Tradition Goes Abroad!

By: Natnael Yebio W.

Eritreans are taking with them everything traditional to their adopted country. There, they can enjoy their berbere, shiro, suwa, daga and mada a little at a time.

Just this week my very own aunt took meteka (dry-baked black pancake used in brewing suwa). I am sure it might have looked like processed uranium to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the US when they first saw it at the customs.

But Eritreans in the diaspora are ready to pay any price to have their tradition delivered to them at home.

“Mommy, can we have shiro tonight?”

“How about spaghetti with hot (berbere-based) sauce?”

Whether in Germany or the United States, the desire is still the same for Eritreans: more tradition, please. Anything goes. Garlic, green chili, etc, including the language. It doesn’t sound proper to use English while eating tsebhi (traditional hot meet stew). Kes ilka bila’e atta! Can’t you eat properly!

Solomon goes to Norway to visit his sister one summer. His sister lives in a well-furnished modern apartment with her husband and three kids. Like all Eritreans abroad, they have the latest household gadgets. You name it, they have it. Status symbol!

The boom box is playing songs by Wedi Tukul or Yemane Baria. A prelude of spicy fare waits for Solomon.

“Do you listen to other foreign songs sometimes?” Solomon asks.

“Rarely.”

Most are serious about their traditional music. They have deep nostalgia about their country and their tradition. Some, of course, overdo it.

As they sit to do justice to the food lying under their staring eyes and salivating mouths, they wait for the ubiquitous taita or ingera to appear from nowhere. Does it have the right amount of eyelets? If not, the lady of the house should consider herself as a failure in the art of cooking. Fortunately, in the eyes of Solomon the guest, the round pancakes that’ve finally made it to the table have enough eyelets to pass the test. So they start to eat. Tuum, tuum (meaning, m’mmmm delicious).

“How do you make your taita?”

S u c h questions would have sounded stupid if they had been asked in Eritrea because no taita is genuine if it doesn’t contain taff. But in the diaspora, one can buy anything, but taff, from the market. So substitutes have to be found for taff.

“Rice powder mixed with wheat flour,” replies the lady in the house.

But there are some lucky ones who get their taff straight from Eritrea for making pure 100% taff-based taita.

“More Gu’u (green chili), please.” asks Solomon.

“It is good for health,” says the host.

Everything bitter or with pungent smell is good for health.

People of ancient times used to believe hot and spicy dishes helped our people to challenge viral and bacterial diseases.

“Oh yes. What is it good for in particular?”

“For blood pressure, for example,” says the lady of the house.

So the chili lowers blood pressure while the suwa raises it back to where it had been before you came to the table. In the final analysis, the health balance sheet will remain unchanged.

One hour, and fifty bites of traditional food later, Solomon is satiated and he begins looking at the walls surrounding him. On his right is the wedding photo. It looks old.

Some Eritreans arrive in the host country already married. But most get their brides from Eritrea. It is good to be living single abroad. You can always come back to Asmara to pick your bride …

On his left, there are patriotic posters depicting war, feasting, and a mixture of the two, with apt slogans and quotations.

On the shelf or over the buffet he can see traditional artifacts brought from Eritrea.

“How do you like the shield and spears ornaments?’ asks the host.

“Good,” replies Solomon. “But I prefer something that reminds me of peace.”

Suddenly, Solomon hears something like the shuffling of feet. He knows someone is preparing the traditional coffee. He catches a whiff of the aroma before the lady of the house comes with a black and smocking frying pan. She keeps shaking the contents (roasted coffee beans) lest they burn.

The smoking frying pan is moved around for everyone to inhale the exotic fumes. Solomon cups his hand and drives the special smoke towards his nostrils.

From time to time, the traditional atmosphere gets dissipated by the host’s impulsive dialing via his mobile phone. Eritreans in the West are invited for coffee by phone. In Eritrea, the youngest child in the house is picked for such an assignment of informing and inviting the immediate neighbors for traditional coffee ceremony. The coffee ceremony has come to a close with the last sip of the special brown liquid