Conversation with Aida Kidane

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Introduction: Aida Kidane is an Eritrea friend (born in Ethiopia), who now lives in Sweden. Among friends and colleagues, she is known as a passionate archivist. She started collecting and archiving historical records (such as photos, video clips and other types of documents/files) many years back, since 1991. She does it at individual level. Over and above her interest in the documentation of historical documents, she also enjoys traveling. In a short written interview, I asked her few questions, mostly about her interest in archiving. In her response, she did not use a lot of words, which is very helpful for the word limit of my blog, but my conversation with her was enjoyable. I hope readers will also enjoy it.

Question: I know you as one of the most indomitable Eritrean archivists (doing so at personal initiative). How did you develop your interest in archiving? How and when did you start it?

Answer: I have always been fascinated by history. I used to read a lot on it. Coming to Eritrea in 1991, I expected to find books on our history. But I was disappointed. My aunt’s husband asked me about our family history and his constant questions made me ask elders whom I discovered to be so rich. I started audio recording people from the old generation, as they would die soon.

Then, working at the Ministry of Information from 1992 to 1994 I got disappointed. I saw things said or told to the general public on TV and radio being denied at later stage, because they were said on government owned radio or TV. No one retrieve them afterwards if needed. I started documenting all I could on current affairs and history. That is how my engagement on archiving started. I also collected information from the library of the University of the Asmara and other libraries in Europe and USA, almost none inside Eritrea. I therefore wanted to make all of this information accessible to everyone free of charge. I hope I will succeed one day.

Question: How much of a documentation have you thus far archived if you can ever tell? Can you tell me, for example, in disaggregated form (still photos, videos, etc.), the nature and volume of the files/documents you have thus far archived?

Answer: In copied papers format, I have collected about 30 perms full, in audiocassettes about 100 and videocassettes, several hundreds. I inherited some of these documents from my mother who gathered most of our family documents, photos and even filmed family and events in her 8 mm film camera from 1963. [By now, this should be a precious antique].

Question: If there was a single and most important event or experience that influenced your interest in archiving/documenting, what was it?

Answer: Living in Eritrea. [Aid’s response in this regard was too short].

Question: Is there any special file/document/photo that you wished to achieve and which you were not able to do so? Or something you misallocated and were not able to find it again? How does it feel?

Answer: I can’t think of any special file but too sad we lost years of opportunities to document our history to maintain our tradition, history and nation. When I am unable to find or locate a document, a file or a photo, I I used to call people globally and write to libraries etc. to get the document. I also used to spend many hours looking for misallocated papers. I started filing them in order after 2001.

Question: As an Eritrean who lived for many years in Sweden, in comparative terms, what are the things you miss most about Eritrea and what are the ones you like most about Sweden?

Answer: I miss living within my own culture, family and history. I want to have enough time out there enjoying the nature and food, fresh air etc. Walking in towns, greet people and listening to national and family history stories and discussions also of interest tome, something I would like to do in Eritrea. On the other hand, I have admired Sweden from start for their democracy, equality, respect and neatness. I would like to see Eritrea share at least the Swedish culture of democratic rule.

Question: If you were to return to Eritrea (given there is the required level of political stability there), what do you imagine of yourself doing out there. Put differently, how would you like to spend your time, or doing which relevant activities?

Answer: I would want to launch a project that would enable me and others to spend full time in researching and documenting history (remote past and recent). I also want to help in starting a virtual library (on history), which must be freely accessible to all and at any time. I also imagine myself staying in villages exploring the nature and history.

Thank you Aida.