Note: these blog posts were originally posted on the IRD Voices blog: http://www.ird.org/voices/
Dolo Ado, Ethiopia
Arrived in Dollo Ado on a UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flight this morning. Nice plane, only about half full, almost all expats decked out in REI gear. First time I’ve landed on a dirt runway. It’s good to be out of Addis.
Dollo couldn’t be more different. Where Addis is cool, rainy, and verdant, Dollo is dry, dusty, and hot. The Addis airport is an international hub, the Dollo airport is really only for expat aid workers and their colleagues. When we arrived, there was an army of white land cruisers lined up, to pick up the people arriving and drop off those that took my plane back to Addis.
There is a windy, flowing river here, the Ganale. Some of our proposals have involved encouraging irrigated agriculture along this river, which flows year-round. The town seems to be set up on a kind of grid, all mashed together with whatever is around – cast off tents, old brush serving as compound walls. Lots of people walking around. From the plane I could see one of the camps for the Somali refugees that come here. Nearly 200,000 of them are spread out into 5 UNHCR managed camps. There are dozens of NGO’s here catering to them, studying them, observing them, serving them.
I’m here to help start-up our water trucking project. It’s a daunting task, we’re starting from nearly nothing. We’ve got a collaborative partnership with a local NGO, and Save the Children is letting us crash at their compound (where I’m typing this.) This compound is sprawling – low-slung cement buildings with corrugated roofs, when there’s power the TV is turned on and there is a wifi hotspot, although unconnected a lot of the time.
Hopefully by Friday when we leave, we’ll have more figured out – such as the exact villages we’re going to work in, who will work for us, etc… How we’re going to do it, really. Just the basics.
Tuesday, 30 August, 2011
We felt like we were imposing on Save the Children, so my colleague Abdulahi, a Somali (they don’t like to be called Somali-Ethiopians) got us some space at the government guest house about 100 meters away. This is like old-time Peace Corps hostel bush living again. Foam mattress on the floor, pit latrines, bucket bathing.
I got to walk around town a lot yesterday. I get the feeling that expats don’t stroll around Dollo Ado much. They have the good old stare-at-the-foreign-guy thing going here. I had to pull out my decade-old coping mechanisms. Abdulahi assures me that this is a safe place. I just try to smile and be friendly.
Went into a local restaurant yesterday and they greeted Abdulahi like he was a returning hero – he’s spent a lot of time here in former jobs. They seated us in the back away from staring eyes. The food was three separate plates of rice, meat, and sliced veggies (onions, bell peppers, tomatoes). They included lime, which Abdulahi slathered around – I followed his lead, feeling like it would disinfect. Not bad, especially if you’re hungry.
The best was afterwards, I noticed there was an espresso machine near the door, an old, beat-up La Pavoni push-lever one, which is a good idea if you don’t have reliable electricity. The barista very happily made me an espresso, which tasted well enough for the only game in town, and especially for 5 Birr (about 30 cents US).
Tuesday, when we got here, was Eid – the day after the end of Ramadan, a national holiday in Ethiopia. So there wasn’t much we could do – government offices were closed. So we ended up hanging out at the guest house all afternoon and Abdulahi napped. He was wearing a wrap, a leg-length cylinder of fabric that he would tuck around his waste, he’d use it to shield himself for privacy when getting dressed. We later got one for me in town, it ended up being great for sleeping.
Today we will rent a car with a driver, and drive out to some of the villages we’re going to deliver water too. I’m excited to get out to the real field.
Thursday, Sept 1, 2011
Yesterday was the bush trip I’ve been wanting to make since I completed my Peace Corps service and left Niger over 10 years ago. Loaded up in a 4×4 with funky music, rolling way out on donkey cart paths to remote places where they could use a hand.
We visited 4 villages (or, kebeles, as they’re officially called here) in the Dolo Ado woreda. They all need water. Desperately. There wasn’t much point in talking about anything else – it’s the reason we were visiting them, we didn’t have a lot of time, and I’m not about to make perfect the enemy of the good.
Our route took us west along the Ethiopia-Kenya border, at one point my colleague pointed out a spot where all three countries meet – Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia – the Horn of Africa countries (minus Eritrea and Djibouti). Most of the Kenya/Ethiopia border that we followed was a river, and it seemed to be the only real source of green for many, many miles.
This place hasn’t had any real rains in over 2 years. The trees are almost all dormant or dead. The villages look abandoned. We formally visited 4 different villages – three that desperately need water, and one that will likely supply the others from their bountiful well. In one village, they showed us their water source – a large area that looks like it could be lush in better days, supporting several animal watering stations and four round cement wells. When we looked into their well, the water was barely there, you had to literally scratch the surface for more water. There’s just a profound feeling of dread that you must feel when you see something so essential, barely out of your grasp, slipping away.
I told them we’d do the best we can.
We spent the day in the Dolo Bay woreda. I thought the Dolo Ado woreda was a dry place, but Dolo Bay (pronounced like “bye”) is more parched and desiccated. We visited a village where their water literally ran out 2 days ago. In fact, they thought we might be coming to them with water – which is exactly what the Dolo Ado government rep had told us the day before – that these people don’t need any more visits, they need help. NOW. The area has hardly had any rains for 2 years now.
In these villages, a common way to save water and prepare for drought is to build “burkitts”. These are basically covered rainwater catchments – you build where a lot of water will run in a storm, dig a deep, cemented in area, cover it up with a good roof to prevent evaporation, and lock it up until your regular water source runs out. In one village we visited, their burkit had a little bit of water. In the other, it was dry – a wet spot drying where they drew their last drops only 48 hours before.
It’s just so damned frustrating – IRD, my NGO, needs the money to help these people as soon as possible – we will be helping them within the next week, but no faster than that, unfortunately. All we can say is that help is coming, but many of them may just leave their villages for water before then. In the village where their water had run out, their other nearest water source was at least 20 kilometers away – they would have to send a kid on a donkey cart to bring back enough to make any difference.
These villages look like they’d be functioning well in any other time – they have schools with latrines, some of them look like they had shops at one point. Water really is life. No water, no life.
Tomorrow we fly back to Addis, then on Tuesday I leave for home. Sunday is my daughter’s 5th birthday. I haven’t had internet here in Dolo, I haven’t checked my email since early Tuesday morning. I was able to leave a short voicemail on my home phone so my wife knows I’m OK, but that was on Tuesday evening. Hopefully the Save the Children compound will let me hook in to their wifi later. I need to let them know I’m OK.
Friday 2 Sept, 2011
My Somali colleague and new hero Abdulahi was a beast this morning, he was so motivated to get things going. Within the space of 3 hours, we made a contract with the water trucking company, hired a temporary staffperson from the target region to facilitate and monitor water delivery, went to the local Woreda administration to get their full buy-in and personally meet the water-trucking company owner, and closed a few other loops (various inputs and driver/vehicle fees), all before racing to the UNHAS flight back to Addis.
This morning when we woke up, 5 different villages in the Dolo Ado woreda were completely out of water. By this afternoon, they will have water. It has been a good trip. IRD can hold it’s head high that we did the right thing, acting in an emergency to save lives and rebuild livelihoods. I’ll post pictures as soon as I can.
(and here are the pictures!)