Not watching state-controlled Ethiopian television or listening to the radio puts us at a bit of a disadvantage when important things happen in the city. It’s all in Amharic anyway. Hence we are often taken by surprise, even if the locals around us aren’t.
Like the sudden and quite dramatic changes to the road system near Bingham. It would be impossible to describe what has happened in a way that would make sense. It doesn’t even make sense when you look at the modifications, as they keep changing. “No entry” signs come and go; roads become one-way then the next day they’re not; walls on the ring road (both between carriageways and at the sides) get hacked away in places to make new junctions and then new traffic lights turn up; all traffic heading for the ring road is diverted down a road too narrow for it and that is usually thronging with people and trade. The net result is a regular traffic jam right outside the Bingham entrance, on roads in great need of resurfacing - at least, until the other Sunday.
We can’t get out…
We usually drive out of Bingham each Sunday morning to head for church at around 8:10am to get to the 8:30am service. On the last Sunday before leaving for our UK Christmas holiday my duties during the service will include opening the service with a call to worship, doing the notices, praying at various times, and then after the service doing a bible study for an hour.
We drive out of the compound as usual to find a bit of a problem affecting our egress, heralded by a huge yellow tarmac-removing machine opposite. There are three directions to go – left (blocked by a machine and a barrier), left then immediate right (blocked by several huge red trucks), or right (blocked by a digger across the road). They are mending the road. We sit in the junction looking around, somewhat incredulously – yesterday afternoon there was no hint that this would happen. With no other option we turn round and go back into Bingham. Given all my responsibilities today we need to get there somehow. With the help of one of our wonderful guards we (and several other vehicles in the same predicament and forming a convoy) head down to the now unlocked back gate of Bingham, we wind through some cobblestoned lanes and emerge south of all the road works, but still behind a barrier across the road. After a little persuasion (gesticulation mostly) one of the workers agrees to move a part of their barrier and release us on to our route to church. Surprisingly, we arrived on time.
It may seem a bit excessive that my clinic has a full-time cleaner, but in such a polluted city so close to the Sahara, dust and grime falls out of the air at an alarming rate. First thing in the morning she won’t let me sit down until she has wiped the chair and dusted the table. Atsede has been cleaning here since before I arrived, and she does a wonderful job. One day just before Christmas I was busily occupying myself with some paperwork in my office when I heard a squeal. Atsede was having a thorough clean of the small waiting area, and under one of the bench seats had found – a desiccated dead rat. If you have a good look at the picture, I think you’ll agree it had probably been there quite a while.
The next day I was busily occupying myself with some paperwork in my office when I heard another squeal. Actually, several squeals. All three of my staff were staring at the reception desk in stunned horror. They said a rat (a live one this time, but more likely a mouse – Amharic uses the same word for both) had jumped out of a drawer in the tiny kitchen area as Atsede had opened it to clean it out, and had scampered off behind the reception desk. We never saw it again – the building is old and full of holes. That didn’t stop Sister Elsabet spending the rest of the afternoon without putting her feet on the floor.
The surprise of looking down a patient’s throat and finding that their uvula (the dangly bit) has been removed when they were a baby as part of a cultural practice came up in a previous post. Recently I was doing medicals (if you’re from the US, that would be “physicals”) on a number of Ethiopian families, when I found a surprising abdomen (see left – click it…) I asked him what had happened, assuming it was a medical thing. However he told me that this was a cultural practice, inflicted on him as a small child, apparently to ward off illnesses. Once I had examined him and his wife, I progressed to their 9-year-old daughter. To my astonishment, she had a similar pattern of scars on her abdomen. I couldn’t help asking how this had happened. Dad told me it was done by her grandparents, for the same reason as they had done it to him as a child. Fortunately not a grandparently role Chris and I have to fulfil...
We’ve not heard of “Nations and Nationalities Day” before. It may have been called “Flag Day” in previous years, but I’m not sure. Anyway, it happened without warning and because of an afternoon celebration in Meskel Square not too far from HQ all the traffic ground to a halt. Haile was held up coming to collect me, and having wiggled his way through the back streets behind HQ he asked if I would go and meet him up the road next to the petrol station. Mahelet, our delightful lab technician, decided that because I was carrying a bag containing a laptop and as there were far too many people thronging the area (mostly waiting for massively delayed public transport) she would accompany me to make sure I was safe. We forged our way through the crowds, and once I was in Haile’s taxi she left to find her uncle, also stuck in traffic, who would take her home. An abortive attempt to go north (totally jammed) resulted in the only other option – go south. An hour later we had moved fifty yards and were still within walking distance of the clinic. Another attempt at back-street wiggling took us into another world of cobblestoned lanes, small businesses making indefinable metal objects piles of which had to be moved to allow a vehicle to pass, masses of people not used to seeing a foreign face (“China!”, “Ferenji!”, “You! You!”), and potholes and broken roads the vehicle barely survived. Eventually, this became the only day since I’ve been here that I have arrived home after dark.
A Hairy Surprise (by Chris)
I had a surprise in the classroom recently. I opened a book bag and plunged my hand in, whilst talking to the child beside me. I felt something akin to animal fur. I looked in. “What’s this?” I asked the child. “Oh, it’s my mum’s hair” she replied. “Why is it in there?” I wanted to know. “I don’t know!” she shrugged. Ethiopian ladies love using hair extensions. Even better if you can use your own hair. What better place to keep it flat after a haircut the night before, than in your daughter’s book bag?
Every GP sends more people to hospital with suspected appendicitis than turn out to actually have it. That’s the right way round of course. Well the person with the real, perforated appendix (and developing peritonitis) turned up in my clinic at 3 o’clock in the afternoon recently. A rather frantic few hours followed, getting him into a suitable hospital and scraping the money together for the deposit that the hospital demanded before they would operate. Haile was immensely helpful, especially as a child with a pulled elbow that needed reducing was brought to my attention at the same time as we were attempting to sort out getting the money to the hospital. To cut a long story short, it all worked out well and the next day Haile and I went to the hospital on our way home to visit the patient. he was smiling and happy. And to my enormous surprise, there on the cabinet next to his bed in a small plastic bag was – his appendix. if you don’t like yucky pictures, look away now…