Back in Soddo
It has been eight days since we left Soddo. It was time fro Egle, Hillevi and Taaniel to return to Estonia. It’s good to get away from the densley populated Soddo to hear my own thoughts or just to be by myself. Noone understands this in this culture.
Our actvivities in Soddo are first and foremostly connected with the pupils. This does not exclude us from one day being in a situation where “our good plans” seem vague and there is something else that seems more important and needs solving. This is exactly how it was with the 4 year old Mesnanat who was with her mother at her work every day waiting for the skin on her head to heal and long for white people with a sorry heart to give them clothes and shoes. It was just not possible to pass this family by.
Enormous amount of starving children in rags in the ditches in Soddo don’t evoke any other feeling than the want to buy bread for all of them. Nothing can be done: society needs to wait for a time where the needs of the neighbour are noticed. It seems to be a log way go.
I headed straight to my usual coffe place in the morning. Mesnanaet was already waiting on the street. It seemed as if she had been waiting fom the day we left. She came running to sit beside me where I usually had my coffe. Since we had left a bag of second hand cothes to the mother before we left Soddo she came to greet as well.
I was with 10th grade student Yohannes this time so he could help the mother and me understand each other. Yohannes is one of the best students in high school. He doesn’t have a father either so he understands the situation.
I wanted to see the economic situation of the girl with my own eyes so I asked if I could come for a visit. We agreed to meet at the end of the school and work day. We had to go quite far and so Yohannes went to get a taxi. The taxidriver often loses all sense of reality when a white person happens to be around his vehicle and the amount asked sometimes exceeds any reasonable limits.
The ride took about 15-20 minutes. At half way we stopped for a moment at a nearby school where Mesnanets two olders sisters were studying. Mother always picks tehm up after work. The sisters joined us in the bajaj (bajaj – a three wheeled vehicle produced in india that fits about five people) The price for a longer ride is 2 birr (8 euro cents) for one person. Of course the mother never uses this service and usually reaches her hut just before sundown.
There is 4 kids in this family. The little 7 year old brother was out playing somewhere and we didn’t meet him. I was not surprised by what I saw. All I needed was a confirmation thet they are a family who has lost one of the parents and they live in poor conditions.
The rain season had washed away the clay from the wooden structure. On one side only wooden poles remained. Under the ceiling there was a kip made out of poles and branches. Branches laid down were at places coverd with cardbooard. The whole family slept on it because only one room of the house had a roof and there were no other piles of branches either. I couldn’t find the words to ask any further questions.
I asked the mother to bring the girls papers from their school so they could start attending Chora school the next day. Change of schools gives the children the oppurtunity to get a job laterwards at least. If studying had been complicated for the family so far due to the lack of materials they were now facing one problem less.
The situation was joyful for both me and the mother because compared to previous years the rate of drop-outs had been higer this year. Our encounter with little Mesnanet completely changes the life of this family since all the shoes, second hand clothes, school uniforms, backpacks, excercise books and not to mention the school fees would multiple times exceed the families annual budget.
Education for Ethiopian women in a good case only reaches five or six grades. It is very difficult to find work with only the elementary education recieved in a public school. 20 years ago the situation was even more complicated: most girls didn’t go to school at all. It is very difficult to describe the situation of single mothers. After the husbands death the woman often ends up on the streets since she doesn’t have any workskills to support her family.
The pupils who live in foster families need to earn their keep with work. Noone cares about having no time to do homework. Thera are pupils reaching the sixth grade with good results who share a 4-5 square meter room for 10 euros a month. In order to earn that they have to do the laundry or other chores. Attending school is sometimes unfortunately secondary because studying on an empty stomach is also not possible.
Problems from seven years back have been replaced with nwe ones. In higer grades only the ones who have at least one caretaker, have a home, have money for food and for a candle reamain on the sieve. Studying only during daylight is not enough to get good results and keep tehm that way. Burnt eyelashes on many students is a sheer illustration of that. The locals know that the only way out of hardship is education.