Seeking home – from two wheels
Published on : 21 July 2012 - 10:00am | By Saskia Houttuin
Twenty-seven-year-old Eritrean exile Daniel Abraham spends as much
time as he can on his race bike. RNW recently met up with him to find
out what’s got him pedalling so fast – and the distances he still
hopes to reach.
It’s not long after sunrise, but Abraham has been up for some time
now. Amidst the grazing black and white cows, this meadow near his
home in Amstelveen is where he takes off on his bike five times a
week. “I am addicted to cycling,” he confesses. It’s not surprising he
became a semi-professional two years ago.
Abraham was born in Eritrea, but due to violence had to flee the
country when he was still a boy. With his parents, he moved to
Mek’ele, a city in the north of neighbouring Ethiopia. He stayed there
until age 15, when his parents sent him to live with acquaintances in
While waiting to get his Dutch residence permit, a teenage Abraham
continued what he already had been doing back in Eritrea: cycling.
Though having started out as a junior, he can now call himself a
semi-pro and a member of the international race cycling team Marco
“Cycling is on the increase here in the Netherlands, but also in the
east of Africa,” he says. “You see in professional squads now people
who are from Ethiopia or Eritrea, I find that’s just beautiful.”
Every week Abraham cycles a few hundred kilometers. “For me, cycling
is feeling free,” he says. “It’s feeling tensed and excited at the
same time. Because I cycle so many hours a week, it became an
Unfortunately, the cyclist cannot yield to his cravings all the time.
When not on his saddle, Abraham is taking care of his girlfriend and
three young children.
And when not around his family, he is working a part-time job as a
caterer for Dutch airline KLM. During that work at Amsterdam Airport
Schiphol he frequently sees planes taking off in the direction of
Africa. The sight gives him pause.
Going abroad was difficult, says Abraham. “It’s hard to be separated
from your parents at that age. All of a sudden, I found myself in the
Netherlands, in another world, living another life. I didn’t know what
Abraham hopes his race cycling team Marco Polo will receive
sponsoring. Photo: Saskia Houttuin
For some time he lived, as he put it, “in a daze”, and eventually lost
contact with his parents. The communication channel stayed closed
until he decided he wanted to find them. “I was a little preoccupied
by the fate of my parents,” he admits.
This all changed last year, when he talked to one of his Ethiopian
teammates who is also a close friend. “He was born in the place where
I last saw my parents, so I told him the whole story. He was moved,
and offered to look out for them after he headed back to Ethiopia
after cycling season.” It took some time, but his teammate eventually
found a trail tracing his mother back to Eritrea’s capital, Asmara.
Now able to envision his mother’s location, Abraham contacted Eritrean
friends through Facebook. “My friends called me using their mobile
phone. They told me they were sitting beside my mother. I did not
believe it. I thought they were kidding me. And then I heard my mother
speaking, she was crying. It was so sad and strange at the same time.
I spent so much time living without her.”
Abraham then heard his father had died.
One day, Abraham expects to return to Africa. He wants to visit his
mother as soon as possible.
“I don’t like it here,” he says, looking over the meadow. “I mean, I’m
not really at home. The countryside is beautiful and the people are
nice, but there’s clearly something missing for me.”
And yet, in the meantime, there is plenty to do on wheels. Abraham
hopes Marco Polo will receive more sponsoring, so he can do the sport
on a fulltime basis. More practice equals better performance, he says.
His dream is to win a major race.
“Sometimes cycling is hard, but it has always been my own choice,” he
says. “Tough times also pass; afterwards, there is the reward of joy.
Or there’s sadness, if I didn’t perform well. But that’s cycling.”
Received on Sun Jul 22 2012 - 20:42:00 EDT