I want to become an Eritrean, can somebody help me out?
First, let’s start with some facts about me. My Name is Nemron Iyassu Yohannes (sounds kind of Eritrean, doesn’t it?), and I live in Cologne, Germany. I am 28 years old and I am studying Social Work. That is actually the reason why I am in Amsara at the moment. I am doing a four month internship with the Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare and the Ministry of Information. Eritrea, the big myth that has accompanied my whole life in Germany has started turning into reality. Four months of working and living as an Eritrean with Eritreans…four months of discovering my own roots.
But now back to the question: what is the recipe for becoming a “real” Eritrean? Growing up as a mixed German- Eritrean individual, I was often confronted with questions about my “identity”. Many would ask, “Where are you from?” When I replied, “Aachen,” which is a city in western Germany, they would continue, “No, I mean where your parents are from?” To this, I’d often respond, “So what are we talking about, me or my parents?”
When they’d ask, “Do you feel more like a German or Eritrean?”, I would often wonder does one really have to choose? What would be the benefits from choosing one side or another? Is it just for categorizing me objectively, or getting to know me personally? How would I change myself as a human being by choosing?
Having clarified my nationality, allow me to turn to the topic of my name, which has been the source of many questions during my time in Asmara. Generally, after introducing myself to someone and stating my name as “Nemron”, the conversation proceeds largely along the lines of the following: “Nemron? But that is no Eritrean name. You mean Meron?” or “You must mean Nimrod?”
At this stage, I’ve come to accept just being called “Nimrod”, as that’s just how it normally ends up when I get asked about my name. In fact, Eritreans, I beg you to begin giving this name to your kids so that it can eventually become a “normal” Eritrean name.
And to complete the struggle of finding that so-called thing “identity”, I don’t speak Tigrigna. Of course, I realize I have to… even if it is slow going and difficult. I have to, and will, learn my father’s language (or even mine?) in the time I live here and once I return to Cologne, but for now it is quite challenging in my everyday life not speaking one of the local languages. Yes, it would have been helpful to learn it before, but now that I am already here I am so grateful that most Eritreans have a strong command of English, largely owing to speaking to the education system in which English is a fundamental component of the curriculum. It makes it a lot easier for me to communicate, even though I spend most of my time among Tigrigna-speaking (or other) locals. English allows me to directly ask questions about the Eritrean way of life, share tidbits about Germany, learn about relatives, and live an independent life here in my second home. Luckily, I live with my family, so I can take my first steps in Tigrigna within that familiar, comfortable setting.
Well, what could I do now as a “white guy” to become more Eritrean? By the way, that’s just what my cousin playfully branded me, before warning me to be careful as headed to the Eritrea Festival on my own. As I had to decide where to complete my internship, it was no option for me to stay in Germany. Getting the opportunity to see Eritrea, my father’s home, in such an extensive way, was highly appealing. It did not take me long to decide, and I quickly began to prepare for an exciting, life-changing journey. I want to see Eritrea in its entirety and in all its details. I want to go beyond the myths and reveal the secrets. I try to take every single chance I can to travel around the country. Until now, I have seen a lot of interesting and exciting places, including Massawa, Gindae, Mendefera, Damba, Keren, Himberti, EMbaderho, among others.
Of course, merely traveling the country cannot allow you to fully understand it. The deep personal exchanges that I’ve had with many locals, often times having just met moments before, would have never been possible in Germany. For example, the carefree and smiling taxi driver asking me how I liked Asmara, treating me as if I were his own son, or the wonderful motherly woman who, after I had asked her for directions in my broken Tigrigna, was so happy to see a foreigner learning her language that she immediately gave me a big hug and warmly asked me where I was from.
It is very impressive and encouraging to see how open-minded, helpful, caring, and united the people of Eritrea are. Even with so much diversity, such as in their ethnic groups and religions, at the end of the day they are all Eritreans. There are few other places in the world (maybe none), where a synagogue, mosque, and church could respectfully and peacefully coexist within a radius of less than 200 meters. When I consider the long, painful struggle Eritreans had to go through, and the sacrifices every individual made, to be free it makes me immensely proud be a part of this unique country. I like to call it the “country of hope”, and I know the time for positive change has just come.
To answer my question from above, “how I could become an Eritrean?”, I have to say it is even easier for me to become an Eritrean than becoming a German. I will never be a “real” German, for many Germans and other people have no problem with showing me that. What I have experienced here in 6 weeks is a totally different reality for me. Strangers telling me, “Brother, you are one of us”, or an older woman who I had just met calling me her “son,” that makes a world of difference for me and it strengthens my conviction in believing myself to be an Eritrean. Today, as arrived to work, I saw a poster hanging on wall. The message on it perfectly encapsulate the feelings I have inside:
I am Eritrean!
I am Proud!
Nemron in Asmara