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Teashop culture

I have a habit of reading the ads on the Starbucks bulletin board as I wait for my coffee. Two days ago, there were for sale ads offering a chair, a table with a broken leg, and a lady appealing to the public to help her find her lost dog. She described the dog, including its age. And I come from a culture where people rarely know their age let alone the age of the dogs—how can one tell the age of dog? A dog’s age is abstract to me; any dog looks like another dog except its breed which I learned late in life.

Oh, I almost forgot, there was a room for rent on the bulletin board, I have, to tell a friend. He wondered why I think he needs to rent a room when he has a house!

Well! I read it and I must inform you! Beep, beep, beep. He hanged up on me.

Screech. Boom, it’s a car accident, I can see that through the window. Weeeew, weeew, it’s the ambulance wailing. Grrrrrrr, Grrrrrr. It’s my blender, I am making orange juice. By the way, I bought the oranges from the market a few days ago, one has gone bad. It was expensive …

Do you really want to know the boring details of my day? I will share that on social media. Please be interested… and share it with friends or enemies. It doesn’t matter.

Jocks Are Antidepressant

My hometown, Keren, was known for its abundant joke supply; bot recently I have been feeling the same way sport fans feel when their team, that they don’t know, losses. We had many jockers, funny people who cracked joked continuously. Sadly, I discovered the port city of Massawa beat Keren, my hometown, in a recent joke-telling tournament. You can post your condolences on social media.

One joke made Massawa the champions and it’s here…

A man was sipping tea in a shop when another came and provoked him. They argued and soon they were at it: fists flying, legs kicking, and they rolled on the ground. Finally, the patrons of the place separated them, reconciled them. They shook hands and it was over. They left.

A few days later, the same man was sitting at the tea shop when his nemesis arrived breathing trouble and made face at him. He gestured, Hello. But the nemesis ignored his greeting and came closer to him in an aggressive manner. The surprised man asked, what is wrong, what do you want?

I want to slap you on the face.

The surprised man said, “ehhh. What! Is it a contract or what? We fought and it is over Conraat tuu wela me! {Is it a contract or what!]

Only A Massawan can utter such a quick and witty response that captures the entire story.

When depressed, oppressed, or feel sad, some people ameliorate the impact by cracking jokes that focusing on the situation. Egyptians are known for that—a man who had not eaten for a day and has no money to buy food for his family, would crack jokes and lighten the misery. That habit came handy when Egypt lost the 1967 war against Israel; rumors had it that the Egyptian army fled the battleground, and the people were so depressed they joked about it.

Once Egypt hosted an international car race in which all the big brands participated– BMW, Mercedes, Alfa Romeo, etc. Egypt had a car assembly line that produced Nasr, a copy of the small Fiat 128. The Nasr company argued that Egypt should be represented by Nasr but the administrators of the race objected because the four cylinder Nasr was no match for the big cars. Finally, as a symbolic gesture, they allowed Nasr to join the race. The cars finished the race. Nasr came out first beating all the big brands. They called engineers to explain the bizarre result. They needed an explanation for the miracle. A soldier who fought in the 1967 war stood with the crowd and he said he knew the reason: the hind tires were ‘made in Israel’ while the front tires were ‘made in Egypt’. The hind tires were chasing the front tires!

Another soldier went to a post office to drop a letter to his brother who was at the battlefront. The postman asked, tell me the running speed of your brother so that we will calculate where he has reached to be able to deliver the letter.

The above was not copied from Shoshal Media, I read it eons ago on a newspaper.

Incidentally, the title of this episode is “Louk bkum”, a Tigrait name that my hometown coined to describe those who have an addiction of running errands. We also have another coined name, Baas Bkum, [Got Fight?]; they are the people addicted with igniting fights, if wars all the better—but that is for another day.

Louk Bkum, Errand Addiction

There was a scary, dark teashop in Keren which was so disliked by the elders. Many of us avoided even walking by it—we had to cross and walk on the safe side of the street. It was called “Colombo Teashop.”

At Che Colombo, the patrons spent time playing dominos; the sound of the domino tiles hitting the table was a sound reserved to that shop. People said the patrons were gamblers and we believed that.

