28 August 2012

Back to Addis from Sodo

I have arrived back in Addis after an intense trip to the south. Though the roads are paved between here and Sodo, the going was still quite rough and we arrived after about 8 hours, which cost us about $12 each. I want to write about how beautiful the landscape in the south is, how green and lush the subsistence farms are, how interesting the houses and people look, but much more was just under the surface. Being that PM Meles passed away, the country is in the grip of mourning and for this they have had huge events everywhere. In Sodo, which is the capital of the Walaiyta region, the events were marked by the demonstrations of warriors draped in leopard skin or local colors of clothing, and thrusting spears or on horseback galloping through the streets.

The priest I traveled with is from a village in that area and he took me there. We drove for some time on the paved road, turned off on a heavily potholed dirt road, and then turned off that road into green fields. Eventually we came to the quiets of his village. I am not entirely ready to write about what we experienced there. The villages are full of malaria and very extreme poverty. But people are of course gracious, wanting to give, smiling and welcoming. I was a total anomaly and so everywhere we went children would scream out to me, adults would stare, point, mostly to smile and wave. I am not used to traveling in this way. The Brothers and Priests often put on street clothes when they leave their compounds to avoid attention. There is nothing I can do to avoid attention. I am taller than most people, and definitely look different. The south is densely populated and is where many of the lakes are (the Rift Valley).

I finally made contact with the Institute I am meant to work with here, but there are almost no staff here and I am not sure how much support they are actually willing to give outside of a desk and internet connection, which is very generous of course. I will continue to try to reach the remaining names I have in Addis and hope that I can gain permissions to enter the dam site. I am almost done with the first portion of my research having conducted interviews with more officials in the south. I met with the equivalent mayor, governor, 2 bishops, a university president, and regional manager of the large firm construction a dam there (the same firm that is constructing the dam I am looking to research).

The political state of the country is still uncertain. The public demonstrations for Meles' death are full of loud weeping and crying and large crowds of people are gathering everyday across the country to grieve. I will write more about this at some point. I am totally overwhelmed and need some time to digest what is happening around me. I have left the Brothers and moved in with an Ethiopian family: a mother and two kids. The mother works for the UN. I may have to leave Ethiopia, so I am trying to hurry up with completing my interviews before this happens. It is very nerve-wrecking to not understand what is happening here, but, I am not alone, no one really knows what to expect next. On top of the political stability uncertainty, the realities of death and disease in the countryside...I hope I can write about this eventually. One scene that is a bit funny is this:
I was brought to see a Catholic mission very far out in the rural area. This is the only thing happening out there as far as care for locals. There is a clinic staffed by Sisters, a school staffed by Brothers, and a parish priest. We arrived just as some program for the local kids let out, so there were a few hundred kids milling about in the churchyard. One young man starts to speak with me in English, politely asking where I am from and what I am doing in Ethiopia. He tells me about his schooling and his life. As this is happening, the hundred or so kids are crowded around us to listen to our conversation. They are packing in so close that the temperature perceptibly increased - and my attention moved from my conversation to the crowd around me and when I look at the kids they jump back and start laughing then push in close again. They were at once fascinated and frightened by this odd visitor speaking American English. They all wanted to shake my hand, which is standard in Ethiopia - the welcoming greeting. I shook dozens of hands before I could break free and go to the Sister's compound for coffee...

Now that I have an office, perhaps I will start posting photos so you can see the things I am describing. The Director of this Institute will not be back until next Monday, and the funeral stuff is happening all week, so it is not easy to move around the city. Today I was brought by one of the UN drivers, which is pretty strange because people think you are somebody inside the car and give way or salutes. The Institute is some distance from everything so I do not believe I will come very often, though it would be convenient for writing and communication if I could.