Maureen & Jo’s News From Ethiopia 2013

Sunday Feb the 3rd 2013

Left Addis at 7.30am and arrived in Buccama around 4pm after only two minimal stops. It is quite a long way but the changing scenery and sights made up for the discomfort.

Arrived with our 90 kilos of ‘stuff’ for the clinic. All gratefully received.

Met all the ladies and once again, an overwhelming welcome of singing and dancing.

We were enchanted to see the progress of the little ones from last year. They were so tiny, ill, solemn and newly orphaned then, now they are just part of a big loving family. They are sweet, affable and just seem to be having an idyllic childhood. Who knows what awaits them when they are too big for here?

There are far more women here than last year. Sister has made some real improvements, and even has some convalescent rooms for the Mothers who are in recovery. They still lie on the floor, two to a bed, but they rest and they are well fed. We paid a short visit to the hospital and believe me, it is much better that they are out of there.

Monday 4th of Feb 2013

A day of high excitement! A huge rickety bus was hired to deliver some women to hospital, some back home cured and some to be collected for treatment at the clinic prior to their visit to the hospital.

We arrived in an outlying district. Again many women waiting to be seen. We commandeered the District Commissioner’s office and inspected four women at a time. Everyone needed taking but there were only 24 places. Solution…? Pack in as many as possible and scarper before the riot ensued. They were packed in like sardines with Maureen and I lucky to get a place.

On returning to Buccama, Sister nearly passed out at the sight of the 60 we had brought, only to be surprised by a district car bringing another 15!

The evening meal is actually like the feeding of the five thousand.

They are given good quantities of nourishment. No one starts until everyone has a plate in front of them. Even the little children demonstrate restraint. There seems to be no greed and no complaint.


Tuesday Feb the 5th 2013

A full day in the clinic.

Our teacher, the chief nurse Felaketch is an amazing person. She has full control of the situation. She assumed that Maureen and I would just start where we had left off last year and so it proved to be, except we were moved up a skill level within 5 minutes. Our comfort zone expands by the second.

We got a good system going. I shall leave out the gynae details, suffice to say, I do not know a single person in UK who would tolerate what these women suffer. They range from very young to very old. They are stoical in the extreme. Their rags speak of poverty the likes of which we can only imagine.

If anyone one wonders if they need the pants that we send, I would like them to have witnessed the joy when a new pair of pants is presented. “Are these really for me? I have no money to give you,” said one poor soul.

Also the clinic has been praised for the pants by the hospital, as the women are able to stay clean and healthy. PANTS HAVE POWER!


After trying to persuade each woman to relax during the procedure in the clinic, we decided to give an outdoor lesson and demonstration of yoga breathing plus, how to relax during a pelvic procedure. Huge hilarity all round especially from the on looking men who seem to hang around a lot.

After the busy clinic day, we tramped through the field, to visit a family for whom we arranged to have a new house built. Once again, for only £500 of your generous money we were able to witness a complete turn around in the fortunes of this family. They had retrieved their children from other families and they all looked strong and well. Previously, they were without hope. A truly humbling experience.

Now the generator is running. There has been a huge thunderstorm. The electricity is out. Communications are down, my phone won’t charge, and there isn’t a signal anyway. Oh the joys of an unusual situation.

Wednesday Feb the 6th 2013

Made ourselves available for whatever work was needed. Back to the hospital to deliver a new batch of Mothers for the operation. Then out to another district. Forty women waiting in anxious anticipation. Sister had said that we could not accommodate another single soul, so we were to examine them in something that looked like a school hall, tell them they could come when there were spaces and lash out antibiotics to any who looked infected.

One older lady stood resolutely still and would not leave after her examination. Her day had come. As far as she was concerned her prayers had been answered. She had eight children and was ready to die if we did not take her. She was painfully thin and about to keel over. Her determination was rewarded because we could not resist her pleas. She got her place in the bus and her life will be changed. It is worth noting that after her husband accidentally caught sight of her prolapse, he would not look at her, speak to her or allow her to eat with him. Pretty medieval!

