Wise Barber, Ravens And Machiato…

Usually, I report to my readers immediately after I return from a travel or an event. This edition of Negarit was delayed a lot, first due to the pressures of making up for lost time, then attending to stuff as result of the server breakdown that had to be fixed (archives still in the process).  I also preferred to give room to the discussion on Forto 2013.  Here follows a belated reportage (and recognitions) about my tour in Australia which ended over a month ago…

Of course I didn’t see any living kangaroos but three dead ones, on the way to the airport from the outskirts of Canberra, a city that disappointed me: the capital city of Australia is composed of about seven hamlets scattered all over the place. Maybe I was disappointed because I visited Canberra after visiting Perth (the most beautiful city I visited so far) and Melbourne, which I believe is the most pleasant free city. It is possible that I set the bar too high for Canberra; it doesn’t meet the lowest point of any bar, a ghost town, no life, just big embassy buildings. But it also has its share of kind and hospitable Eritreans.

Our world is wonderful, its people beautiful; Jimmy Cliff is right. But there is a snag: sometimes beautiful people have warts, ugly dictators they can’t weed out. If this world didn’t have tyrants, there would be neither terrorism nor hunger nor bloodshed; it would be too accommodating and too prosperous. Then I would have gone to Australia (maybe never) as a tourist and not on a speaking tour to wail about the situation back home.

Is Cricket A Game?

All former British colonies (and commonwealth countries) carry the curse of cricket, including the Indian sub-continent, Australia and outlying islands, and a few others. Canada and the USA were miraculously saved from the cricket torment. Of course I watched enough cricket games (a total of one hour) and it is enough to last me a lifetime. I am not into sports, but even if I was, cricket wouldn’t be it: I can’t even stand basketball or football. But cricket?

I once found my cousins playing cricket; I think they started the match when they were 15 and 17, two years ago…I heard they haven’t finished the game yet. They resume playing every morning and stop, only to resume the game after lunch. If I was a judge, I would have all the cameras that China could produce installed on every corner and I would sentence traffic law violators to watch a cricket game for an hour; serious offenders would have to watch an entire match which might last for a month or so. That would eradicate traffic law violations.

Australia: The Best Place To Be

Migrants who were looking for an alternative home are lucky to have ended up down under. The culturally diverse Australia is the best home for anyone who is transplanted in a foreign land carrying a luggage of different culture and history. Australia is a wonderful place with wonderful people, an amazing country. Any individual who suffered under a dictatorship in a poor country cannot get a better deal than Australia. It is truly tolerant and multi-cultural…and there, the English language is easier. They only have 25 alphabets, no “R” in Australia, it has been exiled. With only twenty five alphabets, all you need to do is misspell a few vowels, for example replace “A” with “O” or “E” with “A”…something like that, and you speak “Ostraillian in aighty-aight daays.”

Throughout history, human beings moved around in search of food, security and escaping wars and natural disasters; don’t believe historians who tell you people move from the elements: the most desolate regions are still populated. No people left Alaska, for example, or the tsunami-prone sea shores. Ok, sometimes people leave their countries to avoid paying their debts.

Generally, movements of people are made over so many years and in short distances that the transition is smooth. But for a group of people to leave their natural habitat en-masse and abruptly be transplanted thousands of miles away is neither smooth nor natural but a psychological and emotional disaster, though ending up in a place like Australia makes it pleasantly bearable. That is because immigrants in Australia don’t suffer due to lack of jobs, education or health, or even from discrimination; and transition to a new life is smooth due to the efficient and generous infrastructure that helps newcomers adopt quickly. Migrants are not dehumanized for lack of basic necessities. They enjoy all the amenities that a civilized country can offer. If there is a hindrance, like shortage of shiro, don’t blame Australia.

