'I Am Calling Randomly To Say Hi': Eritreans, Ethiopians Phone Each Other Amid Thaw As Ethiopia and Eritrea declared peace, long-dead phone lines came alive. People spoke with relatives and strangers. "We will be family," an Eritrean told an Ethiopian who randomly dialed him.
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'I Am Calling Randomly To Say Hi': Eritreans, Ethiopians Phone Each Other Amid Thaw

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'I Am Calling Randomly To Say Hi': Eritreans, Ethiopians Phone Each Other Amid Thaw

'I Am Calling Randomly To Say Hi': Eritreans, Ethiopians Phone Each Other Amid Thaw

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  • Transcript

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This week, Ethiopia and Eritrea declared an official end to a 20-year Cold War sparked by one of the deadliest conflicts on the African continent. And then something surprising happened. For the first time in about two decades, people could talk to strangers across either side of the border on the phone. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Frehiwot Negash was watching history on TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAND MUSIC)

PERALTA: The young reformist prime minister of Ethiopia got off a plane and hugged the president of Eritrea. It was the first time in 20 years that leaders from these two countries had met. Negash wanted to be part of that history, so she googled Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, and came up with the number for a hotel.

FREHIWOT NEGASH: When I called, the receptionist answered. And I say, I am calling from Ethiopia to say congratulations, and I told her I'm very happy.

PERALTA: The receptionist said she was happy, too. Negash told her that someday she would fly to Asmara. And the receptionist replied, we will welcome you.

NEGASH: We were one people before. Just because of politics and other things, we differed. But we were one.

PERALTA: In the late 90's just after Eritrea split from Ethiopia, a bloody border war broke out. Tens of thousands of people died. Thousands of Eritreans and Ethiopians were expelled from each other's countries. Phone lines went dead, and the governments pushed suspicions between brothers. It took Selehadin Eshetu three days of dialing random numbers to connect with someone in Eritrea. He said, hello. They said, hello. They asked, who is this? Eshetu said...

SELEHADIN ESHETU: I am Selehadin. I am calling from Ethiopia, and I am calling randomly to say hi and to tell you how happy I am. And he couldn't believe. He was so happy and...

PERALTA: He asked him if he was serious, if this was really random.

ESHETU: He said, this is very huge for me. Thank you so much. And I want to make sure that our relationship will continue.

PERALTA: He asked if this was his cell phone number.

ESHETU: And he said, I am going to save your number. I am going to call you regularly. We will be family. And I was almost crying. Actually, I was crying.

PERALTA: I asked Eshetu if he has actual family in Eritrea, and he goes quiet.

ESHETU: There are many stories in my life. Actually, my father died in Eritrea in the war, and I don't know where his grave is. I just know the place, the name of the place.

PERALTA: So something in life always seemed missing. Maybe now he'll be able to find it. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

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