Thursday, December 18, 2014

A tree at Kagnew Station Asmara in 1968 - my time in Eritrea and Ethiopia | Caperi

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Skip Dahlgren 1968

This is the first of what I intend to be a series of personal reminiscences from the years I spent at Kagnew Station in Asmara, a well as my experience in Eritrea and parts of Ethiopia. My experiences may not be representative of the majority of those who were stationed there, but to the best of my ability I’ll endeavor to present an accurate & interesting picture of one man’s enduring memories of a very special time.
The arrival of the Christmas season in 1968 led to a flurry of activity on Kagnew Station a U.S. military base in Asmara capital city of Eritrea, which was at that time was considered a province of Ethiopia. There was no perceptible seasonal change to suggest the arrival of winter, but once Thanksgiving had come and gone on the calendar the preparations began. Garlands of evergreen and holly appeared, holiday music began to dominate the radio waves, and people commenced their feverish annual competition for the best decorations.
As it happened, in addition to the celebration of Western Christmas which falls on 25 December, the difference between the Gregorian & Julian calendars meant that the large percentage of Asmara’s population who adhered to the Orthodox Tewahedo Church observed the holiday two weeks later, generally on 7 January. This led to my observation paraphrasing an old saying: “Christmas comes but twice a year in Eritrea!”
One of my classmates from the Arabic program at Monterey, dissatisfied with his situation, had decided to apply for a direct commission. On his successful attainment of this promotion, he suddenly changed from the enlisted U.S. Army specialist rank 4 (SP4) to the introductory officer grade of 2nd lieutenant. This was accompanied by a change of uniform and insignia. He now wore the gold lieutenant’s bar on his collar instead of the SP4’s patch on his sleeve. Immensely pleased with his promotion, he would half-jokingly lord it over us, pointing first to his now bare sleeve & then to his newly adorned collar, proudly declaring “I don’t have it here – I’ve got it here!”
Simultaneously with his promotion, his duties also changed. He no longer worked with the rest of us as an Arabic linguist, but rather was assigned a series of command duties of questionable significance, marking time while awaiting the orders for his transfer to a unit in Vietnam.
The growing bustle of preparations for Christmas gave him the idea for a project that would keep him busy for a day or so while accomplishing a practical & enjoyable result. The idea involved the tall, shapely evergreen tree that stood beside the door of the concrete block operations building at Tract C, the secure site where we worked. His plan was to adorn this tree with lights and other Christmas decorations, a concept so unusual as to be almost outrageous, and highly unlikely to be authorized.
Tract C was a top secret secure operations site, and anything as frivolous as decoration was strongly discouraged. The building on the outskirts of Asmara was a solid, windowless structure, surrounded by a double security fence whose single entrance was guarded by military police. Security was taken so seriously that the various operations performed in the site were in separate areas, some of which were behind locked doors preventing access by any but those personnel who were cleared for that particular duty location. Any paperwork to be moved from one location to another was put in brown paper bags to keep them safe from view by any but those with the need to know. On the rare occasions when uncleared personnel entered the facility, such as when some of the Eritrean employees from the physical plant were admitted to assist performing maintenance on electrical wiring or plumbing, red lights in the ceilings would flash and an alarm klaxon was repeatedly sounded throughout the building until the all clear signal was given when these personnel had left the building.
As previously stated, this somber setting was unrelieved by ornamental material of any kind. However, while the senior officers and enlisted staff were rigidly committed to this status quo, those of us who were linguists, analysts, or other junior enlisted not likely to make a career of the military had a much more casual, informal attitude, and were much like the doctors on the television show M*A*S*H in our willingness to find unusual or unorthodox means of relieving the boredom or frustration of working in a concrete box.
Once a small group of such miscreants managed during a midnight work shift to smuggle into the site some curtains and curtain rods, along with a number of large tourist posters they had obtained from a travel agency in Asmara. Through the night, when no senior staff were present, they managed to hang the curtains on the bare concrete block walls, with the posters located behind the curtains, sufficiently visible as to simulate windows onto the outside world. Predictably, the command staff were highly distressed in the morning by this extreme breach of protocol, and the simulated windows were immediately ordered taken down – as if people could view the classified activities from the outside! Of course, even the commotion of their dismantling provided a welcome change from the usual drab duty.
Despite all expectations, the plan to adorn the tree was authorized.
The size of the tree we planned to decorate and the risk of falling precluded the use of ladders to complete its decoration. Instead, the new lieutenant arranged with the motor pool to requisition a cherry picker for the project – a truck with a man-sized bucket on the end of an articulated mechanical arm intended for use in servicing power or telephone lines. He then approached his former colleagues, asking if any of us would like a reprieve from our regular duties to help with this unusual project of decorating a Christmas tree.
Without hesitation, I volunteered. Unlike several others, whose inchoate acrophobia made them unwilling to take the risk, I had no such reservations. From early childhood, I had enjoyed being hoisted to the masthead of our family sailboat on the bo’s’n’s seat, a wooden plank suspended from the halyard that would swing back and forth as the boat rocked, so the far more stable cherry picker, anchored and braced as it was on terra firma, held no peril for me. Besides, any opportunity to escape the ennui of our regular duties was always welcome.
The cherry picker was brought inside the security fence and securely positioned next to the tree. Boxes filled with strings of lights & decorations were piled beneath the tree. When all was ready, I climbed into the bucket, taking with me the first string of lights. The operator raised the mechanical arm, moving the bucket next to the top of the tree, where I fastened one end of the string of lights. Then the operator would adjust the position of the arm, bringing me to another part of the tree where again I hung the light string on a branch. Slowly the operator and I coordinated to move the bucket around the tree so I could continue stringing the lights from branch to branch, moving lower on the tree. When one set of lights was completely strung, I would be lowered and handed more lights, then raised again to the spot where I had left off, until the tree was well covered with colored lights. The same slow process was used to hang decorations on the tree, and several carefree hours were spent completing the project. Finally the lights were connected to a power outlet, illuminating the tree in a rainbow of colors.
The festive yule tree welcomed all who entered Tract C, and stood as a beacon of color and light for the surrounding countryside. Sadly, I wasn’t invited to get back in the cherry picker when the time came to take the decorations down, and the young lieutenant who arranged this change of pace from regular duty was soon deployed to Vietnam. But for a brief time, the holiday season provided an excuse for a pleasant diversion which brought enjoyment to an otherwise somber location in the heart of Eritrea.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tragedy in Eritrea, Grosseto professor dies in a fire

