Tag Archives: addis ababa

From Saudi to Addis, A Conversation with Migrant Workers

20 May

Returning from my recent trip to India I had some pretty long layovers in Saudi Arabian airports. Considering I could never actually visit Saudi Arabia on my own (the whole independent woman thang), I’d say spending a collective 27 hours in Riyadh and Jeddah airports gets me as close as I’m going to get.

On my return flight from Jeddah to Addis Ababa my friends and I were the only non-Habesha (non-Ethiopian) passengers. The security men were so confused to see us that they actually pulled us aside to ask if we were on the right flight. Considering we were having full conversations in Amharic with other passengers seemed to make them believe us.

Having these full conversations brought forth some very interesting stories. Not only were we the only foreigners on the flight, but there were also almost no men. The flight was almost exclusively Muslim, Habesha women returning home to Ethiopia after working as household servants for Saudi Arabian families. These “returnee” flights have been happening for some months now, causing fire sale prices for Saudi Arabian flights out of Addis, which come in full and leave almost empty. This is how we got such cheap tickets to India.

I sat between two women, who both had worked for families in Jeddah. Their stories were unique, but also typical. Their passports had been taken, their visas had expired, and due to the push from Saudi to deport illegal workers (with much negotiation with the Ethiopian government), scores of these women have been going home. The problem is, many of these women arrive in Addis without any way to get home. Maybe they left a broken family, maybe they ran away, maybe they simply do not have the financial means to get themselves back to their villages. These “returnees” (a play on domestic refugee) have been swarming Addis, causing a pseudo refugee resettlement industry to pop up.

One woman was from Assela, in the Arsi region where I actually spent three months in a small town during my training. This is where I was introduced to Ethiopia, learned Amharic, and lived with a host family. Two of my language teachers were from Assela, and I remember going in to the city on weekends to use an internet café and update my family. The other woman was from Dessie, my first site, from which I had to move for safety reasons. I remember driving up the East Amhara road and seeing scores of these young women in the lines for visas to the Middle East. Ready to give up their lives in Ethiopia for the chance to make some money abroad. Many of the women were barely 15, having dropped out of school. Working for a family in Saudi, or Dubai, or Bahrain could yield more (immediate) results than finishing their education would, was the common assumption.

One woman had worked there for over three years, the other just 18 months. They compared photos on their phones – the girth of the Saudi children they raised surpassing any child I’ve seen in Ethiopia. This was a common joke – “Look how fat he is!” one of the women said. Seems that many of these priviledged Saudi families, with oil subsidies smoothing the way for easy lives, run a special kind of risk. Diabetes is rising fast in this region, and I remember overweight children were a common sight when I visited Kuwait as well.

They also compared salaries – something to the tune of 800 a month. I never figured out if this was 800 Birr (Ethiopian – 19:1 USD) or 800 Riyal (Saudi – 3.75:1 USD). Either way, this is much more than the 100 birr a month (about $5) many family servants in Ethiopian receive (a whole different story). I could see the temptation.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to young Muslim women, though they do make up the bulk of migrant workers to the Middle East from Ethiopia. I have known Orthodox women who have worked in Bahrain, and one of my favorite local business owners actually got his start as a chef in Dubai. He reinvested the money he made abroad into a thriving restaurant in Gondar, catering to tourists. His story gives me hope for how these beneficial migrant worker relationships could work.  Unfortunately, many of these workers come upon a dead end. Desperate women looking for any way to get abroad, fall prey to fake visa programs where their passports are detained and they have to work to repay “travel loans.”

Though most workers go willingly, they end up in situations where their options are incredibly limited. These limitations dance dangerously close to the line of human trafficking, and in some cases women who encounter domestic violence in the homes (at the least), and outright sex slavery (at the potential worst) have no legal advocate as “non-citizens” of the country they are trapped in.

Migrant work is a sticky subject. It has bounced around the US Congress for decades, but it is not unique to the Mexican border. Migrant workers from Africa and South East Asia flock to the Middle East and Europe every day. The money to be made can really make a difference for families back home. But the risks are high. Much of my work here is aimed at getting young girls to see the benefits of education, and staying in school.

My high school Girl’s Club has gone through 10 documentary shorts with the Girl Rising video this year. The film relates stories from around the world of challenges and successes for girls’ education.  Check it out here. Staying in school can dramatically increase a girl’s potential for success, the catch is, how to convince girls that is worth the investment. Peace Corps volunteers around the world work on these issues, though sometimes these unique challenges in Ethiopia can make our jobs seem more like sale pitches. But it is worth it. You just have to hope your girls, especially the ones standing in line to work abroad, agree.

