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.
After almost a week here in Axum I feel that I should write about my first impressions before I get used to it – although that may take a while. Everyone has been friendly and welcoming asking ‘how do I find Axum?’ and wanting it to be good. People smile as you pass them and the woman living behind my house and her family who live opposite always smile and try to pass the time of day (the language is a barrier currently). As I pass children in the streets the shouts of ferengi (foreigner) and hello start and continue for long after I have walked by having said hello or selam in return. The bolder ones run up to shake my hand.
Axum has two major roads which are tarmacked – one runs through the centre of town and the other goes around the edge passing Axum by. The roads immediately off the main street are cobbled and as you get further away they are stony, dirt tracks. I live on one of these tracks but it’s only a few minutes walk to the main road. The bajaj (like a tuktuk) motor up and down the main road acting like the line taxi minibuses you see elsewhere in towns in Africa. They were brought over by an enterprising businessman and are now the main way to get from one end of Axum to the other.
The animals of Axum deserve a special mention. I think there must be more donkeys than cars. You see them everywhere carrying their burdens or drawing carts following routes they know so well with barely any guidance. Herds of sheep and goats also roam the streets. These are not the neat white animals but brown shaggy ones. Ethiopia is known for it’s bird life and it is in abundance here. There are lots of species I’ve never seen before and a tremendous dawn chorus every morning. Of course the flock of pigeons living above my bedroom create some unwanted noise. One of the cutest animals I saw was a squirrel on my first day. It looked more like a cross between a squirrel and a chipmunk but I was assured it was a squirrel. The most unexpected has to be the camel I saw today passing in front of the hospital!
This weekend is Mekele (the finding of the true cross) celebration and drumbeats and music fill the air before the main event tomorrow.