My penultimate day in Ethiopia. There, I’ve always wanted to use that word.
Today I would be observing a training and a women’s group. But first, I settled up my canteen bill, handed in the Chinese dongle that had never helped me get an Internet connection, and returned the ancient Nokia I had been given the first day. For once, my age was an advantage with technology, since I had learned to text using the ABC system way back in 2005. Pity the millennial or younger generation who has only known smart phone qwerty keypads with autocorrect.
I could receive messages but the phone wouldn’t send them. I could see a queue of failed sends attempted by previous users. I also received various messages in Tigrinya. I will never know if the message below was important. Had I missed an incredible two-for-one offer on camel milk?
Maki sent me several messages and I responded to her via my iphone. Then she would reply to the Nokia. It was a little confusing.
I did some packing and noticed that my mattress was covered with this fabric.
I stared at it. Why were there kangaroos all over my mattress and why had I not noticed before? I had been here a week. I can only posit that it was an example of how the mind narrows down when it is overwhelmed with too much new stimulus.
It could also be related to what I call “the gauze effect.” I have often gone on a trip to a developing country thinking I’ll write blog posts every day, or fill my hours drafting a novel, or learn French because I’ll have lots of time on my hands.
I do none of that. In fact I do nothing much, because the pace of life is so slow, the heat so intense, and getting the smallest task done feels like a major miracle. It feels like a soft cotton gauze has settled over your head. You can’t think, you can’t act. Making a photocopy feels like a big accomplishment worthy of being rewarded with a nap.
I attended a two-hour training on attachment in the morning that was given by our expert psychotherapist to employees of other NGOs working with Eritrean refugees. Several young women had brought their very cute babies, and I thought it must be a nice bonus for them that they got paid to learn about child development and attachment on the job.
A rooster had flown over the wall of our compound and was crowing incessantly in an alcove outside the training room. Suddenly I saw one of the cooks stride purposefully past the door and the rooster gave an alarming “Bwuauck!” We would be having poultry for dinner tonight.
After lunch we rode to one of the camps and hung around waiting for clients to show up. One by one, women arrived, some with children. CVT has a childcare tukul but the babies stay in the groups with their mothers.
About 15 minutes past the hour there were 10 women assembled and the facilitator began. Thankfully she didn’t ask me to speak, she just told them who I was and I gave the same introduction as the rest of them: name, age, marital status, number of children, and how long I had been in Ethiopia. “One week,” I said, smiling. And I thought, pained, And I get to leave tomorrow, while none of you knows when she’ll return home or be resettled, if ever.
The facilitator translated here and there but mainly it was similar to the boys’ group the previous day; I knew enough to get the gist of what was going on. All of the women were married with children and dressed in traditional clothing except one. She was dressed in jeans and a tight-fitting T-shirt and had her hair in a glamorous up-do. At first she sat slouched down in her chair with her arms crossed as if to say, “I’m not one of you.” But as the group went on and the women shared she sat up and leaned forward. It was a remarkable transformation, and a great example of the power of group counseling.