Monday, June 20, 2011

A flower for you

Dear Co-walker,

The three days I had planned to reach Zamora became two. You'll read how this came about.

Zamora is the end of the second part of my pilgrimage. Only one part to go. I'm in for it. Are you? Let us go together for the first part of the bus for FSA in Ethiopia, the most important part because it carries the motor..! Don't let the abused women in Ethiopia down, please!
Follows my story of the last two days.

18/6: to El Cubo de la Tierra del VinoThis pilgrim departs from this fantastically symmetric Plaza Mayor. A blind man could have done this road out of the city: straight and due North ending up at the N630, a north-South road in this country on which or along which I have walked already a couple of times. In fact it is never far away. What the blind man could have smelt is the blossom of the lime tree. No bees around yet, not because it is too early, but because it is too cold...... I felt last night cold sitting on the Plaza Mayor wearing only a shirt in a freezing wind. Not the ideal night for such a wonderful spot!

Also this morning it is overcast, which suits me fine while walking. Off I go after yesterday's rest, not knowing who walks in front of neither whether there is somebody following me..... All on my own: also that suits me fine! This pilgrim goes slowly because his plan is not to walk more than some 16 km and to be for three days on the road to Zamora instead of the usual two. But plans are there to be changed! When a group with a German girl, two Americans and an Italian man comes along I let them pass and follow at a distance. E meet a couple of villages later, the place where I intended to spend the night. It is 11 in the morning and except for one open bar, there is nobody to be seen...It looks as if this will be so for the rest of the day. This makes me decide not to sleep here but to continue for another 20 km and hence reach Zamora in two days. We walk together for some time during which I talk to Veronika a student in packing technology in Berlin. Then I go ahead through the sweeping hills with extensive fields of wheat and barley, sunflowers and even some beet... Then a woman carrying a bunch of field flowers approaches and this pilgrim makes room for her to pass.... But that is not her intention; she comes straight towards me and hands me one of her flowers.... A bit taken aback I accept the flower of which she mentions the name (which I forgot!) and she starts talking... I think I got that something was wrong with the wife of her brother...and please when you reach Santiago, pray for her...! But my Spanish is so rudimentary and it could well be that she meant something else...... Anyway, praying for the wife of her brother at Santiago is not a bad thing. So... I carry the flower for the rest of the day in the sachet I carry on my chest with the guidebook in it. With the sun beating down merciless the rest of the day you can imagine, dear Co-walker, that it wasn't fresh anymore at night!

I feel good after this meeting and have no problems making these last 20 km. At the albergue I find the door closed. Try once more pushing a bit harder...and it opens. I choose a bed and shower. Then the others arrive and I move to a bar to look for a Wi-Fi environment. I hardly sit down when an angry man approaches me wearing a badge which tells me that he works for the albergue. He summons this pilgrim to come immediately to the albergue, which I do. There he waits for me and wants an explanation on how I entered, alledging that I forced the lock of the door....which is not completely untrue!

The local grocery is still open at 8 at night so each of us does his shopping for the following day. Our Italian friend shops for the group for dinner that night, because the albergue has a kitchen. We eat fish pasta together and enjoy a bottle of wine.

19/6: to ZamoraThe others had a bad night. Not me. By chance none of the three Spanish cyclists who slept in the same room as I did, was snoring..... We are up at six and the angry man of last night is up as well. He prepares coffee for us and offers some sweet cakes. I prepare some sandwiches with ham bought last night. With some fruit that will keep me going this day with starts again surprisingly cold. Very cold actually. I enjoy the first rays of the sun which casts such special light on the fields and flowers. That's the time to make photographs. I miss the bar in the next village and when at the end of it I enjoy my bread, the others come along after visiting the bar...! We exchange some words and the I go ahead admiring nature. No main road, all through the fields. It is much the same as yesterday though I had expected to see more vineyards because this area is called “Tierra del Vino”, whereas the area North of Zamora is called “Tierra del Pan” (land of bread). Gradually the vineyards appear...but not a grape to be seen. All the vines have been cut to the root last autumn and the young sprouts are empty. So, Co-walker, don't buy a bottle of 2011 from this simply doesn't exist!

