National Geographic : 1965 Aug
KODACHROME( NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY Resplendent Eritrean hostess inspires a sketch by Helen Schreider. Adorned with jewelry of beaten gold, part of her dowry, the housewife prepares incense on the mat covered earth floor of her home in Nakfa, Eritrea. As a sign of welcome, she greeted the Schreiders by rubbing perfumed oil on Helen's arms. groups of dark men who stand stork-legged, idly fingering their swords. Suakin marked the transition in our jour ney into the Great Rift. To the north lay the Arab world. To the south lay Eritrea, once an Italian colony, now a part of Ethiopia. There the Rift turns away from the sea to penetrate the heart of Africa (map, page 260). But between Suakin and our destination in Eritrea lay 300 miles of country as inhospi table as in slaving days, an area where raiding and banditry are still a way of life. We covered those miles as quickly as possi ble. Three sweltering days and two uneasy nights later we checked into a small bougain villea-clouded hotel in Keren at the edge of Eritrea's wine country. Arrivederci to the Arab World "Did you see the shiftas, the bandits?" questioned the Italian concierge. "Last night they killed six policemen in a village near the Sudan border." Later, in our room, as we watched the after noon sun slant through slits in the shutters, breathed the thick aroma of garlic, and heard "Arrivederci Roma" from the concierge's 290 phonograph, we recalled anxious moments. Only two nights before, a band of lean, quiet men-the shiftas?-some with rifles, some with spears, all with hair jutting wildly in mud-daubed spirals, had passed a few yards from our concealed camp (pages 288-9). In the cool, thin air of Keren, after we had dined on spaghetti and a bottle of wine, the Arab world seemed a planet away. But it still lay as close as our transistor radio. We listened to the Voice of America news cast: Arab leaders in Cairo berate Israel's diversion of the Jordan; a military coup over throws the government in Syria; an attempt ed coup in Lebanon; civil war in Yemen. We tuned in Radio Moscow, Radio Cairo, Radio Israel. Each presented a different version of the same news. We thought again of Wissam Ezzedine four months earlier in Beirut: "Communica tions can create a unity of thought as nothing else can." We wondered. All through the Great Rift Valley, this new electronic voice preaches many things in many tongues. Would it crumble those old walls of prejudice and misunderstanding? Or would it build new walls higher than the old?