I am trying to make the most out of my stay in Europe, while keeping
readers abreast of the timely information on the lives of Ethiopians in
This week, I would like to take my readers on a daytrip to the city of
Ostend, presenting them with an opportunity to learn how some Ethiopian
children, born and bred in Brussels, have crossed over the racial and cultural
lines and integrated with Belgians and children of other nationalities. The
children of Africans, Arabs or Puerto Ricans come to the sea to enjoy marine
travels, by ferry boat or by swimming, at the shores of the North Sea.
Late Sunday morning in Brussels was a bit cloudy, but sunny weather
seemed to be in the making. To our surprise, the weather at Ostend was
eventually excellent for all holidaymakers making it our preferred destination.
The bright sun was shining fully and we could not wait to drive down as soon as
the children were ready.
Before we stepped out and closed the door behind us, we held our breath
to listen to Sheger 102 FM Radio online. The weather woman delivered the daily
report, Addis Abeba, Bahir Dar, Jimma and Harar were reported to be rainy, while
Adama, Awassa, Dire Dawa and Mekelle cities were partly sunny, with
possibilities of rain. Meanwhile, temperatures were more or less mild in
Ostend is a beautiful coastal city, 115Km west
of Brussels, and an important harbour on the shores of the North Sea in the
Flemish speaking part of Belgium, also known as the Beach Lake City. Ostend was
first founded as a harbour town in 1265, but was later ravaged by the Spanish
conquering armies. A lengthy war discredited its importance as a fishing centre
and trading port, leaving its legacy to Antwerp by the year 1722. But Ostend is
still being used as an alternative port particularly for its connection with
Ostend can be accessed by road and rail from
Brussels. The railway track was built in 1838.
Royal families from Spain, Great Britain and the Netherlands had
frequently sailed to the old city of Ostend to enjoy the sea food and the
shore’s sandy terrain, as well as the cosy nocturnal venues, including pubs and
Summer holiday makers from all over Europe travel to Ostend Beach City
to enjoy the weekend stay eating fresh fish and shrimps, as well as Oysters
cooked in all imaginable forms and mixes. The bars serve the best beverages
available in Europe including French wines and Dutch beer. But parents and
guardians travel to Ostend for the unquantifiable pleasure their offspring's get
from frolicking in the waters, almost totally naked, and digging up the sandy
Bezaye and Dubale are a married couple whose children, Nazrawi and
Eldaah, were born in Brussels. The eight-years-old boy goes to St Michel’s
School where there are other few Ethiopian children and other children of
African origin. Mathias and Tarikua are an other Ethiopian couple and parents of
Eyoel, eight, and Gelila, three. They all speak French but their parents have
exerted all efforts to teach them Amharic, which they speak albeit at different
levels of fluency.
Colour or race did not deter them from integrating with children of
other nationalities. I have witnessed that Belgium is on the right track in
encouraging the consolidation of a multi-cultural society if what I saw at
Ostend beach last Sunday is manifested at other cities as well.
That morning my wife and I had joined the two couples and the children
on the trip to Ostend. Matiwos drove the 115Km to Ostend, a city that had
attracted my attention rather more for its splendour and its landscaping than
The six lane road, three lanes in each direction, is almost a
point-to-point straight line with overpasses every now and then, up until we
came to the railway station. The six lane highway is divided by a masonry wall
to prevent cross-over by derailed vehicles.
Both sides of the highway are lined by trees and trimmed hedges. At
every five kilometre distance there are petrol stations and motels. Drivers of
heavy duty trucks can pullover for a break or refreshments, or even take a
little nap if need be.
The terrain is flatlands sectioned into cultivation and grazing
pasture. One could see some horses and livestock grazing or lying in the meadows
near stables and typical farmhouses. These are very nostalgic scenes for
Ethiopian eyes, which are well accustomed to rural settings. Every farmhouse and
cottage is a one storey building, standing by a small shed with a ploughing
tractor, a harvesting combiner and a pickup with motorbikes parked at some of
Every highway that links Belgium with neighbouring countries has street
lights to make night travel less vulnerable to traffic accidents. Every inch of
the highway is paved with concrete asphalt levelled in such a way that a driver
could easily be lulled to sleep. After every few kilometres or so, one sees big
green boards carrying signals such as speed limits, distances of highway
crossings or junctions or other warnings. These signals are marked on reflective
boards and placed so well that they cannot be missed by motorists.
Ostend is known to have grown and developed into a tourist harbour
since 1816 when passenger and marine freight traffic grew. In fact, Ostend was
built as the training centre for sailors and a town most favoured by King
Leopold and members of the royal family. It was also the centre for horseracing
and golf sports. On the international level, the Summer Olympics of 1920 had
accelerated its tumultuous growth as an important harbour. All the social and
economic benefits of the Olympic Games had trickled down to make Ostend an
important gateway to prosperity.
The months of July and August are the periods when summer holiday
tourists frequent the sandy shores of the Beach City. There are literally
hundreds of multi-storey apartment buildings ready for lodging. There are also
hundreds of ferries and light boats docked at the beach, ready for rent.
Ostend is also a centre for shooting films and holding concerts. There
are quite a number of museums and public libraries where day travellers can
visit. As we approached the shore, we could see a series of restaurants and
cafés with their tables and chairs laid outdoors, filled with tourists of all
colours and creed. There were special bicycles accommodating four people at one
time, being used by children who were enjoying riding them on the brick
We had to walk a long way before we reached the shore proper. The
children and their mothers changed their swimming outfits and were wading in the
water as soon as they dipped their feet in the lukewarm water. The little kids
came out of the sea finding greater amusement in playing with the fine sand. It
was very clever of them to bring small spades and a pick axe.
The bigger ones joined their Belgian peer groups and were happily
frolicking in the water. Sometimes, they were swimming until they were fatigued.
Nazrawi, I was told, is one of the few students of his class who regularly wins
prizes for his academic achievements. He also seems to have a knack for
integrating with Belgian children with ease. He is also a member of the cub
Both parents told me that they have made many friends through their
children. Bezaye says that she has been working in the European Trade Union's
Confederation for over eight years now, and her experience can be taken as an
example of how Ethiopians in Brussels easily integrate in a multi-cultural
society. But she says that does not mean that all Africans are genuinely
accepted by every individual. In fact, every time the politicians raise the
issue of immigration during their political debates in parliaments, the wave of
segregation seems to trickle down in the minds of some people.
Of course there is nothing sweeter than home, but the future lies in
the hands of a multi-cultural society that is dependent on the upbringing and
experience of children of today.