Hiking with the Environment Club around Dodola
We facilitated the start of an Environmental Club a few months ago with four very intelligent high school students. One component of the club is to visit natural sights around Dodola in order to raise appreciation amongst locals. On this particular day, we rented bikes for the students and rode to the Wabe waterfall; the Wabe River flows toward Somalia, however it now dries up before reaching the country (similar to the Colorado River not quite making it to the Gulf of Mexico). Upon reaching our destination, six of the eight bicycles got flat tires from the latent spurs in the grass, hence the upside-down look.
Tree planting at Deneba Primary School with our students that we took to summer camp plus some of their friends and siblings. They are well on their way to creating a successful environmental club!
The 4 campers we took to camp (from L to R) Ibsa, Roze, Bereket, and Tihitina. They were some of the most interesting characters to get to know and are really excited about promoting volunteerism in Dodola and inspiring other community members to work on Environmental projects. Ibsa has been teaching water sanitation classes, Bereket has been planting seeds in any space available, doing trash collection in a small village near Dodola and forgoes sleeping as his mind is always racing, and Rose and Tihitina are in the beginning stages of starting an Environmental club. The day after everyone got home from camp Bereket started calling all the camp counselors, starting at 6:30 in the morning to ask how they were and what they were doing. When our camp director answered his call and told Bereket that he was sleeping, Bereket excitedly responded, “Yeah! Me too!” I could go on about each of their amazing personalities and ideas, but I’ll keep this brief.
In July we participated in a week long summer camp with 24 students ages 16 to 18 with 8 other Peace Corps volunteers. We covered topics ranging from Health and Nutrition to Environment and HIV/AIDS education. We stayed on a University Campus (Adama), a half days drive from Dodola, and the students were incredibly talented and loved the opportunity-there were many tears on the final day. For some it was one of their first times leaving their region and/or town.
In this picture I am leading the class on nutrition education and then I taught them how to make some delicious, healthy meals using all local ingredients. We made an avocado kale salad and a spicy potato salad. Although quite different from the food they are used to, I received lots of compliments and the food was devoured.
Several weeks ago, I accompanied Dummae out to a small village where she was giving health and sanitation training as well as HIV testing to rural women. It was a beautiful, cold walk through the morning rain to the mountainside village. The trail was so muddy that Dummae ended up tossing her shoes off and walking barefooted. When we reached the village, we started helping many women in preparing a large lunch for the day. I sorted through some lentils, picking out rocks and stray shells. We also helped 3 households ready their houses for some directors of the Health Offices in town who were coming to make sure that the trainings these women had been receiving were being put into effect (i.e. clean latrines, hand washing stations, a orderly kitchen, etc). One elder woman with an abundance of energy had laid out every single dish and plate she owned to show off her possessions. Dummae and her coworker thought it better to consolidate the dishes in order to make room for her guests to sit rather than her dishes.
More and more women began showing up, until there were about 40 women of all ages in attendance. We gathered in a large tent we had assembled and sat down to listen to the Health Workers. The women cleared a spot for me so I could sit amongst them and so they could assess my language skills. I was amazed as I looked around and realized around a third of the women carried a small nursing baby tied around their back. The women wear so many scarves and long robes that at first glance it is difficult to notice the small being beneath the many layers. I slowly began to discover all the babies as they began to fuss and their mother’s repositioned their wraps and moved their baby to their front so they could nurse. As they did this other women would want to get a look at the baby so they would fold back the scarves and look down at the baby. But as I shockingly discovered it wasn’t just for a quick peak. Instead of cooing at the child, they would loudly spit in the child’s face. The first woman I saw do this I thought I was confused in what I had witnesses or that this was just a particularly rude woman. But the longer I sat; the more women I saw continue to do this odd gesture. When some of the women noticed the horrified expression on my face (I’m not always skilled at hiding my feelings), they laughed and told their friends my reaction. Soon women were bringing their baby to me and encouraging me to spit in the baby’s face. When I vigorously shook my head, they took it to mean that I didn’t understand what they wanted so other women would come over to demonstrate. I held my ground and continued to insist, with a big smile on my face to show my respect, that I did not want to spit in their baby’s face.
The women laughed at my reluctance, but let me be. On the way home I asked Dummae why in the world they were doing this to their children. She laughed at my shock and said that although she didn’t like this practice, it was to protect their own children from any sickness another child may have. It seemed a funny practice, especially at a training on Health and Sanitation, but I shrugged it off.
Just as we were leaving the village the rains started again. Once again we found ourselves laughing about our circumstances, but trudged on. As we neared Dodola around 5 in the afternoon, a kind worker from the Health Office (who had driven out to the village in lieu of walking) called Dummae to see how we were and if we were home yet. When she told him it would be another 20 minutes, he asked her if my husband was ok at home with out me and he worried that my husband was hungry. Dummae laughed and proudly told the concerned man that she was sure my husband was doing fine as he could cook for himself. And she added smugly that he has even cooked for her when she wasn’t feeling good. After she hung up, we both had a good laugh at his question. As she took my hand to prevent me from falling in the slippery mud, she told me how happy she was for me and that I have a husband who helps me with all the things she needs help doing. And as I held her back, I found myself once again being amazed and so thankful to be with this wonderful woman with so much strength and understanding.
Kimo is a 100+ year old mountain man who tells stories of hunting Nyala by horseback and spear in the old days while fighting off the Italians. His secret to longevity is following an animal based diet: meat, milk, and butter. He has lived in the same area since his birth, about 40 kilometers from Dodola in the Bale mountains.
Notice the person overlooking the valley below at the end of the ridge to give you an idea of the size of Berinda ridge: 800 meters down to the bottom where a community lives off of their prized cattle and massive bamboo forest. Walk another 100 km through the mountains and you will find Delo Mena, known for its wild forest coffee.