I see your Imodium, and raise half a roll of toilet paper…

Yes folks, we’ve degraded for gambling for hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and stomach remedies. Brain child of Jim “Mr. Sheraton” Boccioletti, as he has become known among the ranks, today was spent in the back of one of the Land Cruisers, three in the back, one up front twisted awkwardly around, exchanging toiletries at the whim of the cards.
Perhaps I should start nearer the beginning. So you can accompany us on our spiraling descent into madness. So you can understand that none of this is our fault, really. We didn’t choose to be like this. Or so I wish I could believe.
We left Goba, heading across a landscape that could just as easily be found in Southern Alberta. Large, slightly rolling fields of gold with mountains in the distance surrounded us in all directions. The main characters in that chapter of the saga were played by the donkeys with “Dumb Ass” and “Donkey Dustball” both making mentionable appearances. The first being a deep and multilayered character who couldn’t seem to figure out how to get out of the way of oncoming Land Cruisers, bolting further into the road instead of off of it, and the latter being a lovable n’er-do-well who spent all his screen time wallowing in a dust pit on his back.
Then we passed through an area of grazing land, where we met our first camels of the trip. Two of Ugas Mohammed’s clan members were bringing two camels up from the lowlands to buy grain from one of the towns we had passed through. Abdi also pointed out his “paradise,” a place where he would like to retire, tucked into the border of the grass land and the forest. Then it was over the edge of the world and down a switchback road that dropped us about 5000 feet down into the lowlands. What appears to be foothills from the highland turns into a formidable mountain range from below in the lowlands. The escarpment is usually home to a few troops of baboons, but unfortunately we did not see any on this trip.
Road improvements underway have turned 30 out of the 40km track to Haro Dibe into a gravel road, leaving only 10km of slow moving bush-track to traverse. The road allowed us to cover the same distance, that two years ago took us two and a half hours, in less than an hour. Here we saw quite a few more camels, cows, and a few goats, as people moved their herds across the road, headed to places unkown. It was on that road that we flattened the first tire of the trip, but with multiple spares, we were soon on our way again.
Haro Dibe, remote as it is, is not immune to the wave of change crossing Ethiopia, as the town is significantly larger than any of us remember it, as well as having a considerable number of tin roofed houses, as opposed to the traditional thatched huts that were the only dwelling present two years ago. We can only speculate what changes will occur once the road is pushed all the way through to the town. Haro Dibe itself is home to an estimated 7000 people, and, together with a few other small villages, services an area of about 100 000 pastoralists. The town is located in the Somali region, and so, logically,
speaks Somali.
That afternoon we met with the local administration for the formal welcome and discussion on the state of Haro Dibe. The meeting was in traditional Ethiopia with many long speeches made, most rehashing the last speaker’s words. Generally, with anything official or formal in Ethiopia, it is easiest to describe the event as good practice in the mantra of “Hurry up and wait,” as timelines are rarely kept and things seem to be engineered to be as inefficient as possible without standing still.
We learned a few things about the state of affairs in Haro Dibe. The administration’s three main areas of concern are, and have been for quite some time, Healthcare, Education, and Water. Two years ago when I was here, and I  believe last year when the Rotarians visited as well, the most effort was being expended on Education, followed by Healthcare. They have made good progress with the school there, with desks provided by Rotary funds, all but grades one and two have furnished classrooms. They have finished the school building that they built with their own local funds, and have been looking at upgrading or replacing the stick and mud school rooms used for grades one and two. Enrolment has steadily been increasing, with up to eighty children in each of grades one, two, and three, and the proportion of girls in school has also been increasing. On the healthcare front, they are in the process of construction a healthcare center that would act as a hospital to the immediate area with ten suites and an administration building. Their problem now is water supply. With an erratic rainy season last year and failed “short” rains that normally come during the dry season to keep water levels up, the lowlands of Ethiopia are still in drought conditions. Some areas have even been declared disaster zones. Haro Dibe had a haphazard water supply at best in the good years, with small streams and ponds supply livestock with water, and a pipeline running from a spring in the hills to a cistern that was still under construction two years ago when I was here. Apparently, the cistern developed a crack soon after completion that allows water to seep out, making it unsuitable for long term storage of water. That, and issues with the reliability of the pipeline, and reduced and physically shifting output of the spring has left that system nearly useless. The only source of water for the 7000 inhabitants, the surrounding area, and all the livestock is the spring itself, 2km out of the town up the mountain side. The spring puts out an estimated 5-15 gallons per minute spread over two to three points. The bulk of the livestock has been sent to a river about 20km away, but there is still a distinct shortage of water. Furthermore, school attendance has been falling as families keep their children home to fetch water in jerry cans, and if there is no water available when the clinic is completed, it will be in every practical sense useless.
