Finn Thybo Andersen
The Journey to Eritrea in 1985
In spring 1985 I visited the liberated areas of Eritrea. I travelled by air to Khartoum. The next day a general strike started, which meant among other things that the air conditioner at the hotel stopped working, making the heat almost unbearable. At the same time the hotel staff prevented me from leaving the hotel because of the riots. Thanks to this I could follow the development from my balcony as the clouds of tear gas drew right up to my room and at one point the military shot live ammunition. The riot ended by the President of Sudan, Nimeiris' withdrawal, whereupon the Sudanese behaved in the same way as the Danish must have done on the fifth of May in 1945. The whole administration had collapsed and when I had to have a permission to leave Khartoum, I had to stay there involuntarily for another two to three weeks before I could continue my journey.
I was going to Port Sudan, the main port of Sudan by the Red Sea. We travelled in a crammed bus without windows and the journey took two days through desert, desert and more desert. After a couple of days in Port Sudan we were suddenly going on in a Toyota Land Cruiser in late afternoon. Twenty kilometres south of Port Sudan, there was no more asphalt and soon after that there was nothing even similar to a road. How the driver could find his way at all with lights out remains a mystery to me. The speed on the other hand was the highest possible and as the ground we were driving on was not always smooth, we were bumped around in the car. In pitch darkness and with lights out, we drove into Eritrea, and late at night we arrived at ERA's reception centre in Sahel in northern Eritrea. In this remote mountain area, the liberation movement had it's base.
This was the way we travelled every time I had to be transported for the next two months: During the night in darkness, in dust and heat for seven to eight hours each time. In Eritrea we often drove along the dried out river beds that were filled with stones. It happened more than once that we had to walk in front of the car, removing stones to be able to get along. Not a very comfortable way of travelling, sometimes almost unbearable.
The situation in 1985 was that the Ethiopians controlled most of the bigger towns. On the roads between them, they had to travel in military convoys. The territories plus some towns were controlled by EPLF. Apart from this, the Ethiopians controlled the air territory, which was the reason for all transports to take place at night time with lights out.
Everything was hidden and camouflaged. Housing, hospitals, everything were in underground houses where the entrance was hidden by bushes. For the same reason, all the important activities took place in the evening. At 6 p.m., darkness fell suddenly, and generators started up and workshops, small factories, hospitals, schools etc. worked till about midnight. All of the military and some of the civilian equipment that the liberation movement had was captured from the enemy. (At this time EPLF had about 100 captured tanks). Therefore they had all these workshops where they were able to repair and produce things, cars, radios, printing presses - everything which is needed for a community to work.
I visited the hospital in Orotta, a big hospital with wards and surgery rooms in rock caves where experienced doctors carried out advanced operations. I also visited the refugee camp Solomuna, where tens of thousands of refugees from the areas controlled by Ethiopia lived. There were almost only women, small children and disabled soldiers, since the men were either killed or taking part in the liberation movement. Children at the compulsory school age I met at the revolutionary school, a boarding school, likewise hid in the mountains.
I also visited Nafka, one of the towns controlled by the liberation movement. Because of that every single house had been destroyed by Ethiopian bombs ( strangely enough the mosque and the church were the only buildings left undamaged). Just outside the town was the front-line with its system of trenches.
I also visited a prisoner-of-war camp with Ethiopian prisoners of war. There were only a few guards but the prisoners had been deprived of their footwear, so if they wanted to run away they wouldn't get far in the rocky hillside. But why would they want to run away? If only they had been able to get home to their families and their land, but they would just get enrolled once again in a hopeless war. Here at least they got food every day.
Tenessai was another liberated town, founded by the Italians during the colonial time. It wasn't destroyed by bombs. On the other hand nobody lived there for fear of bombardments. So in the middle of the desert was this abandoned Italian town, where you could walk around like "Palle Alene i Verden" ( Danish children's book: Palle alone in the world).
Everywhere we went on our tour, we saw the Eritreans building ditches and water reservoirs. There had been severe drought for many years, so both the drought and the wars had created one of the great famines which strike Africa with recurrent force. But while I was there, the rain started to fall for the first time in many years. Shortly after the rain had began pouring down, a flood roared down the dried up river bed so violently that it cost the lives of men and animals in many places. No sooner had the rain stopped than there wasn't a poodle left, the river bed lay just as dried up, as it had done for the last couple of years. The problem was to capture the water when it came. Therefore ditches, dams and water reservoirs were built.
