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A Popular Greening Campaign, Summer nights and city Lights!

Natnael Yebio W.

In a country like Eritrea where the dark clouds come to pour their blessings on parched lands once in a year, rainwater is a precious commodity. The main rains come accompanied by thunder and lightning and water the highlands & western lowlands during the three months of June, July, and August. Indeed, the eagerness with which people wait for the rains to come around transcends human understanding.

Sometimes the whole Asmara spectacle, looming like fantastical cities of cloud, bursting into tempests, thunder, and lightning, cats and dogs, stair-rods, flash floods, comes and goes in minutes, fascinatingly local when a kilometer or two down the road remains bone dry. The weather feels personal, purging, and inside the storms is another, existential world. Or that’s how it feels, broken down on the motorway.

Fortunately, I was in a coffee shop when it rained heavily almost a week ago, even lucky enough to have a seat by the window, 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 been lucky enough to experience the phenomena that have dominated discussion hours at home, workplaces, bus and taxi stops.

“Did you enjoy the rain, yesterday?” 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, it makes me anxious!” the third jumps into the conversation. Of course, there is definitely always one person who hates all things good.

And if it doesn’t rain as early as it should, then it is our fault, say the ancient. 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 work.

Come 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; it will rain when the Almighty wills it, not when the weather department tells us to take the umbrella with us tomorrow afternoon.”

“Well, don’t we in our tradition say that if the wind blows from the sea, or if the moon comes out a halo at night, 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 meteorologists use scientific instruments while our forefathers resorted to accumulated experience.”

Grandparents past 80 don’t want to listen to reason.

Anyway, jokes aside, summer in Eritrea is something to enjoy, for everybody of all ages, that old cliché about Christmas being the most ‘magical’ time of the year never quite rang true with me. It was always summer. School’s out, cities empty and are somewhat reclaimed by locals who happily indulge themselves by visiting typically touristy hotspots, and kids are outdoors, playing all kinds of summer games.

I really love summer! As a child, I impatiently waited for school to end. I couldn’t wait for homework-free, long, hot days hanging outside with friends playing soccer all day, reading books, riding my bike, and looking for the next fun thing to do with friends and family. Often I just enjoyed doing nothing. Now, as an adult, I haven’t changed that much. I count the days to summer. I sleep a little longer, sneak out of work and grab a macchiato with a friend and still, I try to make time as much as possible just to play soccer in the mud. At times, there are summer days when I long to do nothing but enjoy the day and evening immersed in a good book or a TV series.

Then you have the popular Greening Campaign Eritrean students take part in. In 1994, the government started Summer Work Programs (Maetot). Students in high school and teachers in different parts of the country take part in greening activities, traffic duties as well as cleaning the environment projects in their respective regions for the duration of one month. This summer an estimated 10,000 students and teachers will take part in the popular greening campaign. In addition, government ministries, numerous communities, volunteers, religious institutions as well as defense forces will plant over 2 million seedlings in several regions of the country.

During summer in Eritrea, there are a lot of things to do. There are different places to visit. As most of us know, Eritrea is one of the few places around the globe that enjoys three seasons in two hours drive. In fact, anyone could experience this on a drive to Massawa through the Filfil Solomuna road, a must-visit destination during the summer. Massawa, Dahlak Islands, and Adulis are among many places to visit during your stay on the shores of the Northern Red Sea.

Keren is also another wonder of a place to visit while in Eritrea. The scenery along the road to Keren is tempting enough for you to stop here and there to take pictures, and the famous ‘Libi Tigray’ road is something to see and enjoy. Mind you, it is not for the fainthearted. The big Elabered garden is also a spot to stop at and see, whilst managing to buy huge oranges and bananas for the road.

There is just something magical about this particular season that it would be a waste if you don’t manage to visit one of these places mentioned above. Summer days are long and beautiful. The sun shines often. People are typically happier, calmer, and more open, which makes taking a vacation even sweeter and more pleasant.

Back in Asmara, you get to enjoy the passagio, taking a stroll down Harnet Avenue in the early evenings, under the city lights. The lively Asmarino youngsters are out and about catching up with friends from abroad and frequenting all the go-to spots around town.

Not only that but one is spoiled for choice at the number of cafés available to visit in Asmara, many of which look like a setting of an Italian movie than anything else. Imagine breakfast at Dave Café, Dolce Vita, Bar Victoria, or Asmara Sweet Cafe, a cup of macchiato in hand, with a pastry every pastry chef in Florence would be proud of. A little advice — make sure to get a seat by the window. For lunch, perhaps visit Albergo Italia; again, get a seat outside, the fresh breeze of summer wind is an appetizer.

If you are more of an indoor person, there are so many places to choose from to grab lunch: Asmara Palace, Roof Garden, Lion, Alaskala, Niyala, Alsikomoro, Napoli and so many others. For dinner, the summer nights provide a certain je ne se quoi of weather; perhaps have a little cookout at your house, have a couple of friends and relatives over, and enjoy the starry night. If you plan to go out, Spaghetti House’s outer setting in the evening is a great place to eat dinner at.

A certain writer once said, “Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” I would like to think summer gives you that chance.

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