The Siege of Woldia


So, back with a bang!  My triumphant return from the big city was blighted somewhat by the fact that I could neither wash myself after the ten hour journey nor the contents of the massively oversized bag of washing that I had brought with me.  The electricity thankfully came back just two days after my arrival but I had to wait much, much longer for the water.  I asked the neighbours when the water would be back and they shrugged their shoulders.  I asked them how long it had been gone for and they shrugged their shoulders too.  They just didn’t care anymore.

As time went by, a rumour did the rounds that the real reason for the interruption in both power and water was as a result of one man’s greed.  A transformer in a town about three hours to the South needed to be replaced and to pocket a few extra bob the person in charge of purchasing bought a second hand transformer but billed it as a new one.  Because of this, every man, woman and child due North was without power and water for weeks.

If I find this man, I will kill him.

There were other rumours of course and God only knows what was the actual cause of it.  I have learned here from my neighbours that ours is not to question why.  It is too frustrating.  We must simply accept that it is happening and find ways of getting on with it.

My father asked me if I would not go out and collect a few buckets of water for washing at least under the eves of the roof as was done in Ireland until not so long ago.  I did this sometimes, the problem being that although we found ourselves in the middle of the rainy season, there was no rain.  At times it rained at night and heavily, then I collected as much as I could but according to local people it has been a very dry rainy season.  Not every house in the neighbourhood was affected in the same way so on alternate days I could go to a friend’s house and get a jerrycan of water which would just about flush the toilet and that was it.

And in addition to my water woes, I had another menace to deal with.


At the start of the summer, some of the families in the compound moved out, back to their home places in the countryside the children having been attending schools in Woldia for the academic term.  They were replaced quickly with new people and their children for whom I was an absolute wonder.  The existing children in the compound also found themselves at a loose end as they were on summer holidays, as was I, and this made them lose their minds altogether.

It used to start at around 7 in the morning when they would begin knocking at the door, “Ais! Ais!”.  If they were unsuccessful at the door they would move onto my bedroom window, “Ais! Ais!”.  If I ignored them, they camped outside the door playing marbles, or that other childhood favourite game, knocking on the window, and trying the handle intermittently.  Sometimes they stayed all day.  If I opened the door for any reason, to leave my own house for example, they rushed in, like floodwater.  Every time I left the compound one of them would bolt the door from the inside behind me so that when I came back I had to knock to be let in thus alerting all children within a mile radius that I was back.  If there was an open window in the house they would stand on each other’s shoulders to reach in and lift up the muslin to get a look at me.  Sometimes they would slide offerings like marbles or paper under the door and then beg to be let in to retrieve their property.  They tried it all.

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Looking back I could well label this period in my life as “The Siege of Woldia”.  They were dark times for me where I had to seriously contemplate moving out of this compound and away from my beloved neighbours to somewhere with a more regular water supply and less annoying children.  And to be honest, it’s probably part of the reason too why there was such a gap between blog entries.  I was too unhappy.  My only saving grace was that I was not working at the time and while I had grand plans to decorate the house and take on different projects I found myself more preoccupied grappling unsuccessfully with the mundane tasks of everyday life; cooking, washing, cleaning and hating children, which sapped me of all my energy and robbed me of any time for “myself”.

I tried to have a conversation with the women in the compound about it but they hardly understood and were not there all of the time to police the new children.  Neither were the children’s parents.  The straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak came one morning as I nipped out to do some washing.  I chatted with the women, said hello to everyone and got on with my washing.  When I was finished, I went back indoors and was just turning the key in the lock behind me when I felt a draw on the other side of the door handle.  It was one of the kids who had just missed his chance by seconds to slip in behind me.  Apparently not believing his bad luck he tugged at the door handle extra hard and continued to pull and pull with all his might, willing it to open, until he broke the handle off the front door.

I cannot describe how angry I was.  That door handle and me were like best friends.  It was the only barrier from me and the world outside which all too frequently knocked at the door begging to be let in.  Enraged, I went straight outside to the women with the handle.  The poor young fella got the fright of his life, I’d say there was steam coming out of my ears.  After I ascertained he was too frightened to seize this opportunity and run into my house, I marched straight passed him and over to the women.  “Look!”, I bewailed.  Driven to the edge of reason by the lack of water and the omnipresence of the children, I wish the women would have chosen different words when they replied, “No problem, no problem”.

“THERE IS A PROBLEM!”, I screamed!  I am usually annoyingly cheerful so the women sat up and took heed.  Unfortunately all they could say to soothe me was, “No problem, no problem”.  It was like rubbing salt into an open wound.  We all marched over to the door, where they examined it and I recreated the events leading up to the breaking of the door handle with the use of charades.  “No problem, no problem”, they said.  It was like a red rag to a bull.  “Man come.  No problem, no problem”, they said.  I have never heard a more grating expression!

One of the women snuck away but came back a few minutes later and in solidarity with me, handed me a large stick, demonstrating how I would use it on a small child if the occasion warranted it.  Ha!

A man did come but he didn’t come until 8pm that evening, leaving me stuck in the house all door with the door open.  I couldn’t close the door as it would mean being trapped in my house.  I couldn’t leave the house as it would mean not being able to get back in.  So, just another day in the compound with absolutely no privacy where I could do nothing on my own agenda.  The children must have sensed something dangerous lurked within and they didn’t darken the threshold although they must have been fairly tantalised by the open door.  I was so grateful when the handle was replaced but also so very frustrated and the slightest thing could have set me off.

The beautiful new door handle which I love dearly

The beautiful new door handle

The next day passed off fairly peacefully and the children left the dragon to her own devices.  Until there was a knock at the door late that evening.  Didn’t they understand?! I was a woman on the edge and I was armed with a stick!  But it did not sound like the knock of a child.  No, it turned out to be the knock of someone who had no common sense.  There standing on the step was the father of the child who had broken the handle.  He came in and sitting down on the chair said to me, “I have an assignment.”  I was confused.  He went on.  “As you know in English, there are four types of pronouns, interrogative, demonstrative…”  Could this be happening, I wondered?  Is this man seriously asking for help with an assignment the day after his son has broken the handle off my front door?  It was enough to make me lie down and weep.  Instead, I furiously scribbled down two A4 pages of notes before shunting him out of the house.  How could I have explained it to him, what I was feeling?

I was deeply unhappy in the compound and if I had to spend one more week with the children and without running water I think I would have went home to Ireland.

So when a fellow volunteer suggested going on a 4 day hike in the mountains of Tigray the next week, I thought it sounded like a good idea and an opportune-time to escape from Woldia.

Time for a well-earned holiday, even though I say it myself.


9 responses »

  1. Your siege sounds a lot like my days with a certain toddler and his friends! You have my fullest empathy on needing privacy and peace. Maybe the word will get out that you have a stick now?!

  2. ‘Chigir yellem’ and ‘eisosh’ – the two phrases you’ll always hear when you least need them! I look forward to reading about your Tigray hike. Mekelle is where I did my placement.

    • Ayzosh! In the beginning I found it so terribly unhelpful but now I hear myself saying it all the time! Did you learn Tigrayna Terri? It sounds so totally different to Amharic. Is it really difficult? I find the Amharic easy. Tigray is so beautiful by the way 🙂 x

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