Mr. T was in Eritrea last week on a work-related trip. When people asked about his whereabouts, I would say, Ethiopia. Not that I was geographically challenged, but for some reason most people looked blank when I said, Eritrea.
Truth be told, I hadn’t given Eritrea a second thought until this trip came up. I only knew it was somewhere near Ethiopia. I did some cursory reading, mostly to figure out how safe it was, and discovered that it was a deemed a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ and was under ‘UN sanctions’. Of course, I found this out this while Mr. T was in Eritrea, and could do nothing more than ask him to ‘lock the doors and windows at night’.
What’s it like, I asked, the moment he got back. Cold, he said. Eritrea is about 7000 ft. above sea level and temperatures reached a maximum of 24 degrees even in summer.
What’s the place like, I wanted to know. It’s quite like Goa, he replied. That was a huge compliment as far as Eritrea was concerned. Mr. T, an eternal Goaphile, ranked most places he visited based on their semblance to Goa.
It had an easy charm, apparently. An Italian colony until the last century, it still featured graceful, Art Deco buildings, especially in the capital, Asmara. Like any place unused to tourists or travelers, credit cards were rarely accepted, and currency exchanges frequently ‘ran out of dollars’. The ritziest hotel in town was no more than a well-maintained lodge. And that’s where Mr. T and his colleague happened to be staying.
The rooms were squeaky clean but tiny. One could enter the room and fall into bed in the same motion, apparently. Mr. T also ended up sharing the room with scores of mosquitoes. And in the bathroom, apart from a single bar of soap, there were no other toiletries.
One morning, Mr. T and his colleague stopped at the Reception to check if they could get some moisturizer. Because of the cold weather, their skin had turned dry and cracked. The receptionist replied that the hotel had run out toiletries. However, before they could turn around, she opened a drawer and pulled out her handbag. She rummaged through it and came up with a tube of scented body butter. Before they could object, she squeezed out a big dollop on both their palms.
“Have a good day, sir,” she said, waving them off when they tried to thank her.
What Eritrea lacked as a country, it more than made up by its people.