Maureen & Jo’s News from Ethiopia 2012

Maureen and Jo’s trip to Ethiopia, Feb-March 2012

Days 1 and 2 An easy and safe trip to Addis lulled us into a false sense of smooth sailing for The EMP project.

Nine o’clock in the evening is not a good time to arrive at this hot and busy airport. Queuing for ages for entry visa.

We met an extraordinarily young looking American woman on her way to adopt three children to add to her four at home. We approached customs with light hearts, we had no contraband, the flight had arrived early and the night was still relatively young. We had not thought that a centrifuge could cause so much trouble. We pleaded and begged. We explained that is was a gift, that it was old, that it could only possibly be used for spinning and separating blood but there was total intransigence . So it sits still at the airport being useless in a cupboard until we come back with a doctor or a pharmacist who will back up what we say. Then we will be charged some amount of duty and hopefully release it for its purpose. Exhausted we left the Airport around midnight, and a little bit cross. Welcome back, first lesson reinforced, the primary virtue needed here is patience.

Day 3 onwards. A touch frustrating as the intransigence at the airport meant that we still did not get the Centrifuge. Met up with the Wades and got some good local advice. We planned the sign (clinic logo) for the transport and drifted around in the Hilton. Day 4 Sister Haimanot arrives: Mass with the community and much conversation about the way ahead. We have discovered how hard it is to have a precise conversation with an actual outcome. Everything seems to end with “maybe” or “perhaps”.


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Sister Haimanot (our main contact) summoned the Mother Provincial of the order to meet us for lunch. All the running around had to stop. We had the most joyous lunch and Maureen and I then planned to have one last attempt at rescuing the centrifuge from the chaps at the customs who would not believe us as to its purpose. Letters have had to be sought from the Health Ministry and we will possibly have to pay some tax on this machine. This is a pity but we did sail through with two computers and other medical kit. The centrifuge was just too heavy to hide.

Day 6  (Wed 8th Feb 2012) Sister Haimanot  had to leave today to return to Buccama but she was so desperate for the centrifuge that she wanted to try one more time. Off we went to the Ministry of Health for yet another letter of approval with a stamp on it. Back to the airport to sit in 6 different offices to be ignored and blocked and refused repeatedly. Finally when every bit of paper was in order some top brass asked for the £500 in import duty, which was a number plucked out of the air. So it still sits at the airport and poor sister has left it, to return to the ladies of the clinic and the newly acquired 15 orphans that she has acquired since the recent famine. After this we went to visit “The Museum of The Red Terror”. In the mid 70s Ethiopia was experiencing a time similar to the genocide in Rwanda. Horrors beyond imagining and something we knew nothing about. For anyone interested, look up “The Derg”. One of the survivors told us his tale of torture and unbelievable cruelty. At supper that evening one of the sisters told us that when she was in her classroom, these wild soldiers came in and shot her teacher. They placed the body at the school gate and made every child stamp on the body. If they tried to step over it they were shot. How to traumatise a whole generation! It was an attempt to rid the country of the elite and educated middle class.

Back soon with more

Maureen an

EMP Blog – Week 2 (The Third missive)

Thursday 9th Feb.
We were straight out into the “field”, after a long hot drive to Soddo. A tortuous drive into dry, drought stricken territory to pick up 12 women for the clinic. Impossible to imagine the life of these poor souls.
As before they leapt at the chance to get into the clinic’s beaten up old Toyota, and come with us to Buccama.
What a greeting awaited us.
Cheering, singing and dancing which we thought would never end. Little orphans of the famine holding up “thank you” placards, and shyly presented us with flowers. Pretty overwhelming it must be said.

Once again the stories this year were as harrowing and heartbreaking as ever. Mothers with H.I.V, cancer, malaria and T.B., as well as the what has become the routine prolapses. Not all the stories are sad though, as one older lady, whose condition was too severe for normal treatment, had had a pretty serious operation provided by EMP funds. She had waited to see us and greeted us like long lost sisters. It was a great moment.
Next day our nurse, and guide, Fellaketch, allowed us to help in ways that would never have been allowed in the NHS. We were well out of our comfort zones, but what a sense of satisfaction to be actually aiding in the work that is so vital, yet relentless.
Apart from dealing with more “woman’s bits” than we are ever likely to see again, we loved breakfast time with the Mothers and the orphans. It would make you weep to see how much these tinies crave affection and touch. If you pick one up, they never want to be put down. One child who is about two, weighed less than a six month baby. Yet she could dance, and sing, and play the games. As you see on the “Comic Relief” type programmes, flies are a constant. They attach themselves to eyes, ears, cuts and sores, and really there is nothing can be done about that.

