JAN 31, 2010
There is this place in town that I like to have ‘tebs’ (boiled meat with injera). It is just on the outskirts of the main drag and has a nice tented patio out in back which is my spot. From here I can sit at a lopsided table and an uncomfortable metal chair and for the most part eat in peace so long as I don’t go during any of the typical Ethiopian meal times.
So there I was today, I had just finished a meeting with my HIV/AIDS group which is as always a surge of anger, frustration, joy and sadness rolled into one; I needed a big order of ‘tebs’! I started this group approximately 11 months ago when I arrived in Arjo and found it appalling that a town wouldn’t have a PLWHA (People Living with HIV/AIDS) association – thanks to my training I assumed this was suppose to be a given for all towns. The group began basically with an inexperienced but over enthusiastic volunteer (me) and the most desperate HIV+ people in town (those who would come to a meeting with only the glimmer of material benefits to be offered in an undefined later date). Cut to 11 months later and I am looking these HIV victims straight in the eye and saying “Sorry…Really I’m sorry but either suck it up or get out!” Feel free to feel appalled, a year ago I would have as well.
Today’s meeting lasted about 2 hours: the first hour and forty minutes was spent arguing about the failure/on going development of our chicken house, 5 min of me explaining that with or without chickens their rules still stand and they need to take roll and collect group dues, and then 20 more minutes for them to complain about that and finally 15 min for everyone to fork over their dues and grumble quietly away. Now I completely understand that we are in a frustrating situation. Four months ago we received funding from a PC grant as well as aid from the local government HIV/AIDS office (HAPCO) to start this chicken farm. It took two weeks to get the basic structure of the house up, four weeks to fix all the things the contractors missed in the design plans, 6 weeks to get all the necessary pieces for the house (laying boxes, feeders, waters, etc), 2 weeks to get the feed organized and now a painstaking 3 weeks to discover that it will be one more month before we can even buy the chickens! *SIGH*
I have put so much time, energy and emotion into this project and would like nothing more than for it to be operational and out of my hands… I believe with all my heart that once the chickens are in the house that the PLWHAs will take over and start to work with an equal eagerness as they show during ‘plumpy nut’ handouts but their work up to this point has been in one word, disheartening. I’ve gotten all the quotes, made all the contacts, purchased 90% of the materials, built chicken roosts from scratch, and have babysat them step by step to make sure everyone felt included and a part of their project. But now I’m at the end of the rope. They are mad at me because I won’t give them the rest of the grant money (11,000 birr) to just divide amongst themselves and thus scrapping the project entirely. Never mind the fact that we have already invested 19,000 birr into this chicken house and it will only be on more month till we can purchase our chickens and make our project a reality… no, no, no… they want their money and they want it now. That’s where I come in with my “suck it up or get out”.
See the thing is I’ve lived here long enough to understand the “aid game”. Locals, especially those with a highly fashionable disease such as HIV/AIDS, complain and complain to NGOs and eventually the squeaky wheel gets the grease. But I don’t work that way anymore. I am so accustomed to the sound of a squeaky wheel that it barley even registers on my sub-conscious. Everyday people ask me for money, ‘chocolati’, to take their child to America, to pay for their books or biscuit or soda. It is never ending. So with this group of people, who I see at least 3 times a week on an individual basis and every two weeks as a group I just don’t have the energy to coddle them anymore. I’m doing what I can and either they can accept that, find a different way for us to finish this project, or leave the group. I’m sick of being a punching bag. They are fully aware of the stipulations of our grants and knew going into this project that no one was going to get a simple pay out but since most of them have received IGA (income generating money) funds from HAPCO before and were never held accountable to produce any actual IGA project they figure if they just bug me enough I will give them ‘their’ money to go spend as they will. Not going to happen, and after saying this for the 100th time a month ago today all I had to do was give them the look… they coyly smiled and kept their mouths shut. I was pretty proud of myself for standing my ground and by the end of the meeting they were all handing over their weekly dues, as stated in their rules and signing in on the attendance sheet. Seeing this I realize that we have made tremendous progress whether they see it or not and I can’t wait to see where they are at after this chicken project gets off the ground.
So there I am at my ‘tebs’ place I’ve got my book out and a cold ‘Ambo wuha’ (local sparkling water) open. This particular spot is located on a slight hill so that I can see the landscape beyond the singular layer of homes located opposite the road. The landscape is nothing special this time of year. A bit dry since rainy season is 5 months away, the mango trees are spotty out this direction and there is only a distant hill or two to give the view dimension. But as I looked out I thought ‘I’m in Ethiopia, and I’m doing it.’ These moments are so few and far between lately that I can’t even recall the last one I had. So even though today was about a 4 out of 10 on the ‘successful’ scale that moment… that moment when I could look out over the unadulterated hills, brown and speckled with green flat top trees and only one row of colorfully painted mud huts between us I felt like, yeah, I’m doing this and I’m going to keep doing it because ‘kes’b be kes’b’ I’m making a difference.