International Woman’s Day – A 5K Celebration

16 Mar

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Last weekend, Ethiopia held its annual WomenFirst 5K to celebrate women’s achievements in Ethiopia. Over 7,000 women came out, decked in yellow, to run or walk to five kilometers in Addis Ababa, singing, leading cheers and supporting each other. Last year, a bunch of volunteers ran for ourselves. This year, we walked for our kids. Over two days, with events and activities, over 20 volunteers brought together 40 students from their towns all over Ethiopia to learn about gender equality, how to support each other, and ultimately to participate in the biggest woman-only footrace in Africa. Here are some photos from an event over 10 months in the making.

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stretching before the race

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at the start

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PCV Cam showing Ethio Spirit

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Some volunteers also brought young men to support the girls. They made signs and led cheers at different stations along the root. They were the only men supporting the race, the rest simply stood there. These boys are the change. They are the next generation. Gender Equality is not just about women, its about gender, and it’s about teaching boys to support their mothers, sisters and daughters.

One of the sessions - women's health

One of the sessions – women’s health

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap report, Ethiopia ranked 118th out
of 136 countries for gender equality. Over 200 Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia work in Education,
Health, and Agriculture sectors, but all are expected to work on gender issues, which span all sectors. For more (better)  photos, check out our “official photographer”‘s blog, and keep your eye out for a video I’m putting together soon.

Women First – 5K Down Bole

29 Mar

While everyone back home has been talking about marriage equality, here in Ethiopia us Peace Corps women lended our voices to a call for gender equality. While I’m feeling a little like I’m missing out on some big news and change back home, I feel priviledged to be part of the movement for women’s health and education out here in sub-Saharan Africa. Though it makes me sad that these are still issues here. Poverty can be blamed for many things: no access to a health center, no time or incentive to get an education, malnutrition. But it can’t be blamed for those times when women are not seen as “worth it.”

"No woman should die while giving life"

“No woman should die while giving life”

When people say gender equality in America they usually mean equal pay for equal work. When we say gender equality here, it means that, but it also means equal worth of life. A daughter should be educated because she is worth as much as son. A mother should be taken to the health center to give birth because she is worth more than her ability to give birth. A sister should not have to be harrassed on the street because she is more than a walking sex object. Changing minds is harder than changing laws. The laws exist here already.

But one of the ways to change minds, is to show the world that women care. They will stand up for themselves. And when they do, they can be a pretty powerful force.

Nearing the finish line together

Nearing the finish line together

A sea of solidarity

A sea of solidarity

So in mid March, around International Women’s Day, the women of Peace Corps joined in with the women of Addis Ababa and ran a 5K through the city to show that women can, and will come out in droves for themselves.

Representing Peace Corps Ethiopia

Representing Peace Corps Ethiopia

Pumping everyone up as we went.

Pumping everyone up as we went.

Staying stylish as we ran

Staying stylish as we ran

It was one of the best days in country so far. To see that many women come together and know that we were able to cheer them on as they fight for gender equality in their own country was a really inspiring experience.

Making a spirit tunnel near the finish line!!

Making a spirit tunnel near the finish line!!

Ethiopian colours!

Ethiopian colours!

The Peace Corps Ethiopia group!

The Peace Corps Ethiopia group!

But it wasn’t just about the women. The Peace Corps men came out to cheer us on too (and brought beer- good on them!). It was great to see support from our menfolk too.

Empowering Women

Empowering Women

 We are hoping to lobby Peace Corps to sponsor us to bring girls from our towns to Addis next year to run in the race, maybe tour Addis Ababa university, and speak with some inspirational women. Fingers crossed! Because let’s be honest, it isn’t about the race (I barely ran it), it’s about the movement and the solidarity and being surrounded by women who want change. For a young girl, that can be powerful.

The sponsors who do races all over the country.

The sponsors who do races all over the country.

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Favorite Photos Quarter 1

1 Feb

 

Here are some of my favorite photos from the first four months in Ethiopia. (Whoa! 4 months already!) Some are great photographs, others are great for the stories behind them. I’ll try to round up the best of the best from my collections and other volunteers every quarter or so. 3 Cups of Buna

Security and Beauty, Debre Birhan, Amhara

Security and Beauty, Debre Birhan, Amhara

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Life's work, Addis Ababa

Life’s work, Addis Ababa

Biofarm, Assela, Oromia

Biofarm, Assela, Oromia

A helping hand

A helping hand

St. Gebre's Church, Dessie, Amhara

St. Gebre’s Church, Dessie, Amhara

Peace Corps Goal 3

Peace Corps Goal 3

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Ethiopia in a picture, it works, but not at right angles

