behind are still the same. These feelings become even more pronounced with my younger siblings as they got to experience not only the city but also all my raw emotions with me.
One of the most special things about this journey was the opportunity I got to show them what my childhood was like, where our parents used to work, and the places our great grandparents used to trade in. I got to take them to the places that hold the most meaningful memories for me and share with them stories of what growing up in Eritrea was like.
What surprised me most was how quickly my brothers adjusted to the new environment and became familiar with the city. They began roaming around town by themselves just the second day after our arrival. They knew what routes to take that I didn’t know and soon began guiding me and even suggesting places where we should dine in. They found some of the restaurants and cafes by searching on the social media platforms prior to our arrival and some others by asking the locals, especially taxidrivers who were good at telling them places they should visit.
The most heart-breaking and heart-warming statement my brother Mohammed said to me as we were standing in a que at Asmara airport immigration was this: ‘‘For the first time in my life, I will stand in a lane that is for locals, as a local in my own country.’’
He said this with so much pride and a smile on his face. The reason this statement touched me so much was perhaps because it had never occurred to me that he felt like a foreigner all these years living abroad in Dubai, UAE. Even though he was born and raised there, studying in reputable schools, having the latest gadgets, and lacking nothing materialistic, it never crossed my mind that he felt some void. A void that would be filled by stepping his feet in his motherland.
A void that was filled by the warm embrace of Eritreans, whether it was family and friends or complete strangers. Surrounded by people who looked like him and sounded like our parents.
Our summer trip wasn’t just a fun vacation, it was a navigation through life.
‘’Know who you are to know where you are going in life; know where you come from to know who you are.’’
That’s what my mother used to say to us when we were growing up. I finally understood how true that statement was after observing the effect it had on my brothers and how quickly their behaviors began to change. My only regret is not having done this earlier.
This summer vacation had planted a seed in my brothers’ hearts – a seed of who they want to become. It gave them a purpose to thrive more in life and excel in their studies. It has enhanced their decision-making skills and influenced how they approach life.
Upon our return to Dubai, all they could talk about for months on end was what they could do in Eritrea when they come of age, how they could serve their people and what they should invest in.
Every adventurous trip you take with your loved ones gives you an opportunity to have new and exciting memories together that become part of your shared family history. Of course, not every trip strengthens your identity, builds your character and inspires you to become a better person whilst feeling alive and being present in the moment.
But the summer trip in Asmara did just that for us: it gave my brothers a sense of belonging and made them love their culture a lot more, and ignited their desire to learn about Eritrea and its history. Our trip also inspired other members of our family who live abroad to visit Asmara with their kids.