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Giving up, Giving in

image

Photo by D

The first bloom of love,
Gone as if it never was
Distance has taken its toll
Testing faith and fate.

I keep close mem’ries
Trying to hold on to you
Wishing I was strong enough
To ask you to stay

I wish you were here
I wish I was there with you
Somebody has to give in,
Follow the other

Are we both ready
To compromise, sacrifice –
Do what it takes, move forward?
I’m betting on us…

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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Alternate Reality

 

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Harar Jugol

A week ago, I took part in a Rapid Joint Needs Assessment Workshop in East Harerghe. It was the farthest I’ve ever been from my placement in Addis. Eight to nine hours of travel meant nothing to me because it meant being away from the city. It meant seeing the real Ethiopia. I’ve been stuck in an office for six months – so not what I envisioned being an Education in Emergencies Coordinator for the Ministry of Education.

This also was an opportunity for me to see the old walled city, Harar Jugol. The city was built between 13th to 16 century. It is considered to be the “fourth most sacred city of Islam.” But would you believe I almost did not see this historic place?

Two days of the six-week assessment activity, the team was in an office in Harar and a mere 5 minute walk to the old city but no one was interested to go. I was with habeshas who have seen it already and the two ferenjis in the team have also been there. I would have explored it on my own but I’ve been warned that the walled city is like a maze and I could get lost easily.

On our last meeting in Harar, everyone was in a hurry to go back to Dire Dawa for the Meskel Celebration. I resigned myself to not seeing the city and consoled myself with a promise to come back. After the meeting, we all had lunch first then we each boarded our assigned vehicles.

To my surprise, I was told to get in another vehicle and the driver just happened to have grown up in the walled city. Oh, yes! I was taken for a tour of the city. The driver assigned to me has apparently discussed with the other drivers about my wish and just like that, it was granted. Mansour and Beyadiglign, thank you so much! Ang gagaling tumakas.

It was a quick tour with Mansour speeding around alleys within the city, despite the people and the donkeys walking. Everyone was hailing him that I teased him about being the mayor of the city. He only slowed down to explain the interesting sites and share trivia. The city had stood for centuries and has 83 mosques to date. It has 5 gates, which in the old times were closed before dark to protect the people. Mansour pointed out the museums in the city but we had no time to go in. He also showed us an Orthodox Church which was renovated from a mosque. How did that happen?

No time for exploring. I definitely have to come back. Meanwhile, here are the pictures.

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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Friendships

 

Been to the Bush

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

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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.

Day 4

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.

Day 5

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.

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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.

Day 6

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.

 

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Longing for a Taste of Home

A Filipino is coming back to Ethiopia – Kuya Lebi. After 4 months of volunteer work, he went home for vacation; but he has decided to continue working here, but this time as a teacher. He was contracted by one of the universities in Afar. And the good news is he has kindly offered to bring back a care package from home. Guess what I have in there:

  1. Maggi Magic Sarap
  2. Knorr rice mate
  3. Mama Sita’s ready mixes (adobo, mechado, kaldereta)
  4. Knorr crab and corn soup
  5. Toiletries (Rubbing alcohol, moisturizer, etc.)
  6. Katinko ointment
  7. Skyflakes crackers
  8. Lucky Me Pancit Canton
  9. Sotanghon
  10. Rubber shoes
  11. Extra clothes (long sleeved shirts, leggings, socks)

What I’m really looking forward to is the pancit canton. I’ve always been a pancit addict. As long as I have noodles in my cupboard (bihon, sotanghon, odong, misua, egg noodles or just instant noodles), I know I’ll never go hungry. And here in Addis, they only have Indomie noodles. It’s good enough, I guess, but Maggi and Lucky Me are still the best. I miss Papa’s Pancit with Ligo Sardines, Aunty Lyd’s Pancit with chicken liver. My goodness, I’m drooling just thinking about it. With so many Chinese workers here, why can’t I find a store that sells egg noodles so I can at least make my version of pancit?

Know what else is crazy? I’ve been cooking like crazy here just to get a taste of home – adobo, bistek Tagalog, crispy fried pork binagoongan and pancit canton (using angel hair pasta). Here, where ingredients like bagoong are not found or vinegar is not as sour. Good thing Ate Gai, a Filipina who went back to the Philippines already, left me a jar of bagoong and Datu Puti Suka she had.

But, I really, really need the ready-to-cook mixes. I’ve always loved to eat, but I never learned to cook because Mama and Papa were always there to cook our favourite dishes. When I went to college, the dormitories had cafeterias. When I started work, I shared an apartment with friends who loved to cook so I was more than happy to wash the dishes, instead. When I had my own house, I was content with the instant noodles and when I wanted real home-cooked food, I’d just go over to my Ate Evic’s house. Pretty easy life.

