Often, I am asked by Ethiopians why I came here, what is the purpose of my visit. This was especially the case over the first week, but each time I meet a new person, this question usually comes up, as one would expect in any place.
My response usually mixes a combination of the desire to see and feel Africa with a need to acquire more first hand knowledge about the landmine crisis on the continent and how conflict survivors are playing a role in raising awareness about the issue. In that sense, I then move into a brief foray on how fortunate I am to have been chosen for a fellowship/internship in Ethiopia, which in many ways manifests the true spirit of Africa (the slogan for Ethiopian Airlines).
On many occasions I am reminded of Paulo Freire’s (the great Brazilian pedagogue/educator/professor)words. In his magnificent book, Letters to Guinea-Bissau, (I was fortunate to pick up the Spanish version at the book fair in Buenos Aires a few months ago) he states his feelings upon arriving in Africa for the first time by referring to it as a return to Africa, not a simple tourist visit or vacation, but a much deeper anthropological and essential human experience. This concept of returning to Africa was important in framing my preparations as I transitioned from Buenos Aires to Addis Ababa. For those who think often of the scientific and spiritual implications of where we as a species come from, where our history first developed, this is the place. So far, it has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life, and it’s only been two weeks! I tell people all the time, if you want to feel history, this is the place. History is etched on the faces of the ancients here, from the priests that rule the Ethiopan Orthodox Church, to the humble beggars and streetside vendors, hawking their wares on every street corner and crevice.
Getting back to the landmine issue, a section of Philip C. Winslow’s powerful book, Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth: Landmines and the Global Legacy of War, brought the tragic impact of these remnants of war to light. Here, a doctor on the front lines of a landmine affected country discusses the emotional struggles involved with treating such injuries: “When we got new patients, my hope was always for gunshot or shrapnel, or other ‘normal’ war injuries, but not mine injuries, because they are the worst you can imagine. And if they were mine injuries, I hoped: please God, let it be an adult with only one leg blown off, not two legs and hands and eyes. And please God, no children coming from the fields. With ordinary war wounds, I often felt sad or furious. With children without legs, hands, and eyes, I felt not sad but sick (p 139).” Originally quoted in International Committee of the Red Cross report, Landmines Must Be Stopped (Geneva, 1995):7.
The more I ponder that quote and the more I see the impact that LSN Ethiopia’s work has had on a vast persons with disabilities population, the more I am convinced of the increasing role that non-governmental organizations and networks will play in fostering a greater good and a deeper understanding of words like conflict, survivor and hope. In that respect, I am working towards a deeper, more complex answer to my own Big Why Questions.
The rain clouds have arrived over the city, unleashing their daily delivery of moisture and giving more life to the highlands. Which means it is time to call it a day and take the blue donkeys home. Unfortunately, they are not real donkeys, but the minivan taxis that carry so much of the mass transit load here. There are thousands of them scurrying across the city, like ants marching along their set paths, back to the hill.
Posted By Lucas Wolf
Posted Jul 16th, 2008