Days of our Lives in Suntu
Going to our new home
We arrived in Limmu on the 9th of July, around the afternoon. It was raining hard. The manager of the washing station had warned us that it was not possible to cross the bridge to the washing station due to ‘bad road conditions’. At this point we did not know the extent of this bad road condition, but we (being the dutchies we are) were determined to reach our destination as soon as possible. It didn’t take long for us to realize that when it was raining, there was no other plan but sitting it out. There was no possibility to get any work done in the pouring rain. The bridge that the manager had been talking about on the first day, was indeed infamous within the community of Suntu. It came up in many conversations, because to be able to go to the market, everyone had to cross the bridge. It was only a matter of time before someone would slip and fall.
We soon experienced that the raining season in Ethiopia is no joke, and hid in our safe space beneath the roof whenever one of the locals ‘expected rain’. Since their predictions were always very accurate.
The infamous ‘bridge’ of Suntu
The raining season wouldn’t have been big of a problem if it wasn’t super hard to reach other people’s houses to do interviews. Knowing that it would take some mud victims (with a possibility of bruises), dirty clothes and shoes and soaking wet clothes, made us very efficient in time planning. In between the rains, we would try to go to people’s houses. Whenever the sun was out for the entire day, there was almost no chance on talking to people, because they were not in the homes, but working on the field.
BUT it was not just a problem because we had to do interviews. We sometimes forgot that it was our responsibility to go to the market to get the food for our cook. The market was not our favourite place, since it was packed with people. And wherever we go, people would follow. Especially the children were fascinated with our existence and we usually walked around the market with a chant of ‘Faranji, faranji!’ (meaning white person) following us. As I informed you before, you had to cross the bridge to get to the market. After crossing this infamous ‘bridge’ (since it was really just mud with some trees in between), it took another 1,5 hour of walking up slippery hills. Not to forget walking back with groceries afterwards! Because the bajajs wouldn’t drive towards the bridge when it was raining. You can imagine we had to have our time planning on point. Something I, personally, suck at. Mostly for this reason, and the usual diarrhea, we lost lots of weight those three weeks.
Our Suntu family
What kept us going is easy: the people we were surrounded with were amazing. We had three amazing guards at the washing station that slowly started feeling like substitute dads. Their families lived around the washing stations and had become part of our daily lives. Their wives we had talked to in the interviews, and their children we knew best. Every day they would visit us around 16:00 to draw together, play soccer or they just looked at us. With little communication, because we only spoke a few words Oromo, and they only a few words English, we had created a nice coexisting life. Our cook, who was able to make amazing injera, always woke us up early in the morning because her voice was super loud and shrill. ‘AKAM BULTÉ’ we would greet each other every morning, and at a given point she would respond with ‘GOOD MORNING!’. For all the important communication (like when is dinner, and whats for dinner??) we were blessed with our translator Bisrat. She slept at the washing station with us, communicated everything to the locals and made us able to connect to the people in a deeper way. The relationships in our little Suntu family started to develop and as they started to trust us, we started to love them.
Daily life in Suntu
Our every day life started around 6:00, when Birhan, our cooking lady woke up and started talking. We would all instantly wake up and walk outside to greet her. Depending on if it was raining or not and whether we had diarrhea or not, we would plan when to go to the toilet, read: hole in the ground that was about 100metres away from our house. Our other translator would walk an hour from Jimma every day to meet us in the morning: naturally he was at least an hour late. By the time he would show up (around 9:00) we would leave the house to do interviews and get to know the people in town. The first week we had really invested time in getting to know all the families (including names, age, occupation, favorite colour) and we noticed that paid off really quick. As eager as we had been to get to know all the families, they had been on inviting us to their houses. Every day we would drink the best cups of ‘buna’ (coffee), and have inspiring and informative talks with our new community. Birhan would have lunch ready by 12:00 exactly and dinner by 18:00 After lunch we were too tired to be active and would either write in our field diaries about our day, play card games with the guards or (our new hobby) making crossword puzzles. Sunset (18:30) had always been my favourite part of the day, because the view from the washing station was amazing. Naturally, as soon as the sun set, we would get ready to go to bed. And so the day ended as we all lay down in bed around 20:00, with the voice of our lovely cook shrilling in the dark as we fell asleep.
Ending the research
Three weeks have gone by fast enough as we enjoyed the company of the people around us and started to get used to our new daily life. We had even adopted a puppy to take care of and had grown used to the hourly change of weather. Some mental breakdowns and arguments within our group had not been able to make us hate each other, and our nightly routine with playing crispy chicken with our guards was something we didn’t want to miss anymore. For our last day we had invited the last families to the washing station for a group discussion (one male and one female group) and in the evening we invited our Suntu family for a campfire where our translator sang us Ethiopian songs and our guards would prepare qhat with sugar for us. It was not a goodbye without tears (especially from the guards!), but it was a sweet and heartwarming feeling to have everyone around us for the last time.