“What happens to a dream deferred?”

15 06 2011

-title from  Langston Hughes’ “Harlem [Dream Deferred]”

by Joy Ogunmuyiwa

June 8, 2011

8:14 pm

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The entrance to an open market in Addis Ababa.

For Ethiopia, a special license and business visa are needed to record videos of any kind. Because of the long process, early on we had all agreed that I would gather the stories, as usual, for the professional documentarians, but I would be limited to transcripts and a photo of the individual. The fact that I could not use my camera was surprisingly a blessing in disguise because now everything said was translated right there and then, rather than later and sometimes out of context. This meant I could really delve deeper into their answers if I wanted more.

Addis, as the city is so affectionately called, is probably the most interesting site that I have been to so far. I really like working at this site because they are in the midst of training interviewers for POFO and used my project as an opportunity to train them. For the first day we went to an old compound near a military camp and the stories there were so powerful. I honestly couldn’t find a better way of telling it than just writing some of the words of these children and caregivers down.

“What is your day like now?” (i.e. daily routine, school, work, breakfast, lunch)

“I am a daily laborer. Sometime I can get a job to carry stones for the building construction. I also seek different homes to wash clothes. For breakfast? I cannot eat breakfast regularly because a heavy stomach would interfere with my hard labor. Lunch, however, is more regular. ” [This young lady was only 25 years old and cared for the entire household of six people.]

“I am in grade 9 and go to school Monday through Friday. I also help with the housework activities.”[This child was 16.]

A wooden statue of an elder I found. It was a common occurance for an elder to be taking care of young children during the interviews.

“Can you describe the most memorable event leading up to your time here?”

“When my sister went to Saudi Arabia to work to help our family and seek employment. In Saudi Arabia, they pay more than Ethiopia. She was sad when she left, but I was happy when she came home. But now, my sister is currently in Saudi Arabia.” [This answer concerned me the most. This was the fourth child in a row to mention that the eldest daughter had gone to Saudi Arabia to seek work. Earlier, one child even mentioned that her sister had dropped out of school to go to Saudi Arabia. When I was typing everything up later that night, I mentioned this pattern to the POFO interviewer that I am staying with in Ethiopia. He looked up from his work and in the most serious, uneasy tone asked, “Do you know what’s in Saudi Arabia?” I answered that I honestly did not. He explained that many poor families send their children their to work in the rich houses of the Saudi’s as domestic workers. I nodded, but was confused as to why he was so serious. I asked, “Isn’t that better for the families? Another form of income?” He turned to face me fully and answered, “When a women here tells one of our interviewers [for the POFO study] a child of hers has gone to Saudi Arabia for work, it is almost always out of desperation. Do you know that when a child goes there, the Saudi family will lock away their passport? Yes, the passport. They may allow you to send money to you family, but they most certainly will not let you leave. So many places in Kenya [where Berny lives permanently] are full of young runaway women; refugees at age 14! So many secret calls to the Ethiopian government from Ethiopian girls in Saudi Arabia, asking them for rescue, to help them leave Saudi Arabia. There is so much discrimination against them there too. Abuse like you cannot even imagine, cannot even comprehend. Yes, it most certainly out of desperation.”]

“My mother dying when I was only eight years old. I became very grieved at that, because for a while in time, there was nothing for us to eat. It came to the point I had to sell my own clothes for food. I will never forget that point in my life. It was the worst time for me.”

“What are your major concerns for the future?”

“If everything will be okay for me and my sisters, I really want to learn in the school and be released from poverty by hard work. But I also want this for my sister.” [Right now she is unable to attend school because as the eldest child she supports her five sisters. She hopes to someday receive an education after her sisters have gone through]

A open fruitstand worked by young people at night.

“How do you think where you have lived has affected your life today?” (i.e. cultural stigma, tolerance)

“The neighbors are all living under the same conditions because they are families of soldiers. The compound where we live is actually owned by the government. All of the neighbors are poor, so they are unable to help each other. This has a negative effect on the condition of our lives. We cannot help one another. There is no stigma however, because we are all poor.” [They reside in a compound near the military camp of the former government. There was a time during the Dark Regime when the former prime minister, who is now exiled in Zimbabwe, was at war and constructed the nearby military camps and the neighboring compound of houses for family of soldiers.]

“I am living here with ten people: me, my daughter [points to daughter], my six nieces, my eldest sister who is the mother of the six children, and my mother are all living in this house. We are very crowded and it is very difficult to have what we want. There is still pressure from my neighbors, a cultural stigma, because I am living with my mother. It gives the impressions that I am not married or I cannot take care of myself.” [This house in particular had one bedroom and a living room. When asked where everyone slept she pointed to the bedroom which was about 10×10 feet.]

“I am not affected, we are all the same. Even if someone cannot give support, I’m glad someone is concerned about my problems.”

 

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