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Eritrean Diaspora

  • Daniel Christian, Danish-Eritrean international swimmer
    By Asmait Futsumbrhan

    Growing up around Mombasa beaches, Daniel Christian became a swimmer at a young age. Joining the swimming clubs of Kenya led to competing at the international level of age groups in Denmark. The 21 year old Danish-Eritrean swimmer has won most of the titles of the Danish championships as an age group contestant. Daniel continued to do well after he joined the junior and senior levels as well although he didn’t win a title.

    Now that he came back to Eritrea, where he was born, Daniel brought swimming tools and made time to meet with the Swimming Federation of Eritrea. He also arranged to meet up with Mereb-Setit Swimming Club and shared his knowledge with the Eritrean swimmers. He also had the pleasure of swimming at the Operation Fenkil celebrations with his fellow Eritreans.

    -Thank you for making time to be with us today; would you please introduce yourself to our readers?

    I was born in 1998, in Eritrea. However, due to the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, my family had to move to different African countries -- Gambia, Tanzania and Kenya. When I was just 4 years old, I started swimming along with my two sisters in Mombasa since it was a popular sport there. I joined the Bandari Swimming Club before I moved to Nairobi. My interest in swimming began to grow bigger as I went to the Nairobi International School where swimming was a much bigger sport. After moving to Denmark, learning another language was challenging, but I had swimming to divert my mind.

    -When did you officially start to take part in competitions?

    Every time we moved places, I was presented with a much greater opportunity to be dragged in to swimming much deeper. In Denmark, I started to participate in various national age group swimming competitions, where I became the champion in most of them till I joined the junior team. Nonetheless, I had the chance to take part in a Nordic championship contest and won the title. It was a Scandinavian age group swimming competition which was encouraging. Winning all those age group competitions was rewarding for the hard training I was doing. It meant a lot and inspired me to have a greater vision. I trained seven to eight times a week which sometimes can be challenging. I was in to different kinds of sport such as karate and running but swimming was the only thing that inspired me. I felt like my physique was meant for swimming. I felt like a talented swimmer and that is why I worked hard on it.

    -How were the competitions at the junior and senior levels like?

    It got tougher, certainly. But I managed to be on top five and top three. I can still compete internationally, but I would need to train much harder. I just finished college which made it a bit challenging to focus on swimming. No matter what level you are at, swimming requires constant training.

    -What type of swimming do you compete in?

    There are different disciplines in swimming – butter-fly, back-stroke, breast-stroke and front crawl, and there is another one called IM where you swim all four types back to back. That is what I compete in, but I can also compete in the other types. This means I have to train in each and every discipline equally. It can be challenging and I can’t have the same result as those who train specifically at the field, but I can do well.

    -You came to Eritrea and made contact with the swimmer’ federation; what was your experience like?

    I was born in Eritrea, and I have family here. This isn’t my first time in Eritrea. I came here to see my grandparents and I also wanted to see how the country was doing. I am glad that the sanction over Eritrea was finally lifted and I can see that there is a brighter future for the country. I brought few swimming materials that the swimmers could use. I also told the federation that I am open to share my knowledge and experience as an international level swimmer. I had the chance to meet with the Mereb- Setit swimmers and trained them for five days in Massawa. The swimmers have a potential and great endurance. I saw that the skills of the swimmers can be elevated if they had the professional training and dietary techniques. So, the things I know about techniques and training generally are something I can give to the Eritrean swimmers.

    Eritrea is famous for its long distance runners and cyclists who compete internationally. We can also be known for swimming if we work hard on it and make the sport popular In Eritrea. I came here three weeks after the sanctions were lifted and it just felt like the future was brighter. Although the swimming federation is brand new, we can achieve great results if we open up open-water swimming places and organize races. Eritrea has long coastal lines which are motivating enough to have great swimmers of its own.

    You were amongst the swimmers at the Operation Fenkil celebration; how was it?

    I was just there to teach the swimmers how to elevate themselves as swimmers. It was nice to be part of the national holiday celebration, which means a lot to Eritreans. It was also inspiring to see the kids being inspired by the swimmers. It felt good.

    -Before we say our goodbyes….?

