Ethiopia: The Beginning Of Man

It is said that the beginning of manhood began in Ethiopia.  Looking at the faces here, I believe it.

Here is a model of “Selam”, representing the earliest and most complete skeleton of a child human ancestor ever discovered in the history of paleoanthropology.  She was about three years old when she died 3.3 million years ago.  This was 150,000 years before “Lucy”, whose skeleton was also discovered in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia: A Fusion Of Cultures

Dr. Rahel Nardos moves calmly down the aisles of the ward, smiling and touching the arms of patients.  Growing up in Addis Ababa, Rahel earned a scholarship to attend the American School.  She set off to America to get her undergraduate degree, and soon was sitting in a classroom at Yale, enrolled in medical school.  Her work is becoming more refined as a urogynocologist as a fellow at Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU).

Rahel is devoted to her country, and feels a strong desire to return in some way to help women’s health in rural settings.  She is writing a proposal so that OHSU might start sending a rotation of doctors to Gimbie Hospital.  We all have high hopes that this proposal will go through.  The women of Ethiopia and the medical staff at Gimbie will benefit, and the OHSU students will increase their knowledge by working with pathologies rarely seen in the United States.

Rahel worked day and night at Gimbie Hospital, long after the other doctors retired for the night. Most importantly, she connected with the women via hope and understanding.

We are in awe of you, Rahel, and hope to be a part of your journey.

(See extremely tired Rahel dancing to Madagascar’s Olombelo Ricky’s music here.)

Ethiopia: Daughter Brynn Finds Her Place

White skin and blond hair is rarely seen in Ethiopia, so Brynn has learned to navigate the stares and pleading requests for her attention. When our vehicle stops for gas, crowds of young men press their faces up against the glass and call out for her to look at them.  Most often, she does not exit from the car, as it creates quite a frenzy.

I am proud of Brynn’s involvement here.  She is thoughtful, kind and does not shy away from the difficulties.  I see her tending to patients, cutting suture during surgeries, extracting teeth, even performing pelvic exams to check reinforcement levels after surgery.  As well, she delights in playing with the many orphans that constantly surround her and we all can see that this experience has had a marked effect on her.  She is unwavering in her confidence, even in the most dire situations.

I am not sure I could have handled this so beautifully when I was her age.

Ethiopia: A Rural Woman’s Life

A woman who lives in rural Ethiopia has a physically taxing life.  Wood is gathered and carried home, water must be fetched, and just gathering enough food for one meal a day is a labor intensive effort.  When she becomes ill, her world stops and her children try to fill in as best they can.  If her illness is lengthy, her family suffers greatly, sometimes abandoning her in search of comfort elsewhere.

Most of the women we interviewed have been living with their prolapse or fistula condition for many years.

Ethiopia: Early Ideas, Organization, and Donated Funds

The coordination of our time in Gimbie is a huge undertaking.  Moving a large group from A to B, with varying goals, backgrounds, skills, and convictions takes an enormous amount of energy.  All of the coordination falls upon the shoulders of two people, and their stamina is nothing short of admirable.

Janice, a fitness director from the University of Oregon, is the person who initiated the idea of coming to Gimbie to provide surgeries for women in the first place.  She tirelessly gave her time and talents working with the doctors from Lincoln City who have been trekking to Ethiopia for years to make sure we arrived safely.

In addition to being a master organizer, she also jumped on the fundraising wagon and sold calendars, held bake sales, collected dresses, managed a vegetable seed delivery, and put her heart and soul into making sure everything was working like a well oiled wheel.  She raised $4500 that was earmarked for prolapse surgeries, nutritional supplements for children, and a satellite project.

This year, Janice was awarded The University of Oregon’s Martin Luther King Award.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King

Seyoum, a native Ethiopian and recent Oregonian, spends many sleepless days and nights coordinating travel arrangements, vetting complaints, managing the herd of cats we are, and answering cultural questions to ensure that our experience here is the most positive it can be.  He sees the payoff of his efforts: we all have fallen hard for this beautiful country, and our time here is but a small part of our broader intentions. His energy has enabled us to take that first step.

We cannot do great things – only small things with great love.”  Mother Teresa

Ethiopia: Coffee! Popcorn! Injera! Spaghetti! Exotic birds! Handwashing! Dancing! Donkeys!

How can a culture have so many things I absolutely love?  Strong coffee (and the ceremony surrounding it) is something I am sure to crave when I get back to the states.  And they serve popcorn with it!  POPCORN!

The Ethiopian fasting injera with various vegetable stews is so good that we eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And since Ethiopia is one of the only African countries not to be fully colonized except for a very brief invasion from Italy, the Italian food is to be had everywhere with an Ethiopian twist of including chili peppers in the sauce. Delizioso!

