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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Tedros, his wife, his 7-year-old daughter and his parents cannot stop the accusations of witchcraft. Despite holding reconciliatory meetings with community members in their village in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, their names and the names of other Jews continue to surface during Christian exorcism ceremonies.

During these ceremonies, an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian priest pours water over the huddled, naked bodies of those believed to be possessed by budas, or evil spirits. They turn maniacal and cry out the name of the buda they believe possesses them.

“They will shout, ‘I am Tedros! I saw this person walking, and I sucked their blood!’” he said. “‘Now I am in this person!’” Once a person is named as a buda and condemned, threats of violence from the Christian majority begin trickling in. Tedros and other Ethiopian Jews spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisal.

Like many Jews in Ethiopia, Tedros spent most of his youth involved with causes he didn’t believe in. He joined the Orthodox Christian Church when he was 5 to deflect suspicions of his Jewishness. Now 57, he still publicly pretends to be a Christian.

As a young man, he was forced to enlist in Ethiopia’s army to defend the brutal Derg government in the 1980s. Led by Mengistu Hailemariam, the regime created an atmosphere of terror by executing students, teachers and political activists believed to support opposition parties and strewing their bodies in public areas. Instead of fighting, Tedros ran away to Kenya, where he remained for 15 years before returning to Ethiopia at the start of the millennium.

The Derg was replaced by the iron-fisted Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front in 1991, after years of fighting, and Ethiopia is now one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The national zeitgeist against Jews, however, has stayed much the same. Jews in North Wollo, the province where he and his family live, were persecuted when he left, he said, and they are still being persecuted there.

Read the rest over at Al Jazeera America.

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A GRAMMAR OF VISION: Rachel Paprocki’s “Water In The Desert”

Another half hour toting our melons in the desert heat brought us to the top of the hill. Cave openings were pocked like honeycomb into the facing hillside, between us a small gorge of low but moving water and a steep decline of loose desert dust and stones. We didn’t explore the possibility of a more official way into the grottoes further up the road, opting to skitter directly downward into the wash below to the beginning of a boardwalk that stretched alongside the stream of water running between the two hills.

A chain was strung across the path, a sign hanging from it with Mandarin characters that I rightly assumed read something like, “Grottoes closed, do not enter.” MJ and I stood before the sign for a minute before I surprised myself by tucking my melon to my chest and crawling under the chain. I padded on hot, dirty feet to a patch of shade underneath a tree growing out of the stream, sitting down to empty my shoes of the gravel they’d collected. MJ found a sharp stone to cut open our melons from the wagon man, working a jagged, gravelly line around my cantaloupe’s equator. It pried apart with a snap, bursting full of flesh and so many seeds that seemed a shame to waste. I left the refuse beside the tree in the damp cool of the bank.

Stomachs full with the sweet moisture of the melon, we walked beside and then upstream in the water, around and away from the raucous musical laughter of the small group of local children. They too had ignored the “do not enter” sign, and were now chucking rocks into the stream. They were either oblivious to or unimpressed by the dark cave openings looming in the hillside above them, but I kept glancing up as I waded, curious about their insides. Soon there was no one to be seen or heard but MJ and me.

We wandered away from one another to be truly alone for the first time in nearly a year.

Proud to present new writing and photography by Rachel Paprocki over at A Grammar of Vision.

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South Sudan’s President Refuses to Endorse Peace Deal as Deadline Passes

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir today refrained from endorsing an internationally backed peace deal aimed at ending almost two years of war between his government and rebel forces loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president.

Representatives of the two leaders had been discussing the deal in Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa since August 6, working on a resolution that would forestall the threat of increased sanctions from the United States, likely through the United Nations or the European Union.

Read the rest over at VICE News.

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South Sudan Leaders Start Up Talks to End Bloody Civil War — Again

Once again, leaders from South Sudan, the world’s newest country, are meeting in Addis Ababa to try and negotiate a lasting peace deal between the current government and rebels loyal to the ex-vice president. And once again, both parties have started the dialogues with chins raised and arms crossed, seemingly opposed to, and insulted by, most suggestions of compromise.

Yet while they hash out negotiations amid catered luncheons, air conditioned UN conference rooms, and posh hotels in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the next 11 days, thousands upon thousands of their civilians are still suffering from bombings, starvation, and some of the worst human rights abuses in recent history.

Read the rest over at VICE News.

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Ethiopians Aren’t Optimistic That Obama Can Help End Country’s Human Rights Abuses

In contrast to the exultant reception that greeted Obama in Kenya, Ethiopians were much more subdued ahead of his visit. Though an increase in security was palpable, with military helicopters patrolling the skies and American security personnel in evidence, the day-to-day remained largely unchanged.

When asked if he thought Obama would bring any change, a 26-year old who asked to be identified only as Gebre shook his head dismissively before replying, “He’s just another person.”

“All these people come here,” he said, referring to the stream of diplomats that pour into Addis Ababa for African Union or United Nations events, stay a few nights in swanky hotels, and then fly back to their countries on private jets. “All they do is make more traffic.”

Read the rest over at VICE News.

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South African Police Acted Without ‘Command and Control’ in Marikana Mine Massacre

Despite Marikana’s legacy, mine workers in South Africa are still battling for a better quality of life. Platinum miners at South Africa’s three largest platinum producers staged a 5-month strike at the beginning of last year to demand an increase in monthly wages from $480 a month to $1,200.

The platinum strike, which was South Africa’s longest and most costly mining strike to date, was quelled when producers agreed to increase the salaries of their lowest-paid workers by approximately $86 a month. This year gold miners are insisting on similar demands. Unions representing nearly 93,000 employees in the sector began negotiations with producers this past Monday to discuss their push for low-paid workers to receive pay increases ranging between 80 to more than 100 percent.

Workers in Marikana still live in shacks, and the roads are littered and unpaved. Munshi described the widows of Marikana workers as inheritors of a difficult life, in which they work the same mines as their deceased husbands once did. It is common policy for family members to take over mining jobs when a loved one dies in South Africa, but the widows face special hardship as they still lack access to basic services and do not have time to care for their children.

Read the rest over at VICE News.

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A Grammar of Vision 2: For Mohamed Amiin

Behind me are stacks of cardboard boxes. Their sides are printed with the name of a local mineral water company. Scotch tape holds their flaps from opening. Inside each one are the remnants of a person, though with their permanent marker notes and blushes of dust it is as if they are the forgotten miscellany from a residential move.

After DNA tests are run on these bones, the commissioner tells me, the War Crimes Investigation Commission will contact the family members that are still alive and give them the bones for burial. A final burial. I am shown photos of the most recent one. A crowd of people in a badland, centered by a coffin wrapped in white cloth, and the women’s faces frozen in anguish as if the death had just occurred, or had been accumulating within them for more than two decades.

How do you reflect or comment on a conflict that has no relation or significance to your life? This is the first question that arose. Can we say that there is a conflict that has no relation or significance to our lives? I remember coming home from class in 7th grade to find my entire family on the couch. Like all others in America – and many throughout the world, I’ve learned from traveling – they were watching TV. I was worried we would go to war. Why would this worry me, at 12 years old? Why would I not be worried about the smoking towers and the people like me inside them? Like an animal, my heart beat violently and I was ready to hide but I did not understand. Like all other living things – maybe even the trees, and maybe even the carrots and heads of lettuce in the fields – I knew war was the great absurdity. If it came, even if I never saw it, I knew I would never again live a life like I had been living up to then.

Read the rest over at A Grammar of Vision.

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