Monday, February 28, 2011

Ethiopia: Bale Mountains, Day 3, Sunday, Part 1

Day 3, Part 1.

Got up at 6:00, went to the bathroom, and crawled back into my cozy tent for some more sleep.

Eventually, I did awaken for the day, got dressed and otherwise organized things in my tent, then emerged into the daylight.

Ayano fixed coffee and I had some of the barley-wheat flatbread, but other than that, I declined breakfast out of respect for my discombobulated intestinal situation. Shiro. Delicious, but .... it's like eating a lot of beans.

I lazily got ready for our descent back to Dodola. The French couple pulled themselves together and took off with Ismael, their pack horse, and horse handler, continuing into the forest.

Kate, Pam, and me - Ruins near Tlaxcala, Mexico
I took care to look again at the mountains and valleys around Camp Changeti before our little company left. I knew the walk back would be easier than the walk up because we'd be dropping some altitude. (On the walk up on Friday, I remembered that herculean hike that Pam, Kate, and I made outside of Tlaxcala, Mexico between the two pyramid ruins. Dusty. Hot. Endless.)

When we were in the forest yesterday, it was easy to feel the romance of the place -- that fairy tale, back-in-time quality. But Ayano had told me how forest-dwelling women, during a difficult childbirth, must be carried down to the clinic on a litter. In one case Ayano remembered, a woman was carried about 20 kilometers before she could be transferred to a horse-drawn wagon.

In this season, too, the fields are dry, making it tougher for livestock to find grass to eat. Some farmers turn out their working dogs to fend for themselves because the farmers don't have enough to feed them. Ayano has seen dogs eat juniper berries. Needless to say, it is mighty difficult for the farmers to feed themselves during these times.

The forest itself is besieged by those who need wood for cooking. Very few people in the area have electricity; kerosene is more expensive than wood. The government has tried several schemes to protect the Bale Mountain forest, but it is a tough go. The Bale Trek organization itself is an attempt to conserve the forest via sustainable tourism.

Ayano has assisted foreign academics in research related to sustainable forest use. His activities have included counting trees, measuring the amount of heather versus an invasive plant after regular burns by farmers (who erroneously believe the heather harms their livestock, among other bad qualities when, in fact, it signifies a healthy habitat that animals can consume, versus the invasive plant, which nothing can consume), interviewing forest dwellers about their perceptions of current and past quality of economic life, surveying forest dwellers and calculating their annual expenditures v. income, and even facilitating games designed by a scientist to gauge human behavior related to sustainable forestry practices.

Even this weekend, Ayano wrote up the last of some data he'd collected for a Swedish researcher. These research projects provide some additional income to Ayano.

Ayano's wife is a health care worker. Like Ayano, she has walked over these many valleys and mountains, delivering vaccines or educating people about topics such as hygiene and family planning. (Birth control, by the way, is free in Ethiopia. For those people who can watch TV, there are also public service ads related to the benefits of small families versus large families.)

Ayano did not start school til he was 10 (and then starting at the kindergarten level), a common starting age in the rural areas when the school is too far away for the parents to feel comfortable with their young'ns walking to school at an earlier age. Also, before age 10, he and other boys tended livestock. Along our way up on Friday, we stopped under a tree nearby grazing cattle. Four or five young cowherds stretched out on the dry grass close to us, just watching us talk and exchanging their own commentary among themselves. I asked Ayano if he was still friends with his own companion cowherds, and he said yes. He pointed to a hard, tomato-like fruit (though inedible for humans) on the ground next to us and said they'd used that fruit to play soccer in the pastures. Yesterday, we walked up a steep incline on the way back to camp from the forest. He said when he was a child, he and his friends would slide down this very hill on a board. It's different now, he said, because there are far more farmers these days, there is now a fence running down this hill, resulting in a rutted, rocky cow path on either side of what used to be a smooth, grassy surface great for all-day sliding.

As Ayano, the horse-tender, the horse, and I made our way down the mountain this Sunday morning, we came across various walkers, almost all men. We passed by one of Ayano's half-brothers, tending his yard. We encountered three men walking toward us, two with the usual sticks and the third with, yes, a spear! And a long, sharp, no-nonsense spear it was!

The three men were clansmen of Ayano's, all related n some way to his paternal grandfather. (And like most Oromo, Ayano can recite back many generations of his ancestry. That is, his paternal ancestry.)

After we parted from the three men, I asked Ayano about the spear. He explained that in the past, it would have been used during war or for hunting, while now it is more likely to be used to protect oneself from wild animals at night. (There are leopards and even the odd lion in the area, plus wart hogs.)

To be continued ...

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