Ethiopia: Degie’s Story – Part 2

By now, many family members are crowding the doors, becoming more desperate as time moves on. I try to ease their concern by saying “teru doctor” (good doctor) but they look past me. Crying turns to sobbing, as each family member finds a stoop to sit upon outside of the operating room that is maneuvered without running water.

By the time I have changed into scrubs, I see that the nurse anesthetist is already preparing Degie for her spinal block. I rush into the room, find a position that is far from the sterile field, and set up my camera. Within literally minutes, Dr. Philippa exclaims with excitement, “And…..WE HAVE A BABY!”. The room is filled with the glorious sound of the cries of a newborn baby.

Though extremely weak, Degie is now alert, and begins fervently looking about the room, her eyes tracking every move of where her baby is. I ask a midwife to bring the baby over to her so she can see it. He does so, and she stares deeply at the infant. I take a few photos of the baby, and exit the room. I can’t take my scrubs off fast enough to make my way outside. I show the family the photo of their newest addition and say ” konjo baby” (beautiful baby). The sisters and brothers press against each other to get a peek at the photo. The grandfather shouts for joy.

Degie’s parents are both dead, but she has a wide circle of support with her many brothers and sisters and grandparents. One young man looks particularly shy, and stands apart from the group. I move away from the crowd and show him the back of the camera. A slight smile starts at the corners of his mouth, and he looks intently into my eyes.

“Degie husband”, someone whispers. I turn to try to say something to him, but he has moved away. He now stands in front of the doorway, trying to get a glimpse of his wife.

Ethiopia: Degie’s Story – Part 1

Degie is curled on her bed, her body is still. Her breathing is shallow, and her eyes can’t seem to focus. Her tattered gabby cloth swirls around her body, and one bare foot is dangling over the side of the bed. I look at her for a long time, wishing I could help her. I hear a voice, and see that the woman in the bed over in the corner is also watching her.

“She sick. Very sick,” she says in broken English. I nod silently in agreement.

Degie is tiny. Her rail thin body is listless, and her mouth gapes open as she tries to take in each breath. I try to find a midwife to ask about her, and as I start to move away, Degie screams out in agony. A midwife rushes into the room, followed by our medical team. She has been in labor for a long time, no one knows for sure exactly how many days it has been. A few family members are sitting near her bed, and as the day progresses, more brothers and sisters trickle in, having heard how sick she is. Many are openly crying.

In rural Ethiopia, family members are expected to fill in as nurses and to provide other items of support such as food and bed sheets, but it is apparent that this family is here because they love her dearly and they are deeply frightened.

This is Degie’s first pregnancy, and she is near death due to this long labor.

The midwives administer Pitocin, and wait for her contractions to come more frequently. Once they do, they ask her older brothers to carry her into the labor room, and they comply in a stoic manner. It is not hard to see the concern on their faces. Degie continues to contort her body as each contraction comes, yet she is so weak she can hardly breathe, let alone scream during her pain. The midwives ask Degie to start pushing. They try everything to get the baby out, but it will not move.

Degie is suffering from obstructed labor, which often results in death for both the mother and baby.  If a woman does live through obstructed labor, she frequently develops a fistula, which has devastating physical, social and psychological effects.

After two hours of pushing and an attempt at delivering the baby with a vacuum, one midwife, Selam, asks for visiting obstetrician Dr. Philippa to return to the labor room. Once Dr. Philippa arrives, she agrees with Selam that Degie’s tiny pelvis will not accommodate the birth of this baby and the baby can only be delivered by cesarean section. When they ask for Degie’s consent, she shakes her head no. She is scared and is worried about the money: less than $100. The midwives tell her brother that both Degie and the baby will die if the baby does not come out soon. Degie’s brother assures Degie that they will sell precious cattle and do whatever it takes to find the money. He pleads with her to say yes.

