By Dawit Endeshaw and Samuel Getachew
Life in the small village of Cheffe Donsa, Ejere, in Oromia Regional State, is almost always calm and peaceful. That was until an accident with connection to many nations and lives changed its narrative forever. When the Ethiopian Airline plane, Boeing 737-8MAX jetliner,nose-dived, instantly killing 157 people in the heart of the sleepy village on a quiet Sunday morning, people were just waking up, performing everyday chores.
“We heard a loud noise and when we got closer, the flame overwhelmed us and the fire was too much to help” one villager said.
“We were helpless to help but it was a surreal moment”, an elderly man told The Reporter.
This village, far from the reality of the capital, would never be the same. The lives of towering personalities have ended here and many will forever know the place for the accident and nothing more. The villagers seem too aware of it.
“I have never seen this many people come to our villager. We have little resources to share with them and express our sadness,” a young man said.
Generous, giving, forever changed are the people of this village.
Welcome to the village of Ejere – a quiet, dignified place with little inhabitants, farmers and modest income with some dotted African mud huts. A village that is expected to be talked about for generations, attached to the biographies of a mixture of scientists, public servants, tourists and diplomats that were headed to Nairobi.
What happened here, the tragedy, the unfinished biographies of those from 35 nations is to be one of the tragic events in the history of Ethiopia. Like the civil war, the droughts that have defined Ethiopia, what has taken place in Ejere will be studied and scrutinized for generations.
The news of what had occurred has now shaken and forever changed the lives of thousands of people, many which have since descended to Ethiopia looking for an answer, which has become hard to come by.
No recovered bodies, many body parts that have yet to be identified, a black box that is being looked at in France, the diversify of faces – it has been generations when the affairs of Ethiopia has affected so many – local, but International.
It was the Office of the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed which was the first to tell the world that the now grounded Boeing 737 Max-8, flight number ET302 was in an accident. That was before the airline had a chance to contact families. Families found out about what may have happened to their loved one, in midair, via social media.
“A neighbor knocked on my door and told me my daughter was dead after watching it on TV,” a man who was mourning his daughter told The Reporter. “She was not supposed to be on duty, but she was compensating for the time she took off, when she was sick and was called in at the last minute”.
She was the younger of his daughters, whose humble beginning was being changed by the chance she got to serve Ethiopian Airlines as a hostess, one of the many faces of the continents leading airline.
“The Office of the PM, on behalf of the Government and people of Ethiopia, would like to express its deepest condolences to the families of those that have lost their loved ones on Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 on regular scheduled flight to Nairobi, Kenya this morning,” the Prime Minister tweeted.
The accident have impacted the lives of many across the world, in addition to the crew members, United Nations officials heading to a UN Environmental Conference, a high school teacher from Canada, researchers from Nigeria, plenty of charity workers from Norway, linguistic experts from Egypt, to many to least. Many lives lost, more interrupted and every sphere of lives affected.
ElsabetMinwuyelet, a crew member of ET302, joined Ethiopian Airlines as hostess (a cabin crew) four years ago after graduating from Addis Ababa University in Mechanical Engineering. She was attracted to flying, in a profession whose privilege has dwindled but afforded many a chance to travel the world for free and be exposed to the outside world.
She married her long time friend and eight month ago she gave a birth to a baby. Life was full of adventures and hers was hectic but she always spares a time to spend with her family.
She, in fact, promised her husband to go to Langano lakes with him in the same day the accident occurred.Unfortunately, she couldn’t!
The family and friends also heard about the accident on television.
She lived with her husband and eight months old baby in the outskirt of Addis Ababa, Kality where she led a decent life.
“Her tragic death was like a hurricane for the family and friends, a friend of Elsabet told The Reporter.
She had married her sweetheart straight out of university and had hoped to travel the world as a hostess and afford her daughter privilege and the international exposure she barely knew when she grew up. Her wedding was huge, attended by hundreds of people and her extended families were there to share her milestone.
Like her big wedding, her funeral was attended by hundreds of people, draped in dark black. Her mother cried uncontrollably, her husbandfainted, her sisters hid inside the room she grew up in. Holding on to several photos of her, her mother demanded to know, where her daughter was. She cried and made everyone cry for her.
How could you not, when the tragedy of what has happened has overwhelmed even the strangers who had come for the farewell of a young woman. Just remember, her 8 month old will never know her mother, her young husband is to be a widow and her parents will always wonder, what could have been, had she lived.
In addition to Elsabet, her neighborhood also marked the death of another colleague, not far from her parents sprawling house.
AyantuGirmaye, 24 was the second daughter for her family. Coming from a working class family, where her father is a police officer and her mom is a house maid, she gave them hope. They saw her as a special daughter who came give them a second chance in life. She did.
Children in the neighborhood thought she was a pilot and they want to be like her, said TesfaMezigbu, a family member who spoke to The Reporter.
She was gracious, dignified and with a university to boot, she had changed the lives of her family members. She had bought them gifts, paid for the schooling of her cousins and renovated the house she lived in, giving it the modernity it did not have.
“I don’t know how I can explain her tragic death to my kids,”Tesfa said. “She was everything to me and to them. My heart is broken and it will be hard to mend it going forward”.
Ayantu’s family also heard the tragic news on TV. As soon as the news said an accident had happened to a plane headed to Kenya, they knew their daughter was in it. She had told them she was heading there. They just screamed, hopped she had missed her flight, but that was unlike her. She was a serious woman, who took her position seriously and was almost always early for her shift.
She knew her job has opened doors, not only to her, but her family.
"I have nothing left. She kissed me goodbye when she left that would be the last I would see of her. I am heartbroken. It is just hard to believe," GirmaDesasa, father of Ayantu told The Reporter.
She joined the airline in 2017 after finishing her University in Applied Biology from Debr Tabor University. She wanted to be a hostess, but she did not think she had a chance. The petite woman was said to have second thoughts when she had applied. She thought she was too short for the work that the airline required.
When she was accepted, she was delighted. Her job gave her the resources she needed, but also the confidence to be a professional woman.
Grieved for her loss, Ayantu’s mother, KibebuLegesse was too emotional to talk. Wearing all black, she called her daughter’s name, wanting to converse with her.
“My daughter, my daughter, I am your mother, let me replace you, my beloved daughter,” she screamed inside a white tent that was constructed for the memorial.
Not far from her, Ayantu’s uncle was holding to the perfume and Champaign she had brought him from a recent work trip abroad. She has always been generous to him and adored his children. He saw her as a role model to them and him, her favorite uncle. He was impressed how much she has matured as a young age and saw a bright future for her.
He was too emotional to list all he loved about her. “I love her,” he said, using the present tense.
“I can never find closure, unless I have and bury my daughter’s body,” her father cried, as finding her body become a farfetched dream for them and for many others.