By Berkty Alem
Every year the Eritrean diaspora from all parts of the world return to Eritrea. The vast majority stay for less than a few months. Some are lucky to visit and stay in Eritrea for a longer time. The Eritrean diaspora is labeled by some as Beles. Beles harvest season goes from around June to September, which matches with the time the majority of the diaspora visit. Many of the Eritrean diaspora as Eri-tourist stay in major cities of the country and generally ‘travel without seeing’.
The Eritrean diaspora primarily visit major cities and stay in locations that represent the closest version of foreign style in living. If the Eritrean diaspora gets an opportunity to visit the real Eritrea outside of foreign style of living and housing to a more rural area of their family village, then it just for a fast one day visit without giving a chance to form a lasting bond or connection to the area. Which in my opinion equals ‘travelling without seeing’, this is a phrase from an old New York Times opinion article about a journalist that observes in this modern era people are attached to their technology. That even when paying a ticket to go to a new location the traveler is physically in a new place, but their heart and mind are emotionally elsewhere. Many in the Eritrean diaspora are guilty of this. It is sad to hear or see people who were born or raised inside Eritrea, but now have residency in foregin countries to suddenly condemn the very land that birth and raised them. Some will say comments that my son or daughter came from X, Y, Z place and I am worried that the food, soil, water, or etc.. situation in the rural or city inside Eritrea will be risky or dangerous for them. Ironically, these Eritrean diaspora parents don’t think of the risk of bringing and raising their children with smartphones or modern technology addiction and how the mother nature in Eritrea and the organic lifestyle in Eritrea is a blessing not a liability.
Please, Eritrean diaspora don’t make the mistake of ‘travelling without seeing’. Visit every town big or small and include the next generation of your children, grandchildren, and young relatives. Visit regardless of your situation or age, you don’t need a lot of resources or time to visit as along the heart and mind are in the right place. Unfortunately, a lot of Eritrean diaspora fall into the trap of “Keeping up with the Joneses”, which simply means showing off that you have earned or obtained access to a certain upper class lifestyle. Many live within the fakeness of trying to act happier and wealthier than are! My advice is a trip that equals ‘travelling with seeing’ creates fruitful memories that last a lifetime. You are never going to know your Eritrean heritage by simply staying in the four walls of your apartment, villa, or hotels inside Eritrea or visiting a rural community for a one day only trip. You create lifetime memories walking, living, sitting, sleeping, and eating alongside the people of your country. You make connections with fellow Eritreans living inside the country that real and lasting beyond shallow interactions as an Eritrean diaspora doing only “tourist activities”.
I am writing from personal experience about travelling to visit Eritrea with an open heart and mind, but my only negative comment would be not to listen to certain relatives who may mock your openness to travel to experience Eritrea. I was blessed and fortunate to visit Eritrea couple of times. Both of the couple of times were for extended stays beyond a couple of months and I was able to visit a variety of cities in Eritrea. I made sure not to stay in many hotels in order to get the authentic experience with my relatives. As a result, even though, I still struggle with speaking fluent Tigrinya, I was able to enjoy authentic travelling experience by living in the village with my grandparents for several months. The majority of my relatives were not supportive. Even urban residents of Eritrea look down on someone for living or staying in rural area for an extended period of time. This is simply the wrong outlook. Our rural and village communities are not representations for second-class citizens or cultural backwardness, but are the foundation for the wealth of our culture and knowledge as Eritreans. It was disappointing to hear or see the negative stereotypes or stigma towards living in a rural community. On the other hand, you will have relatives or acquaintances who are bothering you about returning to your life abroad as if being a diaspora negates your right to live and enjoy being in your own homeland. The attitude of some acquaintances and relatives brought me back to memories from a documentary I watched on French Algerians. In France, they are seen as Algerians and in Algeria they are seen as French. At the end of the day, Eritrean diaspora face similar challenges as any diaspora to deal with the issues of cultural integration. One good idea would be administrators to work with the Ministry of Tourism in rural areas to organize annual gatherings to welcome back the Beles to get a break from modern technology and have rehabilitation in natural environment to learn to love the traditional ways that made our grandparents’ generation very strong to survive. Regardless of the noise of other ‘expert’ relatives or friends be yourself and enjoy the beauty of ‘travelling with seeing’ the highlands and lowlands from Teseney to Tserona , from Adi Quala to Segheneyti, from Asmara to Agordat, from Sahel to the Red Sea.
Eritrea is thousands of years old in cultural heritage. As a nation, Eritrea has faced colonial and post-colonial injustices that have extended to the current problems created by such injustices in global migration and human trafficking from 20 years of ‘no war, no peace’. Despite the negative media and press, Eritrea has a lot to offer her people both inside and outside the nation. As the world enters a new decade moving away from 2000 to 2010s to start of 2020s, I hope that many more of our sisters and brothers in the Eritrean diaspora will give a chance to truly ‘travelling with seeing’ by always remembering and living the values of our nation -hade hzbi, hade libi (one people, one heart) and Awet N’hafash (victory to the people and our martyrs).