When Zamora appears at the horizon, it is still a long walk. The wind celebrates Sunday as the heat is felt. Crossing the Rio Duero by bridge into the city and soon I am on the Plaza Mayor which is not to compare with that beauty in Salamanca.... But Zamora has something else. It has (with Sevilla) famous Holy week processions and they even have a museum opened for this..... Unfortunately it is Sunday. I find a cheap hostal and am lodged for the night.

Now you are up to date, dear Co-walker. Follow me on the third and last part of the this pilgrimage,

Be well and at peace,
says Jan, the pilgrim

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Dear Co-walker,

Here we go again. Hope you're still walking with me because the middle part of that vehicle for FSA in Ethiopia is nearly a reality! Salamanca is around the corner and then Zamora. Unbelievable how fast time goes! I've finished over half of this Camino already!

Enjoy reading my story:

12/6: Cáparra
Last night before dinner a meeting convened to discuss the route of today. The guidebook suggests a 40km stretch, which is too long for this feast of Pentecost, so we are looking for an alternative. While discussing this, Signora Elena overhears us, she goes in, comes back with a piece of paper and finds herself a place at the table where we sit. She starts drawing from the bottom of the paper, and explaining, which she does many times a year, I guess, because many pilgrims have probably the same problem as we have. It turns out that the paper isn't long enough, so she continues drawing on the table....! Quite something.
This morning we set out with the paper of Elena, leaving the table where it is! Right at the end of the village we make already a mistake which is corrected after half an hour with the help of a farmer who ties his donkey to a tree and explains.... We go back, find the right track and off we go again. We leave the fertile valley in which Carcaboso lies, and climb up to walk for the rest of the day over the old Calzada Romana of which hardly anything is left over except the old milestones here and there. Long grass often obscures the path. Huge stones to the right and left. From where do they come, how did they end up here? Unbelieveble! When the path opens up to a sandy track we stop and see a huge heart made of red stones, right in the middle of the road, with the text: happy birthday, Hiro. It is our Japanese friend's birthday! He is visibly moved by this act of attention. Tonight we will properly celebrate. We continue walking for another couple of hours till Cáparra along the same path in between stone walls. Capárra is an old Roman settlement which still has this fantastically preserved granite arch, built by a general in honour of his parents! Also the ruins of the village are to be admired. There we phone a hostal, the owner of which picks us up by car. We do our normal things like washing and resting. In the evening we meet to celebrate Hiro's birthday with a real cake with candles and a bottle of liquer. A beautiful and sunny Pentecost feast it was! The Spirit all over.....

13/6: Bagnos de Montemayor
The spirits were all over last night as well..... Still we manage tto get up reasonably in time to take up our walking. The owner of the hostal shows us an alternative route which connects us after about 4 km with the Camino. Same kind of track as yesterday: the old cazada romana meandering along the hills, avoiding the heights. It is wide, lined with age-old stone fences. None of the orginal pavement is left, only a sandy path which becomes increasingly muddy because water comes down from the mountains. We manage avoiding wet feet only by using the stones which earlier pilgrims have put ready for us.... Huge bolders and corkoak catch the eye, and so walk after a number of hours enjoying the surroundings into Villanueva for a rest, We find a small shop to buy a couple of things and sit down for a decent cup of coffee and a rest. The celebrartioj of last night is felt..... Up again and the last 10 km to Bagnos de Montmayor, a famous spa in this area. The romans discovered healing water , used it themselves and made others use it till now. It is a small town full of hotels and hostals for people coming from everywhere to get rid of respiratory troubles.....because of the water! I'm not sure, dear Co-walker, but water is good anyway....! Bagnos de Montemayor, high at a pass in the mountains, is also the border between the regions Extramadura, which we leave, and Castilla y Leon, which we enter. At the same time we leave the province of Caceres and enter the province of Salamanca....... We go fast I realize, the town of Salamanca only a couple of days away. Our Catalan friends Nuria and Cesc are already there with info where to to find a bed fitting our purses...... We roll out our mats in a municipal hostal which is at the same time a kind of museum of the Calzada Romana: spacy and restful.

