I went to a place called Denan. Prior to going I thought I was just a man.
Upon leaving I had learned that “just a man” was an arrogant notion.

The airstrip at Gode was paved. This surprised me, considering that we were
in the middle of nowhere in the Ogaden Desert, somewhere in far southeastern
Ethiopia.

And that is exactly the lesson of nowhere versus somewhere. Paved airstrips
should not be a measurement of where one is. Gode is somewhere, and for an
hour or so and a night, it was my “here.” But for thousands of people, Gode
is home. “The middle of nowhere” is never an apt description of a location.

Sixty-four cases of medicines were accounted for. Dick, an indepenent
filmaker and man of genuine heart, was bringing yet another load of supplies
for the tiny medical clinic that serves sixty-thousand living humans in
Denan and its surrounding villages. Dick was in Denan in 2000 to document
the famine that the outside world never heard of. Having visited and worked
in over 100 countries, something about Denan stirred his soul. When the
head elder expressed in plain words that maybe Dick could do something for
Denan, Dick thought maybe so. Little did he know that five years later he
would dedicate his life to a village on the edge of human consciousness.

We were with him to assess our stoves that were placed in the town. Our
Director, Harry, met Dick on a flight back to the U.S. from Ethiopia. Dick
thought Denan would be a good place for Project Gaia to extend its study; in
the Ogaden, wood, the only cooking option, is scarce. Women and girls walk
up to twelve hours and ten miles round-trip to gather fuelwood to feed their
families.

The trucks were loaded with boxes of glucose bags, malaria treatment,
bandgages, and other healthcare needs of the clinic. We jumped in the back
seat, anticipating the most adventurous two hour ride of our lives.

We stopped at a local cafe for lunch. Papayas were sat on the table. A
knife was provided to cut them open. Our colleague, Muhktar, of the Ogaden
Welfare and Development Association (OWDA), demonstrated the proper way to
cut open the papayas for eating. Remembering my dislike of papaya despite
the fact that I had a papaya tree in my backyard in Honduras, I declined his
offer of a slice. At my wife’s encouragement, however, I grabbed half of a
papaya and sank my spoon into it. Ripened by forever sunshine, I enjoyed
Gode’s papaya.

Flame-grilled goat and Somaili-style spaghetti, spicy peppers and some
onions minus the tomato sauce, were brought out to us on large plates.
Hungry, and knowing we had to get on the road in order to make it to Denan
before sundown, we chowed down quickly.

Satisfied, we set out north through town, our driver finding the right path
through the neighborhoods. On the edge of town, we were stopped by the
Ethiopian military checkpoint. Our paperwork was in order. We anticipated
we would be given clearance within a few minutes, thus arriving to Denan
well-before dark.

One and half hours later we were cleared to pass. The guard questioned
Muhktar about our medical supplies. In the region, the Ogaden National
Liberation Front
(ONLF) has been raising an armed insurrection against the
Ethiopian Government. We were suspected of carrying medicines to the ONLF.
The glucose bags, much needed by wounded fighters, were the major glitch.
Muhktar was patient with the military. We were too, waiting in the truck as
dust blowed and the sun beat down.

Permission to drive on was granted. Our driver hit the accelerator and we
began our journey into the land of thorny bushes, dik-dik–the smallest
specie of the antelope family–and camels, the lifeblood of millions of
Muslims in the region.

(written 12 February 2006)

independent writer

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