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April 23, 2002

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It's cheap to rent a car, about 40 US dollars with a driver, and we take this option to visit Massawa, a port city spread over two coral islands. The road to Massawa takes us from Asmara's highlands, over 2000 meters high, through twisting streets, over old Italian bridges, down to scorching hot desert plains next to the Red Sea. It's hard to believe Massawa shares the same country borders as Asmara; the two cities are opposites in weather and character. Massawa has an Arab feel yet the attraction here is still architecture: whitewashed buildings, pointed Turkish windows, soaring porticos, arcaded palaces, coral houses, and trellised balconies. Shell holes mark the buildings. Asmara escaped destruction; Massawa saw intense action during the civil war. Plans are underway to restore Massawa's beautiful residences.
Tea with a family in Massawa. They live in a historical relic, the house of Mammub Mohammed Nahari, decadent Ottoman style, a merchant's palace, next to a 16th tomb of a sheik. Now it's burned out and these squatters, a family of at least 15, live amongst the rubble inside. They invite us into their makeshift home for tea.
Each old building and balcony in Massawa is unique. Asmara feels like old Italy while Massawa feels like old Arabia.
A passageway covered in the style of an upturned boat