A Normal Friday - with a Buried Relative

Rain-1It’s raining, but it shouldn’t be. For a couple of weeks now cloud and thunderstorms have been more common that the expected clear blue skies. Locals tell us it’s odd – the month of “Ginbot” (9th in the Ethiopian calendar) should be hot and sunny before the rainy season sets in, but this year the weather’s not behaving. While England basks in warm sunshine, we need umbrellas and coats. It’s all wrong – this is Africa after all.

But it wasn’t the rain hammering on the roof that woke me so early this particular Friday morning; it was the sound of the orthodox priest, who clearly has a new amplifier. The church (St Philip’s, although knowing that doesn’t make me feel any better at 5am) is quite a way away, but it feels like he’s in the room with us. I fumble my way to the window to make sure it’s shut. It is - no double glazing here. I’ll need earplugs if I am going to snatch another hour’s sleep and be ready for my Amharic lesson.

IMG_20170526_084921821_HDROn Friday mornings I spend an hour with Sara, our Amharic teacher, before heading off to the clinic. Today we discuss weddings (as I’ve been to a few lately) and I learn a bit more vocabulary. This leads to a discussion of how much fasting the Orthodox church expects. I learn how I can ask Mahelet, my unnecessary if delightful lab technician (who’s orthodox), if she’s fasting – it can be hard to tell. “Do you know why people eat chickens at Easter?” asks Sara suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly. I explain I know why in England we normally eat lamb at Easter, and chickens at Christmas. “It’s because after Peter denied Jesus a cockerel crowed” she explained. “Everything in the Orthodox faith has a meaning.” As I was discovering. So with that piece of knowledge ferreted away we get on with reviewing my homework – I was learning about relative clauses. One word was particularly tricky for me as a “y” was missing that should have been there. Sara points out that there’s a preposition before the relative clause. “If there’s a preposition, the ‘y’ disappears” she explained. Then with a twinkle in her eye, “You bury the relative!”

With my brain full of buried relatives I head off to find Haile, waiting patiently by the gate to whisk me over to the clinic. At this time in the morning the normal route past the bus station is impossibly crowded, so we turn into the busy and narrow back streets, just missing a man driving two bulls through the traffic, one with alarmingly large and sharp horns.

Road-May-2017Although slow and consisting of a lot of cobble-stoned streets, this route normally gets us to HQ reasonably quickly. Not today. Apart from the fact that the usual huge potholes are now full of water from the rain, the authorities have decided to put some new drainage in. Without warning or diversion we come across ditches, roads blocked with piles of dirt and rocks, lorries at awkward angles, and huge concrete sewer pipes. Eventually Haile sees us through the chaos and confusion and we make it to more passable roads.

On the way I share with Haile something Chris and I were told by a fellow Elder at church last week. He’s a sensible, intelligent and reliable guy, and I have no reason to doubt what he told us. It was this. If you wear glasses whilst driving in the Oromo area and an Oromo policeman sees you, he may stop you and demand to see your optician’s prescription for your glasses. Apparently, in the Oromo region, you should not be driving whilst looking through two panes of glass – your glasses, and the windscreen. This is only allowed if you have been prescribed glasses and can prove it. Otherwise a fine may come your way. Welcome to our world.

Arriving at clinic at 10am I have a number of things to do, but first I have to go with all the HQ staff for a coffee break. Today we are bidding farewell to one of our missionaries who has finished her term here, so we drink coffee and eat cake with green and pink icing. Whenever anyone leaves, we have green and pink icing. After coffee and making sure there’s no icing around my mouth I have a meeting with the director and then see some patients. Sr Aster comes into my room. A pharmacist has phoned (an extremely rare event) because the day before I had written a prescription for some salicylic acid ointment to treat a verruca but I’d failed to put on the prescription the strength and the amount required. After consulting my drug book I told her to tell him it should be 10%, and to dispense 6 ml. Away she went. A few minutes later she’s back. “He won’t accept a telephone message – you have to issue another prescription” she reported. We stared at each other and then burst out laughing. This from a pharmacist who will sometimes ignore my prescriptions and dispense completely different drugs; who will tell people not to take the blood pressure medication I want them to start as they’ll have to be on it for life; who will, if you ask, sell you potentially dangerous prescription-only medications over the counter without asking why. But verruca treatment? Oh no, that has to be tightly controlled!

The "detoxifier"- for treating snake bitesOur healthcare coordinator, Noelle, has been clearing out our store room which is full of all sorts of things that have been donated over the years that we will now never use, as nowadays Addis has some reasonable hospital facilities. Noelle came into my room late in the afternoon asking what we should do about two “detoxifiers” she had found. Intrigued, I asked her to bring one in. She returned a few minutes later with a large heavy metal box in which was device used for treating insect and snake bites. You had to crank the thing up until a huge electrical charge was generated in something akin to a car ignition coil, which was then discharged into the skin of the bitten (and presumably unsuspecting) patient. As we were admiring and chuckling about this machine Haile turned up to take me home. Knowing full well that you cannot treat a snake bite with electricity (evidence-based medicine takes a back seat in Ethiopia) I donated the device to Haile. He’ll find a use for it. At least he will for the strong metal box.

Sr Aster looking for something to detoxify

Ato Getachew wants a lift home, so we oblige as his home is on our route. He loves chatting to me about western politics, and as a linguist he loves trying to make me speak Amharic. I tell him about how I learned this morning about burying relatives, and he chuckles away. We drop him by the mosque, which, as it is Friday evening, is in full swing. A bit more crazy traffic to negotiate before we get back to Bingham. Haile carries my bags up the stairs for me, I pay the fare and we bid each other farewell. I grab one of my few remaining Cup-a-Soups and reflect on having successfully navigated another normal Friday.



I love all the pictures that illustrate your current version of normality! I try to photograph what is normal in order to remember it later when it is no longer normal. But there are inevitably huge gaps that don't get recorded.xx

Hi Dad,

I love the differences between your normal and mine.  Seeing the inside of your clinic brings me back to being there.  I wonder if there was any science behind the electrocution following a snake bite...seems a little harsh!

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