A Different Experience (From our guest blogger David Nicholson)
Like the rest of you, we have followed Phil and Chris's blogs with interest and with them nearing the end of their time in Ethiopia, we wanted to come and experience for ourselves some of all that they have blogged about over the last 5½ years.
We left the UK on the Thursday after Easter with our suitcases laden with medication, computer parts, school exercise books, packets of colouring pencils, All-Bran, Yorkshire tea bags, Lindt dark chocolate, and a cold bag packed with bacon, cheese and sausages. We flew overnight, arriving on Orthodox Good Friday. Chickens and sheep were for sale everywhere by the side of the road. Until Easter Monday which is when most had gone, and replaced by sheep skins!!
There is much we take for granted at home that cumulatively makes life harder in Ethiopia. Tap water is not safe to drink which means collecting drinking water from a special filtered, treated supply. Electricity is unreliable necessitating the use of a voltage regulator. Power cuts are a daily occurrence. Due to Addis Ababa's altitude, water boils at a lower temperature so apart from having to wash vegetables in dilute bleach to be certain that any nasty bugs are destroyed, they take longer to cook. Ethiopia is a cash-based society; no contactless payments or credit cards here! So it's hunt the working ATM! And forget nipping out to the shops to pick up a few groceries. Traffic slows everything down. At home, enter a postcode into Google maps and up pops a pin on the desired location with directions along named streets from your current position. No such geomatics here! Finding anywhere new is a case of phone a friend, 50:50 (this street or that one?) or ask the audience (a local, but they'll tell you anything!) Having a bolt hole to escape to from time to time becomes a necessity for relaxation and having time to think and talk through matters of importance. Although as SIM's doctor Phil's rest was disturbed on eight occasions by phone calls.
While they've been here, Phil and Chris have taken the time to understand some of the local projects and blogged about them. And they took us to see some of the amazing work done here.
Chris took us to visit three homes of newer, younger (aged four to six) girls who are joining the Y'Tesfa Birhan girls. We were giving them coffee beans and money to buy a chicken for their Easter celebration. We eventually found them through a corrugated sheet gate, up a narrow alley to their home which could fit into our lounge four times over! The floor was bare earth. The walls were made of mud. There was a bed for the family, some chairs and some Orthodox pictures on the wall. Any washing and toilet facilities were presumed to be communal. They were happy to see Chris, and gratefully accepted the gifts.
Towards the end of our stay we visited the families affected by the recent fire. Their home now is a lean-to building at the edge of a place where concrete bricks are handmade. Up to 20 families lived in a space measuring 4 by 8 metres. It was good to see one of the Y'Tesfa girls looking well and making coffee. Despite this being a woman's job in this culture, she let me have a hand at roasting and grinding the beans. I don't think I burnt them!
Ethiopia ACT (Aids Care & Treatment), works amongst the poorest to help them out of their poverty. We saw the community centre where counselling and group discussions take place. We again visited homes and saw first hand how they are helped through financial support, medical treatments and training for income generating work.
Lemma's school has featured in several blogs and it was a privilege to see first-hand how it has changed and developed, now with a roof on the dining hall and a second well. The children were delighted to have visitors and receive exercise books and coloured pencils from the UK.
It was great to see Chris teach the kindergarten kids at Bingham Academy and help with this delightful age group. We were at Phil's final teaching of the adult Bible class at church on Sunday and the group thanked Phil for all he has taught them while being here. Phil's surgery was without water due to a failure of the city supply (happens every week apparently).
We will take away many memories of our visit and we hope the video below gives a flavour of Phil and Chris's life far from home and our different experience.