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April 24, 2002

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We're getting close to having children, so we visit the fertility shrine at Keren. The shrine is built in a living Baobab tree. An old Bilen lady ushers us inside and we make our wish. Serious pilgrims are supposed to brew coffee by the tree. If a passerby accepts a cup, your wish will be granted. We don't have time to pick coffee beans, grind them, start a fire, and make a brew. We pray the Madonna of the Baobab grants our wishes anyway. We traveled through Eritrea's bleak western highlands to reach Keren. Burned out tanks litter the road, a legacy of Eritrea's long war with Ethiopia. Keren is a crossroads for traders and travelers. Many people from different ethnic groups throng Keren's marketplace. We watch Sudanese men, dressed in white frocks and turbans, buy goods from Bilen women, adorned in gold and colorful veils, squatting beneath umbrellas raised against the sun. Later in the afternoon we go off-road to Eritrea's 'Green Belt,' a region centered around a village called Fil-fil, 63 km north of Asmara. Filfil reminds us of California, cool and dry hills, good farmland, forests of sycamore, pine, and eucalyptus. The hospitality of the country is great here - we're invited to several farms for coffee. We accept and enjoy a breezy porch view of lush farmland. We listen to singing birds, eat fresh grilled corn, and sip strong coffee. This is the best place to see Eritrean wildlife and at nightfall we see an Ethiopian fox, an endangered species found only in this region of Africa.
A hollow tree holds Keren's fertility shrine. Boil coffee and hope for the best.
Keren offers great people-watching opportunities down its dusty shop-lined streets.
Women huddle beneath umbrellas to avoid sun and photography.
Road to Fil Fil twists enough to make you sea sick.