After arriving a day later than planned in Asmara we had lunch there and drove out in the afternoon for a 120km journey to Massawa, a colorful port town mixed with Italian, Egyptian and Ottoman architecture built along Africa’s Red Sea coastline.



Drove by a few abandoned Ethiopian tanks from the Badme War that laste from 1998-2000:



We arrived at night where we checked into the Grand Dahlak Hotel, reminiscent of the era of the Italians.



Views of Massawa from the hotel rooftop:



Although gorgeous from the outside, the hallways and rooms looked like they hailed from a budget version of The Shining:



After freshening up from a long journey from Somaliland, we headed out into Massawa’s atmospheric but empty downtown for a few drinks.



The next morning we began our day at the local museum, with an included English speaking guide that led us through exhibits on local wildlife all the way to Eritrean independence from colonial rule.



The guide then left his post (I guess he made it seem that he was going to take a long extended lunch break) to explore ruins from the early Arabic/Islamic settlers of the 8th century



One palace stood out in particular.



A real urban explorer’s paradise.



We then went on walking tour to take in the unique mixture of Turkish and Italian architectural designs stopping at all sites of interest.



Massawa was the capital of the Italian Colony of Eritrea until the seat of the colonial government was moved to Asmara in 1897.



You can still witness remnants of the Ottoman/Turkish influence on Massawa here:



According to our guide along this street, you can see Turkish influence on the left, Egyptian on the right.



As we were sweltering in the wet heat of 95ºF during our walking tour, our guide from the museum began to look for water only to be turned away store after store. It was then confirmed for us that the entire town had completely run out of bottled purified water.

Local Eritreans primarily drink purified tap water (which they consider relatively unsafer for the Western gut) and buys the rest from Sudan and the UAE, the former of which has stopped exports as it is currently going through the equivalent of a fresh civil war. Therefore the little bottled water they had left were marked up to over $56 a case, if they were to have any at all. Therefore we drove back to the hotel for water and then changed for a quick boat trip from the hotel’s docks out to Green Island.



Green Island is located 5km off Massawa and for many, a favorite beach in all of Africa.



The white sand beach and crystal blue waters offers a fantastic spot to unwind and enjoy a swim.



After a 45 minute swim around Green Island, we sailed back to the hotel, had lunch and made our way back to Asmara.

It was at this point when our YPT guide Rowan discussed Chinese investment in Eritrea, one of the people in our group (mid 30s-mid 40s, prominent in the travel space, not a person of color, and therefore someone who should have known better) began mocking the Chinese language out of the blue — let’s just say it was an ethnic slur and racial pejorative term that is widely considered the equivalent of the N-word for Asians — right in front of myself and 2 other Asian Americans. Another person in the group, British, immediately poked him from behind aghast, and remarking “that’s racist!” The response? The equivalent of a shrug and whatever from the offender. I was stunned and at first said nothing. While I get these comments often by emotionally disturbed patients at work, by people outside the travel groups, by folks of an older generation or from just plain weirdos, never had I ever had this happen in front of me by someone of near equal age that should have known better.

Luckily the bus stopped in front of a tank memorial less than a minute later, after which people filed out and Rowan approached me, looked me in the eye, and said “I’m going to talk to him about this.” As we walked around the memorial, I approached others who may have heard and asked if it would be uncomfortable for them if I could address this insult myself with him. They immediately gave consent (“I got your back Calvin”), and as the offender walked by me a few seconds later, I called him over where the dressing down ensued. His initial response were along the lines of: “in my defense, I come from a multicultural society . . . it was not my intention . . . I make jokes all the time . . . I have so many friends who have married Asians . . . mate, I’m sorry if I offended you.”

Obviously it sounded he did not want to admit an understanding of his actions or own responsibility, after which I felt that if I had let this go and not said anything more, complacency could further embolden this person to hurt others in the future who may not be able to stand up for themselves especially with the kind of important work that he does in a high-risk job where the safety and lives of people around the world depend on his actions and behavior. Therefore, I felt it had to be addressed at least for the sake of the many others who could be affected by his behavior in the future, and therefore at least having him think twice before making a joke like that. So instead of letting him feel he could also walk all over an entire demographic of people who he probably never expected to stand up to his comments, I pressed him further about the difference between intentions and behavior. I expressed to him that although to me his slurs felt as innocuous as someone stepping on my foot without that being their intention, my bigger concern was him not having the dignity to apologize to another fellow human who didn’t go out of his way to step on his foot, that we were to travel for a few more days together, had a mutual friendship in Rowan, and that he ultimately needed to be held to a higher standard especially given his job where people’s lives around the world depend on his actions.

While I feel that prior bias and high emotions from both sides prevented the ability for a full acknowledgment of fault (it takes two to tango; you can’t help those who don’t want to help), I can go to bed tonight knowing I refused to spend the rest of the bus ride wondering if I had been too cowardly to stand up for what I feel would be the right thing to do. I can go to bed tonight knowing I did my best whereas someone else decided to choose otherwise.

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- At time of posting in Massawa, it was 32 °C - Humidity: 65% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: it's hot as a dumpster fire again


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