I’m not even sure how many km we have driven in the last four days, it must be close to 1000 for sure. Most of it on the dirt and broken roads that lead away from the “modern” city of Addis Ababa to the remote villages of Bale. The transformation of the girls as we have begun to actually understand each other even though we speak foreign languages is really amazing. They started off shy and reserved but now are talking and chirping away like little birds. Kemeru is always trying to take my camera off my shoulders to photograph me Ponzi or Kedira although she seems to have a bit of a problem holding the camera straight. I think given the opportunity she might be a good photographer but opportunities like that are simply never going to happen.
The last couple of hours were very slow going as our driver eased the truck into 4×4 to crawl over the steep rocky and sandy non-roads that lead to the villages. We are always passing donkeys carrying the ubiquitous yellow jerry cans that hold water. If they are lucky it’s a donkey doing the lifting but more often then not it’s a woman (never a man) with a full jug on their backs
We finally pull in to the first town. I’m not really sure what’s going on as we stop in the center of town. In a matter of seconds the truck is surrounded by tons of kids and adults. They first just stare at us but then I start to hand out pencils and they are a great ice breaker and a huge hit with the kids, I quickly realize I need to break them in half to make sure more kids get one.
Both of the girls get out and Kedira is the first girl to make contact with a relative. I find out it’s her nephew as she gives him a gentle touch on the face and kiss. He leads her into a hut and then what turns out to be her sister comes out. They greet each other with multiple kisses on each cheek then they each kiss the others hand three or four times. It was a really sweet thing to see. After a few minutes of this we realize that in fact we are not even in Kedira’s village and that we were actually there to pick up a local guy who could guide us to the village that is another hour into the hills.
Unfortunately by now it’s getting dark and I can no longer shoot with much luck. I manage to get a few portraits of Kedira’s family but that’s about it. However what happened in the dark was absolutely amazing. After a tour of the village and meeting the elders including her at least 70-year-old husband (she is 20) we were getting ready to leave when she asked us to stay in the village and in the morning take Kemeru back to her village. This way we could have coffee and spend just a bit more time together. I was all into it but I guess our driver had other ideas feeling that we should get back to the mid village point and sleep there. Then all hell broke loose, Kedira began to cry and act like a spoiled child because she jumped in the truck and was refusing to leave. Meanwhile I was told they were bringing a goat with a gift. Turns out the goat was the gift!. One of the older men comes from behind the truck holding a fat brown goat by its ear and then passes on to me. I had no idea what to do with this goat but I knew it was a great honor to be given it. So they hog tied the thing and hoisted up on to the truck and then tied it down. All I could hear was the baa baa of the poor little fella, he was scared. We finally headed out with some very sad goodbyes. I was really moved by this and was not expecting to be so affected by it. I was happy to know that these girls would be friends for life but wondered what the story would be for Kedira and her old man husband.
We turned around and headed back to the midpoint village to sleep with the crying goat on the roof. We arrived in town to find the only hotel (if you can call it that) was all sold out. Our guide invited us to stay in his hut. I gave him the goat since I was not sure how much Delta charges for extra luggage and did not want to be stuck at the airport with a goat. The guys killed and ate the goat and I watched to whole thing. It was not nearly as gross as I thought it would be but I can tell you that they could sure use a sharpening stone as this goat did not go easy. I woke up early to the sound of roosters as usual but as I was getting my boots on to go outside and pee I almost fell over. I was dizzy like I had been drinking all day but of course I had not had a drink in a few days. As I lay back in the bed I could not shake the sense of dizziness and was wondering what the hell was going on. I started to count in my head by 4’s to see if I could do it. I could and then it occurred to me that I had been exposed to carbon monoxide since they were cooking the goat in the hut all night. As soon as I figured that out I threw my boots back on and got the hell out of that hut. I was feeling better when we headed off to take Kemeru back to her village.
When we showed up at Kemeru village it was like the golden child had come home. There were so many people that came out of the huts to greet her. We were later told that they never thought they would ever see her again and that she was sure to die. She could not even get out of the truck before person after person came up to her and kissed and hugged her. Of course she grabbed my camera again to show off how good she was with it.
We got the tour and then Ponzi sat Kemeru down to do an interview. She asked about her experience with fistula and how she was treated as well as how the conditions in her village are for handling that kind of thing. One of the main things Ponzi is focusing on is the need for clean water for childbirth. It seemed like there were around 65 people gathered around us for the interview. Once that was done it was time for Coffee. Kemeru was going to show us the famous coffee ceremony. She basically had a huge mortar and pestle. She would raise the huge mortar or is that the pestle? Anyway up it went and then crashing down to pulverize the coffee beans. Every now and again she would stop and smell the grounds making sure it was the right aroma. When it was finally right they poured us the most amazing coffee I had ever had and since there was no sugar they used honey. The honey was not the kind you find in a little plastic bear. It was totally raw and was full of sediment. I had to use my teeth as a strainer to catch it all then I would just spit it out. It left my throat burning but it was good.
Finally it was time to leave as we had a very long ride back to Addis and then a flight to Bahir Dar to catch up with the rest of the SalaamGarage folks. There were big hugs and kisses and then we were off. I was sad again and I could not help wondering what would become of these two young women who have changed my life forever. I realize I will probably never see them again in this life. Theirs is not an easy one. I did not see a lot of old woman in Ethiopia in fact I did not see a lot of old people in general.
This story is about survival and the journey home and yet I wonder can you ever really go home? After seeing what they saw in Addis with modern technology and healthy food. I feel like they have been transported back in time by about 150 years.
I do know that they are much more prepared to have a child now and to make sure they do not run into the same problems with fistula as the last time. They will spread the word so that other woman do not lose their babies and go through what they went through. Surgery is only a band-aid to the fistula problem. The way to prevent it is with midwives and proper medical attention before it’s too late.
With the help of the Hamlin Fistula hospital and all the people that are reading this blog and passing it hopefully like in the developed nations Fistula can be eradicated from the face of the earth for good.
So that is the end of the journey or maybe it’s just the beginning?
Thanks for reading my words (bad grammar and all) and for those that made a donation to help me help these young woman I am forever grateful and although they don’t know it Kedira and Kemeru would be so very thankful as well.