I also miss the seafood. They only have Tilapia here. I seldom eat that back home. There are so many tastier fish…and shrimps and crabs (deep sigh).

Now, I have to struggle to get a taste of home. So, I’m counting the days…can’t wait for the care package!

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Friendships

 

Annie Almost Killed Me

I’m not used to anyone worrying about me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure my family worries plenty enough, but I guess they’ve learned not to show it. Either that or I’ve taken to not noticing or caring…God, I hope not.

Anyway, why am I writing about this? Well, last July 15-26 several volunteers underwent a Summer Language Training in Amharic. Lucky for me, my programme manager and line managers allowed me to attend; and this was on the condition that I finish all paperwork due and be available for a meeting with one of the Regional Task Forces on July 22. That meant I would miss one day of training, which was fine. On July 19, I received word that the meeting would be moved to July 26. No problem with that.

However on July 22, I had severe migraine. It was so bad; I had to take pain relievers. The thing was, I haven’t taken pain relievers in years so the medicine I took literally knocked me out. I wasn’t able to phone anyone in the training class that I couldn’t be there. My phone was dead anyway. There had been no electricity for the past few days and I wasn’t able to charge it. I woke up late afternoon et voila, there was power. I charged my phone, turned it on and found several messages from very, very worried co-volunteers. Suffice it to say, I had no idea of the furore I created by being dead to the world for several hours.

At around 5pm that day, Annie, a fellow Filipina, came by the house ready to kill me. She brought pizza, though, so I let her in. I was starving having had nothing to eat the whole day. She told me how worried she and Carol (British doctor) was about my being incommunicado. They said it was so unlike me. The others tried to convince them that maybe my phone battery was dead so I couldn’t call. Then they found out from my programme manager that I had a meeting scheduled for the day. Annie explained that if I was at a meeting somewhere I would have been able to charge my phone and would have replied to their texts. She then called up another volunteer who also worked at the Ministry of Education to see if I was there. Of course, I wasn’t. The whole day, they waited for word from me and got nothing. Annie finally made up her mind to come to the house to see if I was still alive, and then kill me for scaring her. Carol made her promise to call her if I need resuscitation.

Nothing to do but apologize profusely, of course. I felt so guilty. But I had an ace up my sleeve, “Annie, now you know how worried I was when you were vomiting the whole night and then insisted on going home the following morning instead of going to the hospital.” Yup, we’re even.

I had no idea that in the four months I’ve been here, I’ve managed to surround myself with family. Am I not blessed?

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Friendships

 

Missing you

 

Here, I think of home

Trying to block memories

Of the last few days we spent

To say our goodbyes

 

It’s not a big deal

Or so I thought, I was wrong

Did not think I’d feel keenly

The distance apart

 

It’s temporary

Yet it does not numb the pain

Nor does it fill the vacuum

God, please give me strength

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2013 in Friendships

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

I would like to introduce you to my mothers, the Solayao sisters. These sisters, or the Elders as my cousins and I call them, are the matriarchs of our family.

Zeny. Ang bakla kong ina. Funny how these days, when you call someone bakla, it’s because they’re someone smart and fun to be with. My Mama is like that. I got my sarcastic tendencies from her and her wit, too, I’d like to think so. She does not back down from an argument but will let a conflict pass until she has simmered down enough to make her point. Like any mother, she will fight to the death for her kids (biological and those she counsels).

I can go my own way, travel wherever and follow my dreams because I know at the end of each journey, I can always go back home and just be. Whenever I have problems, I know I can count on her to be there for me. You can only imagine the phone bills that racked up whenever I had to call collect (there was no cellphone my first year away from home). Now, thanks to chikka and FB, we’re always connected. I can talk to her about anything. There may be times when I’d try to keep a secret but I find that I can’t. She’s my bestfriend and I simply have to tell her about everything.

Aunty Lydia and Aunty Anita are two of my Mama’s sisters who are my mothers and my barkada. During my college days, I’d go to Aunty Lyd’s house to get a dose of TLC. When she moved back to Leyte, I lost my home away from home. As for my Aunty Nita, any secret I try to keep from my Mama for a short time, she knows. She has always been my sounding board ever since grade school when I would write long letters about what’s going on in my life.

To Mama, Aunty Lydia and Aunty Nita, I will always be grateful for the love and guidance you have given me. You taught me to celebrate the strengths of a woman and to not let perceived weaknesses let you down.