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Corona diary from Ethiopia: My difficult farewell full of anger and hope

Corona diary from Ethiopia: My difficult farewell full of anger and hope

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Menschen für Menschen employee Henning Neuhaus reports from Addis Ababa and our project areas
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Among them Henning Neuhaus, who, together with Muluneh Tolesa, is responsible for the Foundation's PR work in Ethiopia. Henning has lived in Addis Ababa since August 2018 and is one of only two non-Ethiopian employees in the Project Coordination Office (PCO).

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At this point, Henning regularly reports in his corona diary about the situation in Addis Ababa and our project areas in the country and describes how Ethiopia copes with everyday life with the virus.

Would you like to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in Ethiopia?Find out more about our emergency aid measures here.

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++++ July 16: My difficult farewell full of anger and hope ++++

“Sometimes goodbyes don't go the way you imagined it to be in your mind. I thought I was going to have a big celebration, hug everyone again and toast with my friends for a great time together. After almost three and a half years my time ends at People for people.

I will be going back to Europe for a while - to the beautiful Netherlands, to be precise - to do my Masters there. I am looking forward to this next chapter, but I am also sad because I am leaving behind me a dear Ethiopia that has been shaken by the events of the past two and a half weeks.

The morning after the murder of the singer Hachalu Hundessa began, as so often, with reading the news on Twitter over a cup of coffee. The murder of the singer, who is particularly popular with young Oromos, dominated every timeline and every news feed. Shortly afterwards I received the first warnings that demonstrations had been announced all over the country this June 30th and that it would be better to stay at home.

The Ethiopian authorities have detained two suspects in connection with the murder of popular Oromo musician Hachalu Hundessa.
The two acted on instructions from a group that broke away from the Oromo Liberation Front, the attorney general alleged.
➡ https://t.co/ule2mlCwJxpic.twitter.com/9DzZJwoqSN

- BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) July 10, 2020

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Depressing silence in Addis - at first

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Shortly afterwards, the first videos of young men with sticks appeared on social media, marching loudly through Addis, and my roommates and I got a queasy feeling in our stomach. Then the internet was switched off and shortly afterwards the electricity was switched off. There was an oppressive silence. We passed the time reading books that one always wanted to read, but never made it due to lack of time, and finally decided to drink a gin and tonic on our terrace in the afternoon. The sun was shining and we thought: "It'll be fine."

Then we heard the first volleys of gunfire, maybe 500 meters away from our house. With the help of telephone chains, we found out how our friends in other parts of the city are doing. Some were shot right on their doorstep and we heard of the first destruction and looting in the urban area of ​​Addis. We heard isolated shots from different directions until late at night.

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Shashamene city destroyed

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The following Wednesday, we slowly ran out of groceries and we wanted to bring a friend over who was alone in her house and was scared. But we didn't get far. Not far from our house we saw a dozen young people running in our direction with sticks and machetes. Without a second hesitation, I turned under screeching tires and drove back home.

In the days that followed, the situation in Addis Ababa relaxed significantly, but the extent of the destruction also became apparent. Almost every window pane along Bole Road, the main high street, had been destroyed and individual shops had been looted. There was hardly any traffic and security forces, heavily armed, sitting on pickups, patrolling the streets.

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It also became clear that Addis had gotten off quite lightly compared to cities like Ziway or Shashamene. The latter in particular is partly only from the burned-out skeleton of a city and initial estimates assume that 150 people were killed in the unrest there alone. According to official information, a total of 239 people lost their lives in the riots.

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Corona moves into the background

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The coronavirus took a back seat during this time. Especially in the first weeks of July it was not possible to test as much as before. The nationwide shutdown of the Internet also meant that updates regarding the pandemic could only penetrate sparsely. It is also to be expected that the unrest and the associated gatherings will lead to a renewed increase in the number of infections.

I am leaving a deeply divided country, which is still in the stranglehold of a global pandemic and, to top it all, is still plagued by one of the worst plagues of locusts in decades. This not only triggers sadness in me, but also anger. Because this Ethiopia and its people, which I was allowed to call my home in recent years, does not deserve any of this. It is a country with immeasurable potential and it makes me angry to watch the tender plant of development and peace suffer from external and internal factors.

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I am a fundamentally optimistic person, even if I find it difficult to maintain my optimism in such stormy times. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the most important thing is not to lose hope and believe in the good, even on such dark days. I am infinitely grateful for the time I had here in Ethiopia.

