Dr. Jennifer Veilleux is a geographer and water scientist. This blog shares news, research, and fieldwork experiences from the Nile, Mekong, and Missouri river basins. She analyzes impacts development has on transboundary water resources and river communities.
I got to Sodo too late for the Meskel fires, but was happy to be back with Abba Ayele and the Franciscans again. I was introduced to an elderly Italian couple who work with the Franciscans to run an all-girls school. They helped construct new buildings and classrooms, a library (and stocked it with generous donations), landscaped, put in soccer fields, and guided the establishment of the technical school. Lina, the wife, works with the girls after school to make embroidered things that she then pays the girls directly for, sells the products in Europe, and invests the money back into the program. They are a lovely couple.
I spent my time in Sodo processing my data. I had a day in Mokenisa again, Meskel - a holiday where people slaughter fattened oxen and eat them raw. I handed out kites, hair ties, soap, and balls to the kids. Even as I watched the joy on their faces as they ran around the place with their rainbow colored kites and balls, I felt something like regret as I knew that some of these kids would not make it into adulthood. But, if I change my perspective to one that is realistic - I cannot inoculate these kids against all the potential diseases they could suffer, cannot make sure they are not malnourished during the dry season, cannot fund the village to educate the kids rather than send them on errands like fetching water, cannot change their lives in a big way, but I can in a small way. I can bring them a smile for an afternoon, or maybe a week, however long the toys last. I can acknowledge that they are kids, and kids like to play and laugh and feel love. And if every moment is now, no past or future, then this is alright for now...right?
All around, the adults were slaughtering and butchering oxen. Abba Ayele said that so many people would get ill because of eating the raw meat, but that it is a strong tradition. The bonfires were set up for the evening, but due to Meles' recent death, public demonstrations were cancelled. But, private celebrations were allowed. We went to the house of a local professor who started his own school for local poor kids. He invited us to eat some spicy shiro - it was so spicy it was hard to eat, but I love spice, much to the delight of his daughters.
Saturday, Lina and I went to the market and I purchased some souvenirs. We met with these people, the artisans community that Lina and her husband are working with in a nearby village. They are trying to establish a kindergarten and get a water supply to the community. These people are called the Shekila Seryee - something like the people who make pottery. But, they are also ostracized and feared. I am told this is because they use fire and there is this sense of a demonic undertone to their work. Blacksmiths, ceramicists, potters...so I decided I would like to go see this community. I purchased coffee pots from the family in the market. They cost the equivalent of $1.50.
Abba Ayele took me to find a local boy from a compound where everyone was hunkering down for a chat session. The boy he said could take us to the artisans. So off we went down the track in the late part of the day when the sun makes every thing glow and the sky looks perfect. We found a place where some of the families live and had a chat with the woman who makes pottery there. The kids were all around us, wanting their photos taken. I brought them chalk and they were silent as I handed it out. These are some of the poorest people I have encountered - or at least the most unhealthy. All of the kids were sick and unclean. The women were in rags. I felt that it was unfair that they were making such beautiful work, which serves a direct purpose in the society, and an important purpose because coffee is the center of so much in Ethiopia, that they should be shunned and made to live in such abject poverty. I asked about the process, bought a piece of cookware and we left. I thought it would be nice if all the women could work together in one place, like a cooperative, and started having fantasies about raising money to build a facility like the one I would later see in Addis.
At the end of the day, I think everyday I am in Ethiopia, I find something I want to look deeper into. All manner of things capture my attention here: whether it be something in the culture that strikes me, music that I find fascinating, to learn how to dance the traditional dances, to help build a cooperative for a low caste group, to get prostitutes off the streets of Addis and help them get some training to do something else for just as much money, to learn to cook the traditional dishes, to teach English to eager students, to buy a pair of sneakers for a young man who walks around in dress shoes 5 sizes too big. I am here to focus on my research, but I appreciate times when I can focus on the humanity around me, focus on the culture and beauty of being in a place so far away from where I am from and still connect. The final thing I did in Sodo was to get my hair braided, Ethiopian style.