Degie gives her permission, and is swiftly transported to the operating room where a team of midwives, a nurse anesthetist, Dr. Philippa and Physician’s Assistant Darlene have assembled. They are ready for her.

Ethiopia: A Convergence Of Support

In our fury to obtain water and find sources of clean vegetables and resolve the insect biting problem and find the latest irrelevant lost object, we sometimes forget why we are here in this dusty, remote village of Mota. Bekaset’s story is a jolting reminder of the desperate need for help in this region.

Bekaset’s pregnancy progressed normally until she went into labor. As she labored, her pelvis was too small to deliver the baby, and the baby became wedged in her birth canal. She knew something was terribly wrong, but she lived far from any health care and there were no midwives in her village who could help her. Her labor became obstructed, and the contractions forced the baby lower and lower into her birth canal. The relentlessly intense pressure eventually tears her uterus open, and the baby quickly dies.

Had Bekaset not heard good reports about Mota Hospital, had she not made the decision to leave her safe and comfortable home in her village of Debrework to try to find help here, had she not felt physically able to make the long bus and foot trek to Mota Hospital, had the men in her life not supported this journey by carrying her as she labored, had she suffered in silence like so many Ethiopian women do, she would be dead today. This would have left her children motherless and her weary, loving husband, who toils all day in the fields, uncared for. It is apparent in the eyes of her husband, Niguss, that he is desperate for her to live. He looks at her tenderly, his fingers slowly stroking the edge of her blanket. Words are unnecessary at times such as these, and cultural differences disappear. His pleading, yearning, silent eyes say everything. They will haunt me for life.

Instead, Bekaset is now under the care of skilled midwives and our medical team. A decision is swiftly made to remove the dead baby and her uterus, so she does not perish. Her surgery proceeds without issues, and her recovery is quick.

Days pass, and it is now time to go home. Her husband and father, who have been patiently caring for her and bringing her food during her days of recovery, are there to walk with her to the bus terminal. Her face is drawn; she has lost the baby she had come to know within her, and she also realizes that she will never bear another child. Yet, there is a deep respect for those who helped her here at Mota Hospital: she is alive, well, and able to return to her other children and household duties.

We give her a pair of donated KEEN shoes to make her walk home a bit more comfortable, and I watch as her family take tiny steps behind her to ensure that she is supported. The love is so apparent, more so than I have witnessed in many recent years of observing my own culture. They know what Mota Hospital has done for their lives, and without words, we all know why we came here.

Eyes speak, hearts leap, hands join.

Ethiopia: Birth!

I am a mother three times over. My offspring are away at college, and I try hard to release my hold on them and not hover like a mama bear. But it is an undeniable truth that they are a physical part of me, each one, with all of their idiosyncrasies and troubles and joys. I feel them, like they are appendage, even when they are miles away.

Before I had my first child, I never thought I would be changed because of the experience. I had grand plans to return to work after a respectable six weeks off, only to hold my firstborn son Ben in my arms and sob uncontrollably, knowing that my decision making was altered for life. Everything, everything, began to be centered around what is best for this child. My own desires seemed lofty and were suddenly not so important.

My first pregnancy progressed well, and I ballooned a 60+ pounds. I was proud of my spindly legs carrying such an enormous belly. People stopped to stare when I was only in my seventh month, thinking I was about to deliver any minute. I soaked up that attention and felt like a queen everywhere I went. Doors were opened, chairs were offered. The whole while, I felt glorious, never sick or weak, only blissfully content as a felt each kick.

Ben announced his entry into this world almost exactly on his due date, and all seemed fine at first. Then, after laboring for 17 hours and pushing for 3 hours, it was determined that he was in extreme stress and he simply could not fit through my birth canal. A whopping 9 lbs 11 oz of a baby he was! He also broke the hospital’s record for being their longest baby at 23 1/2 inches long. I was proud of my Big Ben.