    I plan to come back with more swimming materials of appropriate sizes because the swimming suits I got for the female swimmers this time were much bigger on them. I also felt like I didn’t get enough. Again, I want to take two swimmers to my club in Denmark for two weeks to see and experience more about the professional techniques of swimming. I believe that they can come back and help the other swimmers with their knowledge and experience. They can learn a lot. The things I can teach them just in days are very limited. Also, I would like to open a 50 meter pool anywhere in Eritrea. I think having a professional pool can help in increasing the number of swimmers. And as for myself, in April I am going to South Africa and compete in the South African Championship.

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  • Why I’m voting for Saron Gebresellassi for mayor of Toronto

    By Milan Gokhale
    October 15

    The 2018 Toronto municipal mayoral election has largely been overshadowed by the interference of Premier Doug Ford and his band of cronies at Queen’s Park. In the aftermath of his short-sighted, undemocratic, election gerrymandering, it has never been clearer that a 21st century Toronto requires a reboot rooted in really, really, really big thinking. By the end of the next election cycle in October 2022, the gap between rich and poor will be so wide that we may have entire generations of new, young, underrepresented, marginalized, oppressed community members, friends and family in Toronto with no improved transit, no access to affordable housing, no options for child care, no improved access to information and no way to find work in fields like the high-technology sector.

    The Canadian media has mostly focused its coverage on a head-to-head “showdown” between current Mayor John Tory and former Chief Planner of Toronto, Jennifer Keesmaat. This simplistic narrative ignores the absence of 31 year-old civil rights lawyer Saron Gebresellassi in a mayoral race that should be described as a larger Canadian story about “old” vs. “new” Toronto. The absence of this larger lens exposes traditional Canadian media as a remnant of “old” Canada. Saron is a new kind of mayoral candidate whose story resonates deeply with me: she is the daughter of Eritrean immigrants, raised by hard-working parents who lived in the suburbs. Like many first-generation new Canadian parents, Saron’s parents preached about the importance of higher education as a tool of liberation. She is a civil rights lawyer and racial justice activist, following in the footsteps of Toronto based human rights champions like Charles Roach and Lennox Farrell.

    Saron has run on an excellent, progressive mayoral platform, with a particular focus on universal affordability, indigenous sovereignty, police reform, civil rights, anti-poverty, mental health and social justice. At every turn, she has correctly diagnosed Toronto’s embedded root problems, and she has continuously proposed bold ideas to solve these problems permanently. In debates, she has argued passionately and forcefully for new thinking and new people at the centre of our politics. She is every bit as audacious in her demands for meaningful change as John Tory is in his demands for status quo. Her election platform is a blueprint document that current and future left-leaning candidates should study.

    There will be some in Toronto who will vote for Jennifer Keesmaat believing she is the more “likely” progressive candidate to win. At this point, unless you support the city’s direction under John Tory, your vote should be going to the candidate that has the best chance of affecting future change. A vote for Jennifer Keesmaat is a wasted opportunity to send a message to the political establishment in Toronto that a dramatic change is necessary, and it will come whether they want it or not.

    Saron, transit and me

    I met Saron after the transit debate on the Scarborough RT, and we had a long conversation about the viability of “free” public transit. I loved her platform plank in principle, but I loved the conversation with Saron even more. She was honest in saying she was still learning from transit, anti-poverty, environmental and social justice activists. She was earnest in asking me questions about why free transit was such a difficult proposition, even within small overlapping circles of transit advocates. “I don’t think there’s a single answer that’s going to satisfy everyone,” I concluded. Her response: “I don’t have all of the answers, but I don’t think I have to.”I am tired of candidates who make empty election promises. If you’re running for office, you should be able to tell me what you don’t know, what you’re curious to learn more about, and who you intend to learn it from. I don’t expect you to solve my problems unilaterally. I just want elected officials who will filter policy ideas, whether I understand them or not, through important civic values: dignity, honesty, universality, sovereignty, justice, truth, fairness, youth, democracy and equity. There is no one running for mayor in Toronto who embodies these values better than Saron.

    In a change election, Saron is the only change candidate.

