As she travels north through Ethiopia, Anna Badkhen speaks with people who are looking for a way to escape — to cross the Gulf of Aden toward Yemen — and ruminates on the plight of refugees and vulnerable populations around the world.

When does a journey begin? When droughts parch the land, or mudslides take entire farms and crash them into ravines, or floods drown the crops? When herds dwindle, or fish leave for colder seas, or extraction poisons the wells? When war breaks out over resources, when political unraveling echoes the steady and inexorable deterioration of the home ground itself? . . .

The journey begins or doesn’t begin long before the land no longer yields or the climate becomes unlivable. It begins or doesn’t begin with systemic exploitation of environments and their communities, with colonial greed that is centuries old and unceasing, that continues to rift our world.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.