Hello, dear members of Mediterranea.
Having just returned from Ethiopia, I would like to tell our story starting with the last day of our visit.
I don't know if you are already aware that Ethiopia is the country with the most international and local non-governmental organisations in the world.
Within these organisations there are all sorts of activities taking place of both a legal and illegal nature. There are those which do a marvellous job, those who use the organisation as a covert, illegal operation, those who turn a blind eye, take advantage, exploit and steal from their employees. Unfortunately, there exists an abundance of the latter. Theft and deceit are very common. When you do not give in and you stand up to them then their revenge is unrelenting, lasting for years because they never forget.
As you know our former representative was caught red-handed and we dismissed him. We also managed to remove the Edir of Yekas' president from his post for theft.
Both of these incidents took place at the beginning of this year 2009.
They swore vengeance and I imagined that their revenge would take the form of some sort of street brawl.
It is a well known saying in Ethiopia: It's easy to suffer "an accident." But their revenge tactic was unexpected.
Adugna Tesfaye Woldekirkos and Tadesse Mengesha (former representative and the Edir's former president) have made an official complaint about our organisation to the Ministery of Justice, accusing us of using our school project as a covert operation in trafficking with children.
Both of our accusers know that this is an issue of great concern to the Ethiopian authorities and is being dealt with conscientiously because the trafficking of children is rife both in and outside of this country.
We work with children.We do our absolute utmost to ensure that our children either stay with their family or if this is impossible that they are never left alone or abandoned to their luck.
We educate, feed them and support the most vulnerable families. We finance their keep with foster parents when there are no living relatives.
These mafia types must feel very happy with themselves. Their revenge plan was set in motion.
I was arrested and accompanied to the Federal prison where I was questioned by the National Security Police.
On the last day of our stay, we made our way to the school to meet the parents and children. There were two secret police officers waiting for me with an order of arrest in my name and stating the reason for the arrest.
The situation was so surreal that I was convinced that I was involved in a Spanish Candid Camera type programme, or "pranked" as they call it in America. Unfortunately, it was NO joke!
When I realised that this was serious stuff, I attempted to call the Spanish Embassy but the secret police would not permit me to make any calls. On the way to the police station, I managed to pass my mobile to my daughter with the telephone number of the Spanish Embassy which luckily I had on me.
On arrival at the prison, they allowed Zerihun (our present representative) to accompany me as I was led to interrogation room number 72.
A long interrogation by three officers about the accusation began.
Zerihun explained to the officers exactly how our organisation functions.
He explained that we support, finance and encourage but make none of the vital decisions relating to the school.
He informed them that we are not officially registered (up to now, it has not been a priority and the Edirs know this), it is legal to work as we do without registering officially as long as you are working directly and under the authority of the Edir.
Zerihun explained everything very clearly.
We provide three meals a day for almost 400 children.
At the moment we provide employment for 44 people. The school is growing and therefore it will soon be necessary to provide paid employment for more Ethiopians.
We provide reading and writing lessons for 130 adults.
We have been helping families in need so that they do not have to give up their children to institutions or worse due to poverty.
We provide phones for the needy so that they can mantain contact with their own Edir.
This stage of the questioning took two hours. The policeman didn't stop for lunch in order to complete the investigation as soon as possible.
Then it was my turn.
I told them that I could imagine who my accusers were, their names and why they had decided to falsely report me to the police.
All of my statement was hand-written by a policeman on carbon copy. Time passed by slowly and I really did not know how long or where all of this procedure was leading.
They asked me for my grandmother's name, my ethnic origin, my religion and where I was born.
When I said I was born in Barcelona, one of them said," OK, let's prove it."
One of the office workers took a picture of Fabregas out of his desk drawer as if it was a photo of a member of his family and asked me "Who is this"?
I am not a football fan, so I hadn't got a clue. I told him I didn't know.
He couldn't believe that I was Spanish, from Barcelona and not know who Fabregas is. He was very disappointed in me.
The policeman kept writing and writing...
Meanwhile, there were constant phone-calls from people asking about me and other "supporters"(pardon the pun) were turning up at the police station.
Ato Tamarit from the Abugida school stormed in from Akaki.
The chief of all of the kebeles of Akaki Kalti called to speak to the police. There were calls from the Birhan school, the accountant, the workers, the present Edir's assistants, the accountant turned up at the police-station, the priest calls.
Much later, I discover that the families and the employees from the Yeka school had intended to gather en masse outside the prison. Fortunately, they were advised not to do so because the repercussions could have been disastrous for them where as I am just a foreigner passing through. I appreciate immensely their solidarity.
After a series of never-ending hours, I was "asked" to sign innumerable papers.
I asked Zerihun to read them all because I didn't want to sign anything without knowing what it was but it became a frantic, impossible task.
The policeman was hungry (I pretended to be faint with hunger too in order to try and speed up the process) but the policeman would listen to no excuses and said "too bad, I'm also hungry and this has to be done."
Zerihun explains that the last part is the important part because it states that I am innocent of all charges.
Zerihun asked who had reported me and the policeman said that I knew fine well who our accusers were. Everything fell into place. Now, the Yeka thieves were not only in trouble with the police for theft but now they were in real, deep, more serious trouble for false testimony.
While we were in the interrogation room, my daughter called the embassy to tell them "my mother has been arrested."
The Spanish consul could not be located but his representatives came immediately to the prison. The police not only refused to allow them to enter but also confiscated their mobile phones.
When we left the Federal prison Zerihun told me that we had been very, very fortunate because every person who enters that prison has to spend at least one night there until their case is clarified.
I suppose that this was my accusers intention. They knew that the accusation wouldn't stick but their revenge plan consisted of me having to spend a night in a cell.
Looks like they are the ones who are going to spend at least one night in jail.
This morning, I received an email from Tadesse Mengesha, the former president of the Edir of Yeka.
This is the message he sent me.
"The whistle is blown and the game has started, many more goals to be scored yet!!!! HAhahahahaha........!"
Football madness...yet again!
The police will, of course, receive a copy of this message.
From this page, I send my most profound thanks to Zerihun without whom there might have been a very different outcome. Thank you so much.