Monday, March 14, 2011

Geography Lesson: Eritrea

I finally pulled out the map in order to keep a promise I made some time ago!
by Charlie Leck

I’m not bad at geography, but I admitted a couple of weeks ago that the location of Bahrain stumped me when it became big-time in the news. Last week I visited Nordstrom’s men’s clothing department (which, by the way, I give 5-star reviews) and ran into one of the loveliest sales clerks. She sold me a couple of very nice items I would not otherwise have purchased and part of it was her cool and charming smile. Her name is Eden Asfaha, so if you ever go to the Nordstrom store out in the Mall of America, looking to by men’s clothing, look her up. You’ll get one of the biggest smiles in the business. My wife was along and she also liked Eden.

My point here, though, is that I was visibly confused when she told me she was from Eritrea. My face showed it.

“You don’t know where that is?” She looked a bit surprised. I tried to act suave and I thought I’d fake it, but quickly realized the pit-falls in such an approach.

I promised her I’d locate it as soon as I got home and that I’d read about the nation.

“Sure,” she said in a subtle, mocking way. “May I help you with anything else?”

I’m going back out there tomorrow, to prepare for a little trip I’m making to Florida and Alabama, and I’ll see if I can find her and prove to her that I did my home work – and I need a thing or two in the way of clothing.

Now, tell me, would you have known, on a totally unexpected pop-quiz, where Eritrea is? If you’re like one of my kids, who loves to travel the world, you’d probably know – but, otherwise not!

The major cites of this nation that is about the size of Pennsylvania (much larger than I expected it to be) are Asmara (it’s capital, with about a half-million people) and Adekeieh, Afabet, Assab, Barentu, Dekemhare, Ghinda, Keren, Massawa, Mendefera and Tessenie. All these cities, excluding Keren, are under 30,000 in population. Keren is about 57,000. Now, these are cities that all flow trippingly off the tongue and are mighty familiar (not). The entire population is under six million.

I was surprised to learn that 50 percent of the population is Christian (mainly Orthodox) and slightly under half is Muslim.

The nation is on the eastside of the African continent, just up into the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden. That’s all mysterious land to me and I don’t think I’m ever going to get to travel there. On most of Eritrea’s southern border is Ethiopia, though a small part of its border does touch Somalia on the southeast. Sudan is on it west and northwest. The Red Sea is on its northeast and east. Across the Red Seat to the northeast is Saudi Arabia, with Yemen is to the east. Eritrea is mainly an agricultural economy, but it does some mining of gold, copper, iron ore, potash and oil. It produces processed food, dairy products and alcoholic beverages and sells most of this to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan.

Our state department refers to the Eritrea government as transitional. The vote is open to every one of 18 years and more, though (again as our state department says) no elections have yet been held.

There’s no big punch line or finish to this blog. It’s just a little geography lesson. I’m trying to deal with this big jigsaw puzzle that is Africa and the Middle East. For instance, if you need another quiz that might stimulate you, tell me where Kyrgystan is?


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  1. Thanks for the geography lesson. The answer to your quiz is Central Asia - I cheated and looked it up.

  2. I love your challenges. I will have to do some searching in that same area, since I am lacking. Now - a challenge for you. Look up information and eye accounts of the New Madrid earthquake that happened 200 years ago this December just south of St. Louis, Missouri. It is truly interesting and history that has been lost to most people. It was an impact in more ways than one on the central part of our country. Lynn