The Dirt in Asmara

I can hear someone asking, where is Asmara? Asmara is Eritrea's capital city AND please do not ask me where Eritrea is because then I will force you to re-sit your history, geography or even mathematics if I had to. Bottom line is that, Eritrea is beautiful country and Asmara is small and clean. The question though is where is the dirt? There has to be some dirt, right? These reflections are coming in quite late in the day, given that my last trip to Asmara was in 2007.

Since I am not very touristic (believe it or not), my travel interest is largely airport issues, airport transfer dynamics, hotels and their embeddedness or disconnection from the rest of the society and finally the word on the street. This trip had all of that and more.

I was departing from Nairobi. My KQ flight was bound to leave at 18:00HRS headed to Cairo through Khartoum, then connect with Egypt Air through to Asmara. Once upon a time, it would take 3 hours from Nairobi to Asmara. Please do not ask me what happened because I try not to go down that road. I was sat at the JKIA launch (someone really needs to check that airport – it is officially my worst transit point. Terrible seating space for passengers – AWFUL). This particular KQ flight tends to delay – like it or not. After waiting for 45 min, with no one informing us why we had delayed, there was an announcement that we shall be flying to Asmara through Dubai.

First, I am not a fun of Dubai. Two: why not get us to Cairo, then link us to Egypt Air? Anyway, no one could answer my question because I voiced it in my heart! Big mistake when you need answers. We arrived in Dubai at 23:00HRS, went through a rigorous check with the Dubai immigration officers not sure why we have to transit through Dubai to Asmara. I did not even have the energy to answer the immigration officer. I would have been happy returning home. From Dubai, we were scheduled to jump onto little know Eritrea Airways. These chaps do not fly every day, meaning we had to spend a night in Dubai. Remember my point one above? Enough said. Due to traffic and normal delays, we got to our hotel room in Dubai at 1:00AM, before catching some sleep and heading back to the airport for a 10.00AM departure to Asmara. For those who love maths, we pretty much slept for 3 hours because we had to be awake, showered, checked out, had breakfast and beat traffic and finally at our gate two hours before departure. That cannot be good for anyone's health.

The flight to Asmara from Dubai was shocking. We took off with lots of turbulence. It was very old aircraft and one can understand why such cannot do long journeys. We had to transit through Djibouti to drop and pick some passengers. Taking off and landing on such planes can be a terrible affair for the weak hearted. It is vital to say your prayers or write your will when jumping on some of these, because you always feel that the next thing will be the door popping open while airborne. Thank God, none of those happened anyway. When I say none of those, I do not mean the praying or writing of wills.

We made it to Djibouti OK. What was two hours felt like ten hours. After 45 minutes, we had our stomachs creaking again as we took off. Prayers were said once more and those who needed to update their wills did so. After we stabilized, all seemed OK, until we hit an extremely turbulent zone. This lasted for 45 minutes, which is a long, time my friend. With the pilot saying nothing, all you needed to do is look at face expressions of your fellow passengers. Everyone was scared and this did not exclude the crew. I always thought the crew are trained to remain calm and re-assure passengers? Not these ones. The captain was on radio with someone and two minutes later he informed us that he could not land and had to return to Djibouti until the weather clears. It did and we took off, prayed again, re-wrote and updated wills and landed safely. When we landed, passengers clapped. That was the most important clap of my life.

Asmara airport was a scene. You have to declare your wealth to the coin. I had some KSHS, some Ghanaian cedis, USD and Euro. I completed a form indicating how much I had. On the right end of the form were instructions on how to exchange currency. You need to use authorized money changing spots and you do need an official stamp. No external currency is to circulate in Asmara. I could not tip anyone at the hotel (they did not even accept tips). I got to the Sun Shine Hotel at 4.00AM in the morning and CRASHED.

My meeting began the same day as my eighteen-hour trip back home would begin in less than twenty-four hours. Asmara is super clean. Small narrow streets, well carpeted and small manicured restaurants and coffee houses. The word on the street and which is more of a question was: Where was the dirt? There has to be some dirt? When hard questions come, it is time to go home! The return journey was not deficient of drama. We took of at…