The garden city Asmara; a city where one finds broad boulevards lined up with palm and bordered with colourful winter blooms, a testament to Eritrea’s beauty; it’s glorious climate, spectacular scenery and basking in a sunny Mediterranean climate. Asmara is where the Diaspora “Beles” and the Prickly Pear Cactus fruit Beles meet every winter.
The winter of 2021 is blessed with an abundance of rain. The city has turned green everywhere: with the youth planting trees, gardening the boulevards walkway and trimming and frilling the flower plants. With major road and sidewalk renovated Asmara has turned significantly prettier than ever.
Eritrean highlands are known for abundance of “Beles”. The land is blessed with tranquil and unspoiled climate, dry plains, hillsides and starkly beautiful mountains. It is an idyllic landscape for cactus trees and Beles fruit with much of it unique to Eritrea.
According to Mr. Hara W/Tensaye from the Ministry of Agriculture; Beles was introduced by a French missionary in 1839 around Segenity city in the Southern region and later by Italian colonisers around Asmara the nation’s capital during the buildup of the train line to Massawa. Presently in Eritrea; around 18,000 hectares of land is covered by Beles and 457,000 tons of Beles is brought to the market yearly. Beles grows in four of the six regions of Eritrea; Southern, Central, Anseba and Northern Red Sea regions. There are six deferent varieties of Beles that grow in Eritrea. Southern highlands are known to have the best testing Beles and tantamount to the region.
One drives from Asmara south-east towards Segenity via Wekerti, a mid-size city known for its hillside Coptic Church, an edifice with four towers. Descending to Dekemhare city, winding up the escarpment to reach Segenity sub-zone where Beles is abundant covering 12,000 hectares of land.
This year in May and June the sun has been hard. It was the inhalation of a blaze. The grass had turned brown and the ground had turned fire to the feet. Trees wore a dusty coat of brown, animals were silenced by the heat and the entire nation was shuddered by heat.
Then mid-July came the month of thunder. It was enraged and harsh unlike the rumbling of the rainy season. Powerful wind arose and filled the air with dust. Trees swayed as the wind combed their leaves. Finally the sanctified rain came; it was intense long-drawn-out rain. Like their forefathers; young people run about happily picking up the hell throwing them into their mouth to melt. The rain kept falling more rigorously and in large drops people sought for shelter happily. The earth quickly came to life, green vegetation covered the earth and the Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Beles came ripe and ready to consume.
Beles fruit was introduced to Eritrea about around a century ago ago by Europeans. Cactus trees are mainly Mexican and found in different parts of the world; Spain, Italy, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, USA and Algeria are some of the countries where Beles is found. Some of these countries use cactus as food augmentation. For instance in Mexico it’s used as a vegetable and alcoholic drink. Mesa Grande Indians were the first group of people to eat cactus. The Spaniards who invaded Latin America called it “the fig of the Indians”. Cactus tree is capable of producing fruits for up to three years without rain which makes it an abundant source of food and alleviates famine.
MR. W/ Tensaye Expert from ministry of Agriculture: further states that Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Beles has many health benefits: it helps regulate blood sugar levels, decrease risk of cancer, reduce bad cholesterol and it has antiviral properties. Beles has an abundance of Pectin which is a remedy for high cholesterol and high levels of antioxidants that helps prevent cancer by protecting cells from free radicals.
Beles is no longer a small scale enterprise in Eritrea it has elevated to a much higher standard business and sources of income for many. Beles is transported from small villages with hundreds of Camels and donkeys to the sub-zones where they are retrieved and transported with trucks to major cities of Eritrea. Huge markets are located in the center of the cities selling Beles which is available from June as the Eritrean Diaspora arrives in Eritrea earning the name “Beles”.
Beles as stated above has many benefits: it’s a source of good health, protector of cancer and high cholesterol and source of food that lessen famine due to resistance to drought. The Beles industry is a low cost venture and has created job opportunities for young people during winter vacation. Adding up: the Diaspora “Beles” who arrive in hundreds of thousands to Eritrea are a good source of foreign exchange. For the Diaspora’s it is time to reconnect with family members. Eritrea ancient land, modern nation shrouded in mystique, ancient history and traditional hospitality is a destination for the Eritrean Diaspora also known as “Beles” and for those of us who reside in Eritrea its good time with plenty of Beles munching it anytime of the day.