Sunday, June 08, 2008

I was at an opening ceremony last weekend at Maiweyni School for the toilet VSO has funded. All the families in the area were there: children, mothers and fathers. When we went to look at the toilet, the men came first and crowded into the toilet building, while the woreda head did his speech. Then we filed out and into a classroom, while the women trailing behind us went in to look at the toilet. In the classroom, the men and I were treated to more speeches and explanations of teaching aids. Just before two children were about to present a dialogue, I whispered to one of the woreda heads that perhaps we could invite the women in to see the dialogue… and it was done. Someone went out, told the women to come in, the men shifted over, and there was space enough for everyone. I don’t know whether it’s more or less disturbing that there was no reason for excluding the women. They were simply an afterthought, not important enough to be included. Women and men are often separate, and more so in the rural areas than in the town. While gender is an issue, class is very much an issue too. As women and men become more educated they don’t put up with this. Or at least not quite as much. My friend Mehari – a man – did a full coffee ceremony for me the other day, and had to withstand a lot of ridicule from both male and female friends for doing so. A lot of men wouldn’t do it at all, and although some men in the town have some token involvement with their children, there are still a lot of lines that people won’t cross. Men DO NOT make injera is a big line that I’ve never yet seen crossed. And the idea of hiring a man to teach in the Kindergarten – not popular!

It’s hard to believe that I’ll be leaving my life here in Adwa in 21 days. There’s still so much to do: meet with Cluster committee and supervisors to finish developing the annual plan for next year (I won’t be here!); visit the schools that have constructed toilets with VSO funding; hire new assistants for the Inclusive Kindergarten (all the current staff is staying on, but since we’re adding a class to KG1 and KG2, we’re adding staff) and register children; write reports for everything under the sun; sort out two years of accumulated stuff in my office and my house, and pack!

There have been regular power failures across Ethiopia 2 to 3 days a week for the past several months, which makes it a bit hard to get things done. This is the result of drought causing low water levels so that insufficient hydroelectricity can be produced. So power outages are rotated across the country so that every town (or place that has electricity) has it for a few days a week. This is quite difficult for businesses that rely on electricity, such as the nearby textile factory. It’s also difficult for small cafes and restaurants and internet providers. In Addis some cafes are using generators, which means added costs. And the replacement of a carbon neutral energy source with a carbon-spewing one! Others have no choice but to lose business. Here, the generator option is fortunately less available.

The power outages are just part of the bigger drought problem (although we have had some rain recently, but not enough), and the resulting price increases across the country. Teff, the staple grain in most of Ethiopia, has almost tripled in price in the past year. This means that even in favoured Tigray, we’re seeing more women and children begging in Adwa, and fragile looking children in the rural areas. There are some foods, like flour, that you can’t buy at all. But in southern parts of Ethiopia, the situation is more severe.

See Ethiopians drink from cup of sorrow

Of course, the rapid increase in food prices is top of mind when I can see the impacts of it in front of me here. But it is also all over the internet and the media. As I get ready to go back to Toronto, one of the many things I wonder about is what it will be like to be aware of problems without being directly in them (at least to the limited extent that I am now), and how I’ll be able to make a contribution to this problem. The top priority in my mind is getting countries on board to seriously address climate change. It’s mind boggling to me why this is so difficult, especially when it’s increasingly apparent that petroleum based fuel is not going to be around forever.

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