Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Country Overview: Ethiopia

This one was quite the adventure. I had never been to Africa before my week in Ethiopia. I have so many stories to share. They will be coming in later blog posts. For now, here's the overview:

Above is the compound that I was able to live on while in Ethiopia. I had my own little bungalow! The sunsets were always absolutely incredible - probably because of the elevation, which was a problem for me, unfortunately. You get used to it after a few days, though!
Though my living situation looks very nice, don't take this as representative of the entire country. Many many people live in poverty.

The Basics

Ethiopia is a medium-sized country with a relatively large population of well over 87 million. The capital city is Addis Ababa. Officially, the nation's language is Amharic, but many other languages are spoken by the numerous ethnic groups represented in the country. Some of these ethnic groups are Oromo, Amhara, Somali, and Tigray. Most of the people identify as Christian - Ethiopian Orthodox forms the majority of this subgroup. However, there is a significant Muslim population within the country as well.

A few interesting facts about Ethiopia: their calendar is 7 to 8 years behind the widely used Gregorian calendar, meaning that it is currently 2007 there. The country is also the origin of the coffee bean, and boy is the coffee delicious - smoother and fuller than what I'm used to. Drinking coffee is an hour-long affair, and you have to drink three cups to avoid offending your host or hostess.

The country is proud to claim the largest economy in Eastern Africa. Ethiopia's currency is the Birr, and the exchange rate had me carrying thousands on me at any given time. It's nice to feel like you're rich every once in a while.

Ethiopia and My Project

At this point in my travels, my focus has shifted from sexual exploitation of (mostly) adults to sexual abuse of children. Unfortunately, this is the more prevalent problem in most of these countries. (sidenote: if you haven't read this post, please do before reading another word here).
However, sexual exploitation does still occur, so I will talk about it briefly here. According to the 2014 TIP report, the government is not meeting minimum standards of addressing this. The country is largely a source country for sex trafficking, with most of the women going to Middle Eastern countries, like Saudi Arabia. In fact, my flight brought me through Saudi Arabia on the way to Ethiopia, and the entire plane was filled with young women on the second leg. When I asked someone about this, they explained that most of these women were likely returning to Ethiopia after being taken advantage of in Saudi Arabia. They moved to the country under the understanding that they would be working as a housekeeper and found that they were instead forced to work in other ways.
Addis Ababa is home to the largest brothel system in all of Africa. I had an incredible opportunity to speak with a woman who attempts to reach out to these women, shown above. From what I saw, though, there are no established organizations formed to help these vulnerable women. Poverty plays a huge role in leading these women to work in prostitution.
Child sexual abuse is an even bigger problem than sexual exploitation in Ethiopia, unfortunately. None of the professionals in the country could give me hard data, but all explained that it was an enormous problem - and a growing one at that. Very little literature exists on the prevalence of this issue. The one study I can find surveyed high school females and found that 68.7% of the student had experienced sexual abuse at some point during childhood. Read the abstract here. I will be posting more details about what I've this after I leave East Africa.
First Impressions
The first thing I noticed was all of the colors! Everything is so full of life and color in this country, in a way that is hard to explain. I hope these pictures can help:
My other impression was that I was way out of my comfort zone. I had no idea what was going on around me most of the time. When I hit the ground, I had no appointments scheduled. This is because I had been trying to connect by email. Apparently nothing in Ethiopia works that way. So when I arrived, I began making calls and setting up appointments. Even then, though, I had a sense that all of the appointments would fall through or I wouldn't be able to find the meeting point. However, this turned out to be a very silly thing to worry about.

I would love to tell a story about my friend, Betty, here in order to explain what I mean. I grew to appreciate the way that things get done in Ethiopia, but it certainly took some adjustment. I would have never met Betty if my first appointment of the week hadn't fallen through. I was told to meet my first contact by the pool of a nice hotel. I sat there for fifteen minutes past our appointment time, and I began to grow frustrated by what I saw as a wasted afternoon and cab fare.

One table over, though, a man was sitting and enjoying a Sprite. He invited me over to his table and we began talking. I heard about his job as a pastor and he asked about my research. When I told him my subject, he grew excited and said "I know someone you should meet!" That was Betty. He gave me her contact information and not much else. Normally I wouldn't make this a priority contact, since I had no idea how she was involved in the work I am studying, but something told me I should pursue it. My second to last day in the country, Betty and I talked for hours about her studies and her interest in fighting sexual exploitation. Not only this, but she walked all around the city with me, helping to find my other appointments and get back home to my compound. I get the feeling I learned exactly what I needed to learn about Ethiopia, and most of it was from Betty, who I didn't even intend to meet with when I landed the week before. Friends like her are the parts of this fellowship that I will never forget.



No comments: