There is always injera in the home. I’m not kidding. I could walk to the kitchen now, and take a few steps to the left where a plastic container that stores bread and tayta (another name for injera) is kept. Upon popping off the top of the container, I can expect to see anywhere between eight to 20 thinly-baked brown injera-crepes. My mother cooks a batch in our bilingual home once a week, at the very least.
I don’t have to worry about arriving on time anywhere. If I’m going to a function organized by an Eritrean, or an organization that has ties to Eritrean people and expect the majority of the crowd to be Eritrean, then I can expect to roll in whenever I feel like. It will usually take up to two hours to get a crowd going, anyway. This delayed time estimate is completely normal for any Eritrean to experience to where it’s almost expected to show up behind schedule at parties, gatherings, seminars, workshops, and sometimes meetings.
3C curls, a dark iris, and a full forehead. What else is there to say? These attributes are not exclusive to Eritreans of any ethnic group but it’s a part of my unique, physical structure and I’m proud of what my folks’ and baby Jesus gave me.
I know an extended family member closer than my American friends probably do. In African culture, it’s normal to be raised in a family that offers meals and lodging to someone of either of the parent’s immediate family. (A requisite is to be in good graces with your hosting relative, frankly.) Eritreans, especially, take care of their own. I’ve have relatives including my maternal grandfather, paternal grandmother, to both uncles on my father’s side of the family live in my family home for extended periods of time at various points during my upbringing. While this dynamic doesn’t go without its special troubles, I am able to say that I’ve gotten quite acquainted with family members who would otherwise have been inaccessible to me if they had stayed in Eritrea. The reason why I’m appreciative of this common family practice is that in meeting and living with relatives I’m able to learn something about my family’s history and ancestral homeland through their perspective. My parents have even gone to depth to uproot the youngest daughter in my mother’s family, sponsored her ticket to one-way ticket to America, took her in and provided her with everything one would provide their own child, and gave her a new last name. Because of them, I am able to have the big sister I always wanted.
I am able to confidently point to a country on a map and say that’s where I’m [really] from. As a result of knowing a little about the history of my people, I know where I’m going and where I’m headed is a place I deserve to be.
I learn a new reality everyday concerning Eritrean culture and its society. This past weekend I discovered women in Eritrea are historically forbidden from inheriting land. I also read in a book, that ironically was written by a foreigner, published in the new millennium that women in Eritrea have carried the devastating practice known as female genital mutilation unto younger women. In the book, I read that the women who had recounted her gruesome experience was just seven years old when her mother forced her to undergo a surgery. There was no anesthesia given to her at the time either.
Eritreans typically recognize other Eritreans on the street, and when that happens, s/he or they will greet one with a slight bow of the head or a smile. An instant connection brews. It’s a humble way to greet a face that reminds you of home in a foreign land. When I experience that tiny moment of kindness, it’s always the best part of my day.
As a second-generation Eritrean born and raised in America, I sometimes take on the unofficial role of being a cultural ambassador for non-Eritreans and friends of Eritrea. It’s too tempting to silence the inclination of enlightening others about a country you’ve heard of since birth. I take pride in telling others about the beautiful struggle that is inherit in the birthplace of my parents, and in communities afar. Don’t mind me to take the opportunity now to tell you that Eritrea achieved its sovereignty in 1991 after a 30-year war with a neighboring country, and after European colonization in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th century prior to partaking in Africa’s longest civil war. The former capital of Eritrea is Keren, a smaller town than the current capital of Asmara with undertones of African, Europe, and Arabic culture. Eritreans love to consume their coffee and tea – the former served in miniature cups and mixed with grated green (that turns to Black) coffee beans and tastes very gingerly in the back of the throat, whereas, the latter is served in whatever cup you prefer and gives off a rich deep burgundy hue and usually infused with cardamom. There are nine tribes present in the state of Eritrea, and some tribes have traces to other ethnicities outside of the country prominently Bilen, Kunama, and Raishada.
I understand, read, and speak Tigrinya at an intermediary level. This language is the main method of communication in Eritrea, and widely spoken in its diaspora enclaves abroad. It’s a tough tongue and demands full use of the mouth including the glottal sound, so for an American, like myself, I’ve faced challenges many times with pronunciation, structure, and verb conjugation. But I am proud to say that I know the language more today than I ever have in my life.
I have a place to live when I am retired, or better, when in search of a handsome suitor. Diaspora communities included. 😉