Tag Archives: Ethiopia

Moving, Here and There

In real time—September 1, 2017—I just woke up in my own home for the first time in three months after living, traveling, and working abroad.  It’s disorienting.  My place feels the same, yet different.  Maybe that’s because I sold it right before I left, and as soon as I unpack my suitcase I will need to start packing everything to move in one month.

This will be my third move in two years.  This one will be hard.  I love this place—its location on The Hill near all the mansions and shops and restaurants, and the character of the condo itself—with beveled glass, graceful curved woodwork, exposed brick walls, fireplace, high ceilings, and warm wood floors.

When I woke up at midnight last night to the creaking and thumping of my upstairs neighbor walking around on his wood floors, I smiled and knew I had made the right decision.

I’ll be moving into a duplex on St. Paul’s east side.  You know what they say about rents and real estate: “Location, location, location.”  And it’s true.  The duplex is very nice but there’s nothing much nearby except other duplexes.  Therefore it’s cheap.  I’ve signed a 10-month lease and I can lay low there until I decide what to do next.

I am lucky to have the choices I do.  I knew that intellectually, but spending time in refugee camps made it visceral.

I arrived at Heathrow from Addis Ababa at 7am.  I had barely slept due to my cold and, well, having to sit upright in a cramped airplane seat.

There was Lynn waiting for me in the arrivals hall—the one where they filmed the opening scene in Love Actually. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a sweet montage of people meeting people at the airport.  Friends, families, business associates … smiling, waving, hugging, laughing, and then walking off to start whatever lay ahead for them in London or beyond.

I transferred myself from Maki’s good guidance to Lynn’s.  I am a “take charge” person but Lynn is even more so, and we were on her stomping grounds now.

First stop, Boots, the chemist, which is like a prettier version of Walgreens. I loaded up on sore throat spray, cough drops, and tissues.  We got a cup of coffee at Costa and found the car rental kiosk.  Lynn bought all the insurance they offered, which would turn out to be a good thing.

This was supposed to be the vacation part of my sojourn—two weeks of driving around the southwest of Britain, starting in Cornwall.

Until recently, I’ve never had a problem logging off of work email and not checking it while I’m on leave.  I crossed a line somewhere and started doing that, and when I did, at Heathrow while Lynn was making the car arrangements, there was an email about an opportunity for us to submit a concept note to DFID, the UK’s Department for International Development.  It was due in less than 10 days.

A concept note is like a preliminary sales pitch to a potential funder.  You send them 3-5 pages summarizing your big idea and hope they ask for more, in the form of a full grant proposal.  Thing is, you have to put almost as much work into a concept note as a full proposal because you have to give them a top line budget number, and to get that requires, basically, developing the full project and budget.

I was really glad we were going for this, and I wanted to work on it.  I had met with a DFID representative two years before when I was in Amman, Jordan.  We had tried to stay loosely in touch with him, and if we are funded, it would be almost a textbook example of how development/fund raising works.

But the timing that was inconvenient.  Lynn doesn’t need anyone to entertain her, but I thought it would be rude to be constantly checking my email and on Skype while she was having a G&T by herself on the patio at the resort in Cornwall.  Being online too much would turn out to not be a problem.

Scenes from a Refugee Camp

I spent two days in the refugee camps.  On the first day I got a walking tour of the camp from the young colleague who had shown such great interest in tiramisu.  He walked at a brisk pace and I managed to keep up despite the ground being muddy and strewn with large rocks and pocked with water-filled potholes.

We stopped in at the Women’s Centre which was run by International Rescue Committee.  We visited a primary school, where little faces looked up at me briefly and then back to their books.  They were probably used to strangers touring the camps. We walked past the playground:

It may look sad, but when you turned around there was this spectacular view of the mountains:

My colleague asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee and I responded enthusiastically.  People had set up small businesses along the main road; some sold beer, some packets of crisps and nuts or single application shampoo packets.  There was a cigarette vendor who sold one cigarette at a time, since no one could afford a whole pack.  We stepped into a thatched hut that served coffee.  I was the only woman and I got a few looks—not hostile or lewd—they just seemed to be noting, “Huh, a woman in the coffee hut.”  Knowing how hard women here worked, I wondered if there was a separate women’s coffee hut somewhere or if they managed without coffee.  Just the thought makes me tired.

We sat on the ubiquitous white plastic chairs, drank bittersweet coffee, and chewed on some kind of beans or nuts.  My colleague’s English was difficult to understand, so as I chewed I wondered if I would soon be seeing flying unicorns.  He talked about being an artist and a project he was working on.  I could croak out a few syllables now, but I didn’t want to be mute while traveling back to Europe in a few days so I mostly just nodded and smiled.

We returned to the CVT area.  There, we have built tukuls that serve as cool, calm oases in which people attend counseling groups.  We’ve got an art therapist from Chicago who is leading the painting of tukuls for children and creating mandalas on others.

We arrived at break time, so there was more coffee and popcorn with the whole staff of about 10 people.  They insisted I sit on the one (white plastic) chair while they stood or squatted on the ground.  I had been warned about this by others from headquarters who visited—that our staff will insist on visitors taking the chair and that it would be embarrassing.  I had just had an hour-long hike around the camp under a blazing sun.  I was twice as old as all of them.  Age is revered in some cultures and if my age or perceived status as a visitor got me the chair, I wasn’t going to say no.

After the break I was taken to a tukul where a group of 12-14 year old boys was assembled for a counseling session.  CVT’s standard counseling groups run for 10-weeks.  However, if you’ve ever had a teenaged boy in your life you know how restless they can be.  These Eritrean teenagers had picked up and walked out of their country.  They did not enjoy hanging around a refugee camp with no prospects.  As I’ve written briefly about before, many of them walk off again, toward the Sinai Desert in hopes of reaching Israel, or farther on toward Libya and the Mediterranean Sea with hopes of reaching Europe.  Some do make it, but most are kidnapped in the Sinai by Bedouin or other traffickers, or drown in the Med.

Ten-week groups are just too long—many of the boys won’t be around by the third week.  So CVT developed a three-meeting group model, and I was sitting in on the third one.  Everyone had a chair.  But first, they made me stand up and give a speech, since I was such an important person from headquarters.  Now this was a little uncomfortable.  Little did they know that I am nobody special, but I rasped out a few words anyway.