Global Village Mysteries

Global Village Mysteries

a series by Deborah Rice


Gambella is a village


Gambela from the air (photo by Steven Schewe)
Gambela from the air (photo by Steven Schewe)

Gambella was a village of little more than 1,000 souls when Hannah Apple was born in the American mission station nearby in a remote corner of Ethiopia. She has remained there ever since–despite returning to the US for her nursing education and to raise funds for her work–through her marriage to a fellow missionary, the births of her children, the death of her husband, regime changes, the expulsion of most of the missionaries from the country, and her own departure from the mission framework.


Gambella is global


Gambella Agric-Tech College 2009 (photo fr
Gambella Agricultural-Technical College 2009 (photo fr

Although the village has grown to a town of over 30,000, it is still in many ways like an extended village. Hannah lives there as if it really were just a cluster of villages, and, to outside observers, seems to know at least someone of importance in every interest group in town: the animist or Protestant Nilotic cultivators and herders, long-established owners of these and the adjoining Sudanese grasslands; the anciently Orthodox-Christian farmers and managers from the Ethiopian Highlands; the Arab-influenced Muslims from surrounding nations; the developers and aid workers from Europe, the US, the UN; and opportunists from seemingly everywhere.


South Sudanese refugees in Gambella region. (photo MSF)
South Sudanese refugees in Gambella region. (photo Francois Servranckx/MSF)

The people who gather around Hannah’s always-simmering stew pot include such people as an Anuak elder whose village has been burned to the ground, ground a foreign agribusiness wants to lease from the government; a Canadian journalist deeply committed to publicizing events like these and arresting them before she is arrested herself; a Pakistani worker at the nearby SaudiStar megafarm; a Highlander priest from a Catholic order founded by the Portuguese in the 1500s, deeply involved in healthcare near the agribusiness developments; an Anuak fellow-member of a women’s micro-financed gardening coop, a target of controversy from agribusiness and conservative Anuak males alike; and, always, workers from a UN of nations in the several large camps near Gambella for refugees from the civil war in neighboring Sudan.


Solving Mysteries to bridge gaps


The Bridge wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye when Hannah was young. (photo fr

In fact, Hannah knows, and communicates effectively with, more people from more of the discreet and often clashing circles in Gambella than almost anyone else.  When there are situations that are heading towards an open outbreak of violence, worried relatives or elders or bureaucrats or politicians might come quietly to Hannah’s door to ask her if she could look into it, maybe talk to whoever she thought might be concerned and get them to see reason and do whatever had to be done to set things right and keep the peace.

Such situations could come from village spats or global crosscurrents colliding in her home town. Murder may have been done, or cattle stolen, a woman violated, a source of water of fish used without permission–anything that could rupture the skin of accord between jostling parties of any kind; relatives, tribes, ethnic groups, political parties, cultivators and herders, husband and wife, local farmers and foreign developers. Hannah is only too happy, in general, to oblige.  What some who watch her might find it hard to grasp is that Hannah is just trying to keep people she cares about from fighting.


Deborah and Hannah in Gambella


Behold the stalwart tuk-tuk taxi! Holds 4 plus driver, 3 wheels, no doors!

Deborah is glad Hannah took over the series she intended to write (See blogs “The Global Village” and “Coming of Age“), because it allows her to spend more time in Gambella, a place of central importance to her life. (See Deborah Rice page) She once lived there, working with Sudanese refugees through Church World Service and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, giving classes in sewing, health and English, doing home visits for leprosy, and helping cultivate experimental crops. She met her husband there.

Deborah is now burning up her keyboard writing Green Pastures, the first of the Global Village Mysteries.


To learn more about Deborah’s recent trip to Gambella, check out her Facebook page.