Our people in Australia are better off than many other parts of the world though, like everywhere else, there are some hindrances to community cohesion and development: peculiar social and political problems that most Horn of Africa immigrants carried along from their ancestral homes. The faster that crippling luggage is unloaded, the better for the health of the community. And I am sure the young generation of Australians from the Horn of Africa will prosper by leaps and bounds; Australia is like a lush farm waiting to be harvested, a ripe fruit waiting to be reaped.

I can certify that the social problems in Australia are typical… and identical to what ails our immigrant communities in all parts of the world: distinct social and political hindrances and regional, religious and sectarian issues that are leaving an ugly dent on the otherwise comfortable setting. Psychological and emotional torment that all hyphenated immigrants suffer from will certainly be cured once the era of the totalitarian rule ends in our respective ancestral lands, and once we find (hopefully in the near future) our countries of origin have become members of the free world where the dignity and humanity of a citizen is respected and safeguarded.

Throughout my travels, I have noticed that there is a sectarian divide among Eritreans, but I have yet to meet anyone who condones it, individually. And I find myself asking: then, who is feeding this divide? Still, eradicating the religious, tribal and sectarian sensitivities (a legacy of the Middle East and the Horn of Africa) that is crippling Eritreans all over the world needs courage, honesty, and wisdom to eradicate.

Of course, the Eritrean regime’s tentacles are everywhere wreaking havoc inside Eritrea and among Diaspora Eritreans. But on top of that, there is a lack of resolve in facing the chaos and its effects that is crippling Eritrean Diaspora: fanaticism and empty regional and tribal prides. I believe Australian-Eritreans are more than equipped to make their community a model by coming to the fore and setting an example.

Well, this was meant to be a travelogue, a light reading. My apologies, now let me tell you about…

The Barber Shop

When I sat on a barber’s chair in North Melbourne, it had been five years since I last had my hair cut by a professional barber; I did my hair on my own, sometimes my wife helped. I couldn’t find a cutting machine so I went to the barber, a very serious lady; she asked me: “Numba 2 or numba 3?”

I remembered the banyan barber of my childhood and Gilay, my barber in later years. I responded, “short on the sides, but leave the middle part alone.”

“How you comb you haia?”  She asked me; I combed my hair to show her how I do it.

She spoke like a policeman, “Going bald on the side; do you wash your haia?”

“Uhm…Yes, getting bald fast. And yes I wash my hair, of course I do.”

“How many time?”

I was afraid I might have come to a clinic, “everyday, when I take a shower.”

“You use hot or cold watah?”

Well, “both…I mean, depending on the weather, cold or hot weather.”

“You eat food?”

“What? Of course I do… ma’am.”

“You eat chicken?”

Now, I suspected I was in a cooking school. “Yes, it’s my favorite after mutton.”

“How you cook you chicken?”

Ummm…I thought of explaining to her how we cook zigni, but changed my mind, “We do cook it, like… like a stew… That is how I do it.”

“How you take out chicken haia?”

“Chicken hair? You mean the feathers? Well, I never did that myself.”

She smiled, “you pour boiled watah on chicken to take out haia?”

Of course she is right. “Right, I believe that is how it is done.”

“Can you put haia, you call feathah, back on chicken skin after that?”

“What? No.” I know barbers like to talk, but she was asking me so many questions. I snapped and told her, “of course not. You can’t put back plucked feathers on a dead chicken!”

Her smile grew bigger and she nodded her head, “when you wash your haia with hot watah, they go like chicken haia.”

“They do?” I never thought about that.

“Yes. Cannot put haia back again on you head. Don’t wash you haia with hot watah.”

Genius I thought. “All right ma’am, I won’t.” Why didn’t the late Gilay the barber tell me about that a long time time ago instead of rubbing a ton of belentina cream on my hair before he pushed me out of his shop?

The lesson for all you balding men is: Don’t wash your hair with hot water, use freezing cold water and get pneumonia instead. That was what my serious-looking Chinese-Australian barber said. Obey her instructions just like you followed you parents’ orders.