14/6: Valverde de Valdelacasa
After a rest late afternoon yesterday we meet again in town to take properly leave of our Catalan friends Cesc and Nuria. These young people are tremendous. Very alive, very cumminicative, very caring. We grew close in not more than a week.... We eat and drink, time running away from us. It is late when the last goodbye sounds before going to sleep. They will stay on in bed a bit as we try and leave early to make a 33km stretch....!
We leave the town via the original and unspoilt Cazada Romana, reach the pas and cross into Castilla y Leon. Ee follow the same Calzada here but the roman pavement isn't anymore there. A sandy path/road is our way. Beautiful flowers, birds I never heard before! The valley in front of us is again different from the one of yesterday. The holdings are much smaller. Cows with an unusual colour. Grazing areas smaller and fenced in using granite slaps and barbed wire. It is really not difficult walking, dear Co-walker, but Hiro, our Japanese companion, does have his day. Too much celebrations! His rucksack is heavy and he starts walking with his body weighing to the right.... At Calzada de Bejar we take a rest and Hiro decides hat he is not continuing with us: he's too tired. We rest foor a long time, have a coffee and he seens fit again to go for an another our till the next village. Ralph, one of our German friends exchanges his rucksack with Hiro, and off we go again. It helps because without resting anymore we reach Valverde de Valdelacasa where we look for a roof to sleep under. Signora Sisi has the key to a house where we find beds and water... There is no shop in the village, but it has a bar at the community house where signora Rebecca opens the kitchen for us..... In save hands again for the night!

So, dear Co-walker, That's my story of the last three days,
Thanks for walking with me.
I hope and wish you're in good shape and happy,
says Jan, the pilgrim

Monday, June 6, 2011

Another Pilgrim

Dear Co-walker,

The first part of three is a fact, and late this morning this pilgrim walked into Merida. This means that the back part of the bus for FSA in Ethiopia ( is a fact, at least I believe it is! Now up to the middle part when I start walking tomorrow direction Zamora for the second lap. You keep walking with me, don't you?

What follows is a report on the last three days walking:

June 2nd: to Don Benito
When I came back to the sportshall last night to lie down on my mat, I nearly stood on the head of another person...and got a fright! Another pilgrim was given permission to use the same place to sleep, which is ok but I didn't know! The head veered up from the sleep and she introduces herself as Heidi from Austria. I also introduced myself and much further the conversation did not go. Though I must confess that I was happy not to be last pilgrim for this season. Heidi had heard some five days ago that a Dutchman was ahead of her, and seeing my mat had decided this must belong to the Dutchman...... This morning both of us rose early. Since I had packed quicker I gave her the keys to the place together with the instructions what to do with it, and this pilgrim left. 

Same beautiful landscape as yesterday, slightly more agricultural activities because the soil isn't as stony as it was yesterday. Much weat and also hortoculture like tomatoes and pumpkins. Saw a donkey draw a plough...! Loads of storks circling in the air, looking for their breakfast! No problem to them since there is plenty of water and marshland. I also met an enormous herd of sheep being brought to a different grazing ground by two men and two dogs. Fabulous to see how skilfully these dogs keep the herd together and drive it forward. After about 16km I stopped in a place called La Haba looking for a breakfast myself. I leave my backpack outside the bar and have a coffee. After about 20 minutes who walks through the door? Heidi! Isn't that something? We have breakfast together and exchange information. I'm able to tell her about my sponsored walk and about the work FSA in Ethiopia is doing. I also give her the address for her to have a look at the site. Then we take leave of each other (again) and off she goes, using her Nordic walking sticks. This pilgrim follows at some distance having his walking stick at its usual place: over the shoulders. In this way we walk for another 6 km to Don Benito where I look for a place to sleep. Heidi continues because she walks on a tight schedule.

June 3rd: to San Pedro
Don Benito boosts a Saint James church which I wanted to see last night. Of course. Closed it was! The tourist office told me that it would open again at 9 at night..... Since that same office had a seal for my pilgrimpass, I got the pass stamped. I am not a collector of seals, but in the North of Merida one often can get only into places for the night when one has a pilgrimpass sealed at the various places.

