The year is 1979, and I remember when my father (Gebeyehu Gote) and brother (Assefa Gote) dug the hole inside the house and buried the corn and barley in a big pot. Then they sealed the top and painted the floor with cow dung. If they don’t hide the corn the militia guys will come and burn it as ordered by the communist regime. A few days later the police came to our house and took my father and brother to Jinka prison just because they were the leaders of Koibe Kalehiwot Church. Then the church building was turned into government owned elementary school.
After six years going to that school, I went to Jinka Junior High School where I started wearing shoes and short pants, ate roasted corn for breakfast and boiled corn for super. It was a one-hour walk every day to school from Jinka Kalehiwot church compound to school for 5 days a week. The weekend trip from Jinka to Koiba both ways to get corn is unbearable! Sometimes I come back with nothing. I would take a shortcut through the mountains and walk to and from every weekend. It was a nine hour walk through the night.
At school, supplies were very low. Due to the lack materials, pens and pencils were often used by one person to write 3 or 4 lines and then passed to another student to use. The teacher would erase the notes while we share the pen/pencil and many of my friends went back to Koibe and never back to school. Finishing high school gave me the idea to ask government to build a medical clinic in Malli area; provide good desks, chairs, blackboards etc for the school and to build roads to connect one village to another.
Asking those and similar questions put me in Jinka prison in 1994. I was 22 when I was first arrested. I was in and out of prison several times, in different polices station jails. In total I spent 2 years at the Jinka Prison. At the Jinka Prison 50 people were locked in a 15X15 foot cell. The prison held over 500 people. Some of those were life sentenced murderers and criminals. On one occasion I was visited by International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC). It became a back and forth occurrence for 6 years. I did not sleep nor did we lay down for a minute. The room was overcrowded. There was not enough room, and everyone had to stand up and push the next person just to make room for themselves. Sometimes I got to rest a little during the day only to wake up to cellmates urinating on one another. By the help of the ICRC I was released from jail and started working in Turmi Health Center.
My best friend, Samuel Garsho , with whom I shared life in school and in jail was also released with me. After that, he joined the Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Revolutionary Front, the ruling party in Ethiopia. He was a team leader for a group of 16 people including himself (9 police and 7 politicians) that came to my office on Friday May 19 2000 at 3 pm and surrounded me. They found me outside in the compound and Samuel then started yelling and touching me in threatening ways saying: “You skin head! We are here today to finish you or to finish everything with you forever.
In 2007 Paulos (L) his brother assafa (R) and their now deceased father gebeyehu
In 2007 Paulos (R) reunited with samuel garsho and his family. Pastor Wes Midgett (L) with the group at Samuel's home.
That was the first and last word in English ‘skin head’ I had ever heard from him. I smiled and greeted him. I said; “Give me five minutes and I'll get ready for all you have for me.” Nobody heard our conversation!
I walked out of the compound very confidently for less than 200 meters between them and me. There were a few houses that provided some hiding places and I got to my home to get my wallet with my identification documents and left. I never turned my head towards them. That is it. I did not say goodbye to anyone. I started running when I felt safe to do.
There was an orthodox church just outside of Turmi town. Once I passed that I thought my fear was over but I was fearful until I got to snow covered Lethbridge, Canada. I walked about 10 km to Angude village where the elder and well respected Hammar man, Sora Mana, lives. I respected him and he knew about Mr. Samuel's political power increase.
He knew of my problems with the political leaders, and he listened to my story. I stayed there for 6 hours, just outside of Turmi Angude village. He decided to send a man to town see how the situation looked. The man come back around 9:30 pm with the news that most of my friends were arrested and some were taken to Dimeka police station, which is about 25km from Turmi. I was afraid to go back to the worst jail forever or be killed. The man said the search for you is extended as far as Woito bridge 100km from Turmi. As things were getting worse, we started our journey at 11:00pm, under the cover of darkness. Sora, with his gun, and I with my club and just the shirt and pants I was wearing. He walked with me for 65 kilometers towards the Karo tribe and the village of Kibish at the Kenyan border. Sora left me at Karo, fearing for his life as the Bume tribe will kill him if he traveled further. So I walked on alone, choosing to die in the bush or walk my way to safety.
I spent my days in the bush, and night time was for walking. It was dangerous as the reptiles and other wild animals use the night to survive. The local tribes (Hammar, Karo, Bume, Geleb, and Turkana) are always fighting one another. For most of the trip, on the roadways, I walked backwards hoping to fool anyone tracking me. I would run through the bush when there were no roads. I stayed two nights just outside of Kangaton where I ate their food and drink water. After careful assessment and direction of the Kenya Ethiopia border situation from those wonderful Bume elders I started my journey towards the direction they pointed out on that day. It is hard to know some times in the night whether I am on the right direction or not. After 12 hrs of walking that night all I said to God was “I love the people and the country but without my intention just only for deserving best for them I have been forced to flee the country. However, I know you will guide me through my destination and bring me back to share their burdens in the near future.” The final words in the land of desert. (Continued on A Refugee in Kenya).
My name is Paulos Gote. My goal is to help the people of South Omo improve their lives. I do that by bringing peace, joy and opportunity through new ideas, projects and investments.
The meeting with Wes Midget, pastor of Central Church of Christ, has triggered the ideas and projects and investments that have started a small transformation in the South Omo region.
Education is the main hope for the people of South Omo region. Strengthening the education system, bringing more teachers and improving school facilities is of utmost importance.