Eighty days have passed since little Assema was born to Haile Michael Yacob (Phil’s taxi driver) and his wife Bezuaye. Recently Assema was christened in an orthodox church in his neighbourhood. We were invited to the christening celebration held at her Grandmother’s house. As ever the journey on a Saturday morning was eventful and took longer than anticipated. We passed long queues at meat souks as many people were taking their last opportunity to buy meat ahead of three days of fasting. I’m told it is to remember the three days and nights that Jonah remained in the belly of the big fish. Rich and poor queue together. As orthodox they consider it essential (even if the poor cannot afford meat usually at other times).
My little SIM clinic protects me a bit from the real lives of so many poverty-stricken people living in Addis. All my ex-pat patients have insurance and if medical care becomes necessary beyond what is available locally they can leave the country and be treated in better developed settings – South Africa, Kenya, Dubai, India, Europe. Ethiopians employed by SIM (who form the majority of my workload) although often living in difficult circumstances at least have a job and an income, however inadequate. And SIM will pay for a certain amount of medical, dental and optical care for them and their immediate family members. Dealing with how much care will cost and having to restrict what I can do based on available funds is anathema to me when face to face with my patients - 30 years in the NHS saw to that, where necessary care is available when needed without recourse to discussions about money.
On Thursday we celebrated the 100th Day of school; an event I had not heard of before but a very significant one for a number of my American colleagues. It entailed dressing up as a 100 year old - less difficult for some of us than others - although many of my four year-olds made very creditable attempts.
“Which roundabout?” asks John into his phone (again), “The first, second or third?”. We can’t hear Tigist’s reply but John’s startling patience continues – we’ve been at this for nearly half an hour. “Is that the one at the end of the railway construction?” he asks again, as I slowly keep driving round a huge roundabout at the end of the railway construction. The roundabout is piled high with concrete sleepers, coils of cable and piles of unidentifiable junk.
Somewhere in Addis there must be a big warehouse full of bunting. Red yellow and green bunting. And hundreds of Ethiopian flags. You can tell “Timket” (Epiphany) is due because suddenly bunting and flags appear everywhere. Its strung across roads, beside roads, all over roundabouts, even up the middle of the half-constructed railway lines on the poles holding up the (hopefully not yet live) electric cables. When driving home from church last Sunday we were held up briefly on a couple of occasions by committees of young men stringing up the bunting. With no-one apparently in charge, no seeming order or structure, it all still gets done.
The annual Field Days have taken place this weekend. There has been a carnival atmosphere as special food has been served, music has been playing and the whole school body has been excited at the prospect of a variety of athletic pursuits. According to a longstanding parent at the school, I’m reliably informed that there is one tortoise who really likes field day and sure enough he made himself part of the proceedings. One child couldn’t resist putting a winners ribbon on his shell. Our Kindergarten team ran in the staff relay and appropriately used a teddy as a baton.
We’ve been celebrating Christmas for nigh on a month. Term ended on 19th December, and in the run up to this Chris had inevitably been heavily involved in a school Christmas play. We had various celebrations including a huge “gibsha” (feast) for all the ex-pat and Ethiopian staff at Bingham, attended by a couple of hundred people – out on the school field of course, in the lovely warm sunshine. It was traditional Ethiopian food followed by a coffee ceremony; no turkey – there’re aren’t any in this country. (I chatted about turkeys to Haile and when he looked puzzled I showed him a picture of a turkey. He laughed loudly. Live full-feathered turkeys do look ridiculous don’t they?) Neither were there any mushrooms – unlike in our apartment.
The sun is shining and there’s not a cloud in the sky. I’m on a jog around the school cross country track. Small brightly coloured birds similar to finches wait until the last moment to fly from the path. There is an evocative smell of pine as a gardener trims the fir hedge by the car park. I wave to the noisy children in the open stairwell of the school next door and admire the orange tropical flowers that seem to have been blooming constantly in the garden I’m passing through. The jacaranda tree is now covered in purple flowers and a stunning sight as it sways gently in the breeze.
Just before we left for Ethiopia our church home-group kindly raised some money for us. The purpose was to help alleviate some of the needs that we would encounter in Addis. I used part of these funds this week. Some of our Y’Tesfa Birhan girls had been asking for several weeks if we could get them an Amharic/English dictionary to help with language learning. Knowing that this would be a useful Christmas gift we sought to purchase twenty four.
Even though we were with a large group most of whom were Ethiopian, the small children seemed to gravitate to white faces. As I walked to the cowshed to see how Simret’s herd had grown, I found myself with one small child hanging off each hand. The smallest one was probably four or so. Either rejected by their family or orphaned at a young age we don’t know, but we do know that here they will be cared for , loved, fed and educated. And they will hear the Gospel, in an area of the country spiritually struggling under the dark grip of animism and witchcraft.