Running in Ethiopia

by Benjamin Cousen - 

It occurs to me that one of the main reasons to run (and this is a passing thought not extending to anything like a philosophy), is that the activities of running, and entering races, become the vehicles or excuses to go to places. They provide a legitimacy to travel. I certainly would not have visited to Ethiopia if it hadn’t been for the Green Olive Great Ethiopian Run Running Tour, but at the same time, this tour was always going to be more about an experience of Ethiopia than about running. However running provided the reason to be there and a window into a specific culture.

Ben communing with an Ethiopian Hyena 
The enriching intensity of the whole tour is impossible to convey in the space of this article but running was a theme that threaded through the holistic experiences of history, landscapes, wildlife, NGO work, sign language workshops, dance lessons, market places, food extravaganzas, boat rides, wolves, hippos and Rastafarians. 

In the middle of this myriad (bewildering at times because spontaneity, delay and sudden action to a changed plan are features of Ethiopian existence), we met the greatest of runners Haile Gebreselassie, and at the end we ran the 10k Great Ethiopian Run and throughout, like returning to the breath in meditation, we went running.

Running is what a lot of Ethiopians do. Quite a few of them, relatively speaking, do it better than anyone else in the world. This fact and the potential of attaining almost unimaginable glory and reward, is almost like a haunting presence in itself when running with the Ethiopians. I wonder if it is a problem. I wondered the same thing in 2012 when I went to see the documentary film Town of Runners at the Picturehouse in Brixton London. This film focuses on the small town of Bekoji, south of Addis Ababa, a town of corrugated iron and mud from whence many Olympic and world champions have emerged (think Tulu, Gelana, Bekele, Dibaba to pick out a very few). Gebreselassie in fact doesn’t come from Bekoji - but he’s not from far away.

The documentary has a bittersweet feel, it is narrated by Biruk, who is an endearing small boy at the beginning of the film (“before my voice broke” as he says in the voiceover). It tells the tale of two girls from Bekoji who are promising runners. It also tells the story of the Chinese built road that was coming, linking Bekoji with Addis Ababa, and perhaps symbolising much greater change. It was along this road that we from Green Olive travelled to Bekoji to spend time running with the young people of the town and be afforded a glimpse into their lives. Biruk himself, now a young man with a penchant for occasionally dressing like SnoopDog, was in fact one of the guides for our whole tour and the organiser of the Bekoji trip. 

Just after 7 am seemingly hundreds of young men and women begin training among the trees that cover a small slope at the edge of the town -all under the direction of the legendary coach Sentayu.

I found myself fourth in line in a small ‘train’ of six runners as we wound our way at a steady pace in and out of the trees and up and down the slope, constantly twisting and turning. We’d return to the valley at intervals when Sentayu blew his whistle and then drills would be seamlessly performed before another whistle returned us to the mesmeric parade around and about and through the trees. At one point a young man joined our line one place ahead of me and for the rest of the run I contemplated the fact that he was running in a pair of old converse shoes with no laces and the soles falling off. His t-shirt was filthy and he wore a pair of cut down jeans.

Such observations were reinforced in the afternoon when Biruk had arranged for us to visit the homes of two aspiring athletes. Both these young men were in Bekoji with the aim of making it as athletes under the guidance of Sentayu. Their living conditions were shocking to all of us and I think for many this was the most emotional moment of the whole tour. It is hard to describe it with justice in this blog. What I think was most troubling was the enormity of the stakes in the world these boys were entering. 

The expectations are incredibly intense - it is either everything or nothing. It defies belief in many ways that these people of Ethiopia and Bekoji who rely on gifts of second hand shoes, can so often take on the rest of the world and win. The problem is, of course, that it is a minuscule proportion who actually get there. There are many tales of young athletes being exiled by their families if they fail to ‘make it’. And an athlete could be at a standard where if they would be the best in Europe were they from the UK or Holland, but it still might not be enough to count on a Ethiopian and hence global stage.

