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Published: March 30th 2010
This little guy and his big brother got to taste Natura Valley bars this morning!
Unlike the last entry, I am committed to doing this one properly; I have to admit, however, that I am not quite sure how to do that. Last week I was in the field, touring a number of our (CPAR’s) project sites and ongoing activities, discussing with the field teams what challenges are the most prevalent/discouraging to the communities in which they work and what opportunities there may be for CPAR to intervene and mitigate these issues. I got the opportunity to experience some truly unique and touching things this last week. As a result of this, and because our team and the people we work with are so incredible, I had a great time. But I do not feel that saying this does justice to the trials that these incredible people face every day; I can assure you that they are ‘great’ only in the ‘enormous’ sense of the word. That in mind, I have decided to mention a few of my favourite moments from the field trip last week to Jarso (Blue Nile Gorge) and Dibate (Benishangul-Gumuz/BSG), and then to relay just a few stories from the people themselves just as they were told to me.
21st was my half-birthday. I realize how ridiculous that I am even aware of that fact, but some of my Addis friends and I decided that since none of us will likely be celebrating birthdays in Ethiopia, we would celebrate at the halfway mark instead. I told my Regional Director this story, ashamed, and while I was being mauled my kiddies with handcrafts at a lookout point on our way to the Blue Nile Gorge on Sunday, he began singing “Happy half-birthday to you…!” Completely unnecessarily, he gave me a beautiful locally made, Ethiopian coloured shawl. I deeply appreciated the gesture, but not the effect it had on those little kids. They saw the scarf wrapped in shiny red paper, heard the song, and started to try and sell me ‘presents’! haha Very clever… Heading NW out of the city, you will come up on this lookout point about 40mins from Addis. I recommend stopping and planning on buying some of these crafts as they actual are unique and quite beautiful. Unfortunately, the telecommunications network was down in the days preceding my trip and I was unable to get any money out so embarked on a week-long trip with only
22Br in my pocket.
As I mentioned at the tail-end of my last blog entry, Dibate woreda is situated closer to the border of Sudan (300km) than to Addis Ababa (550km), in the middle of the Benishangul-Gumuz region where the average daily temperature is about 37°C. The population in the area is in the vicinity of 60-70 000 people, of which the Gumuz tribes with whom CPAR primarily works in the region, account for 32% of that figure. Gumuz, the women in particular, stand out when they emerge from their villages typically locate 10+km from the main road. They are broad shouldered, short-haired, dark-skinned, absolutely stunning, and clad in striking multicoloured beaded jewelry from head to toe. While walking to the local bar at the end of our first day in Dibate, one young Gumuz boy kept leap-frogging our group, not so stealthily trying to catch a glimpse of my face. Maybe this is was a little bit inconsiderate, but I decided to have some fun with him and told my colleagues to watch as I tipped my hat, revealing my unusually bright orange hair (unusual because the Canadian suns never quite bleach it out as much as the
Yep, these are the looks I got from most Gumuz kids
African sun has over the last couple of months), and said: “hello!” He looked absolutely HORRIFIED and then completely THRILLED gesturing for me to do it again and again. Our whole group was doubled over laughing as was the growing crowd of kids. I have developed a knack for picking out which people will be the most fun to shock judging by how curious their facial expressions are; among the Gumuz, this finely honed talent was nullified as they were ALL curious.
Before coming to Africa, some people had told me that it was likely that I would get pet, pulled at, and poked, but aside from a whole lot of comments and inquisitions, I had experience none of that - until last week. Towards the end of the week, we visited one spring cap that CPAR’s private donors funded nearly a decade ago. To this day, it still adequately provides hundreds of households with clean water. As usual, there were about 3 dozen girls and women gathered around the taps, waiting to collect water for their families. All but one little girl, who looked too young for school (if they don’t have access to a primary school, kids
in this region will attend one of our Alternative Basic Education centers starting at age 5) were enrolled in school. One grade 11 took particular interest in me and, speaking through one of my colleagues in Amharic, asked if she could ask me a few questions. If you want a good indication of the contrast between my culture and hers, take a look at these 5 questions and then think: if you had a chance to ask somebody from a far-away land 5 question, what would they be?
1. What religion are you?
2. How old are you?
3. What grade have you completed?
4. Why are you here?
5. Do you have a boyfriend?
Each of my answers to these questions was received with purely elated girlish screams. She said that she was inspired to be speaking with a girl, no more than 5 years older than themselves who had a degree and was working in the company of men in another country than her home. She then asked if we could take a picture together. I realized at this point that this girl, like all of the others at the spring and in this woreda, had a very
Should have taken the boys seriously for once.
limited idea of what she looked like. It is very unlikely that any of them own a mirror or have even caught a glimpse of themselves in the side mirror of a bus passing through. We took a shot and she gasped, covering her mouth, and then smiled STARING at herself on the 2in screen. This started an onslaught of requests for pictures, but we were more than happy to oblige even to hand over our cameras and let a few try their hands at photography.
