When Ethiopia and Eritrea went to war in 1998 and deported each other’s nationals en masse, Addisalem Hadgu thought he had nothing to worry about, safe in the belief his Ethiopian passport would shield his Eritrean wife from expulsion.
Two years later, as the conflict raged on in trenches along the common border, his wife, Nitslal Abraha, mysteriously disappeared along with their two daughters. Addisalem, an Ethiopian state TV journalist, embarked on a frantic search.
A neighbour approached him several days later and handed him a letter from Nitslal in which she said she had left for Eritrea with Azmera and Danayt, who were teenagers at the time.
The letter did not explain her reasons but Addisalem suspected that she, like millions of others on both sides of the conflict, had been swept by the patriotism and nationalism that engulfed both countries as bloodshed escalated.
“One day, we may meet,” the letter read.
For 18 years, they didn’t. There was no way to communicate – all transport links, phone and postal services had been severed since the start of the conflict.
But this month, a reunion became possible when the two governments – bitter enemies for nearly two decades despite agreeing a ceasefire back in 2000 – signed a peace deal that ended a generation of hostility in a matter of days.
After Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed shook hands, hugged and pledged to restore ties, Addisalem was among more than 400 passengers who flew to Asmara on Wednesday on the first direct flight between the Horn of Africa neighbours since 1998.