Beasts of Burden

Lalibela. Met a few very nice boys who became my friends and showed me around the place (Misaw was 14 and Getachew was 10 but looked around 7 since he was generally lacking for food), in addition to a Frenchman who was riding a motorcycle across Africa and the Middle East.

Lalibela was the first place where I experienced the sliding price scale for faranji’s, and it pretty much started to infuriate me. For example, in the local store – if I went in to buy a bottle of water it cost 10 Birr, if a local goes in 5 Birr. At the tej bet (pub specializing in honey wine) where we stopped for a few beers they

attempted to double the price — leading to a shouting match between us and the workers. Finally we just left what we knew to be the real price. My solution to the whole over-charging is to find out local prices and carry a lot of change. If someone gets upset, I recommend they call the police and/or a few priests. This usually brings the offender around to my point of view.

The second day in Lalibela, I said goodbye to my French friend – who roared off to Addis — and climbed up to the top of a mountain to see the Monastary. Climb was very steep and very hot, but extremely pretty. On the way back down we stopped off in Getachew’s family hut for coffee ceremony (will explain). After around 10 cups of coffee sitting on a dirt floor around the fire, we headed on our way. Every Ethiopian home has a cat as a part of the family. The cat keeps away the pests and in return gets bits of injera or whatever the family may be eating.

As we traveled down, I spotted a stunning elderly woman in a green dress (everyone wears dark green in the villages) chasing after a big and small sheep. Eventually, she came over and inquired through the boys if I had any medicine. She then hiked up her skirt (very modestly on one side) to show me this huge lump on the side of her hip. Explained there was nothing I could do for the lump, but she did have a few cuts to which I applied antibiotic ointment and band-aids. She was extremely grateful at which point she communicated that she had no children but was a keeper of the sheep. She ran off up the mountain, and we continued down.

Almost reaching the last part of the mountain we stopped to rest and take in the view. The boys at this point started wailing, shouting, and covering their eyes with their arms. Looking below one could see a woman being beaten savagely with a cane by a man while around 15 people, men and women watched.

We ran down as fast as possible, shouting. The boys kept crying “This is not democracy” which I found very interesting. They also told me “The woman she has no family she came to marry.”

By the time we got to the spot, the beating had stopped, but the woman was covered in blood and flopping around the ground like a wounded bird.

Previously up on the mountain we had encountered a man who caused problems when I was trying to buy a few little wool figures. He was very well dressed, and obviously well-fed, and fairly drunk. Turns out he was the one doing the beating.

It was very lucky that the man had stopped hitting her by the time I arrived, because I completely and thoroughly lost my temper when we got to the woman.

While shouting at the “onlookers”, I patched up the woman as best as I could, using my bandana (which I had just soaked in the holy water up at the church), and gave her some water. She was very thin, one eye was sort of bulging out – obviously a result of past beatings – in a raggedy green dress. Fortunately, one of the boys yelled “don’t touch the blood”, because I had completely forgotten to be careful. She had an obviously broken wrist (bone bulging out), a deep gash on her calf – could see through to the bone, and various other injuries.

The only people helping were the boys and a small girl. We attempted to start carrying her down the mountain to the “hospital”, but she could barely walk, and it was very hot. Finally her brother arrived - he had been part of the circle of people watching her get beaten – and carried her down to the “hospital” on his back. Eventually, the man who had been beating her – her husband – arrived and attempted to take her on his back. The look of terror on the women’s face convinced me that shouting at him to go away was not a bad move.

We finally made it to the “hospital”, and the horror continued. The building was brand new, but completely empty and absolutely filthy. Upon entrance we were instructed to dump the woman on the concrete outside the “administration office”, and wait. I started walking around shouting for people, finally a woman arrived and unlocked the door.

The office was filled with pink pieces of paper and a bed next to a wall with splashes of dried blood all over the place. I had to pay up before anyone would look at her.

Next her brother carried her to the “examination” room, where she was once again dumped on the floor. The examination room was up to the squalor standards of the rest of the hospital. There was a bed – but I ran my finger down it and came up with a great deal of grime, and of course there was blood splattered on the wall. By this time the woman was vomiting and had released her bowels. I ran around looking for a doctor or nurse, since the place seemed to be deserted.

The “nurse” finally went in and came out in about 3 minutes and handed me a slip of paper that said:

Dress and Clean Wound
Follow-up tomorrow

“What about her leg, she needs sutures?” I asked.

“It’s not bleeding very heavy” said the “nurse.”

“Ah, you can see to the bone, she needs sutures, and her arm is obviously, broken, and she appears to be going into or is in shock.” I

“Her pulse is fine” said the “nurse.”

“Did you take her blood pressure? Check her head? Make sure she doesn’t have any internal injuries — she was beaten with a stick” I
said. “Oh blood pressure” said the “nurse.”

Finally I shouted enough that they found someone a little more experienced who sutured her leg and appeared to have examined her a little more thoroughly. She had to wait for an X-Ray until the next day because it was the Doctors “day off.” No one would tell me where he lived.

By this time her husband’s family started to arrive. The ones who had watched her get beaten. They got another incensed lecture from me, and I tried to make sure she would not have to go home that night.

The real issue was whether or not to go to the police. Most told me on the hospital staff to “just leave it.” I finally asked the woman, and she said yes, she would go if she could walk, but I should go alone and make a report. 2 minutes later she changed her mind and said “I love my husband, don’t go to the police.” Of course, his family was surrounding her – leading to the change of mind.

After doing all I could I left, went to the police station, made a report — although it’s pretty certain that nothing would be done. Figured if she was eventually killed at least there would be some sort of potential evidence against her husband.

Ethiopian women who live in the villages are essentially beasts of burden. They carry the water, firewood, and children, while the men spend a lot of time hanging around town. The women expect to beaten, and are in fact frequently.

I have never seen anything so brutal. Abuse of women happens worldwide, but I’ve never had to actually witness such violence. The public aspect made this even more appalling. I am so very thankful to have been fortunate enough to be born in the West, and in possession of a strong enough will (thanks to my parents) that victimization is hopefully something I will be able avoid. The matter of fact way the women and men just accepted the women’s beating was perhaps the most shocking aspect of the event.

So the adventure continues with my escape from Lalibela. Stay tuned for part 3. ;>