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And I hope to return one day and visit a better Ethiopia, as the people here deserve.

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++++ June 25th: Meseret misses her children, Fekadu his customers ++++

“You now have the feeling that most of the people in Ethiopia have come to terms with the new“ Corona normal ”. As already mentioned many times, life has to go on despite the difficult situation. Nevertheless, today I would like to report on two fates that are representative of how Covid-19 made the lives of many people in Addis Ababa difficult in many ways.

Like many here in Addis, we have a housekeeper in our house who comes from time to time. Meseret is in her mid-30s and worked as a maid in a luxury hotel in Dubai for four years. The single mother is now back in her home country and is raising her two sons here. Meseret is actually always a cheerful person who laughs a lot and is always in a good mood.

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The longing for the children is great

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Recently, however, she came to us in the morning and looked very sad. When asked what was going on and whether she was okay, she said that she hadn't seen her two children since March. She started crying and said that she took her children to live with their mother in the countryside when the coronavirus broke out in Addis to protect herself and her children. Although she talks to her children on the phone every day, the longing is great and she doesn't know when she will see her sons next time.

Fekadu, a taxi driver friend, is also suffering from the current situation. His most important customers are expats, whom he has been driving around Addis for more than 20 years. Fekadu is always on time and a very accommodating man. I called him the other day because I was stopping by a friend for a drink. I hadn't seen Fekadu in a long time and asked how his business was going over the past few months during Covid-19.

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"Actually, the business is not fine"

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“Business is fine, Henning,” he said briefly and we were silent for five minutes. But then he turned to me and said, "No, actually the business is not fine." He reported that many of his regular customers left the country after the Covid-19 outbreak.

Before Corona, Fekadu also brought expat children to school in the morning and picked them up again. Since the schools have been closed since March, this source of income no longer exists. In the past, Fekadu sometimes even had to cancel guests because he had so many passengers and appointments. Now he is happy about every passenger he still has and who calls him. "

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++++ June 16: With the number of corona cases, worries are growing ++++

“Almost a month has passed since my last entry in the Corona diary. Since the number of Covid 19 cases in Ethiopia was still limited in early May, it looked for a while that the virus would not spread as badly as feared at the beginning. However, that hope has vanished in the last four weeks.

Since May 24th, when there were 88 new infections in one day, the number of new infections has increased rapidly. This clearly shows that the so-called “community transmission”, ie the transmission outside of the previously known chains of infection, is in full swing. Every region in Ethiopia now has corona infected people. It is worrying that the number of infected people has increased more than tenfold from May 16 to the present day from 306 to 3,521.

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The youngest corona victim was 19 years old

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There are currently 60 deaths from Covid-19 in Ethiopia, with the youngest victim being just 19 years old. Here, too, it is by no means only older people who develop severe to fatal courses. However, I prefer to leave the question of the extent to which previous illnesses such as tuberculosis affect the course of the disease to the virologists.

There are also the first isolated cases of Covid-19 in two project regions by Menschen für Menschen: In the small town of Seyo in the Dano project area, a young man was infected with Corona and was admitted to the nearest quarantine center in Guder. A 17-year-old in the Ginde Beret region also fell ill at the beginning of June and went into quarantine. Fortunately, your contacts tested negative.

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To protect the endangered rural regions, we continue to strive to acquire PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) materials from local producers and to distribute them in our project areas.

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Regular fever measurements everywhere

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But how has everyday life developed over the past four weeks? If you don't wear a mask in public here in Addis Ababa, you could quickly get into trouble with the police, who rigorously monitor compliance with the mask requirement. In general, the police presence has increased significantly: They stand at bus stops, ensure that people keep their distance, and accompany employees from the health department who go from door to door and take a fever.

The precautionary measures are not limited to the big cities. I experienced this myself two weeks ago when I drove out of Addis with my friends after a long time. We traveled to Ankobar, the old imperial city of Menelik II, to spend the weekend in nature far away from Addis. Even in this very rural area, we were stopped twice by the police and the local health department to take a temperature.

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If we had had a fever or other corona symptoms in this situation, we would have been immediately taken to one of the numerous local quarantine facilities. Fortunately, we were all fine and we had a wonderful weekend.

