The entire Ethiopian phone network – yes, there is only one network – has been switched off for 48 hours in a desperate attempt to stop cheating in the grade 10 exams. Apparently, everyone has been passing the exams as they have all had the answers texted to them. I am told that it is not the students who initiated the cheating but rather the teachers. As soon as the exam scripts are opened, a teacher passes a copy to another teacher, who then completes the paper and sends the answers around by phone to some syndicate of teachers who then somehow inform the students in the exam rooms. So for 3 million Birr, the government are able to buy ETC silence and we are yet further dislocated from the world. As it happens, and I don’t know if this is linked, the internet has also been off for the past 24 hours, making any form of communication rather difficult.
I am beginning to dread Wednesdays as this is the day I visit the largest health centre to provide antenatal care and it is really busy. 68 women turned up, all of whom wanted to have an ultrasound scan. Who said women do not want antenatal care?? The latest figures released form the government state that only 46% of women in Ethiopia have any form of antenatal care. Well, I can safely say that we have managed to improve on that in this area. Many women come back two or three times, having walked some 2 or 3 hours to get there and often having to wait most of the day to be seen. It is just impossible to see everyone in one day and so I have told 30 of them to come back on Friday, when I will do an extra clinic. We try to see those who have travelled the furthest first, but the system breaks down as women push their way to the front, having no concern about their queue jumping.
The husband of a woman who had a C-section in the hospital last week, came to see me, asking for help for his wife who was apparently at home with a gaping wound and unable to move from the bed. He said that her wound had burst open and that she couldn’t be moved. Well, what was I suppose to do? Given the torrential rain over the past few weeks and the increasing difficulty driving on the ‘main’ road to the health centres, I asked them where they lived. Having only just got the car back from the garage, I was not in the mood to find myself sliding off the road and into some ditch. ‘Oh it’s OK, they are just 5-10 minutes on the main road’ I was told. Being considerably experienced in Ethiopian inability to tell you the truth, I checked this information at least 3 times. Yes, I was told, it is definitely on the main road and yes, her wound is gaping open and yes she is unable to travel.
In order for me to get back to Gimbie before dark, I need to leave the health centre at 4pm. You really don’t want to travel in the dark as there are no street lights and assorted animals belligerently lying on the road. If you kill a cow, you have to pay 10,000 Birr (£375.00). A sheep is 4,000, a goat is 3,000 and a donkey is 3-4000. If you kill a person, you get 17 years in prison – not a nice thought at all. So I closed the clinic at 3pm and we set off to see the woman in her home. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that; 1) the road was anything but ‘main’ and due to the rain, it was rather muddy/flooded; 2) it was a 25-30 minute drive to the house; and 3) the wound was not gaping but rather, there was a slight infection causing minor breakdown of the edges. Having placed a dry dressing over the wound to stop the dozen or so flies getting to it and prescribing some Amoxycillin, we left the house as quick as possible to get back to the health centre, where a pregnant woman and her husband were waiting to be taken to the hospital.
We made it back just before nightfall and I vowed, once again, never to believe the story I am told. Whilst frustrating, I am beginning to see the funny side of the things that happen – probably because I know that in a short while, I will be walking away form all this. If this is your life, however, you must totally despair. Perhaps that explains some of the attitudes here?
I often wonder how this little chap will turn out. He is going to have to deal with a lot of frustration over his lifetime. At least for now, he’s happy……..