Thursday, May 17, 2012

Anthro expansion, furniture contraction and Beggars Village.

Little boy in Beggars Village.

Greetings from Hawassa!

An old picture of Marceau and Gloria, the Abyssinian ground hornbill couple

Things are green here and we had our first sighting of Marceau, the male Abyssinian ground hornbill who graced our fields in the fall. Haven't heard much from the hyenas recently, but assume they will be back.

Ell is teaching his Developmental Anthropology and Walelign's Anthropological Theory, awaiting Walelign's triumphal return from India with his PhD. We hope to have a big celebration of this wonderful event – the acquisition of the first PhD by any of the staff of the Anthropology Department of Hawassa University, but by no means the last. The previous chair, Samuel, is visiting from his PhD program at Washington State University with WSU Professors Rob Quinlan and Bonnie and Barry Hewlett. They are setting up what should be lasting ties for staff education and development, which will include PhD training for several MAs including our other friend Awoke, who helped to make villages in Konso (the ones with the beautiful stone terracing) aggregately a United Nations Cultural Heritage Site. Awoke also wrote the only book available on the peoples of Southern Ethiopia. So, there are good hopes for the future.
Again a cheat: Old picture of Ell and Awoke (kneeling) and their students. Emilia to far left, Dagim to left of Ell.
Right now Marty is writing this in hiding in our bedroom. The University workmen have come to take away more of the furniture that apparently belongs to the Australian Volunteer Services Organization, and was left here on a loan. Twice in the past an AVSO man and University worker came to the door out of the blue to demand our beds, tables, chairs, bookshelves and buffets. We had no clue and refused. When we found out that in fact the University didn't own the furniture, we agreed to let it go only if it is replaced. It has been, sort of, maybe. We received one bed to replace two – that was OK. But now they have taken out our dining room table and replaced it with a desk. They replaced our three dining room chairs and three living room chairs with a total of three desk chairs. Hmmmmm.... Five weeks.

But this is just a distraction from Marty's very absorbing (and frequently disturbing) street people project.
Residents of Beggars Village in front of homes.
She and young assistant Dagim this week visited the home of one of our moms, and discovered what Marty calls the Beggars Village, a block of the city behind St. Trinity Orthodox Church. Rows of long tin-roofed shelters divided into small stalls with bamboo mat siding house over a hundred men, women and children that were “collected” about a year ago by the church and the city from their makeshift shelters in front of St. Gabriel Church in the heart of town. Almost all of them still beg there (at St. Gabriel), but now go back and forth the mile or so to their new homes.

This was Hawassan urban renewal on a small scale, an attempt to rid the downtown of the eyesore dwellings that crowded the town center with its lovely fountains and Sidama monument.  It was a part of the town's striving for modernity and success as Ethiopia's burgeoning southern resort.

Family at Beggars Village
The Beggars Village does have its benefits: there is one toilet shared by everyone and the residents don't face constant threat of eviction by police or shopkeepers. However, there is no water spigot on site that Marty can find. People still must buy their water from the cemetery down the road and haul it to the village. Further, it is way overcrowded with up to eleven people living in a 12x12 foot space and many sleeping mats placed in the open front common area.

Such overcrowding invites disease, and kids have scabies, everyone coughs and Marty suspects tuberculosis may be living with the inhabitants. Neither the church nor the city have provided any access to medical care and yesterday Marty bajajed 3 moms with sick babies the eight miles round trip for care at Referral Hospital Clinic. More are planned for the morning.

Our first day interviewing was inspiring. We talked to two young moms with very different but compelling
Young mother at Beggars Village
stories. One escaped abuse and neglect in the Wolayta rural area from a stepmother who replaced her own mother who had died when she was a toddler. She came to Hawassa at the age of 8 and has been on the streets ever since. She is now married and with a child, but her husband, a construction worker, makes so little that she must continue to beg and sell sugar cane downtown.

The other was, literally, born on the street, on the pavement in front of St. Gabriel, to a mother and father that are still forced to beg there. Two of her three sibs died, but she has, finally, been able to stop begging and instead support herself by washing clothes and making enjera for the other families in the Beggars Village. Her dream is to get a home for her family and parents, to educate her children to become doctors so that they can “care for us”.

Dagim and Marty continue to interview others on the street, recently spending a good morning talking to women who walk into town from a nearby rural village to beg
Dagim with little hitch-hiker
house to house. They maintain their homes but cannot feed their children except through begging. On the same day we biked downtown for lunch with three pre-teen street kids who “carry things for people” in order to buy leftovers from restaurants to feed themselves. All had escaped indigent, abusive homes in the country to “find a job”. They create new families – groups who sleep together on the street and protect and share with one another.
Mother and son met while begging.
Mother out begging for her family.
A new development is pending whose outcome for the beggars and homeless is unknown. Marty visited the Hawassa Children's and Vocational Training Center and was told about rising concern from the Mayor's office about the street children. “Hawassa is a beautiful city, but these street children are a real problem,” per the manager of the Center, who stated that there were 6,000 street children (there is a question here if that includes all street people, regardless of age), of whom 1,200 sleep on the street. Amazingly, Marty was invited to a meeting yesterday of thirty or more middle class members of the city's committee on beggars. (Of course it was all in Amharic, so the scope of her understanding of the proceedings was nil.) However, there may to be a proposal afoot to clear the street of children, send them to detox somewhere and then home.

If so, then many questions: Nobody seems to know what constitutes detox (and only a minority of the kids we talked to are users of khat or alcohol.) And all the children we have spoken to left homes that were too poor to support them and most were abusive. What is the plan to remediate the issues in those individual families that forced them to leave for a hard and dangerous life in the city?
Street pre-teen
Another street pre-teen
And finally, there is no attempt to address the underlying problem that continues to drive homelessness and begging: desperate, growing poverty in the countryside that has accompanied the government's neo-neoliberal (still some state control) policies. Food, water and housing subsidies for poor families are needed to confront the inflation and at least 50% unemployment. These men, women and children won't go away and the root cause is not khat or alcohol.

It can and has been argued that support for the poor, though morally and economically necessary, is politically impossible in this neoliberal world. However, Evo Morales and his MAS Party in Bolivia made as two of their first changes government payment for school children's supplies and a nascent social security for the elderly, both of which are desperately needed in Ethiopia. It is only unthinkable if it is not thought of.
Another little boy at Beggars Village

In the meantime, Marty finds strength in these outrageously resilient moms and kids and feels gratitude to them for sharing their stories. She has no idea what she will do with the information, (All suggestions welcome!) though she did promise the city committee that she would share her findings (without names) with it, in hopes to impress upon the members the humanity of those that they see as eyesores. 

We miss you as always, love hearing from you, and will keep on unloading on you whether you like it or not!

Abrazos, Marty and Elliot

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