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. As part of Mercy Corps' PROSPER program, she has received economic support in exchange for keeping her daughter, Kuye, in school. Many of Kuye's expenses are also covered by a Mercy Corps scholarship.
Taiko used her 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 upturned 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.”
Adapted from a blog originally posted on www.jonikabana.com.
More from Joni's trip
Photographer Joni Kabana will speak at our Portland Action Center on Thursday, March 14th. "Ethiopia's Promise: Girls and Education Lead the Way" will bring to life favorite stories and images from her trip to visit Mercy Corps programs in Ethiopia. An exhibit of Joni's photographs from Ethiopia will also be on display thru March 29. More info ▸