Medical mission in Ethiopia - week 9

December 07, 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The birds are beautiful here. Sitting outside our apartment, looking into our courtyard I can watch and listen to a multitude of birds. The small ones seem to come out earliest, singing in their soprano voices. As the sun rises, more birds join, adding their alto and tenor voices. There is even the occasional baritone who sounds as if he is singing from an enlarged globe deep in his throat. The colors of their voices match the vibrant colors of their feathers. It seems that the more vibrantly colored birds appear earliest in the morning, and then they disappear as if to shield their beautiful attires from the glaring sun. I wish to capture some of these birds on my digital camera, but alas, they are difficult to capture. Maybe this is part of their allure. Maybe this is why bird aficionados are “bird watchers.”

This morning I am enjoying these birds with a cup of Starbucks VIA coffee, Christmas blend. What luxury. A group of friends from Mark’s company in the U.S. decided to test out the various postal services in Ethiopia. I think part of this project was to determine some of the practicalities of doing business with smaller health care clinics, farming coops, and other potential partners. In any case, we are the lucky recipients of the first care package, delivered by DHL. The package arrived after 2-3 weeks, and only spent a few days sitting in customs in Addis. It was a large box, with several smaller boxes inside. The large box had been opened and repackaged, as evidenced by the reams of packing tape labeled “REPACKAGED.” Several smaller boxes inside had also been opened and repackaged. The small boxes inside were labeled “books,” “video,” “food (including the Starbucks VIA coffee ),””Transformer,” and a few boxes of “household items,” including duct tape, a certain set of pliers, hooks and screws, bedbug protector mattress covers, and wart remover. Of all the smaller boxes, the ones that had been opened and examined in customs were the books and DVD videos. Interesting. These books happened to be children’s series “Ivy and Bean” for Sonja, and a Rick Riordan’s series for Josh, as well as 2nd and 6th grade text books. The DVD videos are classic Hollywood productions. Apparently these were not seen as a national security threat.

I am not the only one enjoying the treats from Mark’s company. Josh and Sonja immediately dove into the box of books. This was the first box they wanted to open. Now Sonja is in her new bunk bed, reading Ivy and Bean. She just informed me that she is on page 83, that she is going to read every book 5 times, and that she is going to bring these books home with her. However, she does not want to bring them to school. She is afraid that a couple of the kids will take the books from her and rip the pages. She says this rather emphatically. Josh is also excited about his new books. He has read the back covers and the “about the author” pages, trying to decide which book to start.

I think my favorite item in this care package is the bedbug protector mattress covers. Mark recently designed and ordered metal frames and mattresses for new beds. The kids now have a bunk bed and we have a king size bed, all in the effort to rid our apartment of bedbugs. The frames arrived Friday, and much to Mark’s chagrin, neither bed was built to his detailed specifications. Mark had designed these beds using “SolidWorks Modeling,” a mechanical engineering design software system. He had specifically asked for a king size frame 200cm x 190 cm, it arrived 200cm x 200cm, so there is a huge gap between the mattresses and the sharp edged metal frame. The bunk bed was designed to be disassembled so that it would fit through our door AND so that we would have the option of making 2 single beds vs one bunk bed. It arrived having been painted completely assembled. This seems to be a common theme here. Perhaps what to me seems like a lack of forethought may also be seen as willingness to adapt to the situation. We have witnessed patients being induced under anesthesia, only to discover that the medical equipment for the surgery was not prepared. The patient’s anesthesia is reversed and the surgery scheduled for another day. Two patients were scheduled on the same day for a LEEP, when we only have one insulated speculum. One patient is told she is scheduled for another day, and she is grateful to wait, she felt rushed anyway. The kids’ school opened without enough teachers, so kids had 3-4 hours of free time. Josh received his school textbooks last week, 9 weeks into the school year. In the meantime, kids have been copying information off the chalkboards. No problem. So, the bunk bed didn’t fit in our door. Nothing a sledge hammer couldn’t fix. No problem that the paint job is completely trashed, the very kind metal worker brought us a paintbrush and a can of paint. One could get frustrated, but laughter seems to be a more sustainable response.

Laughter and Prayer. Sometimes, I can’t laugh. But, I can always pray. I have never been much of a praying kind of person. I have always equated prayer with evangelical proselytizing. Sure, I went to church, and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I thanked God for blessings, asked for forgiveness, and prayed for those in need. Recently, prayer has taken on new meaning for me. As part of a personal project for the College of Congregational Development, I bought my first Book of Common Prayer before this trip. Our family has started to practice the Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families. This is part of the Episcopalian “Daily Office.” One of the most consoling parts of this Daily Office is saying the morning Collect, “…Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity…” I find this consoling, because someone else thought she may need help facing adversity and wrote a collect asking for help. I am not alone. Many, many, many people have been here before. And faced much worse. The other consoling part about this Daily Office is its’ routine. Routine breeds familiarity. I crave familiarity. That is why we go to the nice hotels several times a week, for the familiarity of a clean toilet instead of the filthy squatting hole. Or Starbucks coffee, even Via. The whole family seems to enjoy the familiarity of singing or just saying the Lord’s prayer.  But it is tough to continually ask for forgiveness and also to say that we truly forgive those who sin against us. Other than that little bit, the rest is quite affirming.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Today we are only three. Mark is off to Uganda as part of his work for Intellectual Ventures and Global Good. He left on Saturday, just before we went to go pick up the awesome DHL care package. Poor guy, his friends send this amazing package, and he isn’t here to enjoy it. Mark is on a “gimba walk,” which is something to do with following the milk trail from cow udder to purchased product. On his way back he will meet Ato Mubratu in Addis and continue his work for Global Good by visiting some smaller health care clinics in the south of Ethiopia. Ato Mubratu is one of the administrators for Gondar Hospital, and part of his job is to improve relationships between small health care clinics and referral hospitals. So, this project fits nicely into both men’s goals.