Sunday was a day of rest, but it didn’t feel like it as we drove for miles to attend a huge celebration High Mass. No shortage of young priests in Africa!
We have felt isolated and out of touch this week, as there has been no phone network or electricity. A generator gets turned on from 6pm till 9pm. Sister has allowed a few extra hours, as the Africa Cup is on at the moment.
Our departure came all too soon, and we had an hilarious evening, showing them how a hula hoop works. Not so much fun for the goat that was slaughtered though. Poor thing was running round that afternoon, and was pretty tough to the taste. Our hosts seem to enjoy it nevertheless less. Many tears as we left amid the promises to return next year. It was a paradoxical week of heartbreak and joy and once again we got more than we gave.
Now back in Addis before setting off to Lalibella. The drive took 8hours instead of six because of some bridge collapse so the detour was pretty dire.

Love and renewed thanks to you all for ALL your support and monies , which goes so far out here….
Jo and Maureen

Tuesday 28th February

Lalibella and the homeward stretch:

After a tearful farewell from Buccama we headed back to Addis for a pitstop and a coming back down to earth.

It had been an unprecedented time and we needed some space to process all that had happened, to regroup and to prepare for the the Lalibela phase.

One thing that I forgot to mention in the last letter was our involvement with a particular family. Several of you asked, that if we should find one family or one specific issue that your money could go to,then that would be an interesting thing to follow up.

An extremely impoverished family was brought to our attention by Sister Haimanot, so EMP opted to build them a new”Tukel” and to clothe them all from head to foot.  I swear that they grew to ten feet tall with the new clothes and the excitement that they would have a weather proof house. The man especially looked a treat  as he walked away in Maureen’s tracksuit.We also spent £50 clothing the 15 remaining orphans. One size fits all T Shirts and trousers from 12 to 2 year olds, bought in the local merkato. What a sight and what a laugh we had.

After shopping for our friend in Lalibela,who kindly puts us up while we are there, we set off on the long but sensational drive to Lalibela. Lalibela is a curious mixture of tourism and abject poverty. Abey who comes from there, is our contact with the most deprived. It is hard for any of us to contemplate the degree of ordinary grinding poverty. As there is absolutely no social security, it really is every man woman and child for themselves.Hence much begging and subtle manipulation of gullible tourists. We are fortunate indeed to have a “back stage pass” in the form of Abey and Ganet. They direct us as to where our help is most needed. They toured the families and asked them what would be most helpful within our budget. They spent £1000 of EMP money on 60 families all of whom will have enough food for the next two months. Several of them also needed blankets and bedding.Once again we sponsor a particular family and they will get £15 per month to keep going and we will follow up on their progress.

Maureen also went along to the district office and was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation for the building of the Health Centre in Erfa. This building really was the start of the whole EMP idea.Although our main focus has now moved to Buccama,Lalibela and it’s people will always have a place in our hearts.A small proportion of EMP money will always go there.

It hasn’t all been noble works though,and we did do a three day trek in the mountains. Trekking is the best thing for tourists in Ethiopia and is a great boon to the rural community without spoiling it. After long and interesting guided walks you are greeted by local people, you eat traditional food, sing and dance. You will never sit on a more exotic or exciting loo. Although the nights can be long, the bedding hard and the bugs active,the night skies are a sight to behold and the sunrises equally spectacular.

Once again Lalibela has proved to be fascinating and surprising and we are sad to be saying farewell to it and our friends for this year.

Back to Addis through the the intriguing landscape of rural Ethiopia for a final attempt at rescuing the centrifuge. Frank Dunn has written us another strong “begging” letter which we have had translated into Amharric,so we shall see.

And finally,some “me” time for nails ,toes , hair and skin, so that we will at least feel vaguely human and recognisable on our return.

With love and thanks to you all.

Jo and Maureen.