After that we walked into the town to meet with the ladies of the Micro-finance program. We were greeted with a coffee ceremony (slightly deviated from the full traditional method for the sake of brevity; namely, the use of a thermos was involved)and then heard reports from each woman’s fortunes with their loans, one collective at a time. Most seem to have done quite well for themselves reporting both complete repayment and profits to boot, both cash and capital.
On Saturday we met with past recipients of animal donations through ANSO, awarded this year’s critters, handed out this years micro finance loans, visited the school, and half drove, have hiked to the spring. That evening we were presented with the next stage of our induction into the Gorro clan, in which the Goro-Swan sub-clan was presented with a gift of livestock. We were given a sheep, a goat, a cow, and a camel, all females, which are to be kept by one of the Elders in our absence. Last year a camel was sacrificed and they had a feast to celebrate the induction of the eighth Gorro sub-clan, its name sake being Swan City. Next year we will be presented with a piece of land to finalize our ties in Haro Dibe.
We left the next morning and made a detour to visit the Sofomar Caves, a huge cave system through which a river runs under a mountain. This is also the day where when Delayne wondered aloud what they could use to bet on cards (as gambling is frowned upon by the muslims), that Jim dryly said from the seat, “Imodium and toilet paper.” And thus an entire system of worth was established in toilet paper, pills, and hand sanitizer. The caves are traditionally a religious place through which the devout would walk and then swim the 8km to the exit of the caves. The scene there is amazing, as there are a series of pools before the cave in which the children swim and sunbathe, the women do laundry, and the men bring livestock to water. The combination of all three make for a very busy, yet idyllic scene which was made all the more potent by the time spent in the dry and harsh Haro Dibe. We did the dry portion and spent about an hour in the caves.
On the way back to Goba one of the trucks, whose AC had already quit on the first day of driving, blew a leaf spring right out of the wheel well. Thankfully, we had already made arrangements to have that truck switched out as the lack of AC is a pretty serious situation when all the roads you drive on throw up huge clouds of dust that make open windows a dirty situation. So that vehicle was swapped and we have a new one.
This morning we headed out early and headed up to an altitude of about 4.4km, or 14470ft, as we passed through the Bale Mountains National park. We even were lucky enough to spot a Simien Wolf, a strange fox/wolf-like creature that lives in the park and is considered rare after the local dogs got rabies and spread it to the wild-life. Then it was another switchback down into near-tropical conditions of the midlands, and finally into the dry lowlands. There is a section on the road that only lasts for a few kilometers that is home to a strange giant white tuber that grows on the surface which seems to be a water reservoir for the plant. They are a stiff shell with a spongy interior full of water. The locals sometimes cut a piece out and chew on it for moisture if they do not have any water. The strangest part about these “space mushrooms,” as I like to call them, is as far as anyone knows, including the PCAE staff, this is the only area in Ethiopia in which they grow. We crossed many completely dry stream and river beds on our way into Negelle, giving us an idea just how serious this drought really is. We made it safely into town, but I think this is enough for one entry, plus things really ramp up tomorrow, so stay tuned for the Negelle saga.
Until next time, thanks for your patience during the long silent periods,
Mike

I’d also like to thank Tab Pollock at HiTech for loaning us this laptop for the trip, as if I had to write all of these entries on the local computers, it would be a completely infeasible situation. It’s made my life a lot easier.

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One Response to “I see your Imodium, and raise half a roll of toilet paper…”

  1. Jack & Jane Verburg Says:

    Hi guys,
    Sounds like you are having a great time and doing much to help the people in that area…nothing is as rewarding as helping those who can never repay, need the help badly and will forever be thankful for your help…you will forget the pain and dust..the hardship, but you will never forget the smiles..and I predict you will be drawn back to help, again and again.
    Blessings, Jack & Jane Verburg.
    PS. We have never had an airconditioned land rover..our first trip out of Addis was a 16 hour bus ride south..

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