The CPAR team takes great joy out of reminding me to keep an eye out for hyenas as we head to our bunks at night. In Jarso, this is just a joke. In Dibate, it is NOT just a joke… evidently. Around 11pm on our first night in BSG, a few of us who had opted to stay up and watch a movie on TV, headed to our respective rooms and said “dehna idderu.” I pulled my headlamp on, stuffed some tissues in my pocket and headed out of the guesthouse, passed the snoring guard, into the darkness, and across the compound to our toilets. On my way, I crossed paths with Endalkatchew,
Termites have inflicted a significant amount of damage on this building.
who with a straight face said: “careful for hyenas.” I laughed. He just shook his said and said that I couldn’t ever say that he didn’t warn me. Psh! I returned safely to my room pulled the mosquito net down around my cardboard/wooden bed frame and after reading for a few minutes, turned my headlamp off and shut my eyes. Not two minutes later, I heard an unmistakable howl. And then another. And then the brawl, dog versus hyena, started. My partially screened window was open and the noise sounded awefully close. About 15ft from my window stood a sufficiently tall barbed fence. And a few feet from that a pack of dogs and one massive hyena were in a stand off. I listened to battle cries for about 20minutes and then it stopped. I went to sleep and in the morning, a smirking Endalk ‘told me so’. For information’s sake: the dogs won.
One more laugh before we get down to it: the CPAR team was visiting one of our ABE schools, the construction of which was funded by the Canadian Auto Workers. Of the nearly 200 students, approximately 50% of the student body is female; on this
Boys at School
They may show up naked, but at least they show up.
day there were not many students in the classrooms at all. We were given two good reasons for this: one, it was a market day so most of the girls had gone to town to help their mothers sell the family’s produce; two, a respected village elder had passed, so most kids had been pulled out of school for the week to celebrate his life. We were invited by the son of the man who had passed to come pay our respects in the village, so we walked through the surrounding bush into a clearing of maybe a dozen Gumuz huts. All of the community members were gathered around one hut, sharing coffee and happily chatting in their own language. We sat down for a bit, left a small customary contribution to their celebrations and then carried on, albeit reluctantly, just before they were about to perform a traditional celebratory dance for the deceased. We told one of the elders that our time was limited and he said, pointing at my supervisors watch: “You follow time.” And then, pointing at the sky: “Time follows US.” Feeling the allure of this philosophy, we still made our way back to the school.
Meanwhile the girls are helping their mums at the market
Myself, a local teacher, and another female CPAR staff member were trailing behind and came across a Gumuz woman furiously digging at the roots of a tree, clearly searching for something that was buried there. Another woman, with a slew of scars marking her cheeks (tattoos) which we think have something to do with her children and years of beauty and thus mark her as a figure to be respected in the community, came hurrying over and asked us to stop. She started to speak Gumuz with the teacher and demonstrate part of the dance she would be performing over the course of the next few hours. The first woman uncovered what she was looking for: a sort of bulb. The elder woman took a knife and sliced through the shell of the bulb. She explained to the teacher, who translated for us, that the juice of the bulb would be wiped on the forehead and palms of the village women. The juice would repel any man involved in the dance who was not their husband, making him feel love of a sibling towards her rather than love of a woman. I admit I recoiled when she brought the bulb
shaving close to my head, but these Gumuz women are strong and insistent. My right hand now repels men.
For some reason, what that reason could be I don’t know, I just heard the voices of all my male friends chirping up with a whack of smart comments.
I guess I will start off this part of the entry, since we are already hovering around the subject, by talking about women. Ethiopian women are the backbone of the economy. Particularly in rural regions, the women are responsible for caring for the family and contribute to household income typically by participating in crop cultivation/harvesting and taking goods to market. All along the stone shoulders of the long hot roads that make a sparse web over Ethiopian soil, women walk barefoot carrying heavy loads of foodstuffs, water, building supplies (dung/wood), oil etc. In BSG, one woman may carry up to 250lbs. in baskets that hang from a stick which she braces over her shoulders. In this part of the country, violent conflict occurs with unfortunate regularity and is most commonly sparked by the abduction (telefa), rape, or unequal marital exchange of a woman between families or tribes. Here there are
many cultural taboos which are harmful towards the health of women including the practice of tattooing and the forbidding of women to consume dairy products. Traditionally a Gumuz girl will marry by the age of 14 and begin to bare children. As I learned while visiting a number of health posts and centers in the region and as was confirmed during my visit to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital yesterday, in many communities, women deliver children without assistance, often in the bush outside of the village. If there are any complications, in a place like Dibate for example, there is not a single doctor within 300km and no surgical equipment for the existing health professionals to employ in order to help her IF she makes it to the health post at all. Ethiopian women a burdened with enormous responsibilities, security issues, and a significant lack of awareness let alone access to health care. However, there were signs of hope. Female enrollment in every level of education is steadily increasing, and over the last few years, NGOs have complimented the Ethiopian government’s efforts to ensure that there are health extension workers and trained midwives in ever village in the country.