GROSSETO. Eritrea had moved with his wife and two daughters to teach Italian. His passion for the arts and the debate about, traditions and music, had brought up in Asmara. And here he found death in an atrocious, in the fire of his home. Andrea Valle, born in 1952, Professor of Italian, intellectual, songwriter known as "elsewhere", the indefatigable Word popular ditties, keeper of the traditions of the Maremma, has died on the evening of Sunday, December 7. According to information arriving from Africa, it would have been a short circuit in his home in Asmara, which would have caused a fire. Valli would have tried to escape, but was poisoned by carbon monoxide, with no chance to save. At that time it was only in the House. His wife, Nevia Grazzini, the historical archive of folk customs of Grosseto, and two daughters _ a child and a teenager _ were out. Valli has taught for a long time the pastures. He was then asked to teach abroad and was assigned to Marseilles, France. After a period back in Grosseto, had left for Eritrea, where from December 2013 taught Italian at junior high schools of the Italian school of the capital Asmara. The school, in shock, Monday remained closed for mourning. General Services Director, Leonarda Rondino, contact from the Tyrrhenian Sea, tells the story of a mild-mannered teacher and well liked by the boys. "Had an excellent relationship with the boys _ explains Rondino _ his death is terrible. We have communicated to the students and today (Tuesday, 9 December, ndr) here in Asmara will be celebrated a mass in his memory, which will be attended by colleagues, teachers and students in addition to his wife and daughters. During the week, processed the paperwork, the body will return to Italy, accompanied by his family and a school teacher ". Roberto Ferretti generation _ he died abroad _ Valli, sensitive personality and immense culture, well-known in Grosseto, with him disappears a most important intellectuals of the province. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Italy police bust Eritrean people trafficking ring - The Local

