Last week the volunteers in Axum went on our travels. With the leaver’s workshop (can’t believe it’s time to start thinking about this already!) in Addis it was a good excuse to explore a bit more of Ethiopia. Claire and I headed down to Hawassa, a town in the SNNPR region 5 hours bus ride south of Addis Ababa. It is so different from the Ethiopia I know here in Axum. Hawassa is on the edge of a lake and is full of lush greenery, birds, hippos, fishermen and not nearly as much dust as Axum.
We treated ourselves to a bit of luxury and stayed at the lakeside Lewi resort. The monkeys around the grounds provided lots of entertainment although you did have to guard your food. Claire was ‘mugged’ after breakfast by one monkey for her banana as we walked back to the room!
Relaxing by the pool provided much needed rest and relaxation.
The local fish market was a beautiful scene. The fishermen and boys were checking the nets after coming in earlier in the morning and storks were everywhere looking for fish scraps. The boys throw these to them for the tourists but with their scary appearances I didn’t want them getting too close! We also had a wonderful meal and catch up with some other VSO volunteers who are working in Hawassa.
After a few days we headed back up to Addis for the workshop and meetings. Following this I decided to stay in Addis for a couple of extra nights and had the treat of staying at the Hilton hotel (thank you soooo much Mum and Dad). More relaxing by the pool happened as well as lots of lovely food. The margaritas were also amazing – the first cocktail since my arrival in Ethiopia.
I have very much enjoyed the luxury and break of the last week and I appreciated it all the more for it being so different from my everyday life here. It has shown me how far the gap between visiting a country and living in a country can sometimes be. Being aware of what is going on outside the hotel and tourist attractions is important and I hope I will continue to be more aware of what is happening in the local communities of places I travel to in the future.
I’m now back in Axum and it’s the final push to get the neonatal unit finished and equipped with the training needed done before I leave for the UK in a couple of months.
Continuing my adventures a couple of weeks ago I went to Addis Ababa, the capital city. The reason for going was a volunteer committee meeting with other volunteers and VSO staff. This also gave me a chance to meet some of the new volunteers who have arrived in the country recently. One of these is an anaesthetist who has come up to Axum to work at the hospital and share our massive house with us. It’s great to have more company and she is a lovely addition to the Axum family. After finishing that meeting I then met up with the only other VSO paediatrician left in the country, Helen, who is based in Adigrat. Together with VSO staff the following day we went to a NGO gathering where VSO Ethiopia was awarded a best practice award for the neonatal unit project that it is rolling out across the country. The results in some of the neonatal units already set up are impressive with up to a 50% reduction in neonatal mortality. Helen and I were on the VSO stand and about 5 minutes before the deputy prime minister reached us on his tour of the stands of the award winners we were asked what we planned to say to him about the project when he came to our stand! Some quick thinking and we managed to come up with a 2 minute speech about the neonatal unit project highlighting it’s importance, although under 5 mortality has decreased significantly here neonatal mortality has not done the same, and success. Following this we all headed into the lecture theatre and listened to lots of speeches and saw the prize giving before heading off to lunch.
After completing the business part of the trip we got to do some sightseeing. Over the next couple of days as well, as spending time catching up with other volunteers in Addis, we managed to go to the National museum and see Lucy, the skeleton of a human ancestor who lived 3.2 million years ago found in Ethiopia. It was a great exhibition including fossils showing the timeline of the development from early human to homo sapiens. The museum also included artefacts from Axum and Yeha which following the tours I’d done with my parents were fascinating to see and be able to put in context. We also went to the Ethnological museum which is in the old royal palace on the campus of Addis University. This gives information about the different tribes and customs in different parts of Ethiopia.
On the Sunday we flew down to Arba Minch in the south of the country. We were joined by the other VSO volunteers at Axum and Adigrat hospital, Romil and Ashley. There were also representatives from our respective hospitals, the Regional Health Bureau and VSO. The purpose of the visit was to see a neonatal unit set up at the hospital there by former VSO volunteers. It was good to see what it is possible to accomplish. There was locally made equipment, that we hope to replicate, and good infection control practices with a dedicated nursing team. Discussing what we had seen with the CEO and one of the Masters in paediatrics from Axum afterwards it was good to know that we all want the same improvements for Axum in the developing of a neonatal unit. It still seems like there is a long way to go but hopefully slowly with everyone working towards the same goal we may get there.
Arba Minch, which means 40 springs, is a surrounded by beautiful green countryside as well as two lakes, the 2nd and 3rd largest in Ethiopia, which are separated by a small mountain range called the Bridge of God. Despite it raining for almost 24 hours the weather cleared the following day which enabled us to do some sightseeing. Helen, Ashley, Romil and I headed off with a guide, driver, boat captain and scout (with gun). After abandoning the driver when the track became too muddy we walked down to the shore of the smaller of the two lakes to set off on a boat trip. As we crossed the lake we were lucky to see two hippos on the shore.
After watching for a while and getting very close they both headed off, one into the forest on the edge of the lake and the other into the water. Then it was onto a crocodile ‘market’ which is an area of lake shore where crocodiles congregate to sun themselves. We were warned about keeping quiet to avoid their attention.
Apparently a number of fishermen are killed each year by them – at least we were in metal boat unlike the fishermen who use boats which are logs tied together to place their nets in the middle of the lake.
After crossing to the other side we got off and walked up to a savannah area. Just as I was despairing of seeing them a family of zebra was sighted walking towards us.
Following this very successful trip we headed back for a rest in the afternoon before going out to Paradise Lodge, a very nice hotel, to enjoy a drink in the evening looking out over a fantastic view as the sunset.
The following day we flew back up to Addis and after a brief stopover I’m now back in Axum and back at work on the ward as well as developing the plans for the neonatal unit. I’ve not planned any further trips currently but will definitely be exploring this beautiful country more over the next few months.