Good, Better, Best - a Conversation
When somebody who is either mentally ill, high on something or both attacks your car whilst in a traffic jam and rips the door mirror off, it’s easy to think “I’ll blog that”. Blogging about the difficult, the troublesome and the crazy things that happen here is fairly easy, and it’s tempting to think that’s what will grab our readers’ attention.
But what about the good things that happen, the things that keep us going, that motivate us to stay and continue the work we do here? Chris and I had a chat about this and came up with a huge list. It went something like this:
Chris: I love it when I open the classroom door at 8am each morning and 4 and 5 year olds tumble inside, eager to share news that’s important to them. And it’s great to see those breakthrough moments in class when a child grasps a new concept and you can share in their enthusiasm. When I walk down to our apartment I love listening to the happy chatter of children on their lunch break. My teaching assistant is amazing – she puts as much thought and care into each child as I do. Chatting to parents who are so thankful for all that Bingham can offer their child is lovely. And I work with supportive fellow staff who will lend me anything and make helpful suggestions.
Phil: Well my patients don’t tumble into the clinic thankfully, but it’s a real privilege to provide care for people who would otherwise be unable to afford it and may be at the mercy of traditional “healers”. One of the biggest thrills is being able to provide treatment that will cure hepatitis C – treatment that’s impossibly expensive for the NHS in the UK, but is vastly cheaper here. The clinic nurses are a joy to work with. Not only do they really care for our patients, they often surprise me with Ethiopian food for lunch that they’ve made themselves. They are incredibly patient with my terrible Amharic and encourage me to keep trying.
Chris: Isn’t our Amharic teacher Sara incredible – one of the most patient people I’ve ever met, and she manages to make my lessons interesting.
Chris: Yes – it’s great when I am deciphering a word Fidel by Fidel and I suddenly click what it says.
Phil: I love the opportunities we get to help with things outside our normal work. Being invited to mentor a group of medical students at the Myungsung Christian College has been a real privilege, and it’s always a challenge to get them talking!
Chris: Working with the Y’tesfa Birhan girls every Wednesday has been great. I loved the excitement of the youngest ones as they realised we were going to make and decorate a mini Christmas tree. They are some of the neediest people in our area, so giving them gifts at the end of term and serving their families traditional Ethiopian food is amazing.
Phil: We’re really lucky to have a fleet of maintained vehicles we can use at Bingham. But it was incredible to be able to buy a fairly new 4x4 pick-up of our own, from Dave Harris1 before he left Ethiopia.
Chris: Yes I’m so glad we have a decent car. It can navigate the craziest potholes and has air con when you really need it. Thanks Dave!
Phil: What about our apartment? On the second floor with views to the mountains. It has everything we need, and everything actually works!
Chris: I love the way the sun shines into the apartment in the afternoons and warms my toes. And we look out over the top of a jacaranda tree covered in purple flowers with little sunbirds searching for nectar just outside our bedroom window. And my African violets just keep on flowering. Wonderful.
Phil: And then there are the sunsets. I love how the horizon goes orange, and when the crescent moon and the evening star are setting it’s truly beautiful to watch. The sky here in the dry season is fantastic. Clear blue skies for weeks on end. Warm enough for you, not too hot for me.
Chris: Living on Bingham compound is great. The guards who always greet us warmly when we return, the gorgeous lush tropical flowers, Ethiopian workers who take real pride in what they do and who can turn their hand to any practical task, from releasing warped doors to creating a tyre swing.
Phil: And what about the compound animals? Giant tortoises, Genet cats, mongooses wandering around. And the birds. Huge black kites -sometimes 50 or more circling up a thermal; vultures in the rainy season brooding in the tree behind our apartment, sunbirds, mouse birds, so many.
Chris: Even those ugly old black and white crows that jump around on our metal roof with hobnail boots on and who drop bones on to our balcony are fun. And what about our quirky gym? The view from the window is fantastic – the little orthodox church like a tin hut, the donkeys, cows, boys playing football, people doing laundry in the river, and the construction in the distance where they seem to be slowly building a hill. And I’m sure you love all those big birds flying up and down the valley – noisy ibises, Egyptian geese, more kites circling.
Phil: Indeed! But I’m definitely not a bird watcher (wry smile). Then there’s our church. It’s been a privilege to serve there in various ways, especially teaching in the Adult Bible Fellowship.
Chris: ...and going to a church with such a variety of people of different nationalities you never quite know what will happen. I love going to the ABF with so many Ethiopians who greet us very warmly and make us feel so welcome.
Chris: Being entertained in Ethiopian homes is such an honour, and a humbling experience indeed.
I’ll stop there. We chatted on about so many things that we enjoy about being here. But above all and beyond everything else is seeing some of the poorest people hearing about Jesus, maybe for the first time. Now what could be better than that?
1 - We've known Dave for 40 years! We met in university in 1977, I shared a house with him for a year, he was an usher at our wedding, and he happened to be working in Ethiopia for a few years recently.