In 1991, when I visited Keren after a long time, I had to satiate my curiosity and I ventured inside the shop. It was still dark and looked like a tunnel with no windows as I remembered it. I didn’t even know it had a backdoor and a small backyard.

Looking back to the past, the patrons were engaged in an innocent gambling: the loser paid the price of a kettle of tea, ten cents! Regardless, it was gambling for the conservative small town.

Visiting after a long time, I felt uneasy when I was women in the teashops. In my time, let alone women, even men who sat in a teashop were considered “Skunis”, vagabonds. Parents felt embarrassed if their children were seen there; many volunteered to tell them about the grave crime their children committed, and expressed sadness, “it’s a shame you have to bear the bad habits of your son.”

If a son or a husband brought foot to his home from a restaurant or the famous ShHanful (beans sprayed with butter, cumin, green paper and yoghurt) the neighborhood women will gossip, ‘oh, oh, oh, she is a useless woman; instead of cooking, she lets her family eat outside food! And that resulted into quarrels.

Still, the teashops in Eritrea have not developed like Starbucks; I didn’t see bulletin boards around. Maybe the PFDJ uses word of mouth to spread orders: pay your 2% tax, bring flags and celebrate on such and such day. I also heard they used to order businesses to paint congratulatory words on the walls and windows on Independence Day: Yohanna—congratulations. Businesses would hire painters to do the artistic decorations, and direct the production—add a flower there, make the year bolder, use red color….

Today, particularly in the Diaspora, we have social media, and we can scribble anything we fancy. That is why some pages are becoming as scary as the Colombo teashop of my childhood.

Shoshal Media, not social media

People can paste anything on their own social media pages, but what is with going to public pages and filling it with everything you see or find, uncritically, and indiscriminately? Do you know if the administrators or the group needs or allows what you post (paste)? Are you privy to an important info that you must share? Do you share every chat you hear or every Ad you read in a teashop?

Platforms and groups have a purpose (I hope they have); please do not spoil it for them. And I know many people who left public groups and forums because they find it a waste of time, and boring. Not a tiny fraction of what the “Louk Bkum” post is useful, or serious stuff. That is Spam—and Keren should coin a local name for Spam.

For instance, I have close friends and acquaintances on occasions, we share stuff that we know it interests us mutually. But I do not go on other forums and bombard it with irrelevant clips, or posts. Why subject others to our personal stuff? People are just not reading enough, and social media pages are not helping, at least in the case of people untrained in democracy or are literate enough.

There are some people I see in certain platforms who think they must share everything they find. And it irritates me when they send me lectures, in private at that, by so-called religious leaders who are extremely superstitious—it annoys me more because the senders treat it as a religious content. If I want to know about religion, it’s not a monopoly and I can find it on my own. But suddenly finding your message box filled with irrelevant links and gif files, repeatedly, unsolicited, is very annoying.

Sadly, when you advise such people to refrain from spamming pages, they get angry. It’s freedom of expression, they say! Worse, they insist they saw, it, they liked it, and they shared it—like Caesar. I am sure they don’t share everything they watch and like—I didn’t see anyone sharing the porn they watch. Why? It’s indecent. However, it’s not as bad as stirring hate and bloodshed; spreading it is even worse than that. Simply, it’s Spam gone awry.

Last week, I received had clips of fanatics peaching against greeting people of other faith on their holidays…they believe doing that is enough to send you straight to hell. I am so fed up with such fanaticism. Please, all of you, regardless of what you believe in, whether you have faith or are atheists, or anything in between, stop sending me superstitions and fake religious preaching. I refuse to follow the foolish preaching; I am congratulating everyone who reads or listens to me, Happy New Year. Happy New Year to you all. Be sure the Almighty will not punish you for greeting your colleagues, friends, fans, compatriots, and all human beings. Again, let me finish by wishing you all a Happy New Year,

About Awate Team

The PENCIL is's editorial and it reflects the combined opinions of the Awate Team and not the individual opinion of team members.

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  • Solomon Seyum

    Selamat SaliH,

    Years ago, on our 1st meeting in Oakland, Enda Shahi kegabizeka….

