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Some days I have to pinch myself when I wake up just to make sure I’m not dreaming the adventures in my life. That’s what I did the morning we left the Maasai people (pictured here) and the ecolodge where we had been staying to begin our trip from Kenya into Ethiopia. Rieko and the kids and I were going to be visiting the Korem Plateau with documentary filmmaker Salim Amin, CEO and Managing Director of Africa24 Media and CameraPix.

We Bennetts flew back from the Maasai village to Nairobi and then on to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where we stayed in the Hilton that was probably straight out of the ‘60s. We met Salim there and then flew north to Mekele, stayed overnight, and drove all day through the steep mountain passes to get to our destination.

Salim is the son of Mohammed (“Mo”) Amin, the famous one-armed photojournalist who took photographs of the people who were victims of the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s. Many of those people had come to the Korem Plateau, where we were heading, to escape from the civil war and the drought only to die of starvation. Mo, already recognized by the international media for his talent, had snuck his images out of the country to BBC London in 1983. Those images were aired in Britain, then in New York on NBC. (At that time, it was the longest segment the American broadcaster had yet played on their news coverage.) His pictures brought the plight of the Ethiopian people to the world and led to an outpouring of humanitarian aid.

Remember Band Aid’s 1984 single “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” That first benefit album came about because Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats saw Mo’s images on the news and responded. That one song reached #1 in fourteen countries and raised 8 million pounds for famine victims within a year of its release. Then came the release of “We are the world” in America in March 1985 (raising another $64 million US) and the Live Aid concert in July (raising another 150 million pounds). The fact that Mo got that film out of the country and to the media probably saved a million lives.


All I could think about as we drove to the Korem Plateau was what had happened to the people here. Conservative estimates say that between 400,000 and 500,000 died in the famine, which lasted until 1985. The UN estimates up to a million. Millions more were made destitute. What shocked me when we stopped at the site of the “camps” was that there was no memorial to those who had died. Mo, the hero, had died in a plane crash in 1996 while trying to take control of the plane from Three of the young Ethiopian hijackers. I kept thinking as I listened to Salim tell me about his father, that he would have had something to say about this. While our kids played soccer with the young grandchildren of the survivors of the famine, Salim, Trupti (Salim’s executive assistant), Chip and I talked about trying to put up a memorial there.

We stayed a bit longer than we should have on the plateau and so had to overnight in the town of Woldia, which we felt very uneasy about being in. Shortly after we left Woldia, civil unrest broke out and police turned their guns on protesters, killing five and injuring many more. Fortunately, we were on our way to Lalibela when all this was happening.

Stay tuned for a followup on this story.