This morning I went early again having checked on the road out of town the previous night. Still I have to ask to be sure. The yellow arrows leading the way are not always visible this early. Once out of town the Camino is a track sometimes very grassy and therefore difficult. In Medellin I take a coffee and something to eat, and after that small town this pilgrim has to make a difficult decision: either to take the short route and ford the river Bordalo, or take the longer route crossing the same river by a bridge, a difference of 7 km. I had decided for the longer option, but once at the junction I see myself going for the shorter route....! How flexible (or inpredictable!) one can be! This pilgrim follows the yellow arrows leading me through a flat fertile plane with maize, tomatoes and....yes, rice! On the other side of Medellin I had already noticed some submerged fields and got the idea that this could be for rice cultivation. And so it is. Plenty of water is provided by an intricate irrigation system which is being upgraded by funds from the EU. And where do I end up? Yes, at the bridge! How I don't know. This means that I'm much longer on the road than foreseen. It means as well that I am exceedingly tired once in San Pedro. But before that I pass extensive areas with fruit trees mainly plums of which I try one or two...Not really ripe yet! A pity.

June 4th: to Merida
An easy one today, only 14 km. I can do it on one leg, so to speak. Though it shouldn't be my right one because yesterday a blister has developed on my right heel...Too bad. After thousands of kms without ever having had even one blister, now it happens.... We will see to it tonight. The route is easy I wanted to say. To Trujillanos over an asphalted road next to the highway and later over a dirt road right to the edge of town. Many olivegroves again.
Once in town I work my way to the centre to find the tourist office closed. I have a coke at the Plaza de Espagna and walk North, the direction of the Camino, searching for a hostal. Meanwhile I have decided to continue walking tomorrow, having plenty of time this afternoon to see the city. And so this pilgrim plays the tourist.... I see the main attractions from the Roman time when Merida was the capital city of this part of the Empire. I saw the beautiful and spacy museum, I see the amphitheater, the theatre,the best preserved of all, I see the remains of an impressive aquaduct, and this pilgrim walks through the arch used by emperor Traian.....Feels great indeed!

Be well and God bless you,
says Jan, the pilgrim

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The River

This is the first story of Jan's journey to Santiago de Compostella. He walks for a good reason: saving for a van for FSA Ethiopia!

Dear Co-walker,
I wasn't going to write you before I would start my pilgrimage. Here I am still in Granada, enjoying being a tourist. This morning I got up before dawn to be able to buy a ticket for the Alambra. I maverveled at the palaces constructed by the Moslim kings in the 13th – 15th century, What a craftmanship! Now I can start my pilgrimage tomorrow morning....
I however would like to send you the following before that:


Yesterday I decided to explore the other side of the river. La Buhaira is a small and quite simple palace of a moslim merchant. Nothing splendid to be seen but very stylish. He loved water of which there is enough, still flowing as abundantly now as then. From there I walked to the Plaza de Espagna with its neo-gothic buildings in half a circle around the square which is laid in intricately with small riverstones forming beautifully morish patterns. From the square till the river one crosses a well kept garden with extraordinary trees, shrub and flowers. Reaching the river I crossed it by the Isabel II bridge.
This river is the Guadalquivir, carrying its water from the East. In fact I will cross its waters again in Cordoba in 7 or 8 days time. This river took care of Sevilla in the old days and gave it the splendour it has now. Sailingships crossing the oceans came back home loaded with the most expensive goods from the Americas and Cuba, and Sevilla had a monopoly in trading these goods and so one was able to build the cathedral, the palaces , the alcazar..... there is no end to the glitter...

