- Issayas Tesfamariam
A Conversation with Brown University Anthropologist, Prof. Lina Fruzzetti. Part II
Issayas: Would you tell us about your brother?
Prof. Fruzzetti: My brother Andrea, also a Comboni School student was a champion basketball player, who went on to play for a Greek club in Addis called Velasario CLub. He did that for a few years then came to the USA to do his undergraduate and graduate work in Minneapolis Minnesota (where he resides today). Andrea took up business and was successful doing that for a few years, he had the same level of intelligence doing business that he shared with my mom).
Issayas: In the film, it mentions that your aunt was married to a Sudanese General. It also mentions that he used to go to the mosque on Fridays and to church on Sundays. Can you elaborate as to who he was and etc.?
Prof. Fruzzetti: My aunt Medhin (Medina in Eritrea) was married to Osman Nasser Osman, a devout Muslim who went to the Mosque for his Friday prayers and took his wife auntie Medina to church on Sundays. He would sit in the back of the church until the mass was finished and then take her home. There was no animosity at that time between different religions; married couples maintained their own beliefs and lived their lives peacefully.
Issayas: Who was General Osman Nasser Osman?
Prof. Fruzzetti: General Osman Nasr Osman was a Sudanese general who left his post in the late sixties but after Eritrea's independence, he and his wife, auntie Medina retired in Asmara after the Independence of Eritrea.
Issayas: Eritrean fighters used to frequent your mother's home in Khartoum. Can you elaborate?
Prof. Fruzzetti: My mother had two huge compounds with lots of individual cottages within the compound. One of the compounds was used for injured fighters. She would provide them with food, medical care, all other attentions that pertain to their well-being. She had different people to attend to the fighters. She protected them from people who might be tempted to hurt them. I knew about this fact much later although my mother would not have allowed me or my brother or anyone from the main compound to visit them, she really protected them, and she would not allow people to visit them. A few of these fighters came to my mother’s funeral and though we did not know them, they would tell my brother, husband and I what my mother did and how she touched their lives. Yes, and that is indeed my mom.
Issayas: Would you give us example(s)of what people told you about how your mother touched their lives? Also, how did your mother protect fighters from people who might be tempted to harm them?
Prof. Fruzzetti: At my mother's funeral, some of the people who attended the service would tell us stories about my mom, how she helped them in various small or big ways to make their lives easy, protect them in her compound, heal the wounded who needed help, assist those who needed financial assistance, help those who needed guidance on how to approach Sudanese offices for travel or visa documents, seek places to live and so on. It basically informed us further of all that our mother did but we had no idea of her work, her generosity and how she in small ways made life a bit bearable for some. On her tombstone, we left a sentence that epitomizes her work, "Lucia being the mother of the poor".
Issayas: How and why did you get interested in studying India?
Prof. Fruzzetti: Studying Indian culture and civilization was accidental; I was interested in the anthropology of Africa mostly in the Sudan. My focus was on agricultural modernization and development which was given up when I met my husband to be, we married and went to India soon after. Once there, India grew in my imagination and interests, but I never gave up on Sudan or Eritrea. I did a lot of work both research and consultancy works with the World Bank and USAID underscoring studies in Sudan.
Issayas: Have you done anthropological work on Eritrea? If not, do you plan to?
Prof. Fruzzetti: I did some research on Eritrea but the focus was the family as you have seen in the film. Living in Sudan, I was drawn to Eritrea, a country I knew was mine, that I belong to its lands and had deep roots in the place. It is difficult to do research in a place you know too well, I found that to be the same case for research also in Sudan. But who knows I might embark on a study one of these days. I do have so many ideas waiting to be implemented, there is time.
Issayas: Since India had directly or indirectly had connections with Africa-in general, and the Horn of Africa, in particular- for thousands of years,have you done research on the topic. Or put differently, a study, for example,on the people called "Habeshat"(also called with different names, such as Siddis)in India?
Prof. Fruzzetti: Recently a scholar gave a talk at Brown University on the Siddis in India, the remnants of the Habshi people who were brought to India during the Mughal period as soldiers and palace guards. I thought of doing such a study a while ago but simply have not had the time. I do have a graduate student who will take up the topic for this particular research soon.
Issayas: Prof. Fruzzetti, thank you for your time.