Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ethiopia Day One -- Fatigue

After flying to Washington DC the night prior to the start of the trip, I met the other members of the doma International Vision trip team in the Dulles airport as we awaited boarding for Ethiopian Air flight 501. These were going to be my traveling companions for the next few days, and I was anxious to meet them and get a sense of the group dynamics. Dan was our leader, a fundraiser for doma and a minister. His parents Steve and Barb were making the trip as well. Then there was Rich, who was my roommate for most of the trip, and Armin, a connection of Dan's through his church in Columbus, Ohio. My initial reaction was excitement -- even in the Dulles airport, this looked like a great group to travel with, and I thought we'd have a great adventure together.

The flight is a thirteen hour ordeal. I've been on plenty of these long flights before, and knew exactly what to expect. I was blessed with an empty seat next to me, and I took a sleeping pill soon after we took off, and the time passed quickly. When we landed in Addis Ababa the next day, I was ready to get going, and going was the order of the day -- in an eleven passenger Toyota van. We were accompanied by driver Cesay, and translators Eyob and Daweet (my apologies for mangled spellings). We drove roughly ten hours south from the capital to the city of Arba Minch. I included a map above showing the country of Ethiopia. Our route was directly south of the capital through the moutain towns of Hosanna, Sodo and finally into the Great Rift Valley to Arba Minch near the shores of Lake Chamo.

The travel was a bit trying -- the road was bumpy and dusty, although to the credit of the Ethiopian highway department (or whatever they call it), it was decently paved all the way until about an hour outside of Arba Minch. The country was beautiful -- mostly dry with of spots of green. If you imagine Ethiopia as desert, well there are some parts that are, but the geography of the country is dominated by mountains stretching from north to south, adjacent to the the lower and hotter (but hardly desert) lands of the Great Rift. Driving this route, you'd think every square foot of land in Ethiopia is either farmed or grazed, even the steep sides of the mountains. Cattle, goats and donkeys continually blocked the roadway, and slamming into one was a definite risk.

During the drive, I was most impressed by the human effort needed to get water. Everywhere we went, women and children (but not the men), were marching long distances with yellow plastic multi-gallon jugs to fill them with the life-giving fluid they needed for the day. In many of the towns and villages along the way, there was a public wells where water was dispensed, but we also saw many places where rural people gathered water from open streams or even smallish ponds. I could well imagine these people spending a good portion of their time and their available calories doing nothing but collecting the life-giving water their family needed to survive until tomorrow. Later I was to learn a good portion of the rural population is perpetually dehydrated, and infested with waterborne parasites -- small wonder, given the effort to gather water, and the obvious risks of contamination.

We stayed at a tourist hotel in Arba Minch, meeting up with the doma International medical team there. The medical team was a group of seven Americans -- six women, and one man -- plus another driver, and a translator. We would be working with this group over the next three days. As I ate a late dinner in the hotel dining room and listened to Dan and Armin make plans to check out the Arba Minch nightlife, I was nearly nodding off into my plate. A short time later, I was in the room Rich and I shared, climbing into the mosquito-netted bed, and thinking we had a big day ahead of us. Tomorrow we were heading to Bora, the village where doma would be constructing a medical clinic later this year. It would be my chance to see how rural life really worked in Ethiopia, and I was anxious to get going. It was these thoughts that filled my head as I drifted blissfully off to sleep.

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