The Anglo-Ethiopian Society
Letter from Debark - February 2013
Author - Kate Fereday Eshete
Debark is on the western flanks of the Simien Mountains, at an altitude of 2,900 metres. Being the gateway to the Simien Mountains National Park, the town has grown in importance, and its population now exceeds 40,000. Debark Town shares its name with its woreda (county).
My family and I moved to Debark Woreda in 2010, after having lived in Gondar for eight years. My husband, Asenake Eshete, was born and raised in this area, and has thousands of relatives here, families in the past having been so large. We settled in Dib Bahir, a village at the foot of the escarpment on the north side of the mountains, where we live simply in a mud hut (which is the only building in Dib Bahir that has panes of glass in its windows) and run a small school, Empress Mentewab School.
There are about 200 households in Dib Bahir. During their 1936-41 occupation of Ethiopia, the Italians built a camp in the village and installed iron pipes that still carry water from a reservoir at the top of the escarpment. The main electricity cables going north from Debark pass through Dib Bahir, so when there are no power cuts, the inhabitants have electricity. Despite northbound telephone lines also passing through the village, it is not cost-effective for the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation to provide such a small community with a landline telephone service, so Asenake and I had a wireless telephone installed and this works sometimes. Mobiles often do not work in Dib Bahir and there is no internet access, so every month I make the 13.6 mile road journey to Debark to update my website and deal with e-mails.
Usually I return home on foot, carrying bags of groceries. There are shortcuts for walkers, so the distance covered is about 12 miles, which takes me 4-6 hours depending on the weather and how heavy the shopping is! For personal security - the main risks are shifta (bandits) and hyenas - I am always accompanied by one of Asenake's relatives armed with a Kalashnikov rifle.
Last September, towards the end of the rainy season, my guard and I set off in bright sunshine. We were half way down the escarpment when a storm rolled in from the north. Along with three other travellers, we sheltered in a hut used by two militiamen guarding the road. Luckily, the heavy rain and hail missed us. We ventured outside and the men did a weather-check. It is not only in Britain that you can experience summer and winter in one day! For further info about our activities visit: www.kateferedayeshete.net