Letter from Ethiopia - September 20, 2002

from Tizibt Mezgebu

Dear Readers:

First, I wish you a "Happy 1995!" 

At last the Ethiopian New Year arrived two weeks ago. The rains which came very late and still inadequate this year will be with us for another week or so. The Adey Abeba hasn't failed us and wherever you find an open patch of land in the city and its surroundings, (which is becoming rare, by the way) these flowers have bloomed in full. Now, it looks like some people are finding out that the new qelebet road offers the best way of seeing these fields of Adey Abeba, especially in the section between Kaliti interchange and Jimma Road. Incidentally, these particular area reminds of the Addis Ababa of 20 or so years ago when the city's population hadn't soared this high and open spaces were not a thing of the past yet. 

As we entered the brand new year, many things were on the minds people here in Ethiopia. The cancellation of the fire works at the city's expensive hotel was something we all noted with understanding but also a reminder that we were getting used to it. We are hoping that it will not be cancelled next year. The price of a good sized sheep has gone down while a quintal of Teff is still costing as much as before. Coffee, like my mother says, "Tinbun Tilual" - so cheap that we have been drinking our Abo, Tona and Baraka buna with a lot of guilt knowing that our coffee farmers are hurting these days. But it is not only coffee farmers who are hurting these days in the country side. The fall of the price of sheep and cattle, many people will tell you, is a certain indicator that drought has visited the land and the dreaded famine is threatening farmers. We now hear that the drought has touched almost all the corners of the country including Shoa, Gojjam, Afar, Tigray, Wello, Harerge, Wollega, Arsi and Bale. We had taken a trip to northern Shoa a few weeks ago on work related matter and it was clear that the late coming of the rains has taken its toll. That was a very depressing trip for me and it looks like many people in the country are very much worried too. The prayer these days is for the Almighty God and our Tabots to save us from a repeat of 1984-1985. 

It looks to me that the only people not worried about this are the people we see on TV almost daily talking about things like "Article 39". My husband who likes politics as much as "gunfan and sal" hasn't watched TV since the World Cup complaining that ETV puts on only ignorant people talking about issues that should have been buried long time ago. So he reads his books. My mother who watches TV with me every time has strong opinions and never holds back from commenting on what she sees.  So, she makes watching ETV bearable for me. "Yihe sewye ageritun be-milas bicha ligeza new inde?" is her comment regarding Meles' way of talking his way out in every minor and major issue in the country. I read her a section of Mengistu's book a few days ago where he denies having anything to do with the death of the Generals in 1989 and she commented that Medhane Alem (her favorite Tabot too) seems to bless Ethiopia's leaders with more "milas" and less "libona". 

Talking about TV and issues in the country, I must thank my readers who sent me numerous e-mails in response to my previous letter about Meles' show at the University. Well, since my last letter Meles had called up the army people and gone through the same exercise. However, we were not given the privilege of following his performance there. The university and high-school students had also finished their meetings. Now, the Teacher's association has called for a similar face-to-face dialogue with the prime minister. Since teachers from outside Addis Ababa teaching mainly at high-schools and elementary schools have always been fighting with Meles and EPRDF, that meeting, if it happens promises to be more interesting and may be more substantial than the disappointing ones we saw throughout the Kremt. My biggest complaint has been why is everybody in these meetings and every politician in Ethiopia worried about Article 39 only? Is that the life and death problem facing us in the face right now? I am very disappointed why the government is not asked about the drought that is affecting every region in Ethiopia! What they plan to do and if they have done anything in the past 10 years to prevent disasters like this? Many people are now saying the farmers are now complaining that EPRDF is taxing them through the nose! But we don't hear these people on TV talking about this! From the very little I know about Ethiopia's history, when the farmers complain especially about tax and religion, the leaders better listen. Right now, it doesn't look like they are listening. 

So, as the new year slowly progresses and we prepare to send our children back to school after Mesqel, our mothers seem to have increased their visits to churches and mosques while wondering how long they could keep on drinking good quality coffee at dirt-cheap prices.  

Be Selam qoyu!

Tizibt Mezgebu (Saris, Addis Ababa) 

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