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Ethiopian mother and child

A woman soothes her hungry child in Gubalaftu, a village in the North Welo region of Ethiopia, during a 2000 famine..

In these final days of Advent, when we practice waiting, I remember this woman. In April 2000 I was in Gubalaftu, a poor village in the stark northern highlands of Ethiopia. I was covering the effect that a periodic drought had on families there. Some had received food from the Mekane Yesus Ethiopian Evangelical Church, but it wasn’t enough to go around and the church's nearby grain storage warehouse was empty. So most families took what little grain they had harvested and mixed in moss and leaves, what are known locally as “famine foods.” They ate one meal a day at the most, and watched the skies for signs of rain. . . Agriculture in this part of Ethiopia is dependent on the shorter of two rainy seasons. Although there are variations in different regions of the country, the shorter belg rainy season usually runs from March to June, and the longer meher season (also called the kiremt in some parts) from July onward. Many highlanders are more dependent on the belg because at such high elevations, the torrential rains, frost and strong winds of the meher can destroy much of the crop. North Welo had suffered a bad belg season in 1998, a total failure of the belg in 1999, and in 2000 any belg rains that fell were too little, too late. When the rain comes late, rather than planting their normal crops of sorghum, corn and barley, farmers plant more rapidly-maturing crops such as teff and chick peas, which are less productive. Even the later crops can wither before the harvest if the rains are too erratic. And yet people plow the land, sow a few seeds, and hope. At times, hope is all they have to live on. . . I met this woman as I hiked with my translator over the vast expanse of dusty fields. As we spoke, her child, evidently hungry, was crying, and she turned for a few moments to soothe her child. I managed to capture one image before she turned back to our conversation. Her image has stayed with me. And I recall it in these waning days of Advent, when we remember the journey of another poor family who ventured into occupied Bethlehem to give birth to a child who would also face hunger and suffering.

2 Responses to Ethiopian mother and child

  1. Pingback: Surpassing Degredation: the Victory of Humanity in Desperate Circumstances | FWIS 191: Literature and Public Health

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