Sunday, 25 March 2012

25th March 2012

A quieter week has passed, although it may simply be that I have completely adjusted to life here.  I haven’t been out to clinics much but have at least had the opportunity to enter my data. I’ve seen a total of 394 women now, although following them up to see what actually happens at the delivery is a mission in itself. The increasing incidences of petrol shortages will undoubtedly make it more difficult to run around the countryside finding the women I saw in the antenatal clinics. No-one ever said it would be easy…..

Car park at the 'restaurant' in Guliso

Jaba is now 5 months old and we have started to introduce ‘solids’. I know it’s a little early but milk is not easy to get and we’ve run out of the Cow & Gate brought over from England. So what do you wean an Ethiopian baby on? Well, it appears that there is a light brown powder, containing some 14 ingredients that you mix with water and give as a ‘soup’. The ingredients are written in Amharic and so I’m not totally sure what it really contains but it looks incredibly similar to the Shiro that we eat. Makabe tells me that it has things like wheat, barley, corn, and teff in it and is also drunk by mothers after delivering their babies or if those who are unwell. Apparently, some salt or sugar is added, presumably to make it more palatable. It tastes a bit like sweet tea but this may be simply because it was warm and sweet. It’s probably reasonably nutritious and presumably easily digested. I also gave him some strained apples, although he won’t get this very often as they are at least 20 Birr each (80p) and we only get them from Addis. He certainly enjoyed it; but to be honest, he seems to guzzle down most things.

 Jaba is rather fond of Mr LaMaz, the colourful bear

 The DVDs are being put to great use!

Amidst the smoke from the burning rubbish, I noticed two men digging a hole in our garden this morning and asked the gardener what they were doing. He said that the men worked for the hospital and were digging a hole to bury the babies who die on the ward. So our back garden that I look out onto every morning is in fact a neonatal cemetery. I wished I hadn’t asked!

Talking of babies, the little baby boy whose young mother died a few weeks ago was visited by the man who runs the orphanage. There is undoubtedly various bits of paperwork that has to be completed before he will go to the orphanage, but by the sad look on the nurses’ faces (they have become rather attached to him), it won’t be long before he is on his way. Alas, there is another very small baby in the ward, his mother went into premature labour at home and delivered what can only be a baby of about 28 weeks gestation – his eyes are barely open and he weighs just 1.2Kg. Worryingly, he doesn’t absorb any of the 10% glucose I gave him down the nasogastric tube – he simply vomits it shortly afterwards. We are trying to warm him as this may improve things a bit but I fear he is unlikely to survive. He’s just a little too small to survive with the care that we can offer him. His mother is also a little unwell, having presumably lost a considerable amount of blood. She should be OK though as she can be given a blood transfusion, using one of her relative’s donated blood.

I was asked a while ago why it was that so many of the orphans are boys and not girls. This does indeed appear to be the situation and is an interesting question that I have been trying to answer for some time. From what I am told by various people, girls are more useful than boys. It is the girls who carry the water, cook the food, wash the clothes, clean the house etc etc. The boys, generally play in the dirt, are noisy and don’t do anything to help around the house – according to Ethiopian culture, this is clearly woman’s work. As they get older, boys will cost more to keep as they will be more likely to be sent to school than the girls and when they marry, the family will have to pay the prospective wife’s family a sum of money for the daughter – usually around 10,000 Birr (£400). So it would seem that when a child becomes parentless, there are three options; either a family member will take on the child; or someone in the village may offer to look after him/her; or thirdly, the child is left to fend for itself. Given that girls are more useful and cheaper to keep than boys, it would seem that the third option is more likely to be on offer to the boys. I’m not sure how close to reality this situation is but I’ve heard it said by a few people now and it sort of makes some kind of logical sense. Some people also say that girls should not be left to fend for themselves and therefore it would be harder to leave them on the street.

Carrying on with the theme of gender differences, I was struck by the surprised look on our Ethiopian guest’s face last night when I served him with food before anyone else. He was astonished that Jeremy, because of his age, didn’t get to be served first. He was really quite surprised to learn that in the UK it should be ladies first and then the gentleman but always the guest first (female guest before male guest). In Ethiopia, he explained, men are always served with the food first and the older men are served before the younger men. Women, it would seem, are always last to get the food. Indeed, I have often commented about this in a restaurant – on such an occasion that I eat out – whereby I always seem to get my food after Jeremy, even though my dish clearly takes less time to prepare than his. So although the girls are better off when abandoned in childhood, they have to make the most of this advantageous position, as it certainly doesn’t last for long.