Finally, I was at the Cultural Departement. Everyone who came to the liberated areas had to contribute by sharing their knowledge and their competence. In my case it meant, that I was going to the Cultural Departement where the artists of the liberation front were. I was going to teach them and here I had my first experience of teaching art. I felt unsure, but it must have made a certain impression, because I later got to know that the artists in Eritrea are working according to Finn's priciples.
During those three weeks, I stayed in a container hidden under a heap of twigs. The studio was built in in a rock and my students had their Kalasnikovs AK47 beside them, loaded with live cartridges.
The last night in Eritrea I spent in a small village by the Sudan border. Here the truck convoys boomed past all night with the headlights switched off, carrying milk powder and durrah flour. Due to war and drought, a whole nation was unable to produce food and therefore had to be supplied from the outside. But here at least, an organisation, ERA, was prepared to receive and distribute the aid effectively, and that's why the aid organisations preferred to work with Eritrea. In Ethiopia the aid was confiscated and given to the army, I was told by relief workers I met.
One of my ideas with the journey was to draw and paint what I saw. So I did and the material I produced, I used after my return for exhibitions, which were shown among other places at libraries around the country, at Kofoed's school in Copenhagen and at conferences on Eritrea in Norway and Sweden.
The exhibition could be hired and the income I got from it and from selling posters and lectures, I used for a shipment of artist supplies for Eritrean artists.
Lesabe, member of the ZAPU central committee, Sheba Tavarwisa and Chama Zewepango, members of the ZANU central committee, at a meeting at TTA Løgstør 1979.
LITERATURE: BOOKS OF SPECIAL SIGNIFICANCE TO TTAL
Boris Simon: Abbé Pierre og klunserne i Paris. Lohse 1963
Flemming Chr. Nielsen: Operation Emmaus. Aros 1966
Gotfred Appel: Der kommer en dag. Futura 1971
Gotfred Appel: Klassekamp og revolutionær situation. Futura 1971
V.I. Lenin: Om imperialisme og opportunisme. Futura 1973.
Mao Tse-tung: Filosofiske skrifter. Futura 1973
Don Barnett: Hos guerillaerne i Angola. Futura 1972
Don Barnett: Sejre eller dø. 4 angolesere beretter om deres vej til revolutionen. Futura 1974
Zimbabwe. Klassekamp - befrielseskamp. Internationalt Forum 1978.
Befrielseskampen i Afrika. Udgivet af Afrikagrupperne i Sverige 1977.
Michael Raeburn: Black Fire! Julian Friedmann Publishers 1978.
John Markakis and Nega Ayele: Class and Revolution in Ethiopia. Spokesman Bertrand Russel House 1980
Basil Davidson, Lionel Cliffe and Bereket Selassie: Behind the warin Eritrea. Spokesman Bertrand Russel House 1980
Richard Sherman: Eritrea, the unfinished revolution. Praeger Publishers, New York 1980
Fred Halliday and Maxine Molyneux: The Ethiopian Revolution. Verso Editions, London 1981
Torben Retbøll: Kampuchea og den vestlige presse. Forlaget Oktober 1979
Sonja Schulte og Walther Hansen: Hvad sker der i Kampuchea. Klunsergruppen i Ollerups forlag
Milovan Djilas: The new class. Thames and Hudson
Boris Weil: En særlig farlig forbryder. Centrum 1980
Lilith: Billedet som kampmiddel. Kvindebilleder mellem 1968 og 1977. Informations Forlag 1977.
Karsten, Rita, Flemming, Lotte, Sofie, John, Eva, Lars, Lis Per, Per, Lone, Mike, Knud Erik, Klaus, Lissa, Susanne, Nathalie, Solvej, Louise and every one else who participated and friends in Viborg, Ollerup and in IMCC and in memory of Jens Burmeister, Knud Jensen, Sofus Dufour Andersen and Tove Dyrman
Marianne Søgaard Sørensen
Finn Thybo Andersen
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