Last September 22-27, 2013, I was fortunate to be part of the team to do a Rapid Joint Needs Assessment (Education, Child Protection, Gender Based Violence and Health) organized by UNICEF for the Internal Displaced People(IDPs) of the Meyu and Kumbi woredas in East Harerghe Zone. Together with the Zonal Administration Officials, Oromia Regional Education Bureau, Bureau of Women and Child Affairs Representatives and UNICEF Experts, we travelled several hours to the displacement sites to assess the needs of the displaced communities and recommend possible interventions.
I’ve been here six months and been coordinating the Education in Emergencies Cluster for that length of time, too. I have heard about the emergencies here and to some extent I can relate to the issues but could never fully grasp them. So, when this opportunity to take part in this assessment came, I immediately grabbed the chance to see the real situation.
I represented the Ministry of Education in this instance but because I was one of only three women in the team, I ended up doing a Focus Group Discussion for Gender Based Violence and Key Informant Interview for a female leader. It was a bit difficult with the language barrier and I was not entirely sure that my questions were being translated in the proper context to the women who gathered. The findings of the assessment are confidential for now but I can tell you about my impressions
I left the house at 6am to have more than enough travel time to the UNICEF Office in Kazanchis. I was assigned to Beyadeglin, UNICEF driver, by Francesca – UNICEF Education Officer. We left the UNICEF compound at exactly 7am. We had breakfast in Adama, bought oranges in Matehar and lunch in Chirro. Lunch in Chirro was an interesting experience. There I was the only woman (a ferenji at that) with a group of habeshas (UNICEF drivers and Regional Education Bureau officials, Ministry of Education staff, Plan International staff), we entered the migib bet. This is one of those food houses with a butcher shop attached. The butcher shop has the whole deboned cow meat on display and the customers can choose which part he wants. Then, the raw meat is sliced and served with injera. I tried it but not quite to my taste. I’m more used to raw fish than raw meat so they ordered a whole platter of cooked meat with injera just for me. Quite a good lunch being one of the boys though I did get stared at by the other customers.
It was pretty uneventful drive except that the countryside of Ethiopia is just so incredible. The winding roads gave you a perfect view of the mountains and valleys, much like the roads up to Baguio City. We arrived in Samrat Hotel at Dire Dawa where I finally met the rest of the UNICEF team. They flew in, of course. But I’m just so glad they offered a car for us going there.
Breakfast at 6:30am so we could be on the road to Harar by 7am. We have a tight schedule today, what with the discussion for the Terms of Reference for the assessment and the situation and security briefings for the two woredas we were going to visit. However when we arrived in Harar, roads were closed and the people we were to meet were late because it was the National Flag Day.
By 9:30am, the meeting finally started but in Amharic. They’d all discuss, discuss, discuss and after a few minutes, someone would translate for the ferenjis. What I heard was really disturbing – missing children, violence against women and children, schools burned and looted, families torn apart. I knew I’d have to brace myself the following two days. The zonal administration bureau informed us that the woreda administrations will be giving us additional information when we go for the assessments and they have assured us that the conflict has settled down. Talks between the two groups are ongoing.
It was a long day, all in all.
It was decided the day before that the team would visit Meyu woreda first as it is nearer the designated base camp, Girewa. We left Dire Dawa at 6:30 with our packed breakfasts and lunch. Temperature was at 28 degrees. Everyone ate a breakfast of fatera (a delicious flat, flaky pastry filled with egg) along the way.
image from http://www.awazetours.com/ethiopian-food-and-drink/fetira/index.html
We arrived in Girewa at 9:30am. Temperature was at 12 degrees. We drove on to Meyu and arrived at 11:30am. Temperature was 29 degrees. 30 minute briefing with the Meyu woreda administration office, then the team split into two groups to visit two kebeles: Killi and Muluke.
I was assigned to the Muluke team and being the only woman in the group, I was tasked to do the Focused Group Discussion for Child Protection (CP) and Gender Based Violence (GBV). With Turyi, a primary teacher in Meyu, as my translator, I got into the car. It was two hours to Muluke and as we drove further into the valley, the heat just kept scorching. It was 30 degrees by the time we arrived in the kebele. Everyone in the team immediately went to their tasks after talking to the community leader.
The Peasant Association Leader identified 8 women for the FGD. However, only three women were actively participating in the discussion. The women in the community though were also gathered around us and listening. The statistics I heard the previous day were already difficult to take in. So much more heartbreaking were the stories I heard from these women.
