15 October 2019
Rahel cares for her daughter, Lydia, in their home in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)
In the current edition of ONE, Emeline Wuilbercq writes about Ethiopians Breaking Free from their addiction to khat, with help from the Catholic church. Here, she adds some background to the story.
In Ethiopia, it is not always easy to talk to women. They are rather reserved, sometimes secretive, and it takes time before building a relationship of trust.
In the countryside, as in the cities, their lives are hard: even though early marriages are forbidden, they still take place. Female genital mutilation is widely practiced. A lot of girls do not go to school because they have to help their family at home.
They face many challenges, but they keep it to themselves. When they meet foreign journalists, they do not necessarily want to confide in them during the first exchange.
But sometimes, the unexpected happens.
When I talked with Rahel (her name has been changed), I honestly did not expect to discover such a frank woman, with a strong personality, when I first met her in the Abune Andreas Girls’ Home boarding school in Dire Dawa.
I remember this cheerful woman who was trying to help me and my colleague, Petterik, find someone to help us in Harar. Her English was perfect, and she felt at ease conversing with us. Little did I know at that time that she would become the main subject for my story about khat addiction.
A few days later, when we returned from Harar to Dire Dawa, Petterik and I decided to call her again and she welcomed us to her new apartment. She immediately felt the urge — or need — to confide in us. Was it because she felt isolated from those around her or that she had not yet dared to speak to her neighbors since she moved in?
During our discussion, we learned that she never received the support she needed when she decided to separate from her husband, a man whose khat addiction was becoming too troublesome. He would keep spending money on the green leaves while his wife and daughter were struggling to make ends meet.
This was an added challenge as Rahel, a young orphan girl, had already struggled throughout her teenage years. But with the help of the local Catholic church, she was able to become the strong mother she is today.
Since her husband didn’t listen to her advice, she decided to temporarily separate from him, and to raise her beloved daughter alone.
On the day that we met, she was happy to talk with people who could understand her, as she considered Ethiopians to be too conservative. “Backwards,” she even said. I quickly understood why she was using this strong word.
Rahel told me that her friends had turned their backs on her; in Ethiopia, the fault for a broken marriage rarely comes from the husband, and some think she should have given him another chance before leaving the house. But the only thing that mattered to her was that her daughter could grow up in a healthy environment surrounded by loving people — even if losing her friends was the price she had to pay.
One can only admire Rahel’s journey and the sacrifice she has made for her daughter. I’m glad that she decided to speak out. I hope her friends will read her story to understand her decision.
Learn more about Rahel’s journey in the September 2019 edition of ONE.