Yurdanus shares two recipes from her home country and tells her story of flight.
500 grams of beef
500 grams of tomato sauce
2 cloves of garic
3 tablespoons of berbere
1 glass of water
Salt (to your liking)
Preparation (for 4 people)
Start by sautéing a finely minced onion in a non-stick saucepan. After five minutes, add three tablespoons of berbere, a glass of water and salt. On low heat, let the water evaporate, then add 500 grams of tomato sauce and if necessary, another glass of water. Let it boil for about fifteen minutes. Add 500 grams of cubed beef and two cloves of garlic and allow everything to simmer for about an hour or until the meat is fully cooked and the water has fully evaporated. Zighinì is usually served along with boiled eggs and steamed vegetables on injera bread. With your fingers, take a small piece of bread and pick up a morsel of meat and veggies.
Preparation (for 8-12 people)
Mix two glasses of water with 150 grams of semolina flour in a large bowl (traditionally we use teff, a specific flour from Africa that is hard to find in the West). Once you have reached a homogenous and liquid batter, cover the bowl and let the batter ferment at room temperature for three days. After the fermentation, heat up a non-stick pan and place a ladle full of batter into the pan. Let it cook for about two or three minutes on one side only. When ready, in order to make sure it doesn’t dry up, keep the injera bread in a tight Tupperware container until ready to eat.
I learned how to cook at fifteen. My mother taught me how to make zighinì when we were in Sudan. The first time I prepared it in Italy, it did not come out well because I was not able to find the right flour. Also in Italy, the injera has to ferment for more than three days because the climate is much colder then Eritrea and Sudan. The most important ingredient for the preparation of zighinì is berbere, which is made of hot pepper and spices to season the meat.
Zighinì is prepared on special occasions, such as weddings or religious festivities. In Eritrea, we serve homemade alcoholic beverages like mes and suwa for celebratory meals. During a wedding or for the birth of a child we throw confetti, just like in Italy. But when I got married, I unfortunately could not celebrate as I would have liked, not sharing these offerings with everyone. But it’s a long story.
I was born in a refugee camp in Sudan because my parents escaped from Eritrea. In 2003, when I was fifteen, after being told that the situation in Eritrea had improved, my family decided to move back. That was the first time I met my country of origin. When we arrived, we discovered a situation far from peaceful. My brothers and I spoke Arabic and did not speak Tigrinya, so in school, we were placed in classes with children four years younger than us.
In 2006, a military squad arrived at our school and took my brothers away for military service. They were taken to a training camp, a horrible place where both women and men serve mandatory military service. Rape and torture takes place in these camps, and often those who get to return home never recover and suffer from mental illnesses. One of my brothers came back from the camp and told us terrible and absurd stories. My other brother died there, we found out from a phone call. My mother couldn’t even see his body. She was distraught by the pain.
After the death of my brother, my father went from office to office denouncing the atrocious life of Eritrean people, shouting his sorrow for their condition and their land, and in the end he was also imprisoned. To this day I don’t know if he is dead or alive.
In Eritrea, you cannot have your own life. It is decided for you. For a long time, I used to go out very little because you can be kidnapped and taken to a training camp. My boyfriend and I decided to accelerate our wedding and to postpone the celebration to avoid being enlisted in the military.
My husband worked for the government. He used to do odd jobs – masonry, fixing roads, cleaning. Everyone in Eritrea has to serve the government in this way in exchange for five euros per month. After the wedding, though, my husband decided to stop. They came looking for him at home and he was forced to flee.
When they returned for him again, I was two months pregnant with my first child and I simply declared I did not know where he was. I was taken by force and locked up at Adabeto prison, where I stayed for two months. One day, I was beaten so much that I fell and lost consciousness. They took me to a hospital. Fortunately, I did not suffer any complications with my pregnancy. After the incident, I was released and returned to my parents’ home. My father had been taken to Adabeto too. By then, I lost all traces of my husband. I used to talk about him to my son, I showed him his pictures. He knew his father only through photographs. Life in Eritrea was not peaceful, it was impossible. That is why I escaped with my son and my mother to try and return to Sudan.
But even there, life for Christians is difficult and I had to be careful. I could not go out, I had to cover myself. Life was hell. Luckily, in Sudan, I reunited with my husband, and my son met his father for the first time. We decided to leave Africa because we understood that our lives were at risk. Now we continued our journey.
