Margaret Mitchell’s novel “Gone With The Wind,” and the subsequent movie captured the soul of the American South before the “Antebellum,” the onslaught of the Civil War in the 1862. The Confederate Army sacrificed thousands of lives before the Union, under President Abraham Lincoln eventually swept the Old South away.
Asmara, Ethiopia experienced a similar fate. Two years after I left Ethiopia the US military shut down Kagnew Station. His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie was deposed of power in 1974 and most likely murdered during his subsequent imprisonment.
What followed was nearly twenty years of civil war between Ethiopia and Eritrea until Eritrea gained its independence in 1993, with Asmara as its capital city.
Despite the wars Asmara remained relentless. Like a faded photograph that tantalizes with a small detail revealed decades later, she demands a redux—to be brought back once more.
I gaze through a narrower lens, but the early 1970’s at Kagnew Station Asmara, Ethiopia and Massawa on the Red Sea lacks focus.
Memories have a life of their own, for the better or worse. Never a collector, other than a few military documents and a handful of faded photographs taken by a Kodak Brownie camera, my memory (like a worn hard drive with damaged sectors) is want for repair.
No doubt Asmara had her way with the single-status military personnel who passed through the Kagnew Station main gate between the 1950’s and early 1970’s. Trouble was, after the troops PCS’d back to the states or another duty station, Asmara, like the siren of song, never relinquished her spell over them.
Soldiers who I have communicated with over the years have expressed two regrets: they rued their decision of what they left behind (usually a girl) in Asmara and regretted not having returned.
The Italian’s have a phrase… Senza Fine. It roughly means, “boundless, without end.” It is a never-ending moment. Senza Fine can bring a photograph to life, but can’t resolve past and present.
“To return,” to somehow bring the past to the present, is always a disappointment. It’s hard to watch on YouTube where decades later a soldier has “reunited” with Asmara, video camera in hand. His voice tries to come to grips with the change—not only Asmara, but with himself…
Buddhism offers possibility. The Kalachakra Mandala “Wheel of Life” represents four paths that lead to eternal happiness. It may take several lifetimes before one reaches the center, true happiness. If this is the way, then the Kagnew Station soldiers might get another shot at Asmara… Senza Fine…
In 1961 Italian composer/singer Gino Paoli wrote the song “Senza Fine,” but the translations of the lyrics from Italian into English were never adequate.
Even if one doesn’t understand the language the message exists in the haunting melody. This could also be said of Asmara’s song…
Author note: Listen to Gino Paoli’s “Senza Fine”