We were then called to another district. Packs of people gathered around us. The women were all sitting under a tree. Fellaketch explained that they could not be taken yet but they would be inspected for the severity of their condition. There was no decent place to look at them, so we were taken to a dusty corridor and again these poor souls are asked to hike up their tragic attire and be assessed. Compare that to a doctor’s visit at home. Seven minutes in a GP surgery seems like an excessive luxury.

Back to the hospital to collect recoverers, then back to the clinic to start the evening session. Never a dull moment.

Thursday Feb the 6th 2013

The day started with the usual trip to the hospital, delivering and collecting Mothers. Helping serve lunch to the 150 residents, Assisting with the afternoon clinic and playing with the babies.

During the day it became clear that two of the young mothers who come to the general clinic were about the deliver their babies. We both thought it would be great to add midwifery to our skills and asked to be called day or night to witness our first baby delivery.

Supper with the Sisters is always a simple but delicious meal. However they make it clear that they would quite like to be on their own after supper so 8.30pm has ceased to be a ridiculous bedtime as the day starts so early. We were no sooner in bed before we heard ‘Jo Maureen, Jo Maureen, would you like to see a boy being shot?’ Well, it wasn’t a delivery but it had to be interesting. It turned out to be a right of passage, circumcision to a boy of thirteen. Only fathers, uncles and random ‘ferengies’ (foreigners) get to witness such things. The poor wee chap was sat astride a bench with his dad hiding his eyes and his grown up man status laid out proudly on the bench. One of the nurses performed the op under local anesthetic. If the boy had cried, everyone would laugh at him, so he didn’t and everyone was proud of him. It’s a culture thing. OK for boys, not so much fun for girls, and these, although illegal, are still performed in secret.

Friday Feb the 7th 2013

Our day off as the rest of the staff were “on education.” So we washed our clothes chatted to all and sundry, served lunch and pottered about.

Sat/Sun Feb the 8th/9th 2013

Weekend off for an adventure in a National park.

Nothing to write home about but good to get a rest.

Monday Feb the 10th

Back to the routine of collecting, delivering, inspecting and routine clinic work.

Every day we become more experienced at checking, cleaning, removing and inserting Pessaries. Felaketch guides now.

We are in danger of becoming quite political about this problem. It is so huge and the attitudes towards it are archaic.

One of the sisters recounted that her mother would serve the family and then eat separately, so ashamed was she of her condition.

Our last day donned and we knew something was a foot because we were banished to rest…. ‘Rest’ was impossible because of all the racket going on outside. But suddenly, silence fell and Sister Haimanot came to collect us. All the Mothers, staff and babies were gathered outside on the grass, and a roar of singing and clapping and waving of flowers greeted us. There followed a royal orgy of speeches, singing and dancing. Mother after Mother rose up to speak about how they had had their ‘shame’ for so long and now they were being looked after and cured. Whatever any of us believe about faith, hope or charity, nothing would ever convince these women that finding Buccama was anything other than a miracle. Believe me, we do not boast. This work goes on whether we are here or not. We are just humbled and privileged to be part of it. We are also an excuse for a good party with pretty unique singing and dancing.

There were many occasions when we felt like weeping for and with these women. Indeed I did weep once, when I was holding an old woman’s head while Maureen was at the ‘sharp end’. I wept because I suddenly thought of what it would have been like for my mother to have suffered so much for so many years: to have experienced years and years of rejection and indignity because of ignorance and shame. But then it was time to ‘man up’, get up, hand over some new pants and get on with the job.

After two weeks here in virtual language immersion, we finally started to attempt some basic “Waylata”, a language totally different from Amharric, the national language. The hilarity this has caused has been extraordinary. But on a serious note the simple instructions to ‘come in, sit down/lie down/breathe/relax/well done” has also helped enormously with the work.

We toyed with the idea of not coming back next year but that is simply not possible. We cannot give up on this. This is an involvement for a lifetime, a wrong that may take years to put right. We are inspired by the fact they don’t bind feet in China anymore and slavery has been abolished in America. Our ambition is not small, but the small things still need to be done. “The ocean is made up of drops””

Maureen and Jo