The Waiting Game

The cake and I...I don’t know if this is true in any other country, but here in Ethiopia we buy cake by the kilogram. While we were here in 2007 Chris ordered a 2 kg birthday cake for me that turned out to be quite a large partially defrosted Black Forest gateau, brought to me on a trolley in a French restaurant with fireworks blazing from the corners. It was accompanied by two Ethiopian waiters trying somewhat unsuccessfully to sing “Happy Birthday” to someone named on the cake as “Dr Phlioig”.

To say “thank you” to my staff and to Konjit, Fikre and Frehiwot from “Government Relations” and HR upstairs at HQ, I asked Haile to buy me a 2 kg cake from Bilo’s Pastry and to bring it along on Friday lunchtime, a couple of days after the triumphant reception of our green clinic licence. He phoned me mid-morning while I was with a patient. “You want 2 kg, or 1.5 kg?” he asked. “What’s the difference?” I responded, then mouthed an apology to my patient as I’d had to stop the consultation to talk about cake. “2 kg is very expensive” Haile replied, “800 Birr”. Ouch. “OK – 1.5 kg will do” I agreed, and returned to the consultation.

Something halfway between a Tiramisu dessert and a cake arrived for lunch. Although this was me thanking others for their help, I had to ceremoniously cut and serve it. Real fresh cream is a rarity here, and this cake was covered in it - about a centimetre thick (hence the price). Haile joined us, but the folks upstairs appeared to have left for the afternoon. Maybe they’d gone to get my paperwork? I’d keep the cake in the clinic fridge for them until Monday – the day my work permit and resident's ID would expire. Konjit had reassured me I would have them on Monday.

Monday. Konjit and Frehiwot come to eat cake (which has survived in the fridge quite acceptably) after lunch. Wearing her beautiful smile Konjit is very thankful, enjoys the cake, then tells me the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has lost my file. “What does that mean?” I ask, with a hint of suspicion I cannot hide. “We can’t get your work permit or ID” she beams. “We must pray”.

Tuesday. My first day as an illegal alien. I can carry on as I am for now, without a work permit or an ID, but only for 30 days. After that I must leave the country - the countdown clock is ticking. Patients come and go. Later that afternoon I pop up to see Fikre. He spent hours in the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs today but no they haven’t located my file yet. I am now paying a fine of US$3 per day for the privilege of staying here; because they’ve lost my file. Fikre assures me he is doing all he can.

Wednesday. I do my busy morning session at Bingham Academy. Amongst others I sort out the payment for an anti-hepatitis C drug for one of the Ethiopian staff (which has a 98% chance of clearing this potentially lethal virus from her system), and try to put someone with rheumatoid arthritis in touch with another patient with the same condition. I want to persuade her to take something to suppress it – unfortunately she has been told by a neurologist that she has osteoarthritis, not rheumatoid (yes – a neurologist), so she’s reluctant. (For any medical readers, I had her anti-CCP antibodies tested in Germany and the result was through the roof; methotrexate is the only DMARD I can get here, and there are no rheumatologists anywhere). Tigist and I return to HQ in the afternoon and I pop up to see Konjit. Any joy? No. We pray on, as does our “Deeper Together” Bible study group at our home in Bingham that evening.

Thursday. It’s Thanksgiving so all our US friends are very thankful, but for me it’s day three as an illegal alien. Thursdays are a self-appointed half day, so that Chris and I can go to the gym. Sadly the gym has suddenly and mysteriously closed without explanation - fortunately on the very day our membership needed renewing. So this afternoon I will instead sneak home and spend time preparing for the talk I have to do on Sunday at church entitled “The Evidence for God”.

Work PermitBlack Friday. Chris has a day off today and the school is closed so my usual Friday morning Amharic lesson (provided by one of Bingham’s Amharic teachers) won’t happen. Not having to worry about writing Fidel or learning infinitives and relative clauses I have a short lie-in and travel to HQ for 8:30am, bringing Chris along as well so she and a friend from HQ can go to the Hilton to enjoy the pool, good coffee and lunch together. I’m a little earlier than normal so I am greeted with surprise and enthusiasm by Aster, Tigist and Mahelet, and Aster explodes with the news that Konjit told her the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has at last found my file. Later that afternoon Aster goes upstairs and comes back with my work permit, newly stamped (almost illegibly) for another year. Where’s my ID? Monday.

Got them!Cyber Monday. One week of being an illegal alien. Each Monday and Thursday morning the staff and I spend some time reading the Bible and praying together before the work day starts. This morning as we are praying about several matters including my paperwork Konjit pops her head through the door. She has my ID. Perhaps the most instant answer to prayer I have ever experienced.


That is wonderful news Phil and your face says it all.!!!!

So, there are some benefits then! Infinitive and relative clauses can always wait for cake in my book! We give thanks to God for the issuance of your permit & ID.

What a week!

Dr Phil - do I detect a trace of grey hair in your head?

Did anyone check to see if your papers were filed under 'Phlioig'?

Glad you're now legal again. 

Is there any other way to do life in Ethiopia?  So glad to hear you are living well amidst the ambiguities.  God keeps us on our knees!   



 'Illegal Alien' sounds like bit part in an old Star Trek film!!

i know some stress is good, but I suspect this is far far beyond what is helpful. I hesitate to ask this but is it possible you may have to go similar hoops next year again?

Hi Neil. The short answer is - yes! In fact it could be worse. There are various things on the horizon that could affect both Chris and me. Several SIM missionaries have left Ethiopia or are not coming back from Home Assignment because their ability to get a work permit is so restricted. However we pray on and trust God whatever happens.

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