It is an unease at the implications of this that I felt when watching Town of Runners and I felt it again when visiting and running with the Ethiopians this time.The question that lingers is what happens to those who are brilliant but maybe not brilliant enough? Two runners on that cusp, Dagiff and Hagdu were our running guides. This, perhaps, is something that can be promoted and can provide a career for these talents- running tourism. I ran particularly with 32 year old Hagdu, often just me and him in the early morning of Addis Ababa. We would duck under a barbed wire fence at the boundary of Millennium Park above the city. Tracks and trails teemed with plastic bottles, rubbish and other runners and the air was thin. “Gebreselassie still trains here in the morning”, Hagdu tells me. “And she who’s stretching over there - that’s Tiki Gelana, she won the Olympic Marathon in London 2012”. I waved and Tiki Gelana, Olympic record holder beamed and waved back.


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2017 Great Ethiopia Run - and Tour

by Green Olive Staff - 

Our pilot tour to Ethiopia was a great success. In line with Green Olive’s commitment to social activism, the organisation has partnered with a local travel company and an NGO with similar values. In addition to some touristic activities the group also spent time with the deaf and physically challenged communities of Addis Ababa. Among the activities has been a basketball game with physically handicapped people in wheelchairs.

Green Olive CEO Fred Schlomka and his daughter Maya were in Ethiopia helping run the tour and they also taught a mixed class of deaf and hearing children at the Addis Ababa Mekanisa School for the Deaf.

Each day most of the group trained with high level Ethiopian runners. Other activities were a workshop of traditional dance, a yoga class and other activities.

After several days in Addis Ababa our group piled into two 10-seater minibuses and we headed out of the city for four days of exploration. We drove south-east on the Chinese-built expressway, then south at Adama through villages of stick, mud and straw houses, and farming areas where the most common form of technology is a horse and cart and a hand-held scythe.

It was a packed few days learning about training methods of long distance running at the village-level, visiting a Rastafarian community, and a boat trip across Lake Awasa to take a look at bathing hippopotamus, and many varieties of exotic birds.

In between visits to sites and peoples, we trained in running, yoga and karate, ate some wonderful local foods, and met an amazing variety of local peoples.

The village of Bekoji was particularly eye-opening. Training under the watchful eyes of their trainers, young people from the region undergo a rigorous program of body-toning, and training in long distance running. Many of them stay in the program dormitories, and others stay in huts and shacks around the village that their families rent for them, each one hoping for a champion in their family and a way out of abject poverty.

We visited one of the teenage athletes in his 6 square metre hut, and gave him a Green Olive Solar Lamp. Several lamps have been distributed during the trip and plans are afoot to ramp up the program to include distributing of large numbers of lamps in the coming years. Tens of Millions of Ethiopians live off the grid, or have, at best, an unreliable electricity supply that often is shut off with no notice. Green Olive aims to do what we can to help, using profits from tours and solar lamp sales - to provide lamps at not cost to deserving families.

Rasta music was the favourite in the bus, although Fred put on his wife Sunita’s harp music and all agreed it was good for chilling out in the afternoon bus ride after a busy morning. We had a great visit with the 800-strong Rastafarian community in Shashamane. These dreadlocked men and women are mostly from the Caribbean, North America and other countries, but have been drawn to Ethiopia due to their religious passion to come home to Rasta roots. We ate a great vegan buffet lunch, and enjoyed an impromptu concert.

A day was spent in the Bale Mountains National Park, hiking up Mount Tullu Dimtu, Ethiopia’s 2nd highest peak at 4,377 Metres. After lunch on the mountain we visit the rainforest for a short walk through the trees. We saw various wildlife including wolves, olive Baboons, and various types of antelope. Apparently it was quite unusual to see the baboons by the roadside. We stopped and had these curious creatures stand on their hind legs to peer into the van and get a better look at us. Basically  we were in a cage (our bus) and the baboons were bringing their families to see us.

In between, we managed some shopping, a visit to a waterfront fish market, riding a horse and cart, great and oddball meals, and staying in a variety of guest houses.

Lake Awassa was a ‘full on’ experience. Next morning we went to the waterfront where we saw many Marabou storks at close hand and fishermen were bringing in their night’s catch. The amount they can sell is strictly regulated, and inspectors were on hand to count the tilapia and catfish. The fishermen sat and skilfully sliced 2 fillet off each fish. That was the delicacy, and people were sitting in nearby cafe/shacks, and having Ethiopian style Sushi breakfast. The rest of the fish were passed to others who gutted them and removed the eyes and offal. The remainder, including the head was is used for fish soup.

