2020 Visit to Buccama

Ethiopia Week one Feb 2020

On the journey south, the roads were worse than ever. As we were catching up on news, Sister informed us that one of our old friends, a previous driver Melise,had died. A real shock for us. Cancer without a cure. The conversation led to the pretty casually given news that 15 under 5s had been taken and eaten by the local hyena. Just think of such a headline at home. It is against the law to shoot hyena.

I think we always knew that this visit would be different from our other visits. In July of 2019 my son Oliver died from a severe mental illness. I was not expecting that to have much impact here. How wrong I was. Instead of all the usual dancing and singing, we were met by at least 300 people standing in the most profound and respectful silence. We quickly realised that this was a traditional way of respect and empathy for someone who was bereaved. Everyone in their best clothes and every member of staff offering condolence one by one. “We are sorry, we are sorry” . It was so unbelievably moving. We were not ashamed of our tears. Those who suffer so much loss and deprivation, showed so much sympathy towards our sadness. It was very very humbling but only served to bring us closer. We could not have imagined that so many would have this connection to Oliver and all of his people.


Developments in Buccama

Becoming a Health Centre creates a whole new set of challenges. The Govt.insists on upgraded and computerised record keeping, more staff and more staff accommodation.On Sunday the second wave of visitors arrived. John Claire, Bethan,Eilish, and Roddy. Roddy is Maureen’s grand child aged 5. He has been treated like royalty and has risen to the occasion.

The big girls have got really involved despite their age and John and Claire are using all their talents to make a significant contribution.Willie as before is fixing everything that squeaks, or needs fixing. Cars, doors, fences etc etc.Susan is worth her weight in gold as a practical nurse.

Monday morning 12.Feb.

Today the visitors saw the full strength of a busy clinic day. Hundreds of people for their Podoconiosis treatment. Many women for Prolapse check ups and treatment plus the usual out -patient, merry go round.
There is always a surprise and this year we heard for the first time that hyenas were beginning to encroach on the children. Several children have been snatched even from a crowd and yesterday a child arrived with all of her hand ruined and big bite marks on her side and bottom.
Everyone continues to be pretty matter of fact about his, little ones still roam around on their own, without protection.

Tuesday Feb 12th

Today was movie day. John,under the direction of Katie Burnett, has brought a drone and was filming the whole complex from above. We also took many staff photos and interviewed key staff for use on the website and for during presentations when we come home.

In the evening we visited all our pensioners who are supported by our friends from Michael’s House. 

We constantly have to adapt to changes that we are not expecting.

For example, Kinross and District Rotary have sponsored us to buy many of the large leather shoes needed for the worst cases of Podoconiosis. We find that the project here has been suspended, the cobblers have been made redundant and sent away.We have no source to buy these specialist shoes.

Meanwhile two literally skeletal women came in with every Prolapse related multiple problems. No operation would be possible until they are healed and strong enough. This then becomes a financial and staff burden on the Centre. Many problems seem intractable but still resilience is the quality that shines out.

Our quest today is to go to the market and buy very large versions of trainers called “ Torshen Shoes”. Fingers crossed.

More later when we get an opportunity for Internet. There is still no connection to the WWW. Electricity supply is as bad as ever. On the bright side, there is no sign of Corono Virus or locusts.

Ethiopia week 2

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. The MacSween Family have come and gone. The Sisters really pushed the boat out for them and I think that Buccama has won some more very good friends.
On their last night , a football match was organised for little people who match Roddy in age and height.

We had goals, markings and a referee and refreshments( tires, sawdust and a big boy in a Scottish football top, not to mention orange quarters at half time.) It was a hot dusty happy affair and somehow Roddy scored more goals than anyone else! A mystery? The family left everything behind apart from travelling clothes. We are looking in forward to allocating John’s top quality hiking shoes.

Fun over and back to work. Big shoes continue to be a problem. Anything bigger than a 44 seem to be impossible to source and with the cobblers gone we seem to be at an impasse. Also the very worst cases don’t get worse but neither do they get better. If we had the proper experts involved, these feet would almost certainly be amputated and prosthetic limbs provided.

On the other hand, the Govt is now providing training and guidance on the condition. A type of preventative vaccine has arrived. They have been given a measuring stick and depending on height the people are given 4 ,3,2 or one pill. Podoconiosis has been a much neglected. 

Two things of a dramatic nature have happened this week. A small child was brought in suffering extreme respiratory failure as a result of a historic but horrific hyena attack. There was nothing anyone could do here but there was a crowd around the family shouting and wailing. Sister dispatched them quickly but the poor mite died mercifully in hospital a few days later. Parents have been told to keep their children close after 5 pm.

