Saeed: An Asmara Love Story

fikri, or love, has seeped into my endless homeland nostalgia. of lately i’ve been thinking about a guy i met in Asmara, Eritrea – a young Muslim tailor who didn’t look a day older than 30.

the shop was amid plenty a retail stores in Ketema’s Biyes Mikel that specializes in zuria and chiffon dresses. as a first comer to the neighborhood, i gradually learned the ropes of town and recall walking into a narrow shop on an errand run with my mother and her sister to alter the hem of a dress they’d purchased for my grandmother.

i had arrived to order the dress.

but weeks prior to ordering my dress, i hadn’t noticed the tailor until the owner, Nazir, singled him out to sew my dress.

i first locked eyes with the sew machine operator while heading toward his station. i extracted a few facial characteristics on first glance: mustache, blemish-free skin, clean cut, inviting eyes, topaz complexion. a blend of mature and boyish looks, i thought.

the 5’8 tailor wore a mesh jumpsuit (similar to one you’d see in sport commercials) which alluded to his wardrobe sense and/or how diaspora has spawned Western fashion and influenced esthetics in the homeland.

the yellow tape around his neck were soon clutched in his hands signaling his next move: outlining the thickness of my body – height and waist – and eventually across my chest measuring my bust.

a few moments of remodeling the fabric in front of a full-length mirror, I decided the chiffon’s shade of dem begi (cow’s blood) fared well against my melanin. i stopped by the counter with a wad of Nakfa in my hand confirming the purchase when i heard a voice call out my name.

it was him.

i casually turned my head and flashed a smile, thinking ‘he’s friendly.’ at that moment disregarding all possibilities of his name-calling as a manifestation of acknowledgment, of interest. he also might have been inviting me to dialog.

still and all, my name felt so safe in his mouth.

intuition told me to accept his forwardness, and i asked a modest question that punctuated an inkling of flirtation. Shimka men’yu (What’s your name?)

“Saeed,” he replied with twinkle-eyes.

i was stunned. i realized the dressmaker was of the Muslim Tigrinya clan known as Jeberti. in advance of that day i had minimal contact with Eritreans of the Islamic faith. i grew up with the Christian majority in the States, and those minor encounters with Eritrean-Muslims were in environments already inclusive to our heritage and religion seemed least important.

this exchange was different though. Saeed corresponds in the country’s dominant tongue of Tigrinya and neither hears nor speaks English.

withal that transpired, i approached my relatives later in the day with questions about Christian-Muslim relationships in Eritrea while strategically gauging if they would accept and support my decision to marry a man outside of my religion. not that i’m currently considering, but anything could happen.

still fraught with surprise, i shuffled out the Asmara shop without sealing our sublime encounter with a “nice to meet you” because a) i had a momentary lapse and forgot how and b) i grew consciously insecure of my language capabilities again. also, there were other male workers who i perceived caught wind of our subtle flirting, too, and all eyes and ears us.

the dress. photo credit: mother bear
the dress. photo credit: mother bear

i saw Saeed again on a wet stroll in Ketema. (by now i had the dress in my possession and was solely in the area accompanying a cousin who was looking for a sharba on sale.) i sensed slight prohibition on Saeed’s end the moment he down-fived me (a hand slap is less formal than a firm shake) and reverted his eyes to the counter instead of my face. he was delighted to see me – i felt so. i’m thankful i met him and wished to have taken his photograph.

here and there i bring about potential conversations with Saeed had time allowed us to fully embrace each other. some days i feel Saeed is thinking of me, too. a girl’s allowed to dream, right?

 

author questions: have you ever met someone abroad that you shared an unspoken connection with? do you think love is possible when two people don’t share the same language? what is your most proud, sentimental possession from traveling?



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11 thoughts on “Saeed: An Asmara Love Story

  1. Amazing article Ariam! I always knew I wanted to marry an Eritrean women, but I always thought it would be one raised in the diaspora. After my trip to Eritrea in 2014, my views have completely changed. There’s this indescribable beauty of Eritreans living at home that’s very intriguing and I hope to explore it more in future trips.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Berhane,
      Thank you so much! I think you and I need to go mate-scouting next time we are in Adi. And I think I know what you’re intrigued by – it’s the hospitality and suppleness in Eritrea that you don’t always receive in the diaspora. 🌸 I wish you have a long, happy existence.

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  2. Haha! When i read this it was walking down memory lane. I remember when i was there i met a really nice guy, he was sweet and all and we clicked but he was a bit older than i was. Unfortunately, the diaspora changes us. I wish it wasn’t so but it is. The eritreans in eritrea aren’t tainted which makes them ever-so humble!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Fana,
      I hope you had a beautiful time in Eritrea. The natives are, in fact, humble. Some actually want to understand us, our lives abroad, and are fascinated with our manners/accents, etc. Was his age initially problematic for you? Whether it was or not you remember how he treated you till this day. 🌺

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  3. Your relentless efforts to share your experiences and love for Eritrea is always refreshing. ❤ My most sentimental possession i took from traveling back home is my little cousins stwin' stuwas (folktales).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. & Yes! This dancer that performed a cultural dance at the sawa festival. I lowkey believe we were meant to live happily ever after lol 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you, haftay.
      i’m humbled by your words.
      i’ve never really been into folktales, even in English. did you record your cousins narration of the tales or have only stored it in your memory? and ty for sharing that special moment w/ me. did ya’ll (you + the dancer) talk? did you take his photo?