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"Corona normality"

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Nonetheless, I have the feeling that, despite the increasing number of infections, a certain “corona normality” has become established among people. As I have already mentioned several times in this diary, a lockdown in a country like Ethiopia is difficult or even impossible to implement. Most people rely on doing their daily work to ensure the survival of their family. Life must therefore go on. Despite Corona.

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++++ May 25th: In conversation with Neven Subotic ++++

Bundesliga professional Neven Subotic (Borussia Dortmund, Union Berlin) founded his eponymous foundation in 2012, which, like our organization, implements development projects in Ethiopia. The Neven Subotic Foundation focuses on measures in the area of ​​WaSH (water, sanitation, hygiene) in the north of the country.

As part of the discussion series “n2s in conversation”, in which the soccer star and head of his foundation exchanges information with local contacts about the current corona situation, Neven Subotic also invited our diary author Henning Neuhaus to talk about the new everyday life in Ethiopia to report. The result is an exciting and informative conversation about the effects of the state of emergency and the changes in social life and in our development work.

Today's diary entry is therefore available in video format - have fun watching it!

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“N2s in conversation”: Henning Neuhaus talks to Neven Subotic
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++++ May 18th: wash your hands with your feet ++++

“As is well known, necessity makes inventive and during the global corona pandemic this adage comes true every day. All over the world there are currently big and small innovations that are supposed to make our lives safer in this crisis. This is also the case at the ATTC, the technical college by people for people in Harar. As in all universities in the country, the students were sent home, teaching is currently suspended.

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The teachers currently have a lot of free time, but the college also has a fully equipped metal workshop. So the teachers from the Faculty of Manufacturing Engineering got creative and last week they built the first prototype of a hand washing system operated with foot pedals. With one foot you open and close the line to a water canister, with the other foot you pump soap from a permanently installed soap dispenser into your hands.

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The prototype should go into series production

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Dr. Abebe Fanta, the President of the ATTC said to me: “The first prototype is already working very well. But we want to improve it a bit. " Dr. Abebe also said that we plan to deliver these machines not only to our office in Addis Ababa, but also to the project areas by Menschen für Menschen. After the financing plan and a list of materials have been drawn up, production can start - and washing hands with your feet may be the new trend in Ethiopia. "

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++++ May 13th: You never have to wait long for (immediate) help in Ethiopia ++++

“On Monday afternoon there was a lot going on in our office: the regional government of Oromia informed us at short notice that we could bring our promised relief supplies to the office of the regional government in Addis Ababa for further distribution that afternoon.

Muluneh immediately notifies our colleagues to load the materials onto a truck. Easier said than done. After all, there is an entire freight container in our warehouse full of 6000 face masks, 1580 bottles of hand disinfectant and 2000 bottles of liquid soap with a total value of almost 12,300 euros, the contents of which now have to be loaded onto a truck.

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Together, my colleagues haul the boxes and Muluneh and I put MfM stickers on them - so that it is also clear who the materials are from. The sun burns down from the sky on this day and it is terribly exhausting for everyone involved. Fortunately, we finished in less than an hour and made our way to the Oromia regional government office.

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Relief goods in traffic jams in Addis Ababa

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It seems that the city administration of Addis is currently using the currently reduced traffic to renew or expand the streets in the city. However, this leads to long traffic jams in these individual places in which we get stuck with our truck. Muluneh and I are getting a bit nervous because we are afraid that we will be late for the handover. After another hour we finally made it and reached the Oromia office.

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The office building is quite new and accordingly the elevator does not work yet. Muluneh and I groan up the stairs to the fifth floor to inform Dhaba Dabale, the chairman of the Oromia Region Covid-19 Prevention Task Force, of our arrival. I think it would be a nice photo opportunity if I take a box of disinfectant with me and then hand it over on behalf of the whole truck.