    There are angles to Saron’s candidacy that are worthy of public discussion, even within Canadian media’s older, upper-middle-class, predominantly white gaze. If elected, Saron would be the first racialized person to become mayor in Toronto’s history, a fact that becomes more relevant as Toronto moves into the 21st century as a majority-minority city. She would also become the youngest mayor in Toronto’s history and the first female mayor in post-amalgamation Toronto. Saron is the only candidate who speaks Spanish, the only candidate who is fluent in sign language and the only candidate whose campaign office is located in the suburbs. These and many other aspects of her unique campaign should be media stories worthy of coverage.

    A vote for Saron Gebresellassi doesn’t fix everything. But it’s the first step in how all of us take back a city that belongs to us.

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  • I want to become an Eritrean, can somebody help me out?

    By Nemron Iyassu Yohannes | Eritrea Profile

    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!

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  • ‘Appointment in Marinai’

    Sunday, 26 August 2018 

    Born and raised in Milan, Italy, Ariam Yemane Tekle knows best how it feels to live as the “other” amongst the rest. Born in the early 1980s Ariam agonized a black daughter of a migrant in Italy, where children of migrants are not, to this day, recognized by the government as citizens until the age of eighteen.

    Leaving their war-torn home in the early 1970s meant, for Eritreans, an expedition that would eventually direct them back to the homeland. They supported the armed struggle and no matter where they’d lodge in they always live united. That is how children of migrant Eritreans in Europe –Milano, Italy, in this case, learned to be indifferent to all the racism and prejudice directed at them by the society in which they grew up in. The key to tolerate ugly stares, police officers buses and total obliviousness of their very presence by the Italian government, was actually spending time together and feel one. ‘Marinai’, a park in Milan, was and still is the ‘spot’ where, by default, multiple generations of migrant Eritreans and their children feel at home in each other’s presence. There, they play sports, chat, talk and discuss national issues without having to feel excluded.

    No need of an appointment in Marinai. A walk or a bus ride to Marinai will most certainly lead an Eritrean to another Eritrean. 

    Ariam Yemane Tekle, expert on social studies, documented it all in her one-hour long documentary entitled ‘Appuntamento Ai Marinai’. Screened at several universities in Italy, one time in New York and lately in media auditoriums of multiple Eritrean organizations, Ariam’s documentary, beyond giving the local public an overview of the hostile reality the Eritrean diaspora live in, it also served as an eye opener tool to Italians who didn’t think ‘it was that bad’ for migrants in their homeland. 

    • -Compliments for documenting a beautiful yet unknown story.

    Thank you. I studied international relations as an undergrad and then I did MA in social studies and anthropology in Brussels. Let’s say that studying social studies and anthropology was vital in terms of my actual interest in people and societies. I agree with you on the fact that the story I tell in the documentary is an unknown one. Eritreans in Eritrea don’t know much about our troubles because we have that culture of ‘tolerating and not telling’. Italians, with whom we grow up don’t think it’s that bad. That is why I decided to name this generation ‘the ghost generation’ as their realty is unknown.

    • -What is it like to be born in a foreign country from migrant parents?

    It is a sensitive issue. Especially for the second generation, meaning children born outside from migrant parents. It is something that can raise several questions. It is unfair for the migrants because ‘black’ or ‘African’ is always connected to robbery, violence and drugs. But when a group of young men playing football are told to be in queue for an inquiry of their sports bag and when they’re told to face the wall with guns pointed at them, that is, essentially, what violence is in its whole meaning! For us, the following generations, I can say, things were better as the worst passed with the second generation but nevertheless it doesn’t mean it has all improved.

    In fact, when I first started working on this project I knew that it would be a sensitive issue, but I was equally very enthusiastic about taping a subject that has never been disclosed publicly. I contacted few people at first but then the network grew as they would give contacts of their friends and the friends of the friends. Some others were rather timid to be in front of a camera but they would share with me their stories and give me tips to my stories. I realized that the young men and women I was talking to were as enthusiastic as me because after all this is their story. This is who they are. They were the black kids in a white community.

    • -Could you please describe your documentary?