We hit the road for a long slog back to Addis Ababa, but it was worth it. That evening was a ‘Pasta Party’ at the Hilton Hotel for all the internationals who had registered for the tour. We also picked up our official running shirts and numbers

The ten kilometre run was next day. Our group was dropped off near Meskel Square where the runners were congregating. The atmosphere was festive, with music blaring, spontaneous dancing, and groups chanting.

There were face painters, stiltwalkers, and many runners, especially young women, had redesigned and restitched their official running shirts into chic tops.

Then we were off. Not exactly running. The press of the crowd (40,000 strong) was such that it was not possible to run unless you were lucky enough to be at the front. Then things loosened up, and some people started to jog. However probably at least half the crowd just ambled along, singing and dancing to an inner tune or to one of the many DJs along the route. 
It was a great party. Many people stopped at pubs along the way to quench their thirst with a beer or two. A great time was had by all. No-one was timed. The event can only be described as a super fun run, although a few serious runners in our group managed to get up front and ran a great race.

Then the run was over, but the party was not. The after-party/festival showcased some fine live Reggie Music and great food and drink.

On our final day a few of us sought out the city’s forgotten Jews - the Beit Avraham (House of Abraham) community. They had split off from the more mainstream of Ethiopia’s Jews a couple of centuries ago. and a small number (less than 1,000) now lived in Addis Ababa’s Kechene neighborhood.
Some of them pose as Christians and go to church, practising their ancient Hebrew rituals in secret. Despite a constitutional guarantee of religious freedom, and a public image of a religiously tolerant country, the local socio/religious dynamics tend to favour the dominant Orthodox Christians, and sometimes result in prejudice.

We found the synagogue, but no-one was there. However one man who was willing to talk to us declared that he was Christian but his brother was Jewish, not unlike some European or US families that are religiously mixed. This neighborhood will be a stop on the Green Olive Jewish heritage Tour that is being planned for late 2018.

We visited a neighborhood weaving facility where about twenty men were sitting behind large handmade looms, producing very fine cloth at amazing speed. Each weaver set his own prices and paid a fee to the facility owner. We couldn’t quite figure out if it was a cooperative or not. However there was no clear ‘boss’.

The trip created lasting memories for all who participated. Ethiopia is a country with much depth that Green Olive will explore with more tours over the coming years. The people, culture, wildlife religions and amazing landscape of Ethiopia has all the elements needed for great touring.


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Bedouin Villages to be Demolished

Amira Hass - Reprinted from Ha’aretz

Israeli Army Prepares to Demolish Hundreds of Palestinian Homes in Northern Jordan Valley
This is the first time the army is using an eviction order against Palestinians based on a military order meant to enable the evacuation of unauthorized settlement outposts

Jordan Valley
The army has ordered some 300 Palestinians who have lived for decades in the northern Jordan Valley to remove all their property from the area — which they’re interpreting as an evacuation and house-demolition order.

But judging from the army’s response to Haaretz, it has modified its position following an objection filed by the residents’ lawyer.

This is the first time the army is using an eviction order against Palestinians based on a military order meant to enable the evacuation of unauthorized settlement outposts. The order in question is known as the “order regarding unauthorized buildings.”

The order was not handed to any of the affected Palestinians. Instead, on Thursday morning soldiers simply left it on the road near their houses, which are located near the village of Al-Maleh.

The notice, dated November 1, was signed by the commander of the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank, Maj. Gen. Roni Numa. Officially known as a “declaration of delimited land,” it bars anyone from entering the specified area for purposes of construction and mandates the removal of all property from that area within eight days of the day the notice was posted.

El Chima - Bedouin village
The order does not specify how many people will be evicted or give their names. But judging by the accompanying map, it applies to an area of about 550 dunams (136 acres) in which some 300 Palestinians live in two herding communities, Ein al-Hilweh and Umm Jamal. Both villages are within the jurisdiction of the Al-Maleh rural council.

The herders are raising some 4,000 sheep, 200 camels and 600 cows. All the land in question is either privately owned by Palestinians or owned by the Catholic Church.

