Monday, December 21, 2009

Life in the narrow streets of Asmara

Life in the Narrow streets of Asmara

When I travel to Eritrea, I always go to the narrow streets of Aba-Shawl, name of place in Asmara) with its muddy streets The place hasn’t improve since the days of Haile Salassie, the Derg and after independence with the current government of Eritrea today. Despite the deprivation and the squalid living standard the sense of community inter-action among its habitants is great.

In the old days, when nearly everybody knew everyone else, news travelled at the speed of light exposing the scandals of proud and pious families. While the Italians and some half-castes were born in wide street quarters, Abyssinian children saw the light of the day in the dark alleys of Abashawl (name of place in Asmara), Geza-Berhanu(name of a place in Asmara), Haddish-Addi(name of place in Asmara) etc, where by night mutant rats gave chase to unrepentant cats and by day dogs fought with beggars over leftovers.

After a quarter of a century living abroad, I visited Abashawl where the streets are so narrow and the houses so close to each other that the residents feel they are inside some sort of a boarding school or a camp for the internally displaced. As a young boy, I use to like to walk along narrow streets because they are people friendly and give you sense of security. They keep you sheltered from the establishment and all its bureaucratic machinery.

Again as you walk along the narrow streets of Haddish Addi you feel like the walls are whispering to you on every side. For every step you make you pass an open door from which people peer at you for identification. If you have a humble appearance you are one of them. If you look like a wide-street dweller, they get suspicious.

Poor quarters worldwide are inhabited by people who have learned how to laugh in the face of pain and grief, a skill that their fellow citizens on the other side of the town have failed to master. That’s why wherever I travel whether it’s in Eritrea or abroad, I prefer narrow streets and back alleys to main streets. And I feel more at ease with the humble than with the rich.

At the narrow streets, in some city quarters of Asmara, you meet all types of people. They range from people who smile at and greet you, to children who call you mummy and daddy, to dogs, cats and chickens that acknowledge you presence by getting up or moving away proudly to let you pass.

Some old and dilapidated houses in Haddish-Adi and Abashawl still remain a mystery to architects and an enigma to engineers. Pre curiously slanted, they seem to beat the Leaning Tower of Pisa in a tilting contest. Most of the narrow streets of Asmara are in Haddish Addi. Not only are the alleys constricted but some of the houses are so small that the doors are always left open for light, oxygen and for legroom. Life in such quarters assumes a different dimension since the Italians administered Asmara.

Suwa houses (traditional ale houses), are not uncommon in the narrow streets of Asmara with infrequent small shops here and there, and if you walk long enough you spot a beauty parlour and start to wonder. Deep inside almost all narrow street girls dream of becoming wide street girls.

Although in many quarters prostitution on the wane, one encounters now and then vintage harlots whose faces have been ravaged by the winds and gales of time. Poverty is painful. You can see it in the faces of some girls who at a tender age are forced to sell their feminine virtues to keep their bodies and souls together. No one is going to blame the women when they sell their bodies for cash, because they have no other property to sell.

While I was on holiday in Asmara, one day I walked passed a pitched tent in the narrow streets of Abashawl; I heard weeping and wailing, while I was taking pictures there. “Who is the deceased person?” I asked. “An old suwa house owner”, answered a young boy who seemed the least concerned about the event.

When someone dies among the people of the narrow streets, it’s as if a part of the neighbourhood went crumbling down in ruins. With the lifeless body of the departed carried along the narrow alleys to its resting place, a page or a chapter or even a book of the history of the neighbourhood is buried with it.

1 comment:

shaweley said...

i think the artice was life in the narrow streets of asmara.woow what can to thouse who dosent know asmara and aba shawel its grouss.but for me its the best life ever.its its a poor comunity and every thing but.we dont even care as long as we are happy.going out on sundays drinking sewa people telling funny joks paling foot ball.amean i cant even emagine hot good life it was.but i relly relly relly relly relly rely relly miss aba shawel!!!