    ‘Appuntamento ai Marinai’ is a one-hour documentary about second generation Eritrean in Italy, born and raised in Milan between the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s. The documentary talks about their childhood days. They were neglected by the host government while their parents had to go to several jobs in order to make enough to raise their children and with the little left they helped the armed struggle. The children had literally to look after each other no matter where they go. In the story, is mentioned a catholic center that had an important role in the unison of young Eritreans in Milan. To include Eritrean children in the center was a nun’s idea. Her name was Nun Gen Antonia and she would organize several activities to engage the children in the center which included sports and extracurricular educational activities. The nun would call retired teachers to help the kids with their homework and studies.

    • -Do you think we can say that the first black community in Italy was that from Eritrea?

    I do believe there were other African migrants in Italy. But they were never united. They were sparse. The case of Eritreans is always different. The first migrants from Eritrea were running away from bombardments and they always knew that they would eventually come back. At least they had hoped so. In the process families were created and Eritrean children were being raised in an atmosphere that doesn’t tolerate migrants. So it must have been difficult. They thought that it was natural for them to be treated less because that is how the host society wanted them to think. Despite all of this, the Eritrean community has always been our rock. The habit of looking out for each other and looking forward to spending time together are traits we inherited from our parents. Our parents raised us to learn to love each other and fully be aware of our heritage. So we felt Eritreans even though we were not raised in Eritrea. A common trait, for example, is that we all feel like cousins because our parents would introduce us to one another as brothers or sisters. We didn’t know we were actually not related until we grew up, and that we found out on our own realizing that is absurd that everyone in Milan and the rest of Italy is a cousin. The Eritrean community is known for its gatherings and communal life style. This is the specific peculiarity of the Eritrean community in the Diaspora.

    • -What is Marinai?

    It is a park where the second generation would meet after school. But not only the second generation –the trend was followed by all generations until this very day. That is where we all meet without an appointment to hang out and have fun. The youth meet up there from all corners of Milan, even the furthest ones, to hang out with fellow Eritreans… cousins! It has always been a place of consolation. In Marinai you can find young people of all ages. Some who play in groups, some who chat, some who take a walk… but they are all Eritreans feeling at home surrounded by Eritreans.

    • -From the way the diaspora act upon their annual visit home, in summer, it is very hard to tell that you have a mountain of problems starting from racist attacks. Asmara International Airport is crowded with your endless luggage. You give the impression that life is gold out there in Europe or the U.S.A.

    I know it is wrong but that is what we do. In fact, I partially blame us, the diaspora, for the emigration and exodus of many Eritreans. We come here once a year to give the impression that things are all good in Europe, that there are no hardships and that we are rich when most of us have to work multiple jobs a day to support ourselves. I am not saying that Europe or America are bad. Yes, there is better education and maybe more packed foods over there but a migrant will always be a migrant no matter what. And as long as we are black we have to live with the anxiety of racism every day. The reason I, with the help of several people, screened the documentary in several organizations in Asmara is to actually give the true image of what is it like to grow up in a foreign place where you’ll always be the different one, ‘the other’.

    • -Thank you



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  • Eritrean Saron Tesfalul makes Forbes magazine ’30 under 30′ list

    By Forbes
    Forbes released today the seventh annual “30 Under 30” list (p. 90 of the December 12, 2017 issue of Forbes magazine), featuring 600 young innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders who are challenging the conventional wisdom and rewriting the rules for the next generation. The Forbes class of 2018 30 Under 30 list, presented by Jaguar, includes 30 honorees for each of the 20 categories. All under 30 years old, the honorees were vetted by a panel of blue-ribbon judges in their respective fields. Over the past seven years, Forbes has grown a 30 Under 30 alumni network of over 4,000 people worldwide. The names within this network exemplify Forbes’ impressive track record of spotlighting young game changers and industry leaders who were on the cusp of achieving still greater fame and fortune. There is one 30 under 30 alumni judge in each category. Nineteen percent of 30 under 30 list members are immigrants, originating from more than 50 different countries. Thirty-eight percent of these list members live and work on the East Coast and thirty-five percent on the West Coast.
    “For the past seven years, the Forbes 30 Under 30 list has emerged as the way that the world discovers the next generation of entrepreneurs and game-changers,” said Randall Lane, Editor of Forbes Magazine and creator of the Forbes Under 30 franchise. “This is the ultimate club: the people that will reinvent every field over the next century."

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