Endless Fun

See, Australia is fun: people finish work, go home for a shower and then spend the evening socializing by loitering in coffee shops and restaurants. When was the last time you living elsewhere didn’t go home after work and hit the bed? Life is kinder in Australia, a modern country with less modern day pressures!

Here is where those who don’t want us to express our love to Asmera are rolling their eyes,  but Melbourne feels like Asmera: evening promenades, a lot of fun and all, even if Asmera is a bit poorer. OK. That was compromise, stop rolling your eyes…please!

I also went to Perth, a four-hours flight from Melbourne. Until then, my most favorite city had been Agadir in Morocco. Surprisingly I found Perth to be the best city I have seen so far. On top of the nice people I met, the city has a strange feeling to it; invisible people with invisible brooms were sweeping the streets, all the time. It is immaculately clean and all the well-maintained buildings seemed as if they were built yesterday. Unfortunately, even beautiful cities have something annoying.

“Craven Ravens”

With all due respect to nature and ecology, birds and all, though I know that humanity encroached to their wild territories, I couldn’t stand the annoying shrieks that fills the air surrounding Perth. Thousands of noisy ravens crow from dawn to dusk. Their annoying and persistent crow is so piercing one thinks a baby is crying somewhere on top of the roof; and then one discovers it’s an army of ravens. They go to cafeterias and finish any leftover food from the table. Worse, they have a scary stare and a tendency to look you in the eye, no blink. My friend Fauzi tried hard to change my perception of ravens and told me many noble stuff about them, that they are very protective of their young and all. I don’t like them… and they are not magpies as I thought…I looked them up on the Internet and listened to their shrieks on youtube. They are the noisy ravens.


Last time I mentioned that my hosts fattened me like a cow; I gained 12 pounds during my stay in Australia and it took me almost two months to shed them off. The culprit? I  haven’t had a decent macchiato for years and I think I created a shortage with the quantity I consumed, I almost gave up tea. The good thing is they used to take me to a coffee shop by Laygon street, I swear its owner is Ajak from Keren pretending to be an Italian from Sicily. I just felt I was back home in Keren, innocent conversation and warm hosts who injected in me enough doses of confidence. Do I want to name them here? No. Of course not because they are so many and if I did, this edition will look like telephone book. The least I can do is to mention my mother, who is so proud of her community and large circle of friends, God bless them all. Engdot, invitations for coffee, rich meals… and those who came with so much food and fruits to visit me… I apologize for those I couldn’t visit for lack of time…I promise I will visit them when I travel to Australia on a private trip.

Of the elders, I would like to thank all those who were full of encouraging words, wise advice and valid criticisms. I would like to appreciate the time I spent with all the veterans of the independence struggle, some from the forties, who educated me on many things—I wish I had more time.

On the final event on February 2nd. I would like to thank all those who gave me hope and were generous with their time… and those who have been instrumental in assisting my compatriots and are now carrying for them as Australian citizens: the graceful Australian government officials, the multicultural commission, and the police and security authorities, and parliamentarians and political party officials… and…

I thank the patriotic websites stationed in Australia, especially Abdulwahab of Awna1 for documenting all the events that happen in Australia. And Mo Noray for spending so much time in documenting, editing and producing the final clip. I thank the Africa Think Tank, the Victoria Islamic Council, ENCDC-Australia, CBS, CRC radios, Eritrean community members in Perth, Canberra and Melbourne–mainly to EJAP that made everything possible. To all those who spoiled me. To all those who paid for my coffee, I paid only twice for coffee–some even going as far as bringing me cigarettes (you might be surprised to know that a pack of 20 costs almost $20 in Australia, an incentive to give up the stinky stuff). I thank all those who drove me around everywhere that I never had to use a public transport or even walk a short distance.

To my sister and brothers, their children and spouses, to my relatives, friends and their families, and particularly to my mother, I apologize: the life of an activist is not his own. I hope to get more time with you some time soon, I know you will pray for me and I will never stop praying for you.

I really had a swell time in Australia, forty days, just like a woman who stays at home for forty days after delivery… a sort of Geleb.


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