    On wit: I believe Tesseney takes the gold medal, then Massawa for silver and then Keren for bronze: And as I represent Tesseney, I shall prove it mathematically to all your honored invitees on this thread..

    I believe, you and I as (ShaHina feet feet enda belna), you picked the topic about spirituality and religion. Yeah, you had a lot on your mind because in less than a week you had a meeting with the late PMMZ…

    So allow me to share a Buddhist Monks short story…

    They were preparing to cross the Tekeze River WuHujj kolo.. ( The word Tekeze, is it kb mttkaaaz)

    So as these two monks were preparing to cross a river. It was a raging river of course. All of a sudden a damsel in distress, with a long dress and an umbrella swooned her hips and made sos like sounds. Our two monks who utter a sentence per 2 decades + 2. YaEni ezeyy senna di 2022….Enda SHi Tesseney’ gold medal Lisa’s E … bzaEbba Hade baE baE, a stutter …

    So, as the two monks observed the damsel in distress, the nearest monk took action and grabbed the lady and with one hand supporting her feet..

    YaEni JemaAat Al Khier Enda ShaHi honored invitees, shaIkhuum feet feet feet sip sip sip deaA endabolkumm. Tesseney Gold Medal…Keren Bronze and that’s because Haikotta was disqualified over a minor technicality… ShaHi sip sip…

    Then our two Budhist Monks + damsel in distress crossed the Tekeze River’s raging wuuHuuj.

    Our 2 Budhaas or Botistavas unloaded the damsel in distress, her sounds, swooning and all… Perched 2 feet above the Budhaas 2 arms, she landed on her ShebeTT Shidas and dashed towards her people.

    22 miles down the road coincided with exactly twenty 22 years of silence. And our 2’nd monk turned to his companion.

    “ I can’t believe you touched that you woman. …”

    And the companion responded:

    “Ya Akhuuyy…”

    “Brother, are you still carrying the lady?” 22 miles on the edge of the Tekeze River I stopped carrying her…as soon as she landed on her 2,feet…”

    Tesseney’s Gold Medal mathematical proof: YaEnni Abb Enda ShaHi Tesseney… Near the land mark Shell Gas Station. So sip sip, feet feet, ShaHi.

    There was a stutterer named SaliH from my neighborhood Hilet Sudan. His length of stutter is no more than 2. Sip sip Feet Feet sip sip feet feet ShaHi …

    One time, SaliH the stutterer, at the doorway of the Enda ShaHi saw TTiiNNyy TTiiMM fly by the SharriE on his Chopper motorcycle.

    So he runs into the Enda ShaHi and said “Tug”

    The crowed waited for the “tug” that follows the Tug.

    SaliH the stutterer did not stop at two Tugs. SaliH continued tugging. “Tug tug..Tug Tug.. tugtug.., tug tug..” he went on the stutterer SaliH my neighbor from Hilet Sudan Tesseney. The “Tug Tug” went on across the Tekeze River. “Tug Tug” SaliH went on because he saw a tug tug. SaliH saw a motorcycle.

    The Croweded Enda ShaHi did not know why SaliH couldn’t stop tugtuging and did not know what to make of the “tug tug” SaliH saw a tugtug. 2 tugs is a a motor cycle.

    “Ya Khelinna ya Akh. STOP TUG TUG SaliH.”

    “WuHaTTYo tebelkuas melisa tigisimo.”

    2 days ago I met Mr. Beshir IsHaq. I would like to have a cup of ShaHi with the Revolutionary Eritrean leader.

    “22 22 22 22 22 22 22… “ is SaliH’ new stutter. It is Mathematics in Base 2. “22 22 22 22 22 … “ SaliH just did not have energy for the g. “22g 22g 22g 22 22 22..”

    Hisab in Base 2. Hisabna.

    Happy 22 nikhulukhum!

    GiE NOW!

    the g in GitSAtSE.

  • iSem

    Hi All:
    Warning: kills some brain cells and you will agree with Yemane T/gergish’s book: “what have we accomplished by going to Sahel.”

  • M/Brhan Idris

    Hello Saleh, Happy new year!