Italy police bust Eritrean people trafficking ring

Migrants arriving in Sicily, where the people trafficking investigation was launched in May. Photo: Giovanni Isolino/AFP

Police arrested ten Eritreans after an investigation uncovered "existence of a transnational organization, operating in Italy, Libya, Eritrea, and other North-African states," according to a statement released by police in Catania, Sicily, where the investigation was launched in May.
The group organized boat departures from Libya to Italy, with "footsoldiers" in the Lazio and Lombardy regions who provided "logistical support to migrants and help them from Sicily to Italy, then on to other countries in Europe," Antontio Salvago of Catania police told AFP.
Nine of those taken into custody were arrested on November 25th in Italy, while the tenth - named as Measho Tesfamariam and accused of being one of the ringleaders - was arrested on Tuesday in Germany.
The group is accused of organizing 23 trips from Libya to Italy between May and September, while Tesfamariam is alleged to have personally overseen in Libya the departure of an overcrowded vessel which sank off the North African coast between June 27th and 28th, killing all 224 people on board.
During a raid in Catania, police also arrested an 11th Eritrean accused of harbouring nine Somalians, eight of whom were minors, in a small locked room. 
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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Danish report on Eritrea faces heavy criticism - The Local

Danish report on Eritrea faces heavy criticism

Gaim Kibreab, a professor at London South Bank University, was featured heavily in the Danish Immigration Service’s report on Eritreabut has now stepped forward to say that he feels “betrayed”. 
“I was shocked and very surprised. They quote me out of context. They include me in a context with their anonymous sources in order to strengthen their viewpoints. They have completely ignored facts and just hand-plucked certain information,” Kibreab told Berlingske.
Kibreab sent a sharply-worded letter to Immigration Service asking to be "dissociated" with the report's findings and saying that the Danish officials ignored a "heavily edited" document that he said he provided in order to clear up misunderstandings from earlier conversations. 
"Instead of doing that [using the edited version, ed.] you either used my name generally to lend credibility to your anonymized sources, or picked words of half sentences to fit into your account," Kibreab's' letter, which was shared with Berlingske, read. 
The Immigration Service’s 79-page report indicates that the human rights situation in Eritrea may not be as bad as rumoured and that Denmark should no longer offer blanket asylum to Eritreans fleeing compulsory – and often time indefinite – military service. 
Using mostly anonymous sources, the report calls into question previous claims that Eritreans can face retribution or even possible death if they flee the country. The fact finding report instead says that Eritreans who have tried to avoid military service can merely sign a repentance letter and agree to pay an extra two percent ‘Diaspora tax’. 
The report thus recommends that Denmark only provide asylum to Eritreans who can show that they face a personal threat.  
Even before Kibreab stepped forward, many in both Denmark and Eritrea were expressing their doubts about the fact-finding report. 
Danish NGOs including the Danish Refugee Council and Amnesty International have advised against using the findings in the report and a campaign group run by former recruits of the Eritrean National Servicereleased a lengthy rebuttal to the Danish report that accuses it of having “looked hard for unlikely pieces of ‘evidence’ (needle in a haystack style) that could be used to support a policy move away from blanket protection.”
The Stop National Service Slavery in Eritrea campaign said the Danish report ignored the “vast and well established” human rights violations and instead focused too much on the military service. 
“We are… adamant that ignoring the host of other human rights violations being perpetrated  in Eritrea and focusing on ‘absconding’ in isolation will not curb the flow of refugees from Eritrea nor will it reduce the numbers coming to Denmark (or any other country),” the campaign writes. 
Denmark called for the fact-finding mission after the number of Eritrean refugees exploded in July