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  5. Ariam,

    I stumbled across your page by pure chance and I am so happy that I did. Tonight, I also finished reading The Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo, and so I truly believe the universe conspired to bring me here, but this is also relevant in another way which ties back to an Asmara love story I am going to share with you. (This may be a long one, but a goodie, i promise 🙂

    I just got back from Eritrea two weeks ago, after having not visited in 10 years. A close friend of mine spent the summer of 2015 there and came back with nothing but amazing stories which stirred up memories of my visit and all the great people and experiences I had there at 17years old. I knew I had to make the trip in this past summer. Aside from the fact that my little sister and friends from Boston were going, I seriously yearned to see my family in Tessenay and experiencing all of the rare simplicities that Asmara has to offer (& the food :). So I took three weeks off from my Advertising job in NYC, packed my bags and in no time I was off to experience a life changing trip to Eritrea.

    My sister, our friend, and I were staying in a family friend’s empty home in Tiravolo (they’ve been living in America for 10 years now!) which was great. Prior to my landing they threw a house party, and when I landed in Asmara, was taken to the empty home, told to change, and was whisked off to Aiba nightclub. I met all of our friends from Boston and their closest crew of young Asmarino’s in their mid-to-late twenties who ended up becoming my crew and confidantes within a three week period. One of which, I had amazing conversations with about rap music, and poetry—he who I cannot name, but I call Mr.F–became one of the most important figures of my trip.

    While we were always going out with the same crew, Mr.F and I would fall into our own conversations, surrounded by our friends whether in a bar or at the club. I didn’t know he had taken a liking to me, and I ended up stirring up conversations with other male visitors in the diaspora. After an evening out, one of my girlfriends says, “You know you need to stop breaking Mr.F’s heart. He really likes you.” I am as naive as they come, and had no idea that he had taken a liking to me, but if it was obvious to others then I concluded that I should open my eyes. I was heading to Tessenay the last week of my trip, and it was my last night out before I was going, and Mr.F and I ended up having a long conversation about life, our dreams, his aspirations, and our mutual adoration for each other under the stars until sunrise. My sister and friends flew back to America within the next couple of days following that night so I was alone for the last week of my trip. I left for Tessenay the day after my sister left to go back to America, and after a long day of drinking coffee with my grandmother and neighbors, answering questions about why I was 27 and unmarried with no kids, I took to my bedroom to rest and could not stop thinking about Mr.F. Weirdly enough I received a text from him (to this day i don’t know how he got my number but I have theories), and we spoke on the phone almost every night I was in Tessenay.

    The day I got back from Tessenay Mr.F told me to meet him at a local bar before we went out, so i took a friend I made from Italy with me. Mr.F and our crew spent an amazing night out, and Mr.F and I danced the night away in Expo, as if no one else was there with us. It was a magical night. Mr.F and I spent my last three days together from morning until night, enjoying the city. One day in particular we spent an afternoon sitting at Asmara Palace overlooking the pool and talked about politics, philosophy, the universe, comedy, serendipity, and our favorite books (his is The Alchemist). We spent 3 days together enjoying each others company and preparing for my leave (which was a series of crazy events leading up to my departure that should have been filmed–very Bonnie and Clyde-esque but that is for another post). The night I flew out we met his friends at a bar and he asked me what we should do moving forward, and we decided to stay in touch, and remain faithful to each other. We acknowledged that it would be difficult, that if it fizzled out we would have no one else to blame but ourselves. He drove me to the airport and we exchanged our affectionate good-bye’s.

    I am back in my NYC apartment writing to you two weeks after my arrival and reminiscing because I can honestly say those 3-weeks changed my life. I did not go to Eritrea ever expecting to fall in love, but I ended up meeting someone who is so much like me it’s scary. It feels like I met my one true soul-mate and I am so eternally grateful that my gut told me I had to make this trip and that the time was now. Me and Mr.F talk everyday through chat when he gets wi-fi and i’ve invested in some Skype credits for those calls. We both enjoy writing poetry, and have decided to send one written piece to each other everyday to hone our skills and motivate each other to become better writers.

    I’m not sure that my story did him or our experience any justice but there is so much to be said about how amazing he is compared to a lot of guys I have met in the states and how serendipitous this all feels. I’m not sure where we are going but we both know it is worth it, and I think that is all that matters. I am planning on going back next year in February, so maybe I will follow up with another post.

    With love,
    Feven

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    1. Hello Feven!

      I’m impressed by your keen attention to detail and recollection of what sounds like one long ride on the Asmara love train!.Babygirl, I’m proud of you for taking a leap of faith and returning home. We’ve made dollars out of five cents and seek parts of ourselves wherever we are in our adopted countries, but our sense of humanity is most felt when we’re unencumbered by assimilation and lack of homage. Thank you for sharing remnants of your homecoming. The internet is a beautiful place sometimes, isn’t it?

      I really believe friends save us. They’re around and stay with us during moments least intended but worthy in hindsight. Because you were fresh to Eritrea, visiting ten years later, you found yourself interacting with relatives/neighbors/family friends, eating delicious cuisine, touring parts of the country that you didn’t know even existed. Your friend is another important character, albeit low-key, in your story. She brought light to his consciousness about feelings that he probably kept surface deep, until that light bulb went off and sparks soon soared.

      I hear love makes us oblivious to shit around us, which is f—in rad in the sense that we are so warped in the moment, in ourselves, you and Tessenei, that everything is blurred.

      FYI — Your post probably doesn’t do this chapter of your life any justice! I would be honored to read more about your heartwarming love affair.

      continue on this path. the universe is here for you.

      Like

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