But Ethiopia has been experiencing the worst drought in 50 years. Crops have failed. Millions of people are in need of food aid. Hundreds of thousands of children are experiencing malnutrition. More recently, in some parts of the country, torrential rains have hit the drought-hardened earth, causing flash floods and killing people without lingering long enough to provide farmers with any relief. We have donated to Save the Children, and there are many other organizations, large and small, working to help. Please donate. In terms of our trip, even though Burji is still doing OK, I can't help thinking that a devastating drought isn't the best time for tourism.
Just as worrying, since last November there have been widespread protests against the Ethiopian government, and the government's response has not been peaceful nor restrained. Some background - in the 1990's the government redrew state boundaries along ethnic lines. There's the Oromia Region for the Oromo people, the Tigray Region for the Tigray people, etc. The idea was to grant each region self-determination. Ownership of land, though, was reserved for the federal government. Last year the government, which is dominated by the Amhara and Tigray, decided to expand Addis Abeba, the capital, which is its own state, into Oromo land. Since land ownership is vested in the federal government, they could confiscate or claim land from Oromo farmers. The Oromo actually constitute the majority ethnic group, but do not have proportionate power. The Oromo protested the plan. The government cracked down on protesters. The protests continued. Eventually the government backed off the Addis Abeba plan, but by then all the seething anger at systematic ethnic discrimination had erupted. Protests have continued and expanded. The government continues to crack down with violence and media blackouts. Hundreds of Oromo people have died. There are multiple reports of universities burned and police firing indiscriminately into crowds.
For a while we thought that, no matter how bad it was, we could still get to Burji while avoiding the affected areas. Oromia is huge - east, west, and south of Addis Abeba. Burji is about three-fourths of the way to the Kenyan border, west of the southern part of Oromia. If we flew to Arba Min'ch and drove to Burji from the west, we wouldn't have to set foot in Oromia.
|Everything except the lower southwest quarter of the map is Oromia, but if we flew from Addis Abeba to Arba Min'ch and drove to Burji (at the pin) from the west, we would avoid Oromia.|
At this point, you might be wondering, Why are you even considering this? Well, there are a lot of reasons:
- Ethiopia is a huge country. There are many perfectly peaceful places. As widespread as the unrest has been, most of it has been far from Burji. Imagine if there had been a lot of violence around New York and Philadelphia and a much smaller incident in Washington DC. Would that stop you from going through DC to reach a peaceful Richmond, Virginia?
- We have an obligation to our children to go. We made a promise that we would stay connected to Ethiopia. More than just keeping our promise, we need to stay connected so that they can grow up understanding who they are, where they came from, and how the two parts of their lives fit together. Waiting until next summer feels too long; it would be three years away for A and five away for D, more than half his life. It feels very important that we go now.
- We have no guarantee that things will get better. If the protests, exacerbated by the drought, get worse, I can easily imagine things getting much worse and staying that way for years.
- We have a specific person we need to visit.
- We're getting contradictory information and advice and we know that we don't have the full picture. One person from Burji told us to come and another told us to stay away. Social media sources we follow contradict each other. There is a media blackout in many parts of the country, so we simply don't have enough information.
So that's where we are right now.