Picture of ruins

Ethiopia's Hope for Water by Rikki Patterson

Posted Jun 14, 2017

From my patio at Paradise Lodge, I looked over Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley. The sun crept above the horizon illuminating pink and orange clouds and my eye followed the mountain ridge locally called the Bridge of God. It separated Chamo Lake from Abaya Lake, tinged orange from the sun's reflection, and was reputed to be rift with wildlife.

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Jetlag and sleep depravation from three days of flights and layovers kept my mind dull, unable to process the view before me. The most exotic place I’d ever seen in my 41 years of living was an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. Now I was in Arba Minch, in southern Ethiopia. That was exotic.

I hadn't planned to come here. I had won the trip through a fundraising campaign at work and initially I was hesitant to claim my prize. But once I learned that two of my co-workers would also be on the trip, I agreed to join them. We three from Prince George, BC flew via Vancouver and London to Addis Ababa where we joined five others from Vancouver, BC and Sherwood Park, Alberta. From Addis Ababa, we then flew to Arba Minch via Awasa.

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At the airport, we were met by Hope International Development Agency employees who became our guides. They planned to take us on a three-day tour of their clean water projects with the hope of illustrating how something as simple as clean water could dramatically change lives.

I joined our group for breakfast in the restaurant. From the buffet, I had a plate full of potato wedges, locally spiced cabbage and beans. Our guide filled us in on the day's plan as we ate.

"Today is the scary road," he told us with a grin. "And if it rains, we can't go there."

The weather was sunny and dry, but rain was forecast for the next few days, which would make the roads to Tsayte, our destination, non-passable.

I took one last sip of water, stashed the half-full bottle in my pack and jumped into one of the rented Land Cruisers, driven by locals who knew the roads. We travelled in convoy over the winding, gravel tracks dotted with potholes. I coughed from the dust and bounced from the uneven road and remembered the backcountry logging roads of northern Canada, which by comparison were like smooth pavement.

The Cruiser labored up the mountain beside cliffs that fell into an abyss on one side while the steep banks on the other displayed evidence of previous landslides that threatened to release more earth and push us off the mountain.

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From my vantage point in the back of the Cruiser, I could see dry, golden-brown hilltops and steep valleys as far back as the lakes I’d seen earlier. Now, even more islands on the lakes were visible through the heat-caused haze. 

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We turned a sharp corner and ascended another hill. I poised my camera, hoping for more views of the lakes but my eyes focused on a boy at the side of the road tending his horses as they grazed on sparse tufts of green grass dotting the ditch. The horses, three of them, had ribs poking against hides as if the ribs were trying to escape the oozing wounds forming along their spines. I lowered my camera without snapping the photo.

I was jerked forward as the driver braked to miss a herd of cattle driven by a young boy carrying a small whip in one hand and a load of twigs on his back. Two girls followed laden with gunnysacks full of treasures I assumed were cabbage or kale. A half kilometer farther along we slowed to navigate another curve and were met by a makeshift log bridge over a small creek. Our driver honked and shouted in Amharic, the local dialect, at the driver in the Cruiser ahead. It was now tipping off the logs toward the creek. We watched silently as that driver backed up in an attempt to correct, but the vehicle leaned more and its rear wheel slipped off the log. I held my breath. Another honk from our driver and the driver ahead hit the gas, the wheels spun and the back wheel found the log. He waved, completed the crossing and continued up the road. Now it was our turn.

We had another log crossing and five kilometers of dusty road before we arrived on the outskirts of Tsayte. I stepped out of the vehicle onto the dry grass across from a round hut totally covered in straw thatch. It had a pointed roof and an arched overhang above the open doorway. On the opposite side of the road and just in front of our Cruiser was a round concrete reservoir encircled with a stick fence to keep animals out. The community had received clean water a year before and the reservoir was our introduction to some of the infrastructure needed to complete any water project.

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NEXT WEEK: Rikki will shows us the value of a clean water system in a small village in Ethiopia.