GLOSSARY
Ethiopia glossary

Melese

(ETHIOPIA 20)

Sex

male

Age

45

Occupation

farmer

Location

Denkena,Wodih Mado Mar Feriche (highlands)

Date

October 1998

 

transcript

Section 1
What are the changes in crop production in this locality?
In the old days some of your farm plots are left fallow while the rest is cultivated. From a plot of land tilled by a pair of oxen, one used to harvest up to 20 aqmada (sheepskin bag or weight equivalent of 50-60kg) of crop. All that has changed now because of population growth, the continuous cultivation of the land, and the depletion of the fertility of the soil. Unlike in the past, the climate has changed now and the rains do not come regularly. So crop production has decreased for these reasons.

How has the market been affected because of the environmental changes?
Because of the environmental degradation, we donít harvest even half a kilo from five kilos of seed. The decrease in food production has forced households to sell their livestock cheaply; for instance, a sheep for 15 birr (unit of currency) to buy corn for consumption. Due to the prevailing poverty, people are migrating to other places in search of jobs and are dying there from dysentery. As far as firewood is concerned, our locality is frosty and cannot easily grow wood. Since the arrival of SOS [Sahel], we have begun to grow some eucalyptus trees near our homesteads for our fuel needs. Otherwise there is no improvement in our livelihood.

Could you tell me what kind of livestock you had in the past and now?
I used to have one horse with its offspring, ten sheep, and a cow. I sold most of them to cope with the hardship. I have one horse now. I also raise some five sheep for a richer person in the hope that I might share the offsprings.

What about the management and use of grazing land?
In the old days both the rich and poor used to share the grazing land equally. Now you get a share of the grass depending on the size of your livestock; so the poor are at a disadvantage.

Are there changes in livestock diseases?
In the past the animals used to die from mich, which they catch when they lay down in the hot sun. Of course, we lack the knowledge about the internal causes of their death. I had gone to Bale Province in a resettlement program and the Oromos (largest ethnic group in Ethiopia living largely in the south) used to tell us then that the animals suffered from TB and a disease that made the animals swell up. We used to heal them by treating the swollen parts with a flame.
Section 2
Are there changes in farming methods?
We used to leave part of the farmland fallow to help it regain its fertility. After leaving it fallow for a year, the land is tilled in September and sown in March, during the season of the little rains called belg. Now, because of the increase in the size of the population, a small plot of land is measured with rope and distributed to each household, and that piece of land is constantly cultivated. The soil is washed away by the rain and the land loses its fertility. There is very little yield and the crop residue after harvest is too scanty to feed the livestock well as in the old days. We cultivate the land twice a year, during the main rainy season (in summer) and during the time of the little rains. We donít practice irrigation.

What about crop pests - have these decreased?
Yes, there are pests which destroy the young green shoots. I think it is because the land has lost its fertility. These insects wouldnít have destroyed the crop if we had left the land fallow.

How do you control these insects?
We hear that when the rain increases in volume the insects die out.

What are the changes in land tenure?
During the time of the Derg (military regime 1974-89) the rich used to get the best land in the plain. We the poor were given smaller plots; later we were taken to Bale for resettlement. Life there was much better than here. For instance, I was able to support other persons in addition to seven members of my own family. We were able to produce crops twice a year. When we were dislocated, however, we had to come back to our village here. The plot of land they gave me on my return here is an infertile piece of land that was reserved for grazing. So I am not able to support my family now. I have not been able to send all my children to school because of the hardship. To supplement my income I now work at the SOS nursery station. Despite this, those of us who have been dislocated are finding it difficult to cope with the serious economic difficulties facing us.

Could you compare for me the goods that were available on the market in the past and now?
In the old days, the farmers used to produce a lot. So, a qunna (large grass basket holding about 10kg) of grain used to cost just ten cents then. A ram could be bought for birr2.50 while an ox could be bought for just 30 birr. Money was hard to come by then and food grain was cheap. Now, there are too many people, too little crop, and yet a lot of valueless money. A sheep costs about 80-100 birr, but a tin (a kilo) of teff (staple crop) costs you six birr.

