Little Thing of the Month: Homeland
Solomon Afewerki is a 28-year old man from Eritrea, a small country situated on the Red Sea coast in East Africa - known as Africa’s North Korea. He now lives in a small town in Germany, working at a popular supermarket chain as a security guard.
The way he got here was far from easy. He decided to go to Germany because it was the least expensive option, he said in a recent interview. But as soon as Afewerki got out of Eritrea, he became illegal in his country.
“I had two choices,” he said. “In order to go to the U.S. to join my brothers, I was required to pay 25000 USD to get a residence permit. That was my first option. There is a process. There are people who work for this, you pay the money and get the visa. They know things from the inside. The second option was that I pay 7000 Euros (roughly 7874 USD) and come to Germany. Obviously, I took the second option,” he said after a long pause.
In Eritrea, every person from the age of 18 to 45 is one way or the other subjected to ‘national service'. One has to either enter the military or serve the country in other ways. Afewerki had to choose a similar path.
After completing his undergraduate degree in Geological and Environmental Sciences in Massawa, a city in Eritrea, he was relocated to teach the special forces in the military camp. He taught History, Mathematics, and English to several men from the age of 25 to 30, whom Afewerki says were the main guards of the President of Eritrea. Teachers like Afewerki were asked to cover two academic years in one year. He took classes intensively in mornings and afternoons. After 15 months, he decided he wanted to leave Eritrea given the adverse political situation.
But he could not get the desired passport and visa in Eritrea and so he had to smuggle himself to the neighboring country from where going abroad was possible. His 2015 flight on Turkish Airlines, from Ethiopia to Istanbul and then to Frankfurt, was the first time he saw the outside world. “It’s so complicated for people to understand. [They say]- What seriously, you cannot go out of your own country? Yes, I cannot.”
Reminiscing about his old friends, Afewerki says, “I still have contact with those colleagues. Some of them are [now] in Canada and America.”
In Germany, he learned German for six months in Frankfurt, did a few odd jobs in Hamburg and finally became a student of Agribusiness in a German university in Bochum. The supermarket job is a part time work to support him as a student. Illegal in his homeland, but as fate would have it, he works as a security guard in another country. The word “SECURITY” was printed in bold letters on the back of his musty navy-blue uniform.
“A big black man ready to kick you out,” he joked referring to the cliché of working as a bouncer. To add to the cliché, he stood six foot, four inches, weighed hundred kilos and had a sophisticated smile.
“The job is only three days a week and the timings are in the evening, so I don’t miss any lectures," Afewerki said. "It’s pretty easy to manage. I’m not even supposed to touch a person. I can only do that in case of defending someone. In the past, I’ve done much harder jobs where I had to travel several hours to reach my workplace. After that when you reach home, you’re so tired that you don’t want to study."
But what if a thief comes up with a knife? “The staff members have an insurance that will pay for them and the rest will be handled by the police,” he said. “They [supermarket] keep a security guard more as a social image. So that people think they are safe.” Claiming that no violent crime has happened in the vicinity in the last five years, Afewerki considers Germans to be very safe.
We sat in his favorite café Büsch where he laughed and joked but even then there was a concerned look on his face. Still, he never complained about his work. He only mentions that at times he comes across some drunken individuals who say offensive things to him. But he emphasizes on the positive side of his workplace and tells that his managers are very nice and always make sure to ask him to register a complaint against such people. Nonetheless, he is kind enough to ignore such encounters and says, “They are way too drunk.”
In spite of facing all the struggles to reach where he is today, he has different plans than most immigrants who go abroad. In his late forties, Afewerki would like to be a teacher and go back home.
However, he does not want to go back as long as the current government of Eritrea is in power. He laughs and says, “There is a constitution but only the [Eritrean President] knows about it.” There have never been national elections in Eritrea since independence in 1993.
Afewerki wishes that his country’s political state gets reformed. He may live in Germany, but his heart yearns for his home. “I’m passionate about my country to the extent that I think about it every morning and every night," he said. "My planning and everything else goes to the fact that one day I’ll go back home and contribute to the reformation of the country. I can see how beautiful the country is and how beautiful it will be with democracy. The weather is very beautiful, and I want to see people free.”