In Ethiopia, drought shoves the ordinary – even marriage – just out of reach

In another life, it would have gone like this: Duniya in a floor-length dress, something gauzy and loudly colored; Muftah tall and slender and serious beside her.

Duniya and Muftah. Muftah and Duniya. They had known each other since they were kids, when they spent long, slow days together walking their families’ cattle and camel herds across the scrubby brush to pasture or water. For a long time, they were friends, close ones, until one day they were not only that anymore. It was that simple, she says, and that obvious.

She thinks of it often, that wedding that would have been. There would have been seven days of dancing – the entire village gathered around them – and fresh roasted goat every night. She would have eaten soor, a soft corn porridge, mashed with milk, butter, and sugar, and worn a different new dress each night. And then, when it was done, she and Muftah would have slipped quietly into the rest of their lives.

Instead, she is here – in a sun-baked settlement of displaced persons near the market town of Gode – and he is there – 40 miles away in the parched village where they both grew up. She hasn’t seen him in two months. She worries, she says, that she never will again.

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