Friday, January 21, 2011

JAN '11 Djiboutui again!

A short-notice requirement sent us back Djibouti.  I was pleased for the opportunity to reconnect with friends there, but stunned when on arrival was told that my friend Muhammad had died and his family had disappeared.  Inquiry over several days produced no more information or confirmation.  My correspondence with the oldest son has gone unanswered since October.  Their house (left, with a tree in the yard) is occupied by another family now.

The fellows I work with and I went to lunch in the city.  When we parked, this little girl offered to watch our vehicle for us.  It's a common practice kids do in hopes of a little money.
When we came out, she was there with her mother and brother, waiting.  Cheerful enough, all of them, and polite.

We gave them a generous amount, and the little girl asked for more before she even saw what we'd given her.  :)  Gave her more, of course.  With 59% unemployment in the city and 80+% unemployment in rural areas, they've got a tough and frightening future.  Neither rude nor demanding, they politely let us know that they could use the help.  It's easy to give to such a gracious request.

With gaps in our work day, I took the opportunity to wander the countryside, hoping to see and understand.  Several encounters with surprisingly nice people added bits of insight here and there.  I picked up one young fellow beside the road with a couple of his friends.  Recently graduated from business school, he had been looking for work for awhile with no luck.  We talked about where jobs might be emerging in the country's economy.  Perhaps at the expanding oil terminal or at the new port facilities.


Farther out still, literally at the end of the road, these two precious children watched me for awhile and tentatively made their way out to where I was photographing the countryside.  Actually, I was just waiting for them to get comfortable with my being there.  The boy brought his school notebook with him, perhaps so I could see he was a young man of substance and ambition.  We chatted briefly before I asked if I could take their picture.  He instructed his little sister to ask for money (which I was glad to give) and say thank you politely.  Sweet kids.  The cinder block structure in the distance, left, is their home, I think.  The next buildings are restaurants that have failed.






On a subsequent visit to the same spot, I met this young man (in blue, left) and his family.  Nice folks.  The kind of people you'd be pleased to live next door to, walk to school with, maybe hang out together on weekends.  On the hilltop behind them, their simple house.  There are 12 folks in the family.  None are employed full time.  It's a tough world for them, there in Djibouti.

A friendship gift from one spicey food lover to another; Tabasco speaks for itself.  I brought some grocery gifts for the family; stuff they might not buy for themselves very often; and the Tabasco (came all the way from the states) which goes with absolutely everything.  It's one of our favorite excuses to start a conversation about things we like.  Chicken pepper soup, fish pepper soup, pepper pasta, pepper sardines, beans and pepper sauce, eggs with pepper sauce, bread with pepper sauce, the list (and the conversation) goes on for awhile.  Even more fun when we don't speak French and they don't speak English.

On a subsequent day, I met poppa and the rest of the men in the family. Fine fellows, all.  Gracious and hospitable, they made me welcome and endured my horrible French.






On the way home, I stopped in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a place with a lot of history.  This statue, for instance, called the Lion of Judah, has a tale to tell. Erected in 1930 just before Emperor Haile Selassie's coronation, it was stolen by the Italian occupiers in 1935 and taken to Rome, where it was erected next to the Vittorio Emanuelle Monument. During the 4th anniversary celebrations of the proclamation of the Itlian Empire, Adolf Hitler chose to visit Rome, and attended the celebratory parades along side the Fascist Dictator Musollini and King Victor Emanuelle III. In the parade were numerous subjects of Italy's African Empire, including a young Eritrean named Zerai Deres. Zerai Deres was marching with other parade members carrying a ceremonial sword with which to salute the King, the Fuhrer, and el Duce, at the grandstand. As the parade marched past the Vittorio Emauelle monument, Zerai looked up and saw to his shock, the golden Lion of Judah, the symbol of the ancient monarchy to which his ancestors had long owed aliegence, erected as war booty in the heart of Rome. It was too much for him to bear, and he promptly drew his sword and with tears of anger running down his face he fell on the first Italian officer he could find. He killed and wounded numerous Italian military officers before he was killed. Zerai Deres is lionized to this day as a brave Ethiopian patriot.

The monument remained in Rome for decades, and was finally returned to Addis Ababa in the 1960's. When it was re-erected in it's square, the Emperor was present in military uniform to salute, and to pay tribute to Zerai Deres. Following the revolution in 1974, the new regime decided to remove the statue once more as it was a monarchist symbol. However, the elderly war veterans association members appealed to the new government to consider the memory of Zerai Deres and his sacrifice that was inspired by this very symbol. The statue was saved and remains today.




I came to Addis just to visit a family there.  The older son with whom I've corresponded for the last year is away in college.  I'd told him I was coming, and he told them, so they were prepared. 

Momma (with help from little grand-daughter) prepares coffee and popcorn for me as her guest.  She'd roasted the coffee beans and they'd ground them on the spot with a mortar and pestle.  Traditional Ethiopian coffee, she explains, is made that way.

Momma was completely blind when I was here a year ago, and had a leg problem that left her crippled as well.  Her husband died several years ago, so the children had cared for her on their own.  The oldest at home, a fourteen-year old fellow, worked as a shoe shine boy in front of the hotel where I stayed.  That's where we first met.  Momma's sight is restored now, thanks to getting some help from the public health-care system, and she got treatment for her leg, so she's able to walk a bit.  The kids (who speak a little English) tell me she may get to have an operation on her leg in the next year or so that they hope will restore her mobility.  It's been a hard couple of years.  They thanked me for visiting and for the gifts I brought and promised to pray for me and my family.  Fine folks.

I hope to return, perhaps this summer.