Tomorrow we fly out to Jijiga, a small town on the northern edge of the Ogaden desert in eastern Ethiopia that will serve as base camp for the week. We will be going to two refugee camps to assess our project’s efforts there.
I sit here in Addis somewhat excited about the trip; it will be an adventure, that is for sure. However, I am also uncertain what to make of going back after being there for a few days in late 2005.
In the same time frame, I have moved about freely around the globe. And they are still there, having not gone more than a few kilometers from the camp to visit town or gather fuelwood for cooking, maybe. For many, they have not seen anything but camp life.
The situation in Somalia has not improved. According to many, it has worsened. The Ethiopian military occupies Mogadishu and other towns, with the support of the United States. Aid workers are being killed. Food aid is not sufficient to feed the people. International organizations/agencies are talking of a massive famine.
And into this reality, is the reality that I will go to refugee camps where Somali people are living so I can monitor a project that truly is working to improve the camp residents’ lives. Me. White skin, blue eyes, blond hair–all easily seen on my U.S. passport. Me. Unsupportive of my country’s actions in the region. Me. Having to bear the responsibility of owning that passport.
For five days I will be there under the invitation of the UNHCR and the Ethiopian government. I will see abject poverty. I will hear stories that I am not able to imagine as really being true. I will see smiling faces welcoming me into their homes. I will likely hold hands with men in the camp, as is common in this part of the world. I will eat goat, drink spiced tea, and offer whatever hope I can to them when they tell me about wanting to leave.
About wanting to get to Europe. To America. And back to their home villages. I will try to look them in the eye and tell them that it will happen, Inshallah. Yet I will know that they know it is near impossible to dream such a dream when you have been living in the camp since 1991.
Tomorrow I travel to Somaliland with a perplexed mind. I’d rather have it this way than be driving to the grocery store and having to decide which bunch of bananas to buy.