‘Everything’s already been said, but since nobody was listening, we have to start again’: Tragic photos of Ethiopians fleeing to Sudan

Sometimes it’s strange working in the news. That is especially true for me every year around this time. Colleagues are on vacation, and I have the pleasure of filling in. I either work the late shift or the early shift (right now it’s the early shift). And because of this, I’m all sorts of discombobulated. Out of my routine, I actually miss a lot of the news. This year is no exception, and something hit me in the gut as I was browsing the news, trying to catch up; in particular, It was a headline from a Washington-area news outlet, the DCist: “ 'I Just Wait For A Miracle’: Local Ethiopians Fear For Their Families Amid Civil War.”

That headline grabbed me for several reasons. D.C. has always been a pretty big melting pot of cultures, at least that’s how I’ve always experienced it. Ethiopian restaurants have always been a favorite dining option in the area. When I was an intern at U.S. News & World Report during 9/11 and afterward, I remember taking cabs and having conversations with drivers, who were originally from abroad, about world affairs and U.S. politics.

It turns out that area has a pretty high concentration of Ethiopians. The Washington region reportedly has “the largest concentration of Ethiopians outside of Africa.” And in the D.C. area, Silver Spring, Md., has the largest concentration of Ethiopian businesses in the area. That really hits home for me, because nearly seven years ago, after taking a job at The Post, my wife and I moved into an apartment in downtown Silver Spring. And just outside of our apartment, up and down Georgia Avenue, there are quite a few Ethiopian restaurants.

I can’t claim to know any more about Ethiopian culture just because the area I am living in has a large concentration of Ethiopians and their businesses. But because it does, I immediately associated people I have met here in Silver Spring with that headline. In other words, it seemed much more real to me.

Although I’ve been trying to catch up on all the news recently, I’ve actually spent this dreadful year more attuned to the national news, from the election to the political back and forth taking place on economic stimulus efforts to the ravages wrought by the pandemic. Of course news is happening around the world as it always has. Right now, in addition to the dumpster fire of U.S. news, tragedy is playing out in Ethiopia. It has been ongoing since Nov. 4, as this Post story lays out. Just recently, the Associated Press reported, “More than 100 people have been killed in the latest massacre along ethnic lines in western Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said Wednesday, and the toll is expected to rise.”

The fighting taking place in Ethiopia has led to thousands fleeing to refugee camps in Sudan to escape the violence. Associated Press photographer Nariman El-Mofty has been on the ground documenting it. I’ve been looking at images of war for over 20 years now, and it never gets any easier. It never gets any less tragic.

El-Mofty’s images are a terrible reminder of that. It reminds me of the following quote by André Gide, the French author and Nobel laureate, I recently found while doom-scrolling on Facebook, “Everything’s already been said, but since nobody was listening, we have to start again.”

I can’t tell you how many times during my lifetime I’ve encountered images of people suffering due to the consequences of war and strife. The truth is it has been far too many times. So that quote by Gide rings very true. Over and over and over again, some conflict somewhere is uprooting people’s lives and forcing them to endure needless strife and agony. And when it happens, repeatedly, we’re there to record it. Thus the endless production of images of grief and destruction.

El-Mofty’s images of men, women and children fleeing war are no exception. They bring what was initially something abstract, words in a headline, into sharp and tragic relief. They are a reminder, during this holiday season when many of us are celebrating with family and friends, that the world can be a cold, dark place. I’ve always stuck to the idea that journalism should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” And that is precisely what these images by El-Mofty do.

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