It’s only 9:16 AM and it feels like a ton has happened. I got a phone call at 7:20 this morning, which I missed but it woke me up. So I got up, showered, dressed and went outside to find half the guys from the workshop standing around waiting for breakfast. We started talking and I wished them well getting home and that their troubles would die down soon. They told me that one of their leading figures, whose name I unfortunately could not catch [ETA: Professor Mesfin Woldemariam], who was the founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council and a Harvard fellow, had been killed. It was like when I found out Rosa Parks had died but worse because she died peacefully in her sleep and nobody shot her. The government can’t keep on like this, the guys said. Also it was a case of the illeterate killing the educated, those whom Ethiopia had invested so much money and time in educating, the government didn’t want to listen to and in fact had suppressed and killed. The guys said 45 people have been killed in the last four days and rioting has spread to most of the other cities in Ethiopia. Also people are just being rounded up and jailed and there’s no due process so they could be in jail for who knows how long (according to the BBC reports this has been going on since the unrest over the elections; this also harked back to the driver in Soweto who said that, during the Soweto uprising, when people were jailed often their names disappeared from lists and no one could find them). They mentioned hearing occasional shots form the capital (as had I as well as a siren or two and what sounds constantly like dogs barking at night). We gave the most dedicated student award to a woman from Addis who had come in despite the riots to all three days of the workshop (all the other Addis participants bailed that second day); she was from an area where a hand grenade had gone off. As they said, pray for us and hopefully other governments will speak out (though Germany has just invited Meles Zenawi, the prime minister, to a conference as a ‘respected African leader.’) I don’t know that we will be running that other workshop, but so far it still seems to be on. As the guys pointed out, we are in a different world right now for better or worse–this international moneyed and guarded space where these things don’t touch us–but they have to go back home.
I caught up with Loza at breakfast as well. She and two of the guys were discussing the situation. She said Ethiopia has been plagued by natural disasters and violence in turns and sometimes a bit of both at once–drought and war, war and drought. It’s unfortunate because it seems like such a beautiful country with such rich traditions.
I am maybe heading into town today if it’s quiet to see if I can get to the Sheraton to get some money. I brought some with me in traveller’s cheques but I didn’t realize that I had to pay my bill in American dollars and can’t do it with a credit card. I’d read that ATMs were scarce in Ethiopia and that traveller’s cheques were best but I wasn’t thinking about it much on my other travels and so spent a lot of the cheques I brought. Once Loza sorts out the remaining participants, then we’ll see about getting money.
So no bank (they’re all closed) but we’ll try this afternoon or Monday if things are still settled in town. Vimbai had caught a cab through town and said it was quiet today so we all piled into the van. The ride through the outskirts of town was peaceful and we saw a lot of people out going about their business—men in suits and traditional dress, women with the traditional white shawl or other head coverings and women in track suits and jeans. It’s immediately apparent that you’re not in the Africa that exists in most of South Africa or the manicured campus of ILRI. Lots more dust, buildings that look like the bad neighborhoods in the US times 5. Even central Johannesburg had looked like NYC, maybe Harlem with fewer Hispanic and no white people and more streetside stalls and haircutting places. But here, even the nice hotels are surrounded by rickety construction or covered by shaky scaffolding and drop cloth material. As soon as we turned out of the ILRI campus we saw a guy with a donkey. There was no sign of any trouble, despite the sight of occasional police, but I don’t know what central Addis looks like though. All the shops were closed though. We went to the Bole Rd area, which is apparently being compared to the Mekelle province that’s the seat of the Tigrayan (ethnic group) region and government power, where there are no disturbances. We rode into town and dropped off Loza (going back home after heading in to help us and the participants, when her daughter and her husband had begged her not to go out) and one of the participants (everybody else has gotten into town at least). Then me, Steve, Gracian and Vimbai went to a café in the Bole Rd and sat in the sunshine with people who were acting like it was just another day (and I guess it was). We had café macchiatos and mango juice, brioche and toasted cheese and ham sandwiches (it was the Parisian Café) and talked music (Gracian’s daughters like Shakira and Whitney Houston and wanted Eminem which he wouldn’t let them have and Steve’s daughter like Christina Aguilera and J. Lo) and cricket and celebrities and TV. On our way back, Gracian negotiated for a taxi (one of the few around apparently; Vimbai had been charged $50 USD for his this morning) while the rest of us avoided beggars, and we set off as the guy popped in a tape that spilled out the latest Ludacris song. We all laughed and joked about that. Again, another world and so now we’ve come back here and are working and checking our e-mail. I figured I’d add in some links about what is going on here. And if anybody feels inspired to send a letter to their congressperson or for Amnesty International, here’s some info. I know I will when I get back.
Latest BBC coverage: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4402384.stm
Amnesty International: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR250162005
Human Rights Watch’s Ethiopia page: http://hrw.org/doc?t=africa&c=ethiop
The Ethiopian Review is firmly anti-Meles: http://ethiopianreview.homestead.com/