I’ve written about the rats, dust, diesel fumes, noise, and mosquitoes here in Ethiopia.
Now for the good things. It is so great to be here. With others I’ve been trying to raise funds for our Ethiopia program for about three years, and I am finally seeing first-hand what happens here. It’s easy to get a bit cynical when you’re sitting at HQ. This has swept my cynicism away.
It took a lot to get here. I took an overnight flight from Frankfurt to Addis Ababa, the capital. An hour later I flew north to Axum, and from there it was a one-hour drive to Shire, where CVT has an office. I flew to Lalibela for some weekend R&R and I’ll write about that later. On Monday morning, back in Shire, everyone piled into one of the ubiquitous white NGO trucks plastered with our logo and donor recognition—in our case, the US flag with the note, “Gift of the United States Government PRM” (Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration).
Our destination was Mai Tsebri, home of my dearly departed rat (I hope). In Mai Tsebri, CVT has a walled compound. The trucks back in through the gate into a courtyard with a dirt floor planted with mango trees and a water cistern as big as a Humvee. Two floors of rooms ring it—a kitchen, canteen, training room, staff quarters, HR, logistics, and the oh-so important generator shed.
Each morning the staff pile into the trucks for the drive to the refugee camps, which is about a half hour. It’s spectacular countryside, along twisting roads through the mountains. I had heard that the ride makes people sick, so I was relieved it didn’t happen to me.
So after eight flights in 13 days and five long, dusty drives, I was in one of the camps where we work.
And it’s great. I am so happy to meet the staff whose names I’ve entered into online forms.
There’s a lot to write about, but for now I’ll describe the camp and the mornings’ activity.
There’s a small Ethiopian settlement called Adi Harush. The ground is red, rocky, uneven, and dusty. The houses are built of square cement bricks and are maybe 15 by 12 feet. Each has a tin roof, a door, and windows on two sides. The houses are in pretty rough shape.
Then you cross some invisible line and you’re in a refugee camp. The houses are the same but they’re brand new, neat and tidy. The people are the same ethnic group, but they’re Eritrean, not Ethiopian, and they speak Tigrinya instead of Amharic.
There are communal latrines (below) and water spigots, schools, an amphitheater where boys were playing basketball, a women’s center (below) where the ladies can get their hair done, watch TV, and discuss Gender Based Violence.
There’s no barbed wire fence or armed guard to keep anyone in, and that’s a problem, as you’ll learn.
Three CVT staff found a spot of shade against a house and a group of people began to assemble. One staffer set down two stools about eight inches high, gestured for me to sit down, and sat next to me. The other two employees began to present information on trauma and torture to about 30 men, women, and children while my stool mate interpreted for me. We call this a sensitization—to help people understand that if they’re depressed, anxious or not sleeping, that’s normal given what they’ve been through, and CVT can help.
Almost everyone in the camp is separated from his or her family. Some were forced into never-ending military service, kept in underground prisons, or trafficked. There are lots of children on their own, and there are waves of suicide among them.
I had the interpreter seriously repeating everything into my ear, while two tiny boys stood directly in front of me making funny faces. One had no pants on. Did I laugh at them and risk looking insensitive to the crowd, or remain serious and miss the joy of flirting with small children? I think I did all of the above.