Flashbacks III, IV

Flashbacks III, IV

A Story by Haim Kadman

Personal experience.


Flashbacks III, IV


The day has come and on a Monday morning we set forth to our working place, ‘just the two of us’ " my crew leader and me in his landrover. There used to be a physical training expert like in most of our crews in that country, but he ended his term and flew back home. There was no need for a replacement according to Yosh (my crew leader), as one of the Ethiopian officers instructed by us, was fully qualified to deal with this job.

The camp was some twenty five miles south of Asmara, and the mountainous road leading there had several dangerous windings. Thus it took some forty five minutes at least to get there, and Yosh had time enough to brief me and tell me all there was, about the course we were supposed to open up " and of course all about the group of young Ethiopian officers we instructed, who carried out the training. It was no more than what we termed as advanced infantry training in our country, but plus some demolition lessons and practice, physical training that included face to face combat (based on Judo), snapling and some more tricks it was summed up in a very appealing title: “commando training.”

The wild mountainous scenery was exciting, the state of the asphalt road, the small bridges, the tunnels; so different from any other part of that vast country; built by the industrious Italian engineers was a pleasant surprise, and I was amazed to learn that it was hardly maintained since the legendary Charles Orde Wingate invaded Ethiopia in 1942.

We reached the camp, I was introduced to our group of officers, half a dozen young men who spoke fluent English and seemed eager to get started. Relations were informal just like in our unit back home, no salutes or strict kinds of addressing ‘sir’ and so on, just the mention of rank and name.

We had our first working session without a hitch, it was the third successive course and all was well known to all of us. About noon our first daily work was over and we rode to the nearby town, its suburbs almost kissed the camp’s fence so close it was. Dekamare’ was its name; it used to be Erithrea’s capital, with forty thousand Italian inhabitants. It turned into a ghost town, with a dozen Italian families and one café restaurant that kept that town still alive. Yosh brought me to our crew’s apartment, where we could rest during noon and evening lapses between training. I was introduced to our landlady, a wonderful old lady that kept telling me “come e facile la lingua Italiana e perche” (how easy is the Italian language and why). We met the restaurant owners and its few clients, and had there our lunch before returning home to Asmara.

On that week we had a meeting the next morning at the division headquarters in Asamara itself. I had to be introduced to our high brass allies formally, and I was given a car, a forty two model military jeep.

We had a couple of additional sorties to our camp near Dekamare’, to keep in touch with our young officers, while our real work started a week later.

When the course opened up we arrived each one of us with his car that was Yosh suggestion. He had some more urgent errands instead of wasting his precious time; particularly when he realized that everything ran smoothly and I could run the show without him. Thus after the first week in which he used to leave after an hour or so, we’ve hardly seen him. He had his once a month flights to Addis to report what’s going on, and I didn’t care what else he had to do. I was glad carry on the job independently. He wasn’t an easy type to work with at all, just imagine someone you’ve met just a fortnight ago pinches all of a sudden your waist while walking beside you, and explains to you that he can’t understand how you eat ‘tagliatelli con sugo misto’ and some more Italian delicacies and you don’t put on weight…

Although I was well prepared and despite of my natural forbearance, I was insulted; I felt like a horse being checked in the market, I didn’t say a word though just gave him a quizzical look that expressed very well my feelings. That was the last time he bothered me.

The course was running smoothly, Yosh used to visit us once a week at the beginning, and then once a fortnight to my relief. He called me several times at the very beginning for some kind of an oral report, but even those two or three minutes of discourse died soon.

It was a great challenge considering my limited experience, and I enjoyed it immensely. I used to stop at the Dekamare’ Italian restaurant sometimes twice a day, if I had to attend night training. I liked the food (checked the pots in the kitchen at the very beginning, before I knew what was what), had great relations with the dozen or so Italian men. They were much older than me and being a soldier and a young man was no doubt the secret of my popularity in that small circle.

On my second week at noon time I met Carasso at the restaurant, an Italian Jew about sixty years of age. He didn’t frequent the restaurant, but having learned of my existence he came along to meet me. He tried to get in touch with Yosh long before I’ve put my leg in Asmara, but conceited attitude deterred him, and he kept away from the entire Israeli crew. He lived with an Italian woman some fifteen years younger and her daughter from her first husband. They were not married for she could not get a divorce being a Catholic. They were banned in fact by the population; and lived in seclusion on the other side of Dekamare’ in a small house. I eat many a time on their table, enjoyed their company, and his wisdom, he was a great help to me " though I didn’t realize it right away, it took some time.

There were five movie theaters in Asmara, except one all the rest were in Italian. We of course went to the Italian ones to “rub the language” as we say in Hebrew. Imagine our disappointment watching once a movie without being able to understand a single word, when we were able to chat a bit already in this lovely language. As soon as I met with Carasso I told him in detail our exasperating experience.

‘Oh, he said dialetto Napolitano! Do you think that I or any other Italian who isn’t Napolitano can understand it?’

Entertainment in Asmara was based mainly on social clubs. Bingo, cards and shows of local talents, singing and stand up shows. The local bowling hall with its eight lanes was very popular, and we did spend there many hours. We were even invited to compete against an American team as a good will gesture,  in their huge base and that was quite an event " I don’t have to describe our feeling of awe almost being introduced to a hall of thirty six lanes. We were of course beaten, we played against real pros. During the weekend we imitated our Italian friends favorite sport: ‘girare’ riding your car around, getting to know the country side. We used to park at the side of road in a certain spot, watching the opposite slope with its five tunnels; trying to guess whether the train that goes in and out so swiflty, was going up to Aamara or down to Massawa " you could never know. We went several times down to Massawa when the weather was fine. Temperatures could reach fifty centigrade down there beside the red sea. But the ride of upwards was such a marvel, there were some three miles of steep breathtaking serpentines, as there was just ninety five miles distance between the two towns, and the height difference was 7700 feet.

Another phenomenon was the way the clouds climbed up from the red sea. We had several visits of high brass officers of our country, who were sent to get impressed how things were going or rather as  some kind of a bonus, well they had many years of hardship behind them. We did host them and accompanied them very gladly.  I climbed once with a bravery living legend of my own unit, on the Bizen mountain. A sacred mountain east of Asmara, the highest peak in Erithrea. We stood on its eastern edge not far from the lone monastery, which we were not allowed to visit. We watched amazed the numerous lower mountains ranges, descending towards the red sea; the clouds climbing upwards, as if it was a huge blanket that one pulls up to his chin.

We had a wonderful time there, thanks to our Italians friends " but we haven’t been in Italy yet. It took us some years to close the gap. On our first visit while in Florence I turned to a local guide in Italian; she looked me up surprised and said: 'E bello  che lei parla la lingua Italiana.’ (How nice it is that you speak the Italian language).

Allora carissimi amici, ci vederemo in Italia.

(Well dear friends we will see each other in Italy).


© Haim Kadman 2008 " all rights reserved.



© 2011 Haim Kadman

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What a fascinating read! Your descriptions of places and people are so interesting, plus you throw in historical and sociological details without weighing down the flow. This would make a very good article for a magazine of some sort, but which sort i wonder because it has a broad spread of details that make me want to do some cross-reference!

You and Zeek4 would get along well, he writes very fine pieces too .. maybe you and he could be-friend each other

I fully rate this writing and will come back for more.

Posted 9 Years Ago

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Added on July 10, 2011
Last Updated on July 10, 2011
Tags: Asmara, Dekamare, training, army, instruction, friends


Haim Kadman
Haim Kadman

Petach-Tikva, Israel

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