Ethiopia

80-year-old Hadush Teferi Gebrihet and his 17-year-old grandson Gebretsadikan Weldu live in the village of Adiharena in the eastern part of Tigray region.

80-year-old Hadush Teferi Gebrihet and his 17-year-old grandson Gebretsadikan Weldu live in the village of Adiharena in the eastern part of Tigray region.

Young Gebretsadikan dreams of getting a job in Qatar. His grandfather Hadush used to travel widely himself, but back then it was a question of life or death. Hadush also explains why there used to be more water and fertile land and at the same time more hunger, and why he misses the old days.

Gebretsadikan Weldu has just completed Year 10 at school. The 17-year-old currently has a temporary job as a night watchman in the hills, where the village has dozens of beehives. However, he is desperate to start a course to become a car mechanic. “After that I’ll go to Qatar for a few years! Some of our relatives are earning good money there. My relatives will raise money to pay for the journey.”

His grandfather used to travel a lot himself, but back then it was a question of life and death. “To prevent our cattle from dying, we had to make the tough journey to the Danakil desert every year to fetch salt,” explains Hadush Teferi Gebrihet. This low-lying area on the border with Eritrea is said to be one of the hottest, most hostile regions in the world. “It was very dangerous – you could die of thirst or be killed by hostile tribes.”

The 80 year old provides an astute analysis of the situation then and now. “My village was green. There used to be meadows and woods, much more spring water and large herds, and yet there was often famine in dry years. Why? Because we didn’t know how to manage the abundant resources, how to store the harvest, how to collect water.” Things are different today.

“This year was the most extreme drought I’ve ever seen, and yet we didn’t suffer from hunger and our animals survived. That’s because we and the local government have learnt what needs to be done.”

His grandson has never experienced hunger. At the weekends he sometimes even eats at the simple local restaurant, something that would once have been unthinkable, and not just because of the cost, says his grandfather. “People who frequented bars had an awful reputation and wouldn’t be able to get married.”

Gebretsadikan’s family still lives in traditional stone houses with domed roofs. Yet other things have changed radically in Adiharena: every house has electricity, and buses run along the road passing through the village. The villagers are also connected to the rest of the world via the media. “We would get the news from our neighbours and relatives and at church,” the grandfather says. His grandson listens to the radio at home and watches Chelsea FC’s football matches on his neighbours’ television. He also has a mobile phone in his pocket.

It was always clear to Gebretsadikan that he needed to lend a hand on his family’s farm, which is of average size, with 1.5 hectares of land and six cows. It was just as obvious that he and his brothers and sisters went to school. In Hadush’s generation only one brother went away to a seminary to train as a priest. The worse thing about the old days, though, were diseases like measles and chicken pox; that’s what Gebretsadikan’s grandfather has told him. Many people lost their children. Hadush nods. “We were helpless, because there was no medicine, which meant we could hardly plan for the future.” Nowadays people from the water authority check the quality of the water in the village well, and the family has its own latrine.

Yet the grandfather still thinks back to the old days with nostalgia. “It was a world full of warmth: people loved their relatives dearly. When they visited us, we washed their feet, and they blessed us.” He says that young people today only have business on their minds. His grandson doesn’t have much time for tradition, he says; you can see that from his clothes and haircut. But he notes with some satisfaction, “He can enjoy his life much more than we ever could back then.”