Maureen and Dr. Ed Haworth: Enjoying the sunset at the mouth of the Blue Nile.
Sharing a smile with Dr. Ruth Lawley on our excursion.
After Gondor, we proceeded to Bahir Dar, a warm and balmy city on Lake Tana. Two health volunteers were stationed there, Ed Haworth, a 30-year-old pediatrician originally from Cheshire, England, and Ruth Lawley, a 56-year-old obstetrician and gynecologist from Britain’s Cumbria region. We observed them on their rounds at Felege Hiwot Referral Hospital, checking on tiny babies in the neo-natal unit and quizzing their medical students on various ailments. Ruth was doing a six-month placement and it was her third time working in Africa (she had been in Uganda and Tanzania before). Her responsibilities included emergency surgery as well as teaching. “The medical students here are very keen. They’re the future of this hospital,” she said, adding, “Teaching is the most fun. On some Friday afternoons I get a round of applause from the students.”
After their day’s work was complete, Ruth and Ed agreed to take a boat ride to the mouth of the Blue Nile with us. We arranged for a boat to pick us up near our hotel and motored out onto Lake Tana. Fishermen in papyrus boats glided by silently. We reached a protected inlet where the Nile’s waters begin and sat in the quiet. Two crested cranes did a bobbing dance on the land and we watched, transfixed. As we headed back, the sunset turned the water a fiery red. Taking a deep breath, I could almost feel eons of time captured in the lake’s quiet calm.
Maureen and Dr. Sarah Philip at the sparkling new hospital in Mekelle.
After Maychew, we went to Mekelle and met VSO volunteers Dr. Sarah Philip, a 32-year-old obstetrician and gynecologist from Yorkshire, England, and Dr. Tsitsi Chawatama, a 33-year-old pediatrician also from the UK. Sarah met us at the front door of Ayder Hospital, connected with Mekelle University’s college of health science. “I’ve just gotten off night duty, so shall we go for coffee?” she asked. Tsitsi joined us and we headed to the hospital cafeteria where we ordered steaming macchiato. “I thought I was going home and then they called me to do three emergency c-sections. I’m a little tired, so excuse me if I’m a little slow this morning,” explained Sarah. Both Sarah and Tsitsi were a few months into their one-year placements. Tsitsi explained her role as “developing services to reduce neo-natal mortality and teaching student doctors.” Sarah, whose mom and brother had volunteered for VSO in the past, was finding herself doing a combination of surgery and teaching. Five years into her specialist training in the UK (she has two more to go), she finds the experience is rewarding. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to come as a trainee doctor. I have skills that save lives and I can see the line between life and death even more clearly here.”
A blonde woman in a white lab coat lifts an x-ray up to the window and six similarly clad young people gather round. Below them on a small iron bed lies a motionless child. Doctor Joanna Laycock is on her morning rounds at Hiwot Fana Specialized Hospital in Harar, surrounded by her students. “What are the signs of viral pneumonia?,” she asks. A student points to a clouded area of the x-ray. “And bacterial? What about tuberculosis?” An answer is murmured as Laycock nods and flicks away a fly.
The 31-year-old, British-born volunteer is six weeks into her one-year placement at the hospital’s pediatric ward. “This is completely eye-opening for me. I’m seeing things I’d never see had home,” she says. The most common cases are rheumatic fever, tuberculosis and malnutrition. There have been two fatal cases of tetanus since she arrived — something unheard of in the western world where vaccines have all but eradicated the bacterial illness.
My teammates (photographer Ethan Baron, and Catherine Beach, CUSO-VSO recruitment) and I have been on the road for the last few days, visiting volunteers in various placements in the east of the country. After speaking with Laycock, we meet up with Susan Davies-Jones in the medical school building adjacent to the hospital. From Northern Ireland, the 31-year-old midwife has a placement as an instructor. This morning she’s excited. “My furniture has arrived,” she says triumphantly as a desk and computer are loaded into her office. Although her project is to take students into communities and assess health needs and apply her knowledge to practices such as breast feeding, she hasn’t been able to get started yet. “I’ve spent the past month sharing offices and sitting in the hall.” A big smile spreads across her face. “Now I have a home base. It feels fantastic.”
THE ITALIAN CONNECTION
• Ethiopia was never colonized, but Italy occupied the country during WWII
• Pizza and pasta are on just about every menu
• An Ethiopian red wine that isn’t too bad is Gouder, costs around 60 birr for 750 ml (around $4 US)
• Restaurants have 2 prices – local and Ferengi.