What kind of useful development activities have been carried out here?
The Orthodox Church has built us a good school and a flourmill. The SOS Sahel Project has established here a nursery station which is used for producing different types of grass for animal fodder. With the guidance of SOS, a grazing land was enclosed and we were able to produce grass which we used for our livestock and even sold the surplus to other farmers outside our village. The trees here were all cut down. So SOS helped us to plant eucalyptus trees which we were able to sell for up to 400 birr. We used to drink dirty water which was made greenish by the animals walking in it. Since the last four years, thanks to SOSís help, the water for human and animal consumption has been separated and we now drink clean water. With their help, women formed credit and savings associations and groups of three women were able to get on credit sheep for production.
Section 3
Has your family you benefited from the sheep credit?
Yes, I received a sheep from one woman and now the sheep has given birth to two lambs. I, too, will retain the ewes and pass on the lambs to others. These are development activities that help the poor improve their livelihood. The government has built us a granary in which we save grain seeds which we can later take in the form of credit during the sowing season. Except for the small size of the farm plot, this is also useful.

What changes do you expect to see in your locality in the next 20 years?
If the development activities continue like this and if we practice family planning, we can improve our livelihood. Otherwise the population will continue to grow, the soil will continue to become infertile, and we will be further impoverished.

Are any useful social institutions here?
We have Senbetie (community association responsible for preparing church feasts) because our father confessors tell us that we will not get a Christian burial unless we join the Senbetie. We only do this for the salvation of our soul; otherwise the Senbetie only depletes what grain we have saved. We have no other social organisation. In the towns they have Iqub (traditional rotating credit and savings association) for saving money.

What are the changes in marriage and divorce?
In the old days, the woman could take her share of the crop and divorce her husband. Now if the husband wants to divorce her she appeals to the woreda administration which takes her side. As a result there is no peace in the household. In the old days, the parents used to arrange the marriage of their children at an early age. When the couple come of age, they divorce each other. Even today, the well-to-do parents arrange the early marriage of their children. Marriage is not bringing comfort to anybody nowadays.

What are the changes in the relationship between children and parents?
In the old days, a mother might have five or six children, but she loved them all because there was wealth in the household as a result of the high crop production. Now, too many children are born in a family and the mother cannot feed them well. So, when they nag her for food, she begins to hate them and they leave their homes only to become other personsí servants. One cause of the quarrels between couples is the shortage of food for feeding the children. Finally, the marriage breaks up and everyone migrates.
Section 4
What forms of cooperation are there between community members nowadays?
There is an interaction between Muslims and Christians. We entertain each other whenever we meet. Whenever, our relatives from the towns visit us, we entertain them as per our means, with meals consisting of meat and milk. Our bread and injera (thin pancake of teff) are not as good as those in the town.

Are quarrels regarded as crimes here?
If the farmer who has a number of livestock passes along oneís farm plot or homestead, the other person may accuse him of trespassing and this may lead to a quarrel.

Are there any changes in the roles of men and women?
The women used to be oppressed and restricted to doing domestic work in the past. Now the women are as enlightened as the men. They donít have to grind grain because flourmills are available nearby. They can attend meetings and participate equally with the head of the household.

What is the attitude of the community towards disabled persons?
If a woman is too weak to cultivate her land, it will be taken away and given to somebody else who can pay the tax. The blind also do not get support. I myself have a blind daughter. When I appealed to the administration to give her support they said that it was my duty to do so.

How do the people of Meket differentiate themselves from others?
If you take Bale, the land is virgin. They also use fertiliser and reap plenty of harvest twice a year. If you take Meket, both the people and the land are impoverished. The residents have neither cooperation nor education. We dig the land every year and expose the soil to erosion because of our poverty and ignorance. So we are in a vicious circle of poverty.

If you had the choice, would you like to live elsewhere?
Yes. When I was taken to Bale, I was abandoned to the hyenas and foxes, but I also became wealthy there. Yet, because I was not a native of the land, the people drove us away, and here I am living in abject poverty. So, if I was given a choice, I would like to go back and resettle in Bale. The land is fertile and suitable for oneís health. Our choice is not to live here.

Which aspect of your culture do you value more?
I like Epiphany, which is the most popular around here.

What do you consider as the biggest cultural change in your lifetime?
It is marriage.

What aspect of your culture is in the process of dying out?
The feast for weddings is getting smaller and smaller due to poor crop production. Ghenna (Christmas game similar to hockey) is getting more infrequent. The Mahber (community association for those who share the same patron saint) is also disappearing because of the prevailing poverty.
Section 5
How did you acquire your present skills?
I learnt them when I was working as the shepherd of another household. During this time the Derg took me to Bale for resettlement where I spent my daytime clearing bushes to prepare the land for cultivation and attending literacy classes in the evening. I had already learnt from my father how to till the land with a pair of oxen and how to sow seeds and harvest the crop.