Another positive indication of progress, is that even in the most remote regions, the supply of antimalarial and antiretroviral meds is both adequate and supplied free of charge to the health centers and their patients. It is considered to be a good sign to some extend that some communities have high, even increasing, percentages of their population living positively with HIV because that means that people are overcoming the stigma attached to persons living with AIDS/HIV and seeking treatment that is now available. In Jarso, we visited an association established by CPAR a number of years ago for people living positively (with HIV). We fitted the office with a binding machine, photocopier, and phone lines which the association of over 150members use to generate income. The income is used to provide new members with start-up capital for various microenterprises and for those needed treatment beyond ARVs. The capital is given to members in need as a loan which they can begin to pay off 1year later at a low interest rate of approximately 2%. During our visit, I met Yeshi Asefa, and her 18month old daughter, both HIV positive. By working at this association, she is able to afford rent
for a house on her single income as well as enough food/supplies to support herself and her three children (two of whom are in school).
In Ethiopia, in ascending order according to capacity, there are health posts, clinics, centers, and hospitals. In Dibate we visited one center, to which a 25 000 patients immediately served by 7 health posts may be referred. A medical staff of only 13, again, none of whom are actually a doctor but nurses and midwives, treat 50patients on average each day. Most are treated early in the morning again, because of security issues. It can take up to 4 hours for people to travel to and from the clinic and they are careful to only travel in daylight, always accompanied by an armed (spear or bow and arrow) village escort. The staff here does what they can to help mothers with birth complications (15-20 deliveries/month) and to at least temporarily patch up those patients who have experienced a trauma before sending them on public transport to the nearest hospital. We learned here that the leading contributors to high mortality rates among children are malaria and diarrhea often related to parasites resulting from a
lack of access to safe water.
In the lowlands of the Blue Nile Gorge, I met a girl with a smile who can brighten even a sunny African day. We both spoke enough Amharic for me to learn that her name is Bazesha and that she thinks she is about 9 years old. Bazesha and I met while we were checking in on a tree nursery that CPAR created nearly 20 years ago. About 15 years ago it was handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture who has made it a productive part of the national income generation program. The community members take turns working at the nursery, planting and raising seedlings, for 10Br/day (relatively good wage). The seedlings are distributed to farmers in the region without charge. The farmers raise the agro crops and then sell the produce (coffee, mango etc.). Bazesha hung out with me as we visited a spring cap still supplying the lowlands with safe drinking water and a source of irrigation, a health clinic (also established by CPAR but now expanded upon independently), and a grain mill. I taught her and her buds how to give “high amist,” a move which I am fairly
Tending to a seedling
confident they are driving their parents’ nuts with even two weeks later. Yeah!
Tree nurseries, like this one, have produced literally countless seedlings over the last decades, providing people with a source of food, income, energy, firewood, building materials and innumerable other necessities. In Dibate, we took a walk around Destayo’s farm. Over the last 3 years, he has raised Mango trees, a variety which was introduced from Awash on the other side of the country and produces higher yields than the indigenous variety, which, along with the 50kgs of coffee he sells on average each year and his beekeeping activities, provide enough income for him to support his 7 children.
Really, all of these programs are geared towards increasing school enrollment, from the 190 steps that allow kids from the lowlands to scale the cliffs of the Blue Nile Gorge in 45minutes as opposed to 3.5hours to the water points that are intentionally created on school properties so that kids, particularly girls, can fulfill their water-fetching duties and learn English, Amharic, environmental science, math, and biology/health while they are at it. At the Shesh Alternative Basic Education Center (ABE) in Dibate, handed over to the community 3
Climbing to School
If you are going to scale a gorge wall every day, you must REALLY want an education.
