Zemecha Revisited


The noble aim of the grand " 1985 Resettlement program " was to transport people from the draught stricken northern part of Ethiopia and have them settle down in the lush south. To facilitate this move Addis Ababa University (and all other higher institutions in Ethiopia) was closed for 2 months and students and faculty alike were transported to either Gambella or Metekel to build tukul huts......thus named  "Zemecha"

I was in Gambella in a camp called Oubella....

Along the way we camped in Metu


Girum  in Metu

The camp at Oubella housed approximately 3000 people either in a tent city or makeshift halls.

Oubella tent city, I stayed 2 months with 9 other geology students in the tan tent at front center.


I am the one up on the roof trying hard to cover it with plastic sheet to prevent it from leaking during the summer torrential rains.....the ones arguing below are Girum and Wondwossen.


Being in a tent, however crowded, was better than the large halls because the grass on the thatched roof started to decay and produced worms that frequently dripped down on the occupants below....scary at first but not that big of a deal as one gets used to it....

Here are some familiar names from the grand Zemecha;



They gallantly crossed miles and miles of treacherous jungle to visit our camp, I dare question what kept them alive ???? Was it may be the hunting knife of Dereje, proudly displayed by his side or Zewdu's working gloves which say I am ready to take on whatever comes my way.....


Once we learned how to distinguish between the "mager", "werag" and "meseso",  and how to make ropes either from a bark of a tree or by weaving from the abundantly available tall grass, we were able to construct huts of superior form.


hut frame

Frames only .... it looked like this.... The sturdiness of the structure can be estimated from the number of people on the roof....quite impressive don't you think ... given that there was neither cement nor nails available......


In the midst of all the hardship, there was always time for fun

Rehearsing for the campfire


The special place where we all tried to find peace and tranquility


The impromptu melodies from Abraham kept us all going


Abraham in red shirts, I am the one with the cap on and Girum polishing his plates after a hearty meal in the jungle


Here is an example of the final product


Now this was the last structure built by the geology group, but the earlier ones were nicknamed "atenkugn" or please do not touch or for that matter do not even sneeze loudly close-by, because... you guessed it right ...they used to topple over.... especially the ones built by the engineers...Eskinder...Dawit Zena, Dereje Gugsa, Khalid Yusuf...were frequently under the building safety code regulations......go figure...

Thousands of huts were built during the 2 months period, but how many of the huts would still be standing now.... and how many people actually used them ...we will never know....but this I can say.. it was one of the most unforgettable 2 months of my life......