Street Welders of Eritrea

No 50

The metal market in Asmara, Eritrea—the capital of this tiny East African nation—is an organized chaos of sparks, heat, and pounding hammers. The air is dusty, and the smells of melted steel and iron mingle with more pleasant ones from an adjoining spice market.

Lots of work happens here. In an open-air space about the size of a football field, row upon row of welders do what they can with metal scraps of all sorts, including leftover shell casings from their country's 30-year war for independence. (That war ended in victory for Eritrea in 1991, against neighboring Ethiopia.) The metal-smiths recycle the broken-down scrap, using simple tools to turn discards into useful items like construction beams, hoes, and car parts. Other artisans in the market, meanwhile, craft sculptures and elaborate Orthodox Christian crosses.

Rather than buy premade protective masks, the welders come up with them on their own, whether by repurposing metal or cardboard containers or simply throwing on an old pair of goggles. The masks may be square or rectangular, colorful or plain, depending on what's available and the abilities of the maker and—and, very likely, his personal sense of style.


  • Photographer - Ayla Hibri
  • Text - Samantha Larson

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