Our Return to the Land of Enchantment

After spending a little over a month in Nigeria, we
returned to Ethiopia. We had a lot of work waiting
for us in Addis. In fact, as you are reading this, my
wife and I will have just returned from four days in
the Ogaden Desert, located in the far southeastern
region of Ethiopia. Our project placed 50 stoves in
the town of Denan, site of an Internally Displaced
Peoples camp, meaning the people living there are not
refugees because they are Ethiopian citizens. They
are Somali, and have been forgotten about by the
Ethiopian government and are little-known to the
outside world. Without question, they are living in
abject poverty.

Prior to our trip to the Ogaden, which was the first
full week of December, we made a trip to the United
Nations
Shimelba refugee camp in the north. We
visited the camp back in August. This recent trip was
a follow-up to gather more data for a report we have
to write that will hopefully convince the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to include our
project within its 2006 budget. If things work out,
we may even be granted official Implementing Partner
status with the UNHCR.

I am writing this column on December 1st, World AIDS
Day
. The climate outside is what I consider to be
ideal living conditions. The afternoon is warm and
sunny, temps in the high 70s. The sky is the cliché,
robin’s egg blue. Nights are cool, chilly, though my
wife describes it as very cold. At 7500 feet above
sea level, it does get cold overnight.

A few days ago my body was rocked by a
gastrointestinal illness. After more than five months
of eating in Africa, I had finally gotten sick. I
suspect it was injera, a fermented flatbread that is
eaten with every traditional meal in Ethiopia. You
use it to eat your meal with your hands. Forks and
spoons are not used when eating injera.

My stomach was racked with pain, and blew up like a
balloon. Filled with gas that needed to exit, I even
belched up rotten egg smelling burps. Soon the
diarrhea came, and my night was sleepless. I popped
some cipro into my mouth, and decided I was not going
to eat anything in the morning so that the microbes
would have nothing to feed on. Two more cipro pills
and things settled down. By evening I was feeling
better. I went to bed around 8 and woke up the next
morning a brand new man.

While we were in Nigeria, opposition party protesters
held rallies against the current Ethiopian
administration. The rallies were a response to the
May election results. Sadly, the government sent out
the police and military to quell the protesters again.
The press reported that 41 people were killed this
time, though our university student surveyors for the
project say that the number is probably around 100. A
hundred or more were also wounded. Add this to the
June protests where 32 were killed, and Ethiopia’s
political circumstance has now reverted to its bloody
past.

Our guard here at the office, a peaceful man in his
early 50s named Tarafi who my wife adores, worries
about his son. More than 2000 boys and men were
picked up off the street during the recent rallies by
the military and carried away to prison camps outside
of Addis. His son was in the wrong place at the wrong
time. He does not know when he will be released.

The opposition party was also arrested and placed in
jail, their crime being that they engaged in
activities that were unconstitutional. The future of
democracy in Ethiopia is a bleak picture.

Despite this reality, a reality that is all too common
in Africa, we are happy to be back in Ethiopia. It is
nice to walk the streets amongst such gentle people.
I haven’t placed a finger on it yet, but there is
something very special about this country and its
people, even though it has endured several decades of
war. I have often told people that I think Guatemala
is a magical place (it too has a horrific history over
the past couple of decades), something about the
colors and the Maya. Ethiopia is like that, but maybe
the correct way to describe it is as an enchanting
place.

I like that. Ethiopia—the Land of Enchantment.

(written 18 December 2005)

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