Ethiopia in a picture, it works, but not at right angles

Sunrise over Iteya

Sunrise over Iteya

Host Family love

Host Family love

Swearing in, boy band style

Swearing in, boy band style

nooks and crannies

nooks and crannies

Ambling

Ambling

Harvest Season

Harvest Season

Gondar Skyline

Gondar Skyline

Roasting coffee beans

Roasting coffee beans

Chiz- "incense"

Chiz- “incense”

Making Burbere - Credit: Morgan Davison

Making Burbere – Credit: Morgan Davison

Slacklining across generations - Credit: Morgan Davison

Slacklining across generations – Credit: Morgan Davison

Helping Mom - Credit: Morgan Davison

Helping Mom – Credit: Morgan Davison

Bizu Camels - Credit: Morgan Davison

Bizu Camels – Credit: Morgan Davison

Lady and Boy - Credit: Morgan Davison

Lady and Boy – Credit: Morgan Davison

Monkey Hand - Credit: Forrest Copeland

Monkey Hand – Credit: Forrest Copeland

Credit: Forrest Copeland

Credit: Forrest Copeland

Biofarm, Assela, Oromia - Credit: Forrest Copeland

Biofarm, Assela, Oromia – Credit: Forrest Copeland

G8 Placements - Credit: Forrest Copeland

G8 Placements – Credit: Forrest Copeland

The Snoring Chicken! - Credit: Forrest Copeland

The Snoring Chicken! – Credit: Forrest Copeland

A Sunday Gari Ride - Credit: Forrest Copeland

A Sunday Gari Ride – Credit: Forrest Copeland

Prayer by candlelight - Timket, Gondar

Prayer by candlelight – Timket, Gondar

Fasilides Bath

Fasilides Bath

Holy Water

Holy Water

Timket Pools

Timket Pools

Arc Parade Float

Arc Parade Float

Mother and boy watching Timket parade

Mother and boy watching Timket parade

Old Woman and Gojam boys

Old Woman and Gojam boys

And for those of you without facebook (I’m looking at you Jessica!) here’s a link to some more photos I’ve taken:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152238195750523.932106.640805522&type=1&l=b542fc88bd

Ethiopian Soap Operas

30 Oct

Part of my job as a Peace Corps volunteer is to introduce some Ethiopian culture back to the states. What better way than sharing one of the most watched Amharic dramas on TV? My family here loves to watch a show called “Sow la Sow” which means “people for people.” The best way to describe it is as an Ethiopian soap opera. Needless to say, I’m hooked.

A combination of dramatic music cues, quick explanations and my absurdly minute grasp of the language has yielded a pretty amusing plot synopsis. Here’s what I gather is happening so far on this show:

There are two business partners. They go into to business together and somehow get some bad blood between them (fuzzy on the details). For whatever reason, one of them kills the son of the other and dumps him on the doorstep of the house for good measure. The sister of the dead son goes to university and has a boyfriend so of course the mother thinks the boyfriend killed her son because at some point they got into a fight. It’s a modern relationship so y’know… Following so far? Good, me neither.

This gets more scandalous and we find out the daughter is pregnant! Because the mother hates her boyfriend she does not want them to get married. Logically, she bribes her daughter’s friend to put “abortion medicine” (???) in her tea. Just go with it.

So the daughter has a miscarriage. Meanwhile, the evil business partner man is also a smuggler! Which is very close to “shmuggilay” which means old man, so I could have this wrong… but he goes to his warehouse to pick up the goods and the police find him. (I think one of the police is also related, but no matter). This totally stresses him out, and he has a stroke on the warehouse floor.  Now he talks with a lopsided mouth, meaning there is absolutely no hope of me being able to understand him.  We leave the scene with a random woman shoving his wheelchair into a wall. Mmmk. Clearly he has enemies.

Meanwhile… the daughter’s friend has a nervous breakdown and admits to spiking her friend’s tea with baby killer juice! Awkward.

So this is what is happening in the world of fictional scandalous Addis Ababa families. Stay tuned next week as I’m pretty sure we find out something about the mother. Also, there was a whole scene with two people in a shop who I don’t even know who they are… probably they are important.

I think my favorite explanation of the show came from my host father who summed it up like this: “Some families and good and some and bad, and they do things.” Sounds like quality TV to me!

If anything, I am picking up a strange mix of useful transportation and shopping vocabulary as well as the odd murder! intrigue! scandal! related words. I will be able to buy a bus ticket AND explain that I am running from the law at the same time. Clearly I will be fluent by the end of the year.

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