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The willingness to help is great

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In Mr. Dabale's office, he looks at my box and thanks me very much for the donation. Muluneh corrects him immediately and says that there is a whole truck in the yard fully loaded with materials. An assistant looks out the window and claps his hands over his head: “We thought you would only bring the one box! We didn't expect that much! Where should we find people shortly before the end of the day to help us unload the truck? "

But the solution is found quickly. As is so often the case here in Ethiopia, the willingness to help each other is great and a group of young people who are near the office immediately declares themselves ready to unload the truck with relief supplies. “These are materials for our fellow human beings. Of course we will help immediately, ”says one of the young men. The truck is unloaded in no time at all and everyone involved is grateful and relieved. For us the end of work can come and for the people in Oromia the urgently needed help to protect against Covid-19. "

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++++ May 11th: pandemic causes rising prices ++++

“You can feel that the global pandemic is also affecting world trade here in Ethiopia. This particularly applies to goods imported from abroad. Even if the selection is smaller, you can find almost everything that can be bought in Europe in the supermarkets in Addis Ababa. Since these products come from overseas, it goes without saying that they are significantly more expensive than in Germany, for example. With the spread of Covid-19 and the associated delays in the global movement of goods, there is now a lack of many products that were previously readily available. I personally noticed this when suddenly certain foreign hygiene items were no longer available or the price of Parmesan cheese had almost doubled.

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Today I shared my personal findings with my colleagues in the office. And they also reported to me that local products such as teff flour were also experiencing significant price increases. My colleague Bahritu told me that she had seen a lot of job advertisements for truck drivers in the newspaper. That is because many truck drivers are afraid to go to neighboring Djibouti. There is the next port, through which Ethiopia obtains its imports. "However, the coronavirus has spread much more there and the risk of becoming infected is higher than in Ethiopia," says Bahritu.

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Price increases also in rural Ethiopia

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But Covid-19 also has an impact on domestic trade in rural regions. Berhanu Bedassa, our project manager in Ginde Beret and Abune Ginde Beret, told us, for example, that the prices for teff, corn and sorghum per hundredweight had risen by up to 15 percent.

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He tells me that the farmers are afraid to go to the weekly market because the wholesalers from Addis Ababa could possibly be infected with the coronavirus. Therefore, the farmers prefer to stay at home with their goods, although they would get comparatively good prices for them, says Berhanu. In the end it hits the end consumers here in the country, who have to pay significantly more for their food. "

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++++ May 8th: Medical relief supplies handed over to the regional government ++++

“This week has People for people Handed over the first shipment of hygiene products and disinfectants to the Harar regional government. Our organization has responded to the call from various regional governments to support them in the fight against the spread of Covid-19. We are also currently preparing such aid deliveries for the regions of Amhara and Oromia.

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Last Wednesday, the materials for Harar in Addis were loaded onto pickups and now the Chancellor of our Agro Technical and Technology College (ATTC), Dr. Nega Tolla, officially handed over to the regional government in the capital Harar.

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The help through People for people comes at exactly the right time. This week alone, three people in eastern Ethiopia who had previously been in Puntland tested positive for Covid-19. Puntland is a semi-autonomous, internationally not recognized state within Somalia, which borders with the east of Ethiopia. There are also some infected people in Dire Dawa, the largest city in eastern Ethiopia.

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Since I was wondering why there are more and more infections in the east of the country, I asked my colleague Muluneh. “The border between Somalia and Ethiopia is fluid. Since it is an endless semi-desert, nobody can really control who is crossing it. ”, Explained Muluneh, who has already got to know almost every corner of Ethiopia in his professional career.

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According to Johns Hopkins University, the politically fragile neighboring state of Somalia currently has 928 confirmed cases of Covid-19, far more than its large neighbor Ethiopia. The Somalis ethnic group lives across borders and there is a brisk trade and traffic between Somalia and the eastern part of Ethiopia.

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Of course, this carries the risk that not only commercial goods cross the border, but also people with coronavirus. That is why it is particularly important not to lose sight of this region of the country. With the materials handed over, our organization is helping to protect the endangered people in the Harar region from Covid-19. "

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++++ May 6th: Muslims in Corona Ramadan: Many things are different, the essentials remain ++++

“Religion plays an extremely important role in the lives of people in Ethiopia and the respective religious festivals are always celebrated intensely. Be it the Orthodox Easter, which was celebrated three weeks ago by the Christians in the country, or now the fasting month of Ramadan. After all, almost 34 percent of Ethiopians are Muslim. Like Easter, Ramadan is also badly affected by Covid-19 this year. So I asked myself how the Muslims in Ethiopia spend this important month of fasting in times of the pandemic?

When I was in the office today, I asked my dear colleague Bizu how she was doing. Bizu not only makes the best coffee from Bole Bulbula, she is also always up for a joke and we laugh a lot and we like to laugh together. When I pour myself my usual morning coffee at Bizu, we start talking about Ramadan.