I reflect on this now, as I watch a mother suffering her labor after walking miles to get to Mota Hospital. Had I lived here, I would surely have died during childbirth. I would never have come to know my three children. I would not have seen Ben write his first magazine article, or Aaron develop his love of the electric bass, or Brynn fly effortlessly on her feet while she danced. I would not have settled countless arguments or worried late at night when they did not come home or cry when they said they hated something I did.

I am now in the birthing room, and I watch Adele suffer. She repeatedly pulls on her ragged dress in pain, and I see that the baby is not easily coming. The midwives scurry to get the vacuum and swiftly adhere it to the baby’s head. With mighty force, they begin to pull, as she writhes in pain. They pull harder. They yell at Adele. Two people pull even harder together. They must cut her to widen the opening, determining she does not need a C-section. They pull with all of their might. Dr. Philippa steps in, and tells them to alter their angle: lift up, not down. Finally, after much screaming and fierce pulling, the baby is out. Adele stares at the ceiling, her eyes not searching for the baby at all. I can’t fathom what she is thinking. I watch her, and slowly she turns her head in search of her first born child.

The midwives ask her to get down from the table, and she walks over to the door where her mother and grandmother wait for her. They will assume post care, feeding her, keeping her warm.

I am in complete awe of the midwives here at Mota Hospital, and it is a true honor to even be in their presence. Tedele is quiet as I acknowledge his skill. He looks away, then down at his bloodied hands. I am sure that not all of these situations resolve so easily. He knows that I am only seeing one small aspect of his job.

Tedele turns to the buckets of water and silently washes his hands.

Ethiopia: For The Love Of Water

Water. Glorious, delicious, comforting water.

Much has been said in recent years about the importance of water, the impending worldwide scarcity, the droughts that countries suffer. Yet it can never quite hit home or feel like a reality until the loss of water is personally experienced, when each drop is precious.

We knew this hospital would not have running water. We stocked up on drinking water before we left BahirDar, and made sure that we had sufficient cleansing wipes for our hands while working in the hospital. But what happens when a bottle of ketchup drops on the floor, splatters everywhere and there is nothing to clean it up with? This leads to an invitation for cockroaches, an increase in mosquitos, and a myriad of other issues. Or when we need to clean a dish, or fry eggs for a dinner, or wash a utensil or wash our hands after handling something we know is contaminated? Do we use precious bottled drinking water for that?

We conserve the best we can, yet find ourselves battling with the wash lady over how much water she is using, literally fighting with the handle of a bucket in order to keep one in the house for other uses. We get water from the government a few days a week, but as soon as it it turned on, the hoarding begins, and it quickly runs out. We join the hoarding by purchasing more buckets to fill up with the scarce resource, and even collect the bad water from the leaking sink to use for flushing our toilet. Swiftly, we join the thousands of other Ethiopians who live in extremely unsanitary conditions.

Public health posters plead for people to wash their hands to prevent the spread of disease. This action is embedded into our Western culture, yet what do you do when you have no water?

Animals pass on the road, their bodies thin, bones protruding. Every day, there is a multitude of decisions over who gets how much water and when. Bathing goes to the wayside, and still, we have trouble choosing how we will use our supply. We decide to drastically reduce our cooking, which uses more water than we can spare. Boiling eggs requires little clean up, and we can use the water for something else, so that becomes our staple protein. And when we sparingly use water to occasionally wash our hands, we do so over the toilet so that water can flush waste.

We stop drinking water, from subconscious thinking, and I faint one morning from lack of fluids. We have no car to retrieve more water, so our minds turn to how we can pay someone with a donkey cart to help us. All the while, we see women and small children carrying, for miles, large plastic containers full of river water. And we realize how fortunate we are: we have the means to purchase water. Now I know why kids fight their way to the firenji when we stop in villages, scrambling to get the last bit of water in our water bottles.

Wash your hands to prevent the spread of disease? This sentiment seems a joke to me now. And it makes me incredibly sad that water is scarce here at this hospital, a place where sanitary conditions are expected. A well would serve this health care community in ways that are immeasurable. A simple system of collecting rain water and saving it for the dry season would drastically have an impact on the lives of the doctors, patients and students who long to be of health service in this isolated terrain.

