Last week I headed to Aykel for a combination helping Peace Corps do site identification, visiting Morgan, and running into my counterpart who was at a training (if he’s there, it means it’s work right?).
Aykel is the site of the other G8 volunteer in the North Gondar Zone, the lovely Morgan Davison, check out her blog here. It’s about 1.5 hours southwest of Gondar on the road to Metema (border of Sudan 120km away) and the capital of the Chilga region.
A sizeable town of about 45,000 Morgan is the only volunteer in her site. There are plenty of connections between her town and “the big city” that I live in. Many of her friends have family in Gondar, and the owners of my favorite juice place are cousins of her landlady.
Aykel also has many connections to the US. There are pockets of Aykel Diaspora all over the country, and talking to some of the people, they knew exactly where everyone from that town was living (a rundown of 10 in Denver, 30 in Seattle etc. ensued).
But the history of those immigrants is unique for this city. While people leave for many different reasons, a large group came through refugee camps in Sudan in the 1980s and 1990s during squirmishes on the Ethiopian-Sudan border. On a hike outside of the town, Teddy, the tourism officer, took us to a cave on the outskirts that a couple hundred people used as shelter during the conflict for about 3 months.
During the rainy season, the entrance to the cave becomes a roaring waterfall and the water at the bottom is believed to have holy healing powers since it sheltered so many refugees during the war.
Some walked from Aykel all the way to the border (about 120 kilometers) to safety. One such guy lived in America for years before coming back to invest in his small town, and now owns one of the best cafes we visited. An example of Diaspora development, returned investment and America’s role in refugee support finds a success story in this small town.