Secondly the locusts did come very close but not exactly here. Like storm chasers we went off to see. On a desperately bumpy road we went to investigate . Sure enough we came on crowds of people all carrying a trophy locust which had fallen from the sky. A great big bright yellow supersized cricket. To tell the truth we were more scared by the excited crowds surrounding the car shouting “ ferengi ferengi”.

We are delighted to say that many of the lesser cases of Podoconiosis are in reverse or remission. These people now know how to look after their feet and need not come regularly to the clinic. However there is a social element to 40 people sitting with feet in a bucket. Spa Buccama if you like.

Today we are off to Soddo I search of WiFi, the Post Office and for lunch with Dr Mark.

3 rd Missive from Buccama.

What a week this has been. Drama in Buccama doesn’t begin to cover it. We did manage to get to Soddo for our fix of WiFi and internet. Enough for all of us at least, to speak to one member of our families and for a few “What’s Apps” to ping in. We also had a very successful and delightful visit with our friend and supporter Dr Mark from the American Christian Hospital.

Sadly and very rarely one premature baby died in the Health Centre. Nothing anyone could do but always a sadness for all.
There was a small visitation of Locusts over Buccama and we all got very excited but relieved that they had passed over. Little did we know that they were only ‘lead scouts’ and Wednesday evening brought a full invasion.  There were millions and millions of big yellow locusts, diving and landing on the mango and banana trees. All hands on deck. Screaming and shouting and banging anything you could lay your hands on. Big fires were started and burning tires were set on fire in order  to make black smoke. When they land, it is almost impossible to kill them. All Buddhist inclinations go out of the window but I broke a brush in an effort to kill one and it still crawled away. Close up, they are very effective large yellow eating machines with vicious looking mandibles. We have two trophy locusts to prove it.

That night, another premature baby was lost despite a valiant fight by Desu and Susan. After all the excitement of visitors and the locusts, the day ended in a sobering silence.

The next couple of days followed with routine simplicity although nothing is really simple. This is the first year that we have been here when it has rained heavily most days. Real tropical deluges. This sounds great and certainly things are greener and crops are being planted. However, it is the “ wrong “ time of year and the storms are washing away the precious soil causing great gouges in the paths and roads. It certainly makes the Buccama Road more and more difficult to travel along. On the other hand, the dust is much less and the seeds are not going to waste. The Victorian ploughing tools are much in evidence, either pulled by an oxen or two for hire or just by a man. We have realised that it not possible to persuade the farmers to wear shoes in the field so we are just asking them to observe foot hygiene afterwards.

We did decide to brass neck it into the Mossy Foot Compound and there we found a cobbler still making shoes and two shelves of ready made shoes. We were assured that all these shoes were all spoken for but we did order some for our 4 worst cases. There we met a German party out to do some work on Podoconiosis or Mossy Foot. They have promised to come and visit us on Monday as we want to give them a demonstration of good practice. We are hoping for some new knowledge and or reassurance. Their expertise is in lymphatic drainage. They did indeed come and were duly shocked and impressed and very helpful. Monday also brought another horde of Italians. Young school teenagers doing a Project. This didn’t feel quite right as they were behind their cameras rather than engaging with the people. They were really here to take pictures of children who are to be beneficiaries of an Italian Charity. So “ cuteness and awfulness “ was what they were trying to capture. We felt very defensive of our people and saw a vision of a slightly well meaning condescension on their faces. We have probably been there ourselves to tell the truth but it felt uncomfortable and there was no mention of a donation!
All quiet again , market day.

Willie and Susan leave on Tuesday after making a sterling contribution. Maureen and I have one more week before returning to Addis. As ever it has been exhausting, exhilarating, sad and exciting. Our plan next year is to bring a container full of things they need and cannot get. Paper work will be the challenge and that process has to start now. Also the Government has decreed that all the records etc have to be computerised. Of course this calls for computers. So….. if you are upgrading, please get in touch.

On Monday evening prior to a small leaving party for Willie and Susan, another swarm of locusts chose descend. Once again, banging, shouting and the lighting of fires kept them up high and over flying rather than landing. It’s quite a sight, man versus locusts in a pretty primitive but effective way.

Maureen and I had a quietish last week  but we had some happy times dressing many children with donated clothes.

Pictures 12 and 13.

Some beautiful times with the Sisters and some tears on departing with a strong promise to return next year. Little did we realize that the world was going to change quite so dramatically shortly after our return.

We pray and hope that Covid 19 won’t reach Buccama they have quite enough on their plate.


With love and thanks for all your support and interest.

Jo and Maureen.