Our last week’s guest, Dwayne Darnell Martin, as we mentioned then, had a ten-day stay in Eritrea along with his crew for a documentary film. Here’s an interview with members of the crew — Rana Ghiassi, production designer, Elmelchizedec Andrews Bay, sound recorder and Gordon Chan, director of photography.
Initially, you probably didn’t know about Eritrea. What did you expect to see after you saw the things on social media before you came here?
Rana Ghiassi — My first thought was, I don’t know this country or where Eritrea is. So I looked it up and, unfortunately, the stuff I saw online was really negative about how dangerous it’s. I was really curious and started wondering if it’s like that just for COVID-19. But I wasn’t getting a lot of good news and started getting nervous. But from the moment we landed, we were given so much love and we were very well received. A bunch of people greeted us with hugs and flowers and that just made me realize how amazing this country is. And, of course, this beautiful beginning was followed by a spectacular ten days.
Elmelchizedec Andrews Bay – Well, I did a little research and I just saw the negativity around the country. When I got here, I tried not to have any expectations so that I can fully enjoy everything the country has to offer. And when I got here, it was nothing but a great experience. The people are wonderful, the food is amazing, and I think I gained about five pounds since I’ve been here. Going to different areas and cities, the architecture, the buildings, the islands, the Red Sea and everything else has really been amazing.
Gordon Chan — I had some reservations about coming here as well just because of the negative media coverage. Once we got on that plane I just made sure to have an open mind. And being here, I saw that it’s just like going to any other country. If I go to China, Italy or the UK, it’s basically the same. What I have seen and what I saw on the news is completely different. But that’s not what I saw here. I saw a bustling city, a place where everyone is equal. It’s praiseworthy to see everyone working together and that no one is really under anybody else.
Rana, in your opinion, what do you think is the problem that’s making people believe such kinds of negativity about this country before they even take a visit and see it for themselves?
I would say the first problem is not knowing much about the country. Now I want to go home and tell my friends and family about Eritrea and why they should come to visit and that we don’t even know about such a beautiful place filled with amazing people. The second problem is the false narratives. We have a plan to wipe it with the documentary and, hopefully, with more documentaries and more films about the country.
As a female, you might have been eager to know about the gender equality that still seems to be an issue in many other countries of the world. Please tell me about your observations of this country regarding gender issues.
I’ve just been mind-blown the whole time. The first stop was a college that we went to and when I found out the education was free, I was really surprised and amazed. And then we asked questions about gender equalities in the schools, just about the males and females in the school. And the professor was questioning why we would even ask a question because in this country you are taught not to even compare the two. I felt honestly embarrassed to ask a question about gender and if there is equality because it’s taboo to not have equality and I really appreciated that.
The women here seem free and I feel like they have confidence. And I think the confidence is given because the country has given women security because I witnessed the security that the women have. There’s more confidence and energy of just existing and having their kids run around freely as Dwayne said. I would say I’m a little jealous of the women of Eritrea because they don’t have to be afraid to leave their house.
What about the people’s response to your visit? How was it from the very moment you got here until this minute?
Gordon Chan- I found everything was just so modern. It never felt like it was out of date. Everyone cares about what they do and how you are. There isn’t any prejudice against you if you are from somewhere else. I feel like if I got hurt or sick, I can literally go to the hospital, pay the 5 Nakfa fee and get health care. It’s simply great.
Elmelchizedec Andrews Bay — The people were cool. You get a couple of looks; people can tell that you are a tourist, a little bit, but they just say ‘How is it going?’, ‘Selam!’ which really is exciting. I saw how they are, full of energy and full of life.
Rana Ghiassi — The moment I landed, I felt a little spiritual because I instantly felt a rush of calmness. And after ten days of interacting with the women and men, professionals and non-professionals of this country, I feel at home. I really do! They have over-surpassed my expectations, to be honest. I feel embarrassed that I would even form judgments. I get emotional thinking about it because now that I’ve met them and gotten close with so many of them, I think Eritrean people define community and love. They are so resilient. I just felt like I fit in, and I feel like everybody is in one line; nobody’s above or below. All that gives you a sense of community and oneness.
Was Eritrea peaceful and calm enough for you to smoothly do your assignments and without any worries and pressure?
Gordon Chan — This country’s very peaceful and secure. I never felt, in any way, in danger. It is very peaceful and very open. There was no pressure at all. We toured different cities like Massawa as well. The most interesting thing about the city of Massawa was the Turkish architecture. The whole city is so beautiful with so much history and culture. I know the city has been through a lot and I really want to learn more about it. In addition to that, the food was so amazing. All the food was straight from the sea.
We would really love to have you here again, hopefully, after the pandemic ends. Is there anything else you would like to say before we say our goodbyes?
Rana Ghiassi — I would definitely love to come back again. I would like us to come back and do a documentary on the fire fighters because I was really inspired and another one on the women.
Gordon Chan — There’s so much more I want to see and do in this country. I do want to come back, hopefully soon, because this is the country I want to come to with my friends and enjoy this lovely weather, lovely people and lovely food.
Well, it was nice having you here, everyone. I’m so thankful for your time. Thank you so much!