It is often said that ‘Eritreans are very hospitable people’ and some times, for it is said very often it sounds flattery. But it is an everyday happening. Being stranger, as you may, crossing the border of no-man’s circle and entering in to the life circle of the Eritrean soul, merhaba would be the first sound you would hear. And most likely, it is the first Eritrean word that you would know its meaning.
Merhaba as a word is so common among the Eritrean ethnic groups; it is often hard to recognize the word’s root language. It is like Amen, which every body says it and knows what it means but nobody cares to find out from where exactly it came from.
Highlander or lowlander, Christian or Muslim, every body welcomes a guest with a worm merhaba; Meaning ‘you are welcome in my house’. It is widely believed that guests are a blessing to have. Because, when you welcome and accommodate the stranger, the satisfaction you get from it is a lot.
Some times it is highly intertwined or intricated with the host’s faith. Eritreans are religious people. And in God’s will are the respect and hospitality of the complete stranger. At the sight of a new face, the household member will welcome you with open arms. One doesn’t even care whether the guest is where he intends to be. So even if the guest is in a wrong place, he still receives warm welcome and guest accommodations, beginning with the warm water to wash the feet, to the beautiful coffee ceremony.
So often, when a guest is in a wrong house, he discovers the truth a little later. Because unless he says where he is nobody dare ask him, who he is, or what he wants. And so until the guest realizes that he is in a wrong house, he is accommodated, as a guest. This is so, because it is considered rude to ask people, who they are or what do they want, when they come to your home.
There is a saying that goes, beal hade mealti aykseska, equivalent to ‘first impression is the last impression’. So being an Eritrean the last thing you want to give a guest is the wrong impression. And at times even if you don’t have enough for yourself, you give plenty to the guest, under the spell of thinking that because he doesn’t know you, if he is underserved or underattented, he will hold upon you a bad judgment.
So this hospitality, at the other extreme of it, doesn’t consider the reality. Because, the household, even if it doesn’t have much, may offer what ever it possesses to you, leaving the children and other members of the house hungry. And also, because the guest is there only for one day, he is treated with the best dishes the household can afford. It may be that the children always eat the tea and dry bread for breakfast, and the eggs are always for sale to help in the economy of the house. But when a guest is there, he is provided a breakfast of baked eggs.
Nevertheless, even though the hospitality comes with its disadvantages; the Eritrean would never abandon it. For what it is worth, the Eritrean would continue to utter Merhaba with a charming smile at the sight of new face at his doorsteps.