A Tale of Three Guards
An hour’s one-on-one Amharic lesson as the first thing I do every Friday morning is enough for my already overloaded brain to cope with for practically the entire day. This week, before I attempted reading the story of Isaac and Rebekah from an Amharic children’s bible, my teacher and I spent much of the time discussing the bridge-building going on outside the Bingham wall just below our second-floor apartment. As a result, I now know the Amharic for “bridge”, but you wouldn’t believe the complex grammar needed to talk about it being built.
“Not again!” I remember exclaiming, a few months after we arrived in Ethiopia in 2013. It was coffee break at Bingham Academy, and I had joined Andy and Clare (two Bingham staff at the time) sitting on the wall by the field. They were lamenting their application for a licence to set up a new school being delayed yet again. They shared a vision to start a school for middle-income Ethiopians and both were eager to begin. Eventually the RICE (“Reach International Centre for Education”) school became a reality, and Andy and Clare left Bingham to run it full time.
The welcoming back to Ethiopia of opposition groups previously labelled “terrorist” by the government extended to more than just Professor Berhanu’s “Patriotic Ginbot 7” – it also included the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and its leader, Dawud Ibsa, who had been in exile for 20 years and would arrive back in Addis on Saturday 15th September. The rioting and violence we experienced on the Thursday and Friday before his arrival was a conflict over flags – Oromo people, especially bands of youths, wanted to raise the OLF flag in Addis Ababa in place of the Ethiopian flags that had sprung up everywhere to welcome Prof Berhanu the previous week. Violence ensued, and it was about to worsen significantly.
The optimism I expressed at the end of my last post may have been slightly misplaced. That Sunday we were anticipating the Ethiopian New Year holiday two days later, and the events of the weekend had suggested the country was moving forward into 2011 with a brighter outlook. Little did we know that the next ten days would involve some of the greatest uncertainty we have experienced. Here’s what happened.
The flag of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has been essentially unchanged since 1996 after the communist regime fell and the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi redefined it. In 2009 the blue disc was darkened, and government Proclamation No. 654/2009 dispelled all doubt about the legal status of the flag, how it was to be used, and the penalties for using a flag not conforming to the official description.
Marion was very quiet. She and her husband George melted into the background at Hannah’s wedding, which in retrospect was a little odd given that Hannah was George’s granddaughter and the first to marry. We learned much later that the day after the wedding George and Marion had returned to the reception hotel to retrieve Marion’s camera, which she had forgotten. Despite being close to our home, they didn’t call in to see us. Odd, given that George was Chris’s dad.
Standing in the queue for immigration, an hour after landing, it was tempting to think nothing has changed in the six or so weeks we’d been away in the UK. The melee around the “visa on arrival” office was a vigorous as ever; the TV screen suspended high above the row of glass immigration booths was cycling the usual erroneous information that doesn’t fit on the screen – almost 5 years after we arrived for the first time it still says porters should be paid 5 Birr per bag. Then it crashed.