    Tea shops episode came with a smile and laugh…may this year be the year of happiness that we reflect by our smiles and laughs. Even though I was not one of its clients, ቤት ሻሂ ሂወት in Asmara was a very famous tea shop during the early 70s. The renowned singer Abrar Osman talks about how listening to the tea shop’s music impacted his talent. I hope some awatistas can tell more stories about this tea shop.

    Since you mentioned Egypt, I would like to say that tea shops are peculiar. Many Egyptian novelists, including the Noble prize winner in literature, the late Naguib Mahfouz, made tea shops the venues of their novels and used to sit there with other writers and discuss many things, including literature.

    Last but not least, this episode indicates one of the facts of our situation: the many jokes that are originated from inside Eritrea reflect the truth about Eritrea. These jokes can be explained as black comedy and tell how evil the dictator is to our people! The poet Awel Said et al. can’t even say one of them.

    This is one of my favorite jokes.
    There was a long lineup in the US embassy in Asmara to take US visas. DIA suddenly comes and stands at the end. The one before him sees him and gives him his spot. Everyone does that to DIA, and now DIA is in the first spot of the lineup. But suddenly the place becomes very quiet. DIA is astonished and looks back, and discovers all the people are gone. The visa officer comes, and DIA asks what happened to the people who were standing in the lineup?
    “Sir, if you are willing to take the visa and leave Eritrea,” says the officer “The people see that there is no need for them leave Eritrea”
    Happy new year again!

    • Saleh Johar

      Ahlan Brhan,
      Egypt was flourishing in the days of giant intellectuals like Negib Mahfouz. I feel jealous of the tradition of saloons that are still flourishing in spite of social media. We are no where close to acquiring that skill of cal discussion in a face to face presentations. Maybe we can do that in the future eritrea. Thank you

    • Haile S.

      Selam M/Brhan and all

      MBrhan, I second you in complementing SGJ for a great societal observation.

      The joke I am going to tell & ask a question is not from biet Shahi hiwet. I went there few times, though I knew the owning family (same neighbourhood in Edga Hamus). As far as I can tell, jokes on Haileselassie started to pour in the early 70s before his deposition. I remember of a street song that goes ንዓ’ሆሆ ኣሆየ ኣንጭዋ በሊዓቶም ጃንሆየ repeated multiple times. Such song loosened the tongue and the jokes on the king started to be told in the open. After him all the jokes went to Mengustu with modifications and additions. Same goes with our presidenté with more new appropriate ones for him like the one you told. I have heard very similar jokes from friends who studied in the Eastern Bloc countries before the fall of the Berlin wall. So, for me these jokes appear to have originated there. Let me tell you one that stayed in my mind.

      There was steam train going from Bucharest to Moscow in the morning and coming back late in the evening. This steam train when going to Moscow was letting its steam effortfully with difficulty like this: Bre…zj…zj…nev, Bre…zj…zj…nev, Bre…zj…zj…nev, Bre…zj…zj…nev,…. However, when coming back to Bucharest in the evening, it emitted steam noise so easily & effortlessly like this: chachesko, chachesko, chachesko, chachesko,….
      Any meaning to it?
      Reward for answering correctly: berad shahi in Asmara

      • M/Brhan Idris

        Selam Haile S.,
        The magnitude of oppression b/n former USSR and Rumania.
        ዓቕሎም ዝጸበቦም አብ ሞስኮ
        ፍኹስ ደኣ በሎም አብ እንዳ ቻውቼስኮ

        • Haile S.


          Try again.
          Anybody else?

          • M/Brhan Idris


      • Ismail AA

        Selam Haile S.,
        L. Brezhnev and N. Ceausescu, respectively. And the message: fear from Leonid and relief from it by the grace of the great Nicolae.

        • Haile S.

          Selam Ismail & M/Brhan,

          Thank you both for attempting to answer.
          The message is: when the train goes to Moscow, it is loaded with goods, thus all the effort of the steam engine letting the steam out saying Bre….zh…..nev…. When it comes back, it is empty, thus the steam engine beats too fast saying Chacheskochacheskochachesko…
          Romanians were saying Russia was taking all their products for nothing in return.
          I know it would have been easier if I told it verbally. ኣዚኣ ወ’ድሓንኩም!