A Gal in Green by Rikki Patterson

A Gal in Green by Rikki Patterson

I filled my lungs with the sweet scent of eucalyptus that wafted in the open windows of the Land Cruiser. Rain had fallen overnight, dampening the dust on the roads, making it easier to breathe today. Our destination was a clean water project in the community of Kashaso, which was high up in the Ethiopian Highlands. Construction on the spring cap and reservoir had begun two weeks ago.

 

"Ferenge! Ferenge!" came the shouts of passers-by as we rounded a corner and entered a village. With the exception of local bus transportation, vehicles were rare, and white people even more so. I’d been in the country three days now and was accustomed to the pointing, staring and shouting from locals, mainly children.

 

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We continued past the village and up the hills, the Land Cruiser's transmission complaining at the steep inclines. On one corner we stopped to allow six children, three girls carrying large bundles of sticks and leaves on their backs and three boys running with them, to scramble off to the side. Curious, the children gathered around the vehicle and peered inside. I raised my camera and two of the girls placed their hands on their hips, fashion-model style and smiled.

 

Several kilometers and another village later, we rounded a corner in the road and the treed landscape opened up to bare, grassy hills. We stopped in front of a circular concrete pad with rebar protruding from its edges. When complete, the pad would hold a reservoir for water being piped down from the capped spring above. Mounds of sand, gravel and rebar lay beside mats and stacks of straw mats and pipes, needed to complete the project, lay close in wait. The connected ribbon of pipe would carry clean water from the reservoir to the community below.

 

I watched two men installing a rebar grid while a few others supervised.

 

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I was told we’d walk to the construction site about a kilometer up the hill. As we walked, I noticed the sky was cloudier than the day before, and the air was slightly cooler, but less than 100 meters up the hill I could feel sweat dripping down my back and my clothes sticking. I stifled a giggle when our guide donned a black, down jacket.

 

The small flowers and moss hummocks growing on the hill were different than the alpine I was accustomed to walking through back in Canada. There, we picked our way through scrubby fir trees, while here, we dodged waist-high thorn bushes. And instead of bears, moose or elk, cattle and sheep wandered about.

 

We stopped at the edge of a ravine overlooking the construction site. Three walls of the concrete and stone enclosure were finished, and a trench had been dug for the final wall. Two men fitted concrete forms into a trench while a third bailed spring water flowing from the hillside. Like the first site, piles of stone, sand and gravel stood ready to be used.

 

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Although fewer spectators than on previous days, a group left their huts and fieldwork to gather on the bank to watch. I noticed one boy was missing his left arm and his right hand was wrapped in a blanket.  I couldn’t tell if there was something amiss with that arm too, or if this was how he carried a blanket. Also obvious was that fewer people wore shoes than in Tsayte and many had circular scars on their temples, as if they’d been burned.

 

"What caused the scars on their faces?"

 

"It’s their medicine," the guide replied, "They believe burning the skin next to the eyes heals eye infections, but this practice is discouraged."

 

We sat on a grassy ledge to watch.

 

“When the project is completed, it will include two camped springs and three reservoirs that will provide clean water to 4000 people living in three villages,” our guide added.

 

I photographed mostly the children nearby. One gal, maybe eight years old and dressed in a green skirt, jacket and head scarf, had markings covering her face and her arms and legs were much drier than that of other children.

 

Our guide questioned a local and found the gal was sick but he didn’t know what disease she had.

 

They're just two months away from having clean water,” I thought. “Surely this will help her.”

 

“She’s from a different village,” our guide said after enquiring again. “Her village isn’t scheduled to receive clean water anytime soon.”

 

 

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It was time to go. We hiked down the hill to the reservoir, followed by the group of children. The girl in green and her two friends walked hand-in-hand beside two of my travel companions, and at the vehicles, they didn't want to let us go. After we climbed into the vehicle, I waved to the girl in green, her face now smeared with dirt and tears. The ride back to Arba Minch was silent.

 

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