I met with Ato Mubratu this afternoon. He is also helping me. Last week I asked him to suggest someone to be the project coordinator for the cervical cancer screening project that we have started. Today he introduced me to an experienced nurse who has her master’s degree. She has been a charge nurse on one of the most successful wards and knows the campus well, having worked here for 9 years. We will see where this leads. I hope that our cervical cancer screening will eventually expand to community health clinics. Thus far we have screened 162 patients in about 6 weeks. 16 of them have received cryotherapy. Unfortunately, the cryotherapy machines are no longer functioning. Grrrr. Today I sent an email to the manufacturer, hoping they will help troubleshoot. I saw that the machines are under warranty, however there is this little disclaimer that says shipping is not included. Hmmmm. This evening I noticed that our internet connection is not working. It was working earlier today. Internet was not working at the hospital at all today, so maybe there is something wrong with the bigger system. Anyway, I don’t know if the manufacturer replied or not. The scheduled Skype conversation on Wednesday may be a bit of a challenge, too, if this internet thing doesn’t resolve. It is times like these that I miss Mark more than usual. He is so good with these technical issues, and allows me to blissfully remain ignorant of the innumerous hassles. Sigh. He will be back in two weeks.

So the kids and I will make do without Engineer Mark. Living in Africa with an engineer is a very different experience than living say, with an artist. Things are always breaking, or were never working to begin with. It’s going to be a long two weeks.

Tuesday December 9, 2014

The kids have had a challenging couple of weeks. Some of those challenges have materialized into good things. About two weeks ago Josh had his soccer ball taken away, again, by some high school students. During break and lunch all the kids K-12 will play somewhere on the school grounds. There is a grove of acacia trees with some flat areas beneath down the hill from the school buildings, and it is in these groves that football (soccer) games materialize. For some reason, only the primary school kids seem to play organized football. The high school kids “hang out” eating their lunches and talking, and occasionally taking a primary school kid’s football to toss around. Usually the younger kids patiently wait while the high school kids have their way. But two weeks ago Josh got frustrated with this repetitive behavior and so went up to the older kids and asked for his ball back. They played with it some more then kicked it back to one of Josh’s classmates. Josh looked at them, gestured to his temples and said, “Why do you have to be so STUPID in the head?!?” Well, one of the 12th grade kids felt insulted, got up and walloped Josh upside the head. Josh says he doesn’t remember much after that, but he found himself in the school director’s office. Sonja was there and witnessed the whole thing. Sam, the American English teacher, happened to arrive at the school just after this incident and some of Josh’s classmates told him what had happened so Sam went to check on Josh. I received a phone call from Sam and was told Josh was pretty shaken up, could I come to the school. By then he was feeling a bit better and wanted to finish the day. Later that weekend we received a call from Sam who had been in contact with the boy’s family (who had hit Josh) and we met for a formal apology. The boy’s mother was very kind, and invited us over for a coffee ceremony the following week. Coffee turned into dinner which turned into a very lovely evening. The boy who hit Josh was not present for the coffee ceremony/dinner, but his younger brother was. Josh and Sonja had their first Ethiopian coffee ceremony coffee that night. They promised to fall asleep and to get up the next morning before I would allow them to drink this strong stuff. They followed through on their promise. I don’t think the high school students have taken Josh’s ball since this altercation. We will see how long that lasts.

The other major change for the kids is that Ato (Mr) Zenebe, the junior school director, has left the school. Zenebe was the kids’ confidant, their safe haven in this chaotic school. He was the one studying for his master’s degree in psychology and truly tried to understand how the kids were feeling and how to make them feel more comfortable. His office door was always open, and they used it. Zenebe was kind enough to text me and notify us that he had left the school, so at least the kids knew he was gone before going back to school on Monday. I talked to Sam about the kids concerns, and Sam has stepped up, offering to help the kids even more than he had before. This is a good experience for Sam. He is learning diplomacy, management and child development.

I met with Zenebe for coffee at a nearby hotel and restaurant to wish him well on his next endeavors. He decided to focus on his schooling and his master’s degree. He did not give any reasons for leaving the school. I only know that he seems to be one of the few people who is able to listen and who will respond to concerns. I am sure we were not the only ones who recognized and appreciated this trait. The kids wrote him a nice note and we gave him a calendar of American National Parks. He continues to tell us to call him if we have any concerns, and even invited us to his mother’s house for homemade doro wat. So, a new chapter is starting for the kids. We will see. We will see.