But times have changed. Other nations took over the worldly power and Brittain came to rule the waves. Land was added and Sevilla is not anymore a seaport. The waters in de river got less. But still it plays an important part in the life of the city because tourists sit on boats to see the city from there, one can hire a cano or a peddleboat. One sees strong men play canoball. How skillfully they handle their peddles to manouvre the ball. An abundance of cycleroads and pedestrian walking ways and patches of green grass on which young people sit and pass the waterpipe to one anothe.r One of the arches of the Isabel II bridge is used by a group of youngsters to enhance their moountaineering skills, sweating profusedly. This pilgrim was asked to show his skills. As an answer I showed my biceps to the man who invited me. “Nada”, he said, nothing! And so it is.... He couldn't have asked me 40 years ago....he wasn't born when I was young! Everything has its time.
Rivers change, people change. The Mimosa tree finished flowering, not so the Jacaranda and the oleander with all possible coulours, flowering in the same way as when the ships came in a long time ago, filled with goods from far away. Also the water flows still into the same direction as at that time. So it has to be because a human being needs reassuring facts, isn't it?

Before I leave you, I was asked to convey the following, my dear Co-walker.
If you want an acknowledgment of receipt for your sponsormoney for FSA Ethiopia (see my previous entry), please add your address when donating. Our administrator will take care that you get an acknowledgement.

This it was for now. I hope to be back to you with my first 'real' story of my pilgrimage in a week's time.
Till then, be well and enjoy,
says Jan, the pilgrim.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On Gender Based Violence in Ethiopia

The mechanism of violence is what destroys women, controls women, diminishes women and keeps women in their so-called place.
—EVE ENSLER, A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer

By Ziade Hailu 
FSA - Program Officer

(Addis Ababa) In Ethiopia, woman have been suffering from the social, political, economic and cultural problems; the society  has failed to recognize  the problems until recently. So, gender based violence has remained to be the most pronounced ordeal of women in Ethiopia.

 Studies have shown that gender based violence takes place at the family, community and national level. At the family level, domestic violence occurs in the form of battering, marital rape, incest, female genital mutilation and early marriage. Rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, forced prostitution, domestic labor, migrant worker and pornography linked to violence against women   are rampant at the community level.

Forty-nine percent (49 percent) of Ethiopian women who have been in domestic partnerships have experienced physical abuse by a partner at some point in their lives and 29 percent during the past 12 months, according to findings published in 2005 by the World Health Organization’s Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women. Eight in 10 women believe there are some situations in which a husband is justified in beating his wife, according to the Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey.

Women in Addis Ababa have been subject to a range of expressions of violence. A study done by Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) in Addis Ababa shows that the most prevalent violence against school girls is sexual harassment, while the other most prevalent forms are spouse prevention from talking to other men and insulting, shouting angrily, refusing to talk to women respectively.

By the same token, the research stated that employed women are mainly exposed to threat of violence by employers. Violence experienced by house wives and employed women also include the threat of violence perpetuated by a husband or by a partner if the women come home late, locking women in a room, battering, damaging things of importance to the wife, refusing to give money for house hold expenses, refusing sex, marital rape, coming home late (husband), pressure to have sex with a female employee, and the threat of divorcé or separation.  

A study conducted by African Child Policy Forum in 2006 in Addis Ababa also revealed that  out of the 485 young women participating in the survey, 332 reported that  they had been sexually abused in one form or another. Based on this survey nearly seven in every ten girls are sexually abused in Addis Ababa. The study also stated that of the population sampled, three out of ten girls reported that they have been raped.

According to police investigation files on the crime of violence against women in Addis Ababa (1996-2002) most of the  crimes related to gender based violence were perpetuated  by men  known to the victims or with whom they have a close relationship. Out of 583 cases, only 97 were committed by men who were strangers to the victims.

Similarly the police report reveals that out of 210 rape cases, only 64 were committed by strangers. The rest were committed by people known to the victims like neighbors (65 cases) employers (31 cases) boy friends (21 cases), step fathers (10 cases). With regard to assault and battering, in 32 out of  251 cases  reported within the last seven years,  the crimes were committed by strangers.

Violence against women is a complex problem with medical, psychological, educational, social, cultural, economic, and legal and Rights dimensions. To effectively care for survivors and to stop inter –generational cycle of violence, all of these dimensions need to be addressed.

Family Service Association is doing its part with the support of its partners but the task at hand is so huge. We need to break the silence now.