"A Kagnew Station Story: What's a Shifta?" by Frank Pitzi

I had a few days off and I had made some friends in the local Italian community. One of the group was transferred to Agordat (towards the Sudan) for a few months and was going nuts from the isolation. A few of us decided to go visit him. I should have known better. The area had been designated off limits to Americans but I thought what the heck!

We packed two cars with supplies and rifles and pistols for hunting and off we went. The ride was uneventful but the scenery was magnificent. We arrived in Agordat and got some hotel rooms.

It was during Ramadan and the town was packed with visitors and religious pilgrims. There was a huge mosque in the center of the town and I was like a kid in a candy store with all the sights, smells and sounds of that city. I had never seen anything like it in my life. Camel caravans coming into the town square and the open air market places and the rich mix of people and culture.

One night one of the fellows comandeered a Land Rover but to get to it we had to walk through the town. We wanted to go hunting so we smuggled all the rifles and pistols hidden inside our shirts and pants so that the local police wouldn't get too upset. We looked so comical clanking through the town with all the weapons making a racket.

Someone knew of a riverbed where there were Warthog. When we got there a friend of one of the guys named Yusuf (a local guide) came by. It was near dusk and we stopped by some native hunters campfire and shared tea with them. They were hunting with spears! At one point we were walking by some tall jungle-like vegetation with three guns between several people when we heard a loud growl on the other side of the bush. Everyone huddled around whoever had a weapon and each time we moved in unison the thing on the other side of the vegetation moved with us and was growling louder and crashing the brush. Somebody started shooting and we all ran as fast as we could for the Rover. Some brave hunters, eh?.

We chased some antelope and then the driver of the Rover took us through an area on the outskirts of a village that was a hilly sort of dump that was crawling with huge hyena. The driver turned the lights off and roared through the area and the place went wild with us screaming in the open back of the Land Rover and the hyena running all around us going completely bonkers. It was a tossup as to which group screamed the loudest, the hyenas or the brave hunters, I shudder to think what would have happened if that truck had turned over.

After a few days I told the fellows I had to get back to Asmara to the base. We left at about 23:30 and our little caravan started back for home in the dark. On the way we saw hyena near a village and took some pot shots at them. We heard some other hunters about a quarter mile behind us and we broke open the wine bottles and shouted for them to join us. They kept yelling and shouting and we were whooping and hollering but we got bored and moved up the road a bit to chase the hyena. After a while we heard the hunters behind us again shooting like crazy and we yelled to them again and as they got closer we got more drunk and got bored again and moved on.

The drive back in the pitch black night was beautiful and one time when we rounded a bend in the road a leopard that had been dozing on the warm road was startled and jumped up the side of the mountain road so high that to this day I can still see it leaping from the light of the headlamps into the darkness.

A few days later back in Asmara I had finished my shift and went into town and found some of my friends. While walking towards a local bar, we bumped into Yusuf , the guide. He greeted us but was very agitated. He asked if we had heard about the attack near Agordat the other night. We said no and he proceeded to tell us that Shiftas had attacked a village on the Agordat-Asmara road at about 23:45 a few days ago and several people had been killed. The very night we had been yelling at the "hunters" behind us, it had been the Shiftas all along. They had been coming after us! Shifta's were bandits and I almost got a hard lesson in Shifta hospitality!

We all drank well at the bar that night!

Frank Pitzi - Kagnew Station, Asmara, Eritrea 61-63


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