Monday, May 7, 2012

Six weeks, Spring, and Street People

Greetings from Hawassa!  
Maribou stork on guesthouse watertank. (Is this why we have no water pressure?)

Today marks just six weeks till our departure from Ethiopia. We are reacting a little differently to our return: Marty has become very involved both in the hospital work and her interviews with street women and children and is energized by the challenges of each. She is now the permanent Senior Staff in the emergency room and every day must go to the books to figure out some diagnostic or therapeutic dilemma. Recently the department diagnosed four cases of meningococcal meningitis which, in fact, she has always heard of but never seen. The ED overflows with patients with renal failure, tuberculosis, malaria, stroke (today in a 22-year-old man!), newly diagnosed HIV, rheumatic valvular disease, and “generalized body swelling” of unknown etiology. The ward is almost always full and patients are often fully treated before they ever make it upstairs.
Elliot and Marty in front of Lake Abiyata
Elliot is not quite as engaged. He only teaches two days a week and when he does, he often has hard times connecting with his students – class scheduling snafoos, language barriers, and lack of student preparation for and curiosity in the material. There are always a few students who are energetic, but the majority? - he wonders sometimes what they are doing here. His colleagues are hardworking and genuinely welcoming, but he feels as though his main talent, teaching, is being underused. Both of us miss our home and family, we talk about the kids, the house, retirement with great joy and expectation.
Warthogs with cute babies to left
But Ethiopia in the unexpected wet season (It was supposed to occur in March, but didn't come till April and has continued through May.) is clamoring to be noticed. It is downright gorgeous, and every being is doing its best to reproduce. There are baby goats, lambs and calves everywhere. The donkeys at the end of our dirt road are climbing all over each other with thoughts of … well if not love then fulfilling their biologic duty. We went to a small game park and it was rutting season for the gazelle bucks who were so busy headbutting each other they paid little attention to us. There were at least ten baby warthogs who, as a species could never qualify as “cute”, but who, as infants, come pretty darn close. The weaver birds are nesting themselves to exhaustion, but certainly not to extinction. And last night, for the first time, we heard a pair of owls calling their love to each other outside our bedroom window. Ah, spring!
The vacationers: Beza, Walelign and Ell at Lake Langano
On Saturday we went with friends Walelign and Beza to Lake Langano, the only of the Rift Valley Lakes (including Hawassa) without schistosomiasis, so it is swimmable. It was very pretty and refreshing, though the water is brown from the muddy bottom.
Afterward we drove through the small game park abutting Lakes Abiyata and Shala and, as the sun went down, were able to approach on foot (never would have been allowed in Kenya) a flock of ostriches and the aforementioned gazelles and warthogs. A real treat.

Beza and Walelign and Lake Langano
It turned out that that trip was our temporary farewell to Walelign who, after waiting 18 months to defend his Anthropology PhD thesis, was suddenly able to set up an appointment and today is leaving for India. Beza is seven months pregnant with their first child, so this is a little traumatic. We will be acting as surrogate supports as much as possible till he returns, triumphant, the first Anthropology PhD in the Hawassa U. Department. He asked Elliot to take over his Anthro theory course, which Elliot gladly accepted. But then he (Elliot) had to ask, "What's diffusionism?"

Beautiful camel (Aren't they all?)
Birdwatching at its zenith (Myron Perkins Wild Kingdom)
Marty went for the third time downtown with her anthro student/assistant/interpreter Dagim to talk to women and children living on and begging on the street. This very spontaneous project has sucked her in big-time. She has now interviewed twenty women and children, some as families, some as individuals, asking about how they ended up begging and/or homeless; how they survive the elements, the lack of sanitation, the threats and abuse they receive from other street people, shop-owners, and police (who usually are the good guys, surprisingly), the hunger, the disease (several of the women have been HIV-positive) and the sexual harassment.
She also asks about hopes and dreams which start out big -- children want to be doctors and jet pilots – but become sadly circumscribed for the women, who rarely want more than a home, food and a future for their children that is better than their own.
Quite a few of the women do not speak Amharic, but only Sidama which is the local language, so Dagim and Marty find a second interpreter. It makes difficult translating colloquialisms like the response a beautiful 13-yo gives to “rich men in fancy cars” who proposition her, tell her that if she sleeps with them they will make her rich. The translation Marty got from Dagim (further complicated by the fact that he is an Orthodox deacon) was “You can go sleep with your money!” Marty has a suspicion it was a little cruder than that.
What she is being told by all she interviews is that there are many more beggars and street people and many fewer street jobs to occupy the street youngsters, and that proto-gangs are developing over begging turf and money.
This is contrasted to the government's constant claims of economic growth of around 10%. As in our own country, GNP seems to be less and less equally distributed. Apparently the Melas government, though not truly neoliberal, still with much state involvement in financial planning and ownership, has cut food subsidies. There never has been a social safety net, even under the Durg's socialist government: no welfare or housing for the very poor. Now prices are rising, and there is land pressure (several of the children said they left their homes because their farming parents have only a very small plot that could not support them) and 50% unemployment, 10% growth notwithstanding.

Family in front of their shelter on grounds of Hawassa's largest Orthodox Church, St. Gabriel
 The suffering of the very poor is sometimes hard to bear the hearing. A very stoic woman Sunday broke down in tears when she spoke about having to leave her home pregnant and with a young child in order to try to find work after her husband died. She told us that she gave birth on the pavement, without shelter. As in America, even the best-informed, most compassionate middle-class Ethiopians believe and repeat tales of women “borrowing children” so that they can beg with them more effectively. It reminds us of the stories of the Reagan “welfare queens” who supposedly drive Cadillacs. The truth as far as Marty and Dagim can see could not be farther from these myths. We as a species can find ways to shield ourselves from responsibility for staggering pain.
Street mother
Marty is going to try to find a lawyer for a young woman with a small child who was widowed while pregnant when her husband was buried in a gold mine accident. She is also going to get an appointment for another woman with HIV who never has been treated (and appears as though she might be fairly advanced) because she thought she would have to pay. It is so frigging little in the face of such a huge and growing human disaster, but we do what we can do.
We miss you and the States, with all its stupid, evil Republicans and timid (and downright colluding) Democrats. We are glad the Socialists (May they fulfill their name!) won in France. It is thundering outside as it does on most afternoons. Spring! See you in six weeks.
Marty and Ell
Storm over Lake Shala

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting reading, and the photos are often profound.