Our minibus drove through a barren field of dried lava that stretched for miles. The sand drifted onto the road in places and the roof of the pickup truck became too hot to touch.
Our driver chewed leaves of sweet narcotic khat while gripping the steering wheel, frequently guiding us to the wrong side of the road. It didn’t matter – the only vehicles we passed were broken down trucks, their sweaty drivers bending over greasy guts.
In the handful of villages crossed, people sheltered from the sun inside buildings covered with sheets and thick blankets. My weather app told me it was 115 degrees outside. Then my phone sent a warning message that it was overheating.
We passed 13 checkpoints, the first manned by militia fighters and later guarded by Ethiopian government forces. We reached Semera after 12 o’clock.
A few days later, a second UN convoy leaving from Tigray was not so lucky.
According to an aid worker in the convoy, Ethiopian federal police subjected Western aid workers to extensive searches along the way and then arrested seven Tigrayan drivers overnight after seizing their vehicles. The drivers and vehicles were released after two days.
On July 18, a convoy of 10 UN vehicles carrying food to Tigray was attacked 60 miles north of Semera when unidentified gunmen opened fire and looted several trucks, according to the World Food Program. . The convoy turned around and all aid deliveries along the route have since been suspended.