Saturday, September 24, 2005

A day with Medhane in Assab

Medhane and Fred, with one of tye very few remianing maps of Eritrea on the wall behind

Medhane has lived in Assab for 10 years and is originally from Asmara. He has live dfive years in Torino and ten in Rotterdam and has Dutch nationality as well as Eritrean. He came back to Eritrea to escape two bad habits he had picked up in Holland, namely hash and slot machines. He arrived in the boom times for Assab, after the first peace with Ethiopia, and set up his tyre repair shop.

Now he is a well known and seemingly well liked man about town, with a wife and three kids. he would tell us that the current UN'ers from India were not much good for thr town as they did not spend a penny, unlike the Kenyans before who spent their salaries on women and drink andd kept the economy going. He told us that the government had banned imports into Eritrea except for things which were absolutely necessary, such as spare parts and - small amounts of - petrol. This explained for us why there was no coca cola to be had in any of the bars displying the coca cola signs!

It really seems like Eritrea is on a big curve downhill, the cause being the continuing border dispute with Ethiopia, the cause of which seems to be personal emnity, if not, mutual hatred between the two respective Presidents/dictators. It is odd to us, having travelled down the 'tail' of Eritrea (look at the maps), where the only place of importance is/was Assab, that the main justification for the current borders is that these borders were establmished by the Italian occupiers over 100 years ago. So many people in Africa are fighting to change such artificial borders and here is Eritrea whose main cause and justification for existence is such a border!

He arranged for us to get our permits to travel down to the border and put us in touch with Mohammad Ali and later invited us round to his house for dinner with his family, after stoping along the way for a beer, whiuch became two, drunk in the bar because he lives in a Muslim neighbourhood and the local residents association bannedd drink from the area. Dinner was great! Pasta with chips and a delicious salad and we delighted the children with the tiny teddy bears which we had brought from Holland, thanks to Rob and Jos´┐Ż.

Medhane picked us up early-ish on Thursday to bring us to Mohammed Ali who was to bring us to the boat in Obock, with the instructions that we should not pay him until we were on the boat.


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