'Prickly pears' return to Asmara

Rigged like American youth with caps glued to their heads and baggy trousers like rappers, the young Eritreans from the diaspora returning to Eritrea in their thousands each summer do not go unnoticed in the streets of Asmara.

Born to parents who fled the little country at the Horn of Africa in the beginning of the war of independence against Ethiopia (1961-1991), numerous youngsters of Eritrean origin are raised outside the country, said Tesfamariam Tekeste from the Commission of Affairs of Eritreans Residing Abroad.

The number of Eritreans living abroad was estimated to be “between 700 000 and 750 000” at the last census in 1993, the commissioner said.

Their thousands-strong presence in Asmara changes the face of the Eritrean capital every year during the holidays.

In the streets of the city constructed by Italian colonialists, young girls of Eritrean origin who speak Swedish, German or even English with a pronounced American accent, meet Eritrean-raised women wearing the traditional dress of white cotton drapes that cover their heads.

The contrast is glaringly obvious during early evenings in Adi Hawesha street, one of the liveliest streets in the city.

Whilst elderly hat-clad Eritreans take their cappuccino, macchiato or espresso at Cafe Vittoria, the young “westernised” are found a few metres away at The Mask Place with a beer, a hamburger and pop music in the background.

The many youngsters, whether they are born in Norway or in the United States, make an effort to learn Tigrinya, the official language in addition to Arabic, according to Tesfamariam Tekeste.

Siye is 17 years old and, like his friend Segen whom he has a drink with at The Mask, he is born and raised in Germany but takes a few weeks holiday in Eritrea.

“I speak Tigrinya, because this is what my parents speak at home”, the young man with braided hair explains. He speaks German and English to perfection as well as a bit of French.

Siye believes that it is important to know one’s cultural background and does not exclude the chance of settling in Eritrea in the future. He added, however, that he did not feel entirely at home.

“The people from the diaspora, we call them ‘beles’!”, a local name for the prickly pear.
They only appear in the rainy season from June to September, laughs Tesfai, a young Eritrean who lives in Asmara. - Sapa-AFP

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