When we arrived back in Ambo, the destruction was still apparent, although the cleanup had already started. The burned cars were pulled to the side of the road. The debris from the damaged buildings was already being cleared. The problem, however, was that the courthouse was one of the buildings that was burned. How do they plan on having trials for those hundreds of people we saw in jail, we wondered.
We wanted to tell all our friends why we were leaving, but how could we say it? Maybe we should say, “It’s not OK for the police to hunt down young people and shoot them in the back.” Or maybe we should say, “It’s not OK for us to have to cower in our home, listening to gunshots all day long.” Or maybe we should say, “It’s not OK for the government to conduct mass arrests of people who are simply voicing their opinion.” Since the communication style in Oromia is BEYOND non-direct, with people afraid to really say what they mean, we knew exactly what to tell people:
“We are leaving Ambo because we don’t agree with the situation,” we repeated to every friend we encountered. Everyone knew EXACTLY what we were talking about.
We told our friend, a town employee, we were leaving, and he said, “Yes, there are still 500 federal police in town, two weeks after the protests ended.”
We told a teacher at the high school we were leaving, and she was wearing all black. “Maal taate? (What happened)” we asked. One of her 10th grade students was killed during the protests.
We told the local store owner we were leaving, and she said, in an abnormally direct way, “When there is a problem, your government comes in like a helicopter to get you out. Meanwhile, our government is killing its own people.”
After a traditional bunna (coffee) ceremony, and several meals with some of our favorite friends, we were the proud owners of multiple new Ethiopian outfits, given as parting gifts so we would ‘never forget Ethiopia.’
How could we forget?
We still don’t know exactly who died during the protests and the aftermath. It’s not like there is an obituary in the newspaper or something. But questions persist in our minds every day:
- Our two young, dead neighbors remain faceless in our minds…was it the tall one with the spiky hair?
- Students from the high school were killed…had any of the victims been participants of our HIV/soccer program?
- What about that good-looking bus boy that is always chewing khat and causing trouble…is he alive? in jail?
- How many people were killed? How many arrested?
- If we knew the exact number of people killed or arrested, would it actually help the situation in any way?