Former Italian ‘Asmarinos’ hold their revanchist annual rally in the seaside town of Rimini, Italy.
In these exacting travails through which we Eritreans are trying to navigate these days, a smile, a gesture of kindness or an expression of good will showing that someone cares and understands what we are going through, is a breath of hope. On the other hand a display of scorn from someone we thought has known the generosity of our land and its people is reprehensible.
The following episode is about the offspring of the Italian colons who first set foot in Eritrea towards the end of the 19th century. It is, of course, inconsequential and peripheral to the central issues of the struggle for democracy of the Eritrean people, yet indicative, in a minor way, to how many still want to own what is not theirs, has never been theirs and will never be. It is a petty anecdote in the history of our nation that is still being written.
Last week, on May 19-20 2012, fifth or seventh generation Italians born and raised in Eritrea held a festive, if nostalgic, annual rally in Rimini. The galvanizing theme of the meeting was one of “how we were then”, meaning reminiscing the ‘good old Asmara days’ before their families decided to abandon Eritrea in 1974 with the advent of the military dictatorship in Ethiopia and the deterioration of security in Eritrea, because of the rapid escalation of the Eritrean war of independence. Most of them and their families were later compensated by the Italian government for what they presumably lost in Eritrea, to restart their new lives in their beloved Italy.
The life they kept on reminiscing in their rally was of a life in Eritrea where they were masters trampling the ‘indigenes’ reduced to ‘Ascaris’, maids and concubines. One of the worst colonial experiences in Africa where apartheid was a practice long before it was institutionalized in S. Africa. They boasted that their quality of life did not change much even after they lost the war in 1941, and lost the colony.
They omitted in their selective memories that they were embraced by the generous and forgiving nature of the Eritrean people who never thought to avenge the atrocities of the colonial period. But still continued to melancholically remember their separate and privileged lives of private clubs, excursions to their own image of Africa, where beasts and indigenes were the same landscape, picnics to the beaches of the Red Sea, and parties of which the Eritreans could not even have a glimpse. One or two of their Eritrean and mestizo classmates in the only Italian high school, who might have been ‘privileged’ to have a peek were literally owed by the decadent lifestyle. In almost a century in Eritrea none of them learned the language or cared to know the customs of the natives.
In fact when asked by a former Eritrean classmate, who decided to drop in on the rally to understand what it was all about, the webmaster of ilchichingiolo.it, the site that organized the annual rally, stated brazenly that they were meeting just to remember the great lives they had in Asmara and festively celebrate. Again, asked if he cared or was curious about the fate of that Eritrea or of the Eritreans that gave him and his so much, his abrupt response was he did not give a hoot.
Cohabitation of Eritreans and Italians started in the 1850s when the Italians decided that they needed their own place in the sun like all the other Europeans who were racing in the partition of Africa. The interesting aspect of the beginning of this common history of two so different peoples is that this was also the beginning of the unity of Italy. It was an emerging nation still shakily trying to stand on its own, which ventured in a colonial experience. It sent its colons to make a fortune in the land of others, who with the fascists taking over Italy, dropped their ‘civilizing’ masks and showed their hideous faces. And later, those who remained even after the loss of the colony and the fall of fascism made a good life and raised their children in peace and prosperity.
What one would expect, from people with a similar unique life experience, is empathy towards the people who once hosted them so generously, even though they came uninvited and forced themselves on that land. With the exception of a few who were shocked by such ignorance and indifference, the rest of those partying in Rimini were apathetic or outright arrogant and with no human decency or solidarity towards the people of the country they once called home.
In the seventies and eighties of the last century thousands of Eritrean ladies were brought to Italy to serve as maids and nannies under conditions that calling indecent is the least. In the past two decades many young Eritrean men and women, forced to abandon their own homes because of a brutal dictatorship, had to face death and indescribable agonies to find refuge abroad. Because of its position in the Mediterranean, Italy was a passage to many refugees and immigrants from Africa and other parts of the world. Many Eritreans were part of this human tragedy of our times.
Governments have their own policies and there are international laws that govern such events. But it would not be asking too much if Eritreans would expect some form of sympathy or solidarity from their former occupiers, yet from that to pass to indifference and disdain, calls for the question - what kind of people are these joyous hordes of our former cohabitants partying in Rimini. Definitely not people I would like to see again here in Italy or in Eritrea.
Of course my heart goes to those Italians who have never set foot in Eritrea but accept the transiting Eritrean refugees with warmth and open arms. I am also grateful to the brave Italian doctors and reporters who, at the risk of their lives, visited us in the field in the course of the armed struggle for independence to cure our wounded and tell our story to the world.
Evidently, those of ilchichingiolo.it are the descendants of the worst colons and fascists and have nothing to share with the nobility of spirit of the Italians I know. So, I would just suggest to them that a little humility and gratitude goes a long way. It is not too late. By the way, the chichingiolo – gaba in Tigrinya, is a great laxative, it might help. Try it. Take some time to educate yourselves and don’t venture to Eritrea, not even as tourists, before taking a good look in the mirror. See you in your next annual rally.
Rimini, 21 May 2012