It became clear during the discussion that the women were devastated by the loss of their property, cattle, livelihood and loss of family. They still fear for their lives, but they will go on to survive for their children. Though I was trying to get data for CP and GBV, it was difficult to get them into that mindset because they were more concerned for the well-being of their children and the basic needs of food, water and shelter.
One hour was definitely not enough to get data but we had to make do because UN security protocols are very strict. We needed to be back at base camp before dark and we had a long way to go.
We stayed the night at a CARE guesthouse in Girewa. We arrived at almost 7pm and it was a bumpy ride as the drivers were trying to be there before 6:30pm. The night was freezing at below 10 degrees.
We moved out of Girewa at 6am. Not more than 30 minutes later, we got a flat tire so the whole convoy had to stop. While the men were changing the tires, the three women went for a walk. We had a local man following us and trying to talk to us but we had very little Amharic vocabulary and he spoke more Afaan Oromifa. It was a bit frustrating because it would have been nice to talk with him. Just as we were going back to the cars, one of our colleagues who spoke Oromifa came over and talked with the local. That’s when we found out that in the early hours of the morning, wild animals would roam the mountains to hunt – leopards, hyenas. I’m so glad we didn’t know that earlier.
Just then, my colleague from the Ministry of Education came running to our group and signalled for me to hurry. It turned out that they needed a knife to complete the repairs. 13 men and 3 women, I was the only one with the swiss knife (Thank you, Aunty Nita, for the gift). I found it funny but some of the men looked wonderingly at me for carrying a knife. Well, I’m a traveller in the Philippines and I usually travel alone. It never hurts to be prepared.
When all was well again, we drove on and stopped over at Bodena for a quick breakfast. Best breakfast I’ve had, with two women cooking the chapatti, fetira and boiled potatoes sprinkled with herbs in front of us. We finished off breakfast with fresh and sweet guyabano.
Off we go again into the arid environment of Kumbi woreda. The nearest displacement area was Minu – nearest being about 4 hours away from Girewa. In Minu, I was tasked to interview the Head of the Bureau of Women and Children’s Affairs. We had an hour to gather data. My translator was good though he had a tendency to answer the questions rather than asking my interviewee for the answers. When the woman understood from my gestures what was going on, she started turning the head of the translator towards her every time I finish speaking. It was hilarious.
Don’t get me wrong though, we spent time speaking of atrocities like early marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual and domestic violence, and traumatized children. I can tell you that this was one strong woman who wears her authority comfortably. She is assertive and was unhesitating in pulling five girl children from early marriages. She knows women’s rights and will fight for them despite the traditions and culture of the community.
An hour later, everyone was called to board the cars. We had to be back in Dire Dawa before nightfall. Alas, we could not move that quickly. My interviewee had organized lunch for the assessment team. While I was interviewing her, she had delegated the preparation of the feast to selected women. It was definitely a feast because these people who had lost everything, killed a goat for our lunch. Since the men were almost all Orthodox Christians and were fasting the day, it fell to the Muslims in the group and the ferenji women to eat. The food was delicious – injera and goat tibs. We literally ate and ran, but oh it was so hard to run away from food.
From there, it was another race against the sun. The sun won because we had another flat tire. Luckily we were already near the city. When we arrived in Dire Dawa, we all showered the dust off us, had dinner and proceeded to work on the team findings and assessments for the debriefing the following morning in Harar.
Debriefing in Harar was scheduled for the whole day but it only took a half day due to the prepared team presentations done the previous night. We had all agreed that the meeting would be in Amharic the ferenji women already knew the details. Should anything new come up, that’s the time that the others can translate for us. Again, I cannot write more details until the report is published.
Anyway, by lunchtime the meeting was over. We had lunch at another restaurant. The men ordered the raw meat and injera and I again had the cooked meat and injera.
Did I tell you that Harar is the fourth most sacred Muslim City? The historic walled city still stands strong throughout the centuries. Here I was in this famous city and I wouldn’t be able to visit it because the people I was with all just wanted to go back to Dire Dawa for the Meskel Celebration. Meskel is an annual religious holiday commemorating the Finding of the True Cross by Saint Helena.
How can this be? That’s for another blog post.
Anyway, we all went back to Dire Dawa, had a short rest. At 5pm, I roamed the streets of Dire Dawa with the UNICEF drivers and watched the Meskel celebration. Families were also out in the streets, dressed in their traditional clothes. It was a great experience.
Travel back to Addis Ababa. The drive to Addis was anticlimactic. Everyone, including the drivers, was in a hurry to get home. Except for short stops to change a flat tire and check the air pumps of the car, we drove straight to Addis. We never even stopped for lunch. Good thing, I always have food and water. I simply sat back, enjoyed the scenery and dreamed of the next time I can get out of Addis.