Sunday, May 4, 2014

Shiro: The food of the people

Every night in Rome I ate shiro, gomen, awaze and injera for dinner at "Asmara" restaurant down the street from my hotel. On my last night, I walked back to the station with an Eritrean named Ali who invited me for "chai" on the way. We went to a bar that was filled with Eritreans. I drank chai while Ali had a couple of beers. We listened to Tigrigna music and I met many new friends. Many of the guys in the bar are living in a refugee camp in Rome run by the UNHCR. 

Most of them spent some time in Shimelba, the refugee camp where I worked for a short time in 2009. Ali told me me he's been unemployed for the past two months, even though he has lived in Italy for the the past nine years, spent 12 years in Saudi Arabia, visited Dakar and too many other cities to list. He is fluent in Arabic, Tigrigna, Italian, and English. I paid for his beers but couldn't do much else for him. 

The next day I saw Ali again, and a few minutes later found an Ethiopian supermarket. The other tourists I met told me it was strange that I came to Rome to eat shiro every night but to me it's the most logical thing in the world. I would eat shiro every night if I could. Hanging out with a bunch of Eritreans is a great opportunity for me. The da-dun-da-dun rhythm of their music is in sync with my heartbeat. 

Even though most of the people I met in Shimelba came to the U.S. and are living happier moments in their lives, I can't forget their pain and the unfair treatment they received in this life. No one chooses where to be born. I could be Eritrean, living on the margins, hiding from police, & struggling for work. Yet here I am, with my golden passport, traveling wherever I choose, a perpetual tourist. I will never be able to change the root of oppression or relieve the immense suffering of the people I meet. No amount of shiro can change this fact.


  1. The plight of refugees is often so heartbreaking. I heard similar stories from the refugees I worked with in Bangkok, many of them from Africa and many discriminated in Thailand. Extortion by the police was common and fear of detention was a daily thing. (Thailand does not recognize refugee status.) What a precarious existence and yet people survived. As Americans, we won the birth lottery.