english |  français  |  español  View RSS feedWhat is RSS?  Home  |  Contact us  |  FAQs  |  Search  |  Sitemap  |  UNDP Information Disclosure Policy
Surrounded by men
by Wangchhu Dema

08 March 2004

Bonn, Germany: I joined the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) as a UN Volunteer two years ago. One of my first and most memorable experiences was a helicopter flight over the beautiful terrain from Asmara, capital of Eritrea, to Adigrat, a small town in Ethiopia near the Eritrean border. Coming from the small mountain kingdom of Bhutan, and new as I was to the peacekeeping mission, the sight of so many men in camouflage uniforms was very intimidating. The flight to Adigrat took about two hours, touching down at three locations en-route that were small, isolated UN military camps, with all male military officers. I remember there were ten or twelve passengers on that flight and I was the only woman amidst all the men in camouflage. The Tajik air crew were again all men. At that point, I had not the slightest clue that these men in different uniforms would be the people that I would be working closely for the next two and half years. Our common goal was to hold the fragile peace between the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia.

I remember being received at the helipad in Adigrat by the Sector Administration Officer, an Italian man with whom I quickly developed an excellent working relationship and in fact has become a good friend. There were also some UN Volunteers in Adigrat whom I had already met in Asmara; and yes of course, they were all men.

Finding a suitable accommodation for a single woman was no easy task. I was lucky to find a room in a dormitory style one-storied house shared by UN Volunteers and UN Military Observers …. all men of course.

Most of the men who shared the accommodation were very good cooks; we ate food from India, Nepal, Malaysia, Pakistan, Ethiopian, and on occasion I cooked Bhutanese style.

In the beginning, I was the only female expatriate civilian working in Adigrat. Of course, we had quite a few Ethiopian women join the UNMEE team and they included me in their group. Later I found that there was a female UN Military Officer and a female doctor with the Indian military contingent and we enjoyed each other’s company. Later our small women’s group was joined by an administrative officer for the Ethiopian Eritrean Boundary Commission and a Human Rights Officer who was a fellow UN Volunteer as well.

The thought that I was the only woman in the sector never deterred me from carrying on my assignment, though it was nice to meet other expatriate women. I made visits with other UNMEE staff to all the eight team sites in the sector, usually by road which, in most cases, were in rather poor condition. Working with all these men (military, force and civilians) was not a problem and I earned their respect, while at the same time we forged friendships. The only complaint that I would have, was that the military officers usually stay only a few months so the friendships in the field were short.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)