Saturday, September 10, 2005

Happy Eritrean New Year

early one misty morning

New Year's Eve in Asmara, as the Eritrean Orthodox celebrate their New Year tomorrow, 11 September, while Fred and I celebrate another anniversary. We are not sure exactly what will happen, as it is quite quiet up to now. I don't think there will be fireworks and furniture being thrown out of windows Italian-style, but it seems it will be busy in the churches (see below).

At this time of the evening, now 8.30 pm, the busiest places seem to be the internet cafes, where one has to wait ages and ages for one empty screen to turn into another empty screen, only for the computer to stop completely just at the page which allows us to enter our blog. I am writing this in Word on the off-chance that I can access the blog and copy and paste. This is Africa, so we should not be too surprised. It seems that about the only program which works here is yahoo messenger and half of young Asmara seems to be behind a screen chatting to one of the others.

Anyway, today we were up and about quite early, as neither of us had slept particularly well and we had a bit of time before our arrangement with Asmaret. So, we went next door to the pasticceria next door for a very good coffee, served in a glass. Fred had an espresso while I had a macchiato (i.e. with milk). The pastries actually looked better than they tasted although we did enjoy the chocolate doughnut, as it happened.

We then set off to explore a little of Asmara by daylight, as it was pitch dark when we arrived last night. It was quiet on the streets, even the market was only just opening up. We followed a trail of one impressive building after the other until we came across the main church in Asmara, built on a hill, towards which were drifting a number of people dressed in white cloth.

Again, very tentatively we moved closer ourselves, aware that these were deeply religious people, at prayer. It was an incredible sight to see a number of these people take themselves off to the side, into the green grass and trees and stand and kneel or sit around, facing the church, or to see others, clinging onto the railings deep in thought and prayer. It was a very different type of Christianity to what we are used to, maybe a bit more similar to Islam with the white dress code and separation of men and women.

Fred was bold enough to remove his shoes and go into the church and it turned out that a number of weddings were being performed simultaneously. It was a very colourful site, with the priest(?) and his colleagues, beautifully robed, leading the prayer and the singing and the hallelujahs, boys beating drums, the women calling as only African women can. The bride and groom were impeccably dressed in golden suits and dresses, while the women guests all had white gowns and beautiful beautiful hair-dos. I was invited to take pictures and I managed to get one or two good ones, although it seems they are not to make it onto this blog. Never mind.

A man told us that all night services will be going on to greet the New Year, all churchgoers will be dressed in their best white clothes (many colourfully embroidered and the edges) and he said the best time will be around 6 am, so we have made our minds to go for sun-rise to witness this particular ceremony.

We had a bit of trouble getting out of the crowded church and finding our shoes back, such that we were a little late for Asmaret, at just past 9. We spent a very enjoyable morning with her and her friend Jonas (or the Tigrayan equivalent of Jonas), as they showed us around much of Asmara, helped Fred get money out of the foreign exchange place, took us to the Post Office (beautiful Italian style, not the Mussolini monstrosity one normally sees in Italy), took us to a very very busy fruit, vegetable and (live)chicken market, full of some very colourful women(!) and then out for a fruit juice (we both chose guava when we could have had mango or papaya � a lesson for next time) and pastries, telling us much about Eritrean ways, history, the relationship with Ethiopia, the so-called Eritrea connection to the London bombings. She said herself that she felt that London was the last place to be bombed given how well Britain has opened herself to asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants and looked after them and integrated them into society. Good to hear from someone with first hand experience. Anyway, she goes back to London tonight and we are left to fend for ourselves, albeit with a list she wrote down for us of places to go (including many night clubs � at our age???!!!). A BIG thank you to Asmaret!

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