We have finally managed to book a trip to Gondor and Lalibella, which are the key tourist areas of Ethiopia. It seems, from the guidebooks, that there are reasonably nice hotels in both places and as I have selected only those classified as ‘top end’, I am hoping that there will be plenty of hot water and reasonable food. We leave for Addis on 7th April, fly to Gondor on the 8th and then fly on to Lalibella on the 10th for a couple of nights before flying back to Addis. 

Bird eating the insects form the banana plant

Pesky chickens are still refusing to lay any eggs

The following day……

I am not sure when I will be able to get this blog on the net as we are amidst a season of restricted electricity supply and non-existent internet access. Indeed, we were caught in the middle of a huge storm yesterday evening when we slipped out for a St George’s beer down at the Churo bar. The rain, thunder and lightening continued through the night, turning the dusty roads into deep red, thick mud. Apparently, the storm has brought down the power supply cable in Gimbie town and so many of the local men are busy trying to repair it this morning. The nice thing being that there is a great sense of community spirit – the community need electricity and so the community will repair the cable. They can’t really telephone the ‘electricity board’ so they just get on and fix it themselves.

There was competition between the megaphoned man that calls people to prayer (he, by the way, unfortunately has a petrol generator) and the all too familiar sound that flows from the hospital fence when someone has died. It was particularly loud this morning so I went to investigate, only to find hundreds of people congregated along the fence seeing off a Isuzu truck, overflowing with white shawled people, and I am guessing, the deceased body. It’s interesting to observe how people in Ethiopia deal with death. Firstly, everyone in the village will be involved in the ‘ceremony’, which means there is generally a large group gathering around the place of death. When news of the death reaches the village, people flock to be near to the family and to offer their condolences. This is done by howling and wailing loudly with the family until the grief or sadness is released. From what I have seen, it seems to last for about 15-20 minutes, after which, everyone appears to know that it is time to move on and they return home. I think the family take the body back to the village with them and I guess the local funeral is then arranged for either that or the following day. Everyone gets buried in the village graveyard.

By the way, for all of you who have been following this blog over the past 6 months, you have now read over 35,000 words!

And after the rain, came millions of termites…………..

I don’t think we are officially in the ‘wet season’ yet. I’m told that there are the ‘small rains’ and then the ‘large rains’, so assume that we are currently experiencing the small rains. The downpour of termites that follow the rain is much more of a worry than the rain itself and I seriously hope that this is not a taste of things to come. The photos below give just a glimpse of the military invasion across the hospital campus last night. Actually, forget across the campus - the invasion was largely based along the illuminated path to the hospital, which you may recall, leads directly to our house. Yes, the electricity came back on around 6pm, creating the perfect termite landing strip. So last night, just as we were finishing the cheese fondue (was a great need to use up cheese as power cut meant no refrigeration), we suddenly became surrounded by flying insects heading for the living room and kitchen lights. Each second, dozens more arrived, frantically circling every light inside and outside the house.  Thousands more were banging desperately against the closed windows and doors, making a sound similar to the rainstorm of the previous evening. It took a several minutes to work out that the port of entry to the house was a 2cm gap under the patio door. It took several minutes further, plus a short power cut, to realise that the best strategy to deal with them was to turn off the lights. However, being surrounded by large flying termites in the dark is not a happy prospect for anyone, let alone someone who is constantly plagued by a crawling sensation on her skin!

Thankfully, termites fly madly for around 45 minutes, drop their wings and then scuttle off in search of soft mud with which to build their home – hopefully, not the mud you have used to build your house.

A happily 'full' toad leaving the scene


  1. Interesting blog but those termites are horrendous! Have a good time with Hannah, she will have a fantastic experience a far cry from her usual holiday!

  2. Hi Karen
    And again a good moment reading that! Thanks for the info on "Dinghil". How sad and incredible that this "condition" is mentioned on official docs! When one knows what happened to her, one can measure how far women have come in the last century and how much road there is still to do.

    My email is nathalie dot joel at virgin dot net
    How appropriate... You obviously type it with the punctuation, just trying to protect it from crawlers of another type. Please remove asap too. Hope to write to you as soon as we make contact.