Which of your skills are you most proud of?
Although I make my living as a farmer and my knowledge is limited, I am proud of my education in the literacy classes. What I have observed during my work in the nursery station also helps me earn my bread.

Do you know anyone in your village who is well educated?
There is no one in our village who has received college education. There are a few persons who have attended literacy and numeracy classes, and now work for the Administration. However, we are sending our children to the new school in the village. There is nothing more useful than education, for the current problems cannot be solved without it.

Do you want to provide education to your children?
I send my son to school because education is good. However, I couldnít send my daughter to school because I couldnít afford to buy stationary for her. Besides, she helps with the housework.

How do you learn of events outside your village?
I learn about them at the market place, during a funeral, and we go to visit our relatives. On such occasions we can hear about the arrival of aid although we donít see it.

What kind of message do you find most useful?
I donít consider any news as useful unless I see with my own eyes or hear with my ears directly from the source.

Is there anyone who has a radio in your village?
I know of no one who has a radio here. I donít know if there is one within the Administration, which is a bit far away.

How frequently do you travel outside your village?
If I have to visit a relative outside this village I have to walk for four hours for one trip and another four to return home. It takes me forty minutes to go the Wednesday Market and one hour to the Thursday Market. If we want to go to the other Wednesday Market far away from here where livestock are sold, it takes us four hours for a single trip on foot. It takes me fifteen minutes to walk to my farm plot. If I have to travel to a distant place I go by car.

What is the impact of the Chinese Road on your life?
When we were children our parents used to travel for five to six days on foot to buy grain. Now we can go by car and return within a few hours. Because of the road, maize is brought by car from Wollega and Bale provinces for sale here.
Section 6
What are the changes in community health?
In the old days, when a disease is caught by the head of fifteenth household in the village, the members of the other fourteen households used to migrate to avoid catching it. When someone fell ill in those days, people also used to say ďtake him to the cave to save the other members of the familyĒ. Now you have access to medical treatment and the diseases are decreasing. You can take the sick person to a nearby health station on horseback or on a bed, and if the disease is more serious, then by car to a hospital.

Have sexually transmitted diseases increased or decreased?
In the old days, syphilis and gonorrhoea were widespread. Chicken soup used to be prescribed by the folk as treatment then. However, the diseases have decreased now. We have heard about other diseases but I have not seen any infected person.

What do you think of the new disease (AIDS)?
I have not seen any patient suffering from it. We donít know what wounds it causes or how it kills. We only hear that it kills people.

Is there any change in family size?
The increase in household size is worrying everyone. The population explosion is turning Ethiopia into a barren land. The reason for the population growth is the failure to use birth control. The women also do not have access to the birth control drugs. So the family grows in number.

How do you think family size could be controlled?
Both the men and women must discuss the problem of population growth and agree to use birth control. Advice must be given for this at church and other places. The men should urge their women to use injections or birth control pills. The government must support family planning.

When did this village have a famine or drought?
I was taken for resettlement then and did not see it occur here, but I heard that it happened in 19984/85 in Tigray and Meket. When I returned here in 1992/93, people were dependent on government food handouts and are still looking forward to receiving aid. The land has refused to give any yield. Everyone uses black coffee for dinner, and may not expect to have the next lunch. One may eat breakfast but no lunch. This is the situation after 1984/85.

How did you and your family cope with this disaster?
I brought some money with me which I had saved at the place of resettlement. I used that money economically for some time. I also work at the SOS nursery station and earn a monthly salary of birr 146.50. In addition I used to get aid on behalf of two my family members. I use this economically by foregoing my lunch if I eat my breakfast, or by decreasing my supper if I ate a well for breakfast. That is how I try to support my family.
Section 7
Is this aid given to you in the form of food-for-work or for free?
So far it is only for those who have taken part in the development activities, but no aid has come now even though people have participated in such work. When the aid is given, there is no discrimination between rich and poor.

What are the changes in food consumption patterns?
There is no significant change except that chickpeas, peas, horsebeans, and lentils are now used for making injera. In the old days these pulses were used only for making stew.

Why is the cause for this change?
Because the land used for cultivating barley is barren and because pulses are grown during the rainy season. We have also begun feeding on wild berries, cactus fruit and other fruits such as banana and oranges though we are not used to them.

Well, Ato Melese, I have finished my questions. If I come to you with similar questions in the future, are you willing to answer them?
Thank you. I like this interview because it has enabled me to speak out what was in my mind. So, I do welcome it.