The “order regarding unauthorized buildings,” on which the eviction notice is based, states in paragraph 6(b) that it does not apply to “anyone registered in the area’s population registry,” meaning Palestinian residents of the West Bank.

Green Olive CEO entertains Bedouin children
Therefore, attorney Tawfique Jabareen of Umm al-Fahm, who is representing the residents, argues that the eviction notice has no legal validity and is null and void. That is the essence of the objection he submitted to the military commander via the latter’s legal adviser Saturday morning.

Jabareen also said the order had not been delivered to the affected residents, but was simply left in the area eight days after it was signed. “Prima facie, this was an action in bad faith, behind which lies an intent to deny the Palestinian residents their right to a hearing or to submit objections against either the order or the declaration,” he wrote.

As Jabareen put it, “This is a mass expulsion order against the Palestinian population that violates international law.”


For its part, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said: “On November 9, 2017, the orders were sent as part of enforcement efforts against illegal construction at the site. The orders were served according to protocol, including physically serving it at the location the order pertains to. The new order addresses illegally built structures, not a presence at the location.”

COGAT, however, did not state where the people who live at the site would go if the structures were demolished. It also did not answer Haaretz’s question on how many people the orders would affect.

Residents of Ein al-Hilweh said Friday that about two weeks ago, soldiers came to their huts and demanded to see their ID cards, without offering any explanation.

The soldiers also used a drone to take aerial photographs of their communities. Making lists of ID cards and taking photographs are steps that often precede evictions and demolitions by the IDF and its Civil Administration in the West Bank, though residents said they did not see any Civil Administration staffers this time.

Nabil Daragmeh told Haaretz that last Thursday he saw soldiers putting something under a rock on the road in front of the hill where he lives. He also saw them photographing whatever it was they had left by the road. After they had gone, he went to see what it was.

He found one Hebrew-language order that was signed and dated, another Hebrew-language order that was neither signed nor dated, and a third order in Arabic that was also neither signed nor dated. He immediately told the other residents, who were frightened and confused.

These herding communities have been in the area for decades, but Israel does not allow them to connect to infrastructure or add new homes and public buildings to keep up with their growing population and changing needs.

Israel has also used its control over the Palestinian population registry to prevent the Palestinian Authority from listing the herders’ villages in the residence line of their IDF cards. Instead, it insists that their hometown be listed as Bardala, Ein al-Beida or some other village.

Eviction, demolition and property-seizure orders have been issued against the residents for years, but never against all of them at once, and never based on the “order regarding unauthorized buildings.”

In 2008, in an effort to alleviate the residents’ housing shortage, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization built metal shelters for them, paid for by Japan. In his letter to the military commander, Jabareen wrote that Japan and the United Nations would not have built those shelters without the Civil Administration’s permission, and such permission was indeed granted. But later he said the administration retracted its consent.

“In recent years, a number of families have repeatedly built illegally in the area. Any person who feels he is a victim of the order can turn to the authorities within an eight-day time frame,” COGAT added.

“Regarding some of the structures, the authorities are examining claims by [the owners]. Regarding these structures, no enforcement will be implemented until these examinations are complete.”

On a hill to the east of the area slated for eviction sits the settlement of Maskiot. In 2005, it received an influx of settlers who had been evicted from the Gaza Strip.

Over the last two years, two settlement outposts have also sprung up, one north and the other south of Ein al-Hilweh. The Civil Administration has issued stop-work orders against the outposts, but they still continue to expand. One of the outposts is an offshoot of another illegal outpost in the process of being legalized – Givat Salit. The second is located in the Umm Zuka nature reserve.

Both outposts raise sheep and cows, and according to local Palestinians and activists from the Ta’ayush and MachsomWatch organizations, herders from the outposts often prevent the Palestinians from grazing their flocks. In 2011, one resident of Ein al-Hilweh was forced to move his tent because of repeated harassment by the settlers.

Ein al-Hilweh and Umm Jamal aren’t unique. Over the past few months, the IDF and the Civil Administration have also taken steps toward evicting three other Palestinian communities in the northern Jordan Valley – Khalat Makhoul, Al-Farisiya (which is home to about 150 people) and Khumsa.


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