years ago and likely to be converted into an elementary education facility in response to community demands that the students be able to continue to learn at a higher level, I met Egabe Kumesh. Egabe is 14 years old, 1 of 3 in her family (the other two being boys) to attend school - the other 8 children do not yet attend. She feels pressure to marry but would like one day to work for a government agency so that she can secure a reliable salary. She is visibly strong, and it turn out actually helped to build the school in 2007, starting at stage 1 in 2008. She is now able to write her name, read numbers and letters, and has learned how to maintain proper personal hygiene. At this end of this year she will be given to opportunity to write an equivalency test and continue her education at the grade 4 or 5 level in town (at a school where girls comprise nearly half of the student body of 660 students from each of the tribes in the region) if her family supports her decision. There is no doubt that her 16 year old brother, Chekol, will
I’m going to wrap this up with a personal field trip highlight. On the last morning of the trip, Gizaw, Dekamesh, and I woke up at the crack of dawn to go jogging down into the gorge again. We made it down the first stretch of road, turned a corner and all stopped dead and said some version of “holy crap!” We assumed there had been another landslide because it had rained all night, but in there was a truck dissecting the road just by the bridge. There is only one road that crosses this gorge and it was blocking it. We ran by while 98 silent trucks on either side of this roadblock remained stationary. I think the only people that this traffic jam was good for were us, because it distracted us from counting the kilometers, and our favourite tea girl at the top of the hill who made a killing that morning. Anyways, Gizaw asked me if I minded running down to a little church in the lowlands. I could see a little blue church on the roadside and thought, “OK, I won’t be able to make it back up from there, but OK.” So
we continued on and then PASSED the little blue church. We ran down some stony dirt path onto the now abandoned road that used to carry people up and down the gorge. We ran through a cemetery and down another narrow pathway into a deep indentation in the cliff into which St. Michael’s Monastery is carved. Gizaw had come across this hidden Holy place while doing relief work with CPAR during the famine in the 80s. To enter a monastery, there are all sorts of rules two of which I was clearly violating. I did not have the white veil on and my knees were exposed. The young priest, assured that am in fact a Christian, allowed me to take off my shoes and enter. The small room was lit only with candles, making the people bowed over in prayer, the old paintings leaned up against the walls and jagged peaks of the low stone ceiling barely visible. We took some time inside and then carried on further down the dirt path (remember that I was shallowly thinking all the time: the further we go down…) Gizaw wanted to take the opportunity to bathe in the holy waters as the
Water point attached to school building
sun spread over the gorge. In this second inlet, we found a small stone building crowded with people trying to enter, most unclothed, where they could bathe in the waters and be blessed by a priest holding a large cross and sitting on a perch above them all. The lowlanders come here to pray and to heal the sick. One father carried his mentally ill daughter into the building and she let out bursts of screams as the sickness left her. This was the most simple and devout expression of Orthodox Ethiopian Christianity I have seen yet and it was buried in the side of a cliff - no elaborate displays, no grand ceremonies, no ornamentation.
Yemara - Bless you
Entata - Let’s drink
Enchifir - Let’s dance
Chimaqi - Juice
Sugo - Sauce
Hayasost amete new - I am 23 years old
Izewachoo - Bravo
Milse ale! - Gimmi my change!
Zerzer - list
Alga - bed
And today, a new segment inspired by many conversations with other forenjis and David Lettermen’s “Top Ten”: YOU KNOW YOU ARE IN ETHIOPIA WHEN…
…despite the fact that it’s 30° outside and definitely well over that INSIDE
a crowded Land Rover, the Ethiopians feel no need to crack a window and still insist on sitting affectionately intertwined with you.
…you can pull over to the side of the road and buy homemade alcohol from a 17 year old girl with two kids that thinks you have a cute nose, and fresh honey from a woman who scoops it from a sac with her bare hands into a plastic bag for you.
…you run into a herd of 15 donkies being shepherded along the side of the road because you were too busy watching out for CARS while j-walking frogger-styles across the street.
If you are interested in learning more about these programs, you can check them out on our website www.cpar.ca and www.puttingfarmersfirst.ca where I will be guest-blogging from time to time starting some time next month.
I would also encourage you to check out the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital/Foundation http://www.fistulafoundation.org/hospital/ I toured the facility yesterday. It is, as they say, an oasis for patients suffering from a condition which has likely caused them to feel ashamed for 10+ years until they were able to afford the cost of travel to the capital city or one of the 5 Fistula treatment outlets stationed in major cities around the country. Once women arrive on the doorstep of this hospital having suffered the either sexual or birth-related trauma they are cared for, and the staffs, 65% of whom are actually former patients, never stop caring for them.
“Melkam manget,” the title of this blog, literally means, “happy road.” I wish this for all of you! Thanks for reading and have a Happy Easter weekend!
PS. I considered titling this entry “Iron Woman.” A few days ago I realized that every time I touched metal, one of my fingers reacted as if It had received an electrical shock. Now, my shower at home does on occasion electrocute me. But this was happening in public places. I asked my supervisor about it. He laughed and told me that I had been eating so much injera lately (three times a day in the field) that the iron content in my blood was abnormally high causing it to react to metal. Are you freakin’ kidding me?
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