Ethiopians have a right to water just the way we do in Western society. I think of this every time I face the sink at home. I say a silent “thank you” every time my hand turns a faucet. I long to be able to build a big pipe that travels across our continent, under the sea and over the mountains to be able to flow here in this little village in Ethiopia. Surely we can find a way to conserve, and share, this resource.

I accept this time of extreme difficulty without the luxury of flowing water. It teaches me many things. And knowing that it is a temporary situation gets me by. But oh how my heart aches for those who will remain here, struggling each day to find their drops of glorious, delicious, comforting water.


The Mota hospital scrub room.

Ethiopia: Home Sweet Home

Here are a few photos of our home here in Mota, Ethiopia.


Our living space.


Our kitchen. Sink leaks badly. But hey! We have a refrigerator!


Our bathroom: water comes a few times a week if we are lucky. Toilet does not flush, but we can pour water into it.


Our trusty Mr. Bleach. Food is soaked in it, kitchen is cleaned with it. I love Mr. Bleach.


The outside of our home.


Wash day!

Ethiopia: One Busy Woman

Felekech Indriss (30 years old) lives far out in the countryside in a village called Fuchucha, within the Konso region of Ethiopia, too far from any school where she can be educated. When she heard that Mercy Corps was going to start a business education center near her village, she quickly signed up. Through the PROSPER Savings and Credit Co-op (SACCO) program, Felekech learned how to run a small business. Her education consisted of five to six days of training, then an extra four days of leadership training. Through hard work and determination, her skills grew, and today she is the treasurer of the savings and loan co-op.

For years, Felekech and her village friends used to spend any money they got right away, but now they have learned how to save it for future use. Many women from her village save money so that they can buy salts, grains, small livestock, small sheep and goats, fruit and other goods from far away in Konso, so they can sell them for a small profit in villages and at other markets.

As their business grows and after some training, women have the option to join the savings and credit co-op. They can present business plans to a review group in their region and if their proposal passes that review, they can then apply for a loan. A local Mercy Corps team, comprised of Ethiopian loan officers, reviews the plan and determines whether the loan is approved. Loans range from $60-180. One side benefit from this training is a welcomed surprise: the women say they are much more patient with solving problems with respect to their business….and at home.

In addition to her other duties, Felekech is also a Mercy Corps Volunteer Community Health Worker. She teaches the women of Fuchucha village about health education: sanitation, vaccination benefits, and overall maternal health. The village women learn how to better organize their homes, balance their meals with various nutrients, and how to store their food to prevent contamination.

Since Felekech is spending more time with her small business and other responsibilities, Mercy Corps donated a fuel efficient stove to the Fuchucha village. These stoves have a 50% fuel efficiency improvement over burning wood. They also need less fuel, which means less time a woman needs to spend gathering wood.

Felekech, we are honored to meet you. You are a great influence to many.

Ethiopia: A Shoe Business

Within Mercy Corps’ PROSPER program, the Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) project brings much confidence to women in the Konso district of Ethiopia. Once a woman has saved a small amount of money, she is able to join the savings co-op and become eligible to apply for small business loans.

Kanessa Ayano, 24, owns a shoe making business and through her Mercy Corps facilitated business classes, she has learned how to increase her profit margins by creating an enhanced product which has created a stronger demand for her shoes. The original shoe was made entirely from tire rubber. Now, she is using discarded skins from animals after harvest to make more decorative sandals.

She has also expanded her inventory to include belts and bag straps, which are also sold at the market. Kanessa is happy to report that her village cannot keep up with the demand, so they are looking at employing more people from neighboring villages. Kanessa works five hours each day making shoes, and she is very proud of her village’s ability to create something that many people love to wear.

Copyright 2017 Joni Kabana. All rights reserved. Site by TD