Ethiopia: Eating From The Same Table

The first thing I notice about her is that she is sassy.  I can tell, even without knowing what she is saying in her native language, Konsogne. There are over 80 dialects in Ethiopia, so I imagine when one tribe member meets another, they find different ways of communicating than simply via words. Everyone laughs, belly laughs, at everything she says. But I can also see her liveliness in her beaming face.

Her eyes dart back and forth, her smile is wide and mischievous, and she makes little sounds when she giggles that make me want to live with her forever.

Her name is Taiko and she is a mother of six children, three of which are attending school. She  secured a loan from Mercy Corps to purchase an ox to fatten up and sell for a profit at the local market. The ox lives right outside of her thatched roof hut, and everyone pitches in to help care for the ox. Yet, the job of cleaning the ox’s space is usually left up to Taiko. Who wants to grab handfuls of ox poop?

Taiko does it with a smile.

She tells us how her life is better now that she has support from Mercy Corps to assist with books, pens, uniforms and toiletries, all things that were extremely difficult for Taiko and her husband Orxayito to purchase so that their children could be in school. Three of their six children are already married and were not able to go to school, so they celebrate that their remaining three children will be educated.

Taiko shows me how she makes a local drink, cheka, which she sells to help support her children’s school needs. She also shows me the sorghum and corn she will send to her daughter who is attending university so that she has something to eat while attending school away from home.

As we talk, she starts to scurry about madly, gathering up corn and wheat that have been drying in the sun. Her spindly legs and arms cannot move fast enough for her and we all wonder what she is doing, and why.

Soon, the rains break through, making us all dash for cover.  How did she know they were coming?!

I keep searching for her eyes to falter, to drop from their pixie up turned edges. Is she ever sad? She said she has two main problems right now: to not let rumors from other villagers bother her, and to be confident that her two other children will have funds for university classes. She knows that the Mercy Corps program is for high school level only. She is preparing now for how she will be able to support her children as they move along their chosen paths.

Swiftly, her eyes assume their dancing pattern again and she looks straight into my eyes, locking in for a time that is usually highly uncomfortable for my Western cultural influence. I expect her to ask me for support.

Instead, she throws her head back and says “I am also very happy. Let us laugh! She will put my picture on her wall. It seems as if we eat from the same table.”

Ethiopia: A Girl Can

The imagery and sound I collected while in Ethiopia last November has been edited into a video and included in Mercy Corps’ new “A Girl Can” campaign.  It is an honor to be involved in this effort to assist girls’ education in rural Ethiopia.

(Photo by Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps)

Ethiopia’s Promise: Lecture + Exhibit

I am thrilled to announce that Mercy Corps has created a solo exhibit of my black & white images from Ethiopia.  The show will run from March 1 – 28 in the Action Center Gallery at 45 SW Ankeny in Portland, Oregon.

I will be giving a lecture on Thursday night March 14 at 7pm at the same location.

Entry is free, and kids are welcome!

UPDATE:

The lecture was well attended and the kiddos had the BEST questions!

(Lecture photos by Bill Purcell)

Portland Does Good!

I just completed a series of portrait images for Portland Monthly magazine depicting a whole assembly of Portlander’s who are doing great things for the world.

Music, nutrition, university fees and more are topics the subjects are addressing in this feature magazine article.

Julia Plowman (pictured below), the founder of The Girl Effect, is one of the subjects featured, relaying her newest entrepreneurial path.

Guest Post: Kerry Reinking

For those of you who wonder what it is like to travel with me to Ethiopia, here is a guest posting from someone who did just that last November!

Photographer Kerry Reinking traveled from Amsterdam and experienced a whole lot more than he expected while traveling to Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar.

(Image of the back scenes of photographing The Market Workers series by Kerry Reinking)

 

Magazine Portrait: Gus Van Sant

I spent an hour in my studio with Gus Van Sant, and as one might imagine, it was a highly interesting evening!

He talked about how he gets ideas for his films and a bit about his history. But the most fascinating things he spoke about were of the mundane. He is incredibly aware of his surroundings and I loved the endless questions he had regarding minutia found in my studio.

Read more about him in the latest issue of 1859 Magazine.

Love this man.

Coconut Oil + Education

She steps into the darkness of her hut and emerges with a small white container and thrusts it toward me. I look at it and see that it is coconut oil, the type that is used to smooth and condition hair in Ethiopia. It might seem like a simple gesture, one without meaning back home, but this jar represents the world to Kuye, a high school student living in a small village near Konso, Ethiopia.

Kuye is one of very few girls who get to attend high school in this southern area of Ethiopia. This is not due to a lack of desire, they simply have too many duties to perform at home and the costs to attend school are outside of most families’ reach. Within Kuye’s class, there are 42 students and only four of them are girls. (Hear students at Konso High School)

Kuye’s mother, Taiko, notices other girls at the market who are educated and wants the same for her daughter.

Taiko was able to obtain a scholarship and academic support via a program developed by Mercy Corps.   Kuye is flying down the path toward her education goals. Her favorite subject is social science, which includes computer programming, and she wants to become an engineer. She has seen women in other countries work in this field, and she believes it is time for Ethiopia to have more female engineers.

Kuye knows that she is a pioneer of sorts. There are people in her village who still think a girl “is not a good girl if she goes outside of her house” to do things outside of her traditional activities. To some, this might seem patriarchal and dismissive of women. But it is more complex than this simple conclusion. Girls are highly regarded in Ethiopia and they are cherished to the point of believing they will (and knowing they can) be stolen, and therefore they are highly protected.

Most women who are not educated end up living a life full of extreme physical burden. They fetch water and firewood, carrying bundles of heavy loads for miles, sometimes days, to help provide for their family. They suffer during child birth, often losing their baby and living with resulting injuries obtained during days of laboring. Life indeed can be hard in the rural areas of Ethiopia, for both men and women.

Kuye wants to alter this path, and show the world how capable a woman in Ethiopia can be. I give her my camera, and she quickly learns how to operate it, snapping a photo of her mama Taiko and gleefully turning to all of us with excitement about the beautiful image she just captured.

She is a quick study, smart as a tack.

Her hope for her future is to “finish school, get a good test result and go to university, then return” to help her village. I can only imagine what she would do if she attains this goal.

She cites gender inequality as being an issue in Ethiopia, but she has a simple reason for its existence. She points to the fact that boys, at an early age, begin to carry heavier loads than she can carry. They appear stronger and and more powerful, just because they can pick up heavier objects. Kuye believes that gender equality begins at home, with each parent treating boys and girls equally, and instilling within a young boy’s mind that his sister is as strong as he is.

I ask her where she studies when she is home, and she shows me her bed made of mud and clay. To the left of the bed is a small shelf made from hay and mud and I notice again the coconut oil. This is a prized possession, as it makes her feel beautiful and a part of the group of students in her class. Like any 18 year old student, she wants to fit in.

And she wants to feel like a girl, all pretty and smelling wonderful as she faces her new world and emerges as a strong and educated woman.

I will cheer her on. all the way through her university years.

One coconut oil jar at a time.

(Photo of Taiko above by Kuye Orkaydo)

(All images for Mercy Corps)

 

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