Standing with two hundred women, men and children, we went across the desert in a pickup truck. We were sick, close to dying, but we were able to reach Libya. When we arrived in Tripoli, my second child was born. He was only five months old when we went across the Mediterranean Sea for eight days, along with 270 people.
We arrived in Lampedusa two weeks before the October 3, 2013 shipwreck in which so many people like us, and children as small as ours, lost their lives. Our boat was also about to sink but we were lucky that help arrived in time. I have a beautiful memory of our arrival on the island: generous people, kind rescuers. But it was all very brief.
During our time at the center where we stayed, no one wanted to be identified. They were eager to continue their journey and ask for asylum elsewhere. After three days, we were taken to Camp Pozzallo. The place was horrible. It was not a camp but a huge tent where two hundred people slept together on the floor, and bathrooms and showers were shared by men and women. There was daily fighting with the police because no one wanted to be fingerprinted and be profiled, but they forced all of us to go through the process.
After two days without any information, they ordered us to board a bus. We kept asking where we were going, and they kept claiming not to know. My husband, my mother, my two children and I were already sitting when the doors of the bus were suddenly reopened and we were told to get off. Everyone was confused. We all exited the bus and some people started to run away. Others were angry and screaming. I saw the police grab those who were running, and in the confusion, I lost sight of my husband. We were ordered again to enter the bus and the doors were closed. The bus left among the confusion and my husband was no longer by my side. We haven’t seen him since that day.
My life now is in the hands of the commission that decides who can remain in Italy and who must go back to the hell from which they left.
When I prepare zighinì, I relive many pleasant and painful memories. All the familiar smells, the faces of loved ones. I think of my brother who is no longer with us, my father whose fate I don’t know, my sister who lives in Canada and my husband whose whereabouts are still unknown to us.
Yurdanus was born in a refugee camp in Sudan, but returned to Eritrea with her parents. There, her family was exposed to reprisals government : “Life in Eritrea was not peaceful, it was impossible.” As a grow-up she flees back to Sudan with her mother and young son. But even there, as members of the Christian minority they are in mortal danger .
Together with her husband, whom Yurdanus met again in Sudan, they embark on the difficult journey via Tripoli to Lampedusa. Their second son is only five months old when they cross the Mediterranean on a boat. In Italy, Yurdanus and her husband lose each other in the turmoil of people being sent out of a camp for refugees. Since then, she has been in Italy with her sons and her mother.
Yurdanus’s story begins with the recipe for Zighinì from her country of origin, Eritrea. Yurdanus’s mother taught her to cook at the age of fifteen. To her, cooking Zighinì means experiencing beautiful and painful memories:
“All the familiar smells, the faces of loved ones. I think of my brother who is no longer with us, my father whose fate I don’t know, my sister who lives in Canada and my husband whose whereabouts are still unknown to us.”
In Eritrea the population is exposed to serious human rights violations. Yurdanus refers to the compulsory military service, which is extendable for unlimited times. People who try to escape this, for example by fleeing, are imprisoned and severely punished. Especially women suffer sexualised violence in the military camps. Arbitrary imprisonment without legal assistance and the disappearance of political opponents of the regime are commonplace. Freedom of religion is severely restricted. In addition, a large part of the population lacks basic supplies, the country’s economic situation is very poor, and droughts are causing an ever-increasing proportion of the population to starve. On their flight route via Sudan and the Mediterranean, Eritrean people are also exposed to great dangers such as arbitrary imprisonment, maltreatment, sexual abuse and abductions, alongside the environment-caused dangers to die of thirst or to drown. 11Cf. Amnesty International: Amnesty International Report, Eritrea 2017/18, in: Amnesty International Online, 2018: https://www.amnesty.de/jahresbericht/2018/eritrea#section-1722086 (06.02.2020).
1Cf. Amnesty International: Amnesty International Report, Eritrea 2017/18, in: Amnesty International Online, 2018: https://www.amnesty.de/jahresbericht/2018/eritrea#section-1722086 (06.02.2020).
Yurdanus: Zighinì and Injeri from Eritrea, in: Bhakti Shringarpure (ed. et al.), 2019: Mediterranean. Migrant Crossing. Storrs, CT: Warscapes Magazine, pp. 38-41.
Translated to English by Veruska Cantelli. From: Cum-panis, 2014: Storie di fuga, identità e memorie, in quattro ricette a cura die Associazione Culturale Multietnica „La Kasbah Onlus“, die Enza Papa e Francesco Mollo Edizione Erranti.