Of Cake, Codes and Children


Someone who knows him well said Haile would be far more than a taxi driver if I needed help with anything. Well I needed help on Chris’s birthday – where on earth do you get a birthday cake in Addis? I had seen some cakes in a coffee shop chain, and also in the Hilton. However “I’m just popping out to get a cake” is not something you can say to your staff at lunch time here, because popping anywhere is almost impossible, and cakes are few and far between. Cake is a western introduction to Ethiopia, so the Amharic word for “cake” is … “cake” (or “ኬክ” as they say here).

So I said to Haile “I need a cake”. He said “I will get” and disappeared off out of the HQ compound after he dropped me. During the morning I had a phone call from him. “How much cake?” he said. “Umm…” I replied, making a circle about 9 inches across with my hands, forgetting he couldn’t see. “1 kilo? Too small I think. 2 kilo?” Never having bought cake by the kilo I mulled it over for a second and 2 Kg of cake would probably be enough. Perhaps too much.

About an hour later Haile appeared in the clinic. “I bring cake. You have refrigerator?” He had a big rectangular packet that I slid into our clinic fridge until it was time to go home. It was a glorious construction – cream, gold-dusted strawberries, chocolate shavings on a cream-covered chocolate gateau (sort of). And “Happy birthday Chris” was written on the top (you could barely see it through the chocolate shavings) in gold icing. This was not actually Chris’s birthday – we’d waited until 8thMay  when we had a visit from SIM UK’s new director Steve Smith and assembled all the Brits on campus for a meal. Haile’s cake was an admirable dessert, and 2 Kg is a great size for a dozen people with enough left over for the night guards afterwards. I’m still not entirely sure where he went to get it.

Codes (again)

The Ethiopian Health Ministry has changed its coding requirements again. You may recall in a previous post I told you we were collecting statistics based on an old WHO classification of diseases developed in 1948. Well we have a new one. It’s the “MHMIS” – Ministry of Health Medical Information System or something like that.  It’s mostly about infectious diseases. Number 17 in the list on the form we have to complete is “dracunculiasis”. There’s a prize for the first one of my medical friends who can tell me what that is without looking it up! As a hint, here’s a picture. As there were only 143 reported cases of dracunculiasis in the world in 2013 I’m probably not going to need that particular row on page 1 of the report form (done monthly). Peptic ulcer disease (of which there is a veritable epidemic here) is on page 3.


We had another public holiday last week, celebrating the downfall of the Derg (the communist government) 23 years ago. It was on Wednesday 28th May and local folks call it “Gunbot haiya” – “Gunbot” is the 9th month in the Ethiopian calendar (I can remember it because it sounds like “gun boat”) and “haiya” is Amharic for “20”. (Incidentally, this has given me a great reference point to match the Ethiopian calendar to the European one, as I am getting reports and documents from clinics and labs with Ethiopian dates on. I now know exactly when “20/9/06” was – it was last Wednesday!) However, I digress. We invited Sion and her six adopted children to come for lunch on “Gunbot haiya” and to enjoy the freedom of the Bingham grounds. Well, the kids came, but neither Sion nor her husband did. She was hosting an intercessory prayer meeting at her home, so she sent the family to have lunch with us on their own. This was fine of course, except that they are astonishingly well behaved and very quiet - they seemed pretty overwhelmed by the entire business. They range from 14 to 8 and are called Moses, Daniel, Abigail, Hannah, Henok and Joseph. Our house worker had made some great local dishes and provided injera so they really enjoyed the food, as did I (Chris ate bread and cheese). We kept some for Sion but she didn’t arrive until 4 o’clock by which time the kids had been playing football, volleyball and basketball both on the field and in the gym all afternoon pretty much. It was a great privilege to have them here for those few hours and I think they had a great time, as Bingham is one big playground when school’s out, and the weather held (its rainy season now).


It's the guinea worm, I think.
Extracted by rotating it out on a small stick, hence the aesculepius, I think

Well done Alan! it took me a while to cotton on to your Aesculepius reference as I had no idea this was a theory of the origin of the symbol. I had always related the serpent on a stick symbol to the biblical account of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness to heal the Israelites. The New Testament links this with the crucifixion of course. For anyone wondering what on earth we are talking about, check this link.

Ah well, maybe we see more dracunculiasis in Potters Bar than you were used to in St Albans.

Good work on the cake-finding front! And I'd have no idea how many kg of cake I'd need! Good work!

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