The Ethiopian practice of eating with hands only (no utensils) necessitates frequent hand washing.  When it is done at the table before eating, it is a most sensuous experience when warm, gently flowing water is poured over each person’s hands while everyone watches.

The click clack sound of a herd of donkeys rushing purposely by, with their cute little over-sized heads swaying to the beat of their hooves makes me want to get up and dance!  And speaking of dance, the Ethiopians’ tribal dances with quivering shoulders and neck nibbling is over the top alluring.

Just as you start to believe that you have arrived in paradise, that thought is validated when some colorful exotic bird with a three foot tail flies by or a bush tailed money jumps in the trees over your head.

There are so many things to love about this country.

Ethiopia: Funds For Surgeries

Anna and Lori did not know each other very well a few short months ago.  Yet when they both heard about the medical plight of rural Ethiopian women, they were moved in a way that they could not help but get involved.

They decided to focusing on raising funds for the surgeries so that the women did not have to pay for these services.  At $150 per surgery, they were confident they could gather enough money to pay for 10-15 surgeries.  Little did they know that once they put their energy together, they would become a combustible force!

The idea of planning an event to raise funds was quickly considered.  Neither of them had fund-raising or event planning experience, but they both were driven to create something that touched the hearts of stateside women enough to make a true difference to these Ethiopian women.  The event would entail a “Women Helping Women” focus, and they billed the event as a Ladies’ Night Out.  No children invited, plenty of good food and wine, music, a silent auction and a heartfelt presentation.

In one night, they raised over $10,000.

Anna and Lori decided to travel to Ethiopia to determine the most effective place where they would direct the extra money.  Their first priority was to pay for surgeries, even if our doctors could not perform them all.  They would set up a fund for Dr. Tekle, the Gimbie Hospital OB/GYN, to draw from to pay for the additional surgeries.

Once in Ethiopia, they are now faced with sifting through the numerous requests for help.  This is not a comfortable task, and Lori finds herself in tears most of each day.  How can you say yes to one request and no to another, when each carries the same weight of authentic and desperate need?

After a few days of unrest, Lori and Anna realize that this is only the start of their commitment to these women. They will make a selection for this visit, and will go back home with the knowledge of various areas of need and will continue their fund-raising, involving more people on a grander scale.

Joy returns to them, and their enthusiasm grows each day as they listen to stories and gather information. At the end of each day, I find myself seeking them out, as they exude a galaxy of energy and insight.

Ethiopia: A Midwife’s Role

I ask Paul Howe, the administrator of Gimbie Hospital, what he thinks the hospital needs most.  More midwives is their #1 priority.  If a woman has pre-natal care, signs of difficult pregnancies can be detected early and prolapse or fistulas can be prevented.

Paul would like to see more skilled midwives coming to Gimbie to train local midwives how to make these detections.  Marie, seen here with a patient in labor, is exhausted by the intensity of her work days, yet she consistently soothes each patient with an energetic and loving hand.

Anna, a fundraiser who traveled with us, fills in where needed, quickly learning techniques to comfort a woman in labor.

Ethiopia: Doctors Without Words

When our bodies are ill, we are in a most tender state of being.  This is a time when support is needed in many forms.  When a woman walks miles to a hospital and becomes one of the lucky few who will get to see a doctor, she is at a most vulnerable state.

Here in the US, we ask questions, we are told how our procedures will unfold, we read about conditions, we know the risks.  In Ethiopia, a woman sets aside her fears and bravely surrenders herself to the hands of the doctors who have arrived to help.  She is scared.  She has heard of tales from other women’s experiences at other hospitals where they have experienced excruciating pain due to the lack of anesthesia.  They have seen the infections, disease and early deaths resulting from poor care.

Each woman enters the operating room with hesitant steps, eyes wide open, and silence.  We have interpreters on hand to try to communicate with them, but words rarely are spoken.  The trust level is enormous.

Even when David, the anesthesiologist, has difficulty finding the right spot in Tarike’s back to insert his needle due to her tiny frame, Tarike does not question what is happening.  David’s kind demeanor knows that she is frightened, and he stops often to look into her eyes to try to communicate that all is well.  He frequently asks the interpreter to let her know what is happening, and he softens his voice to try to temper her feelings.

It takes a special doctor to know how to administer care without words.  It takes a special doctor to give up the comforts of a well stocked operating room, with an educated staff, to come to a place and perform surgeries where 50% of the patients have AIDS.

I start to see this operating room as a ballet.  Each movement coordinated and deliberate, graceful hands, tender expressions, bodies flowing together.  At the center is the prima bella, and all eyes are on her.

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