We reluctantly leave Barhirdar to start our next leg of travel. There is so much we want to do to assist Dr. Andrew Browning at the Fistula Hospital, and we make a commitment to spread the word about his devotion to helping these suffering women. As we board the plane that will take us back to Addis Ababa, we all feel a longing to find a way to help in the most effective way, whether that takes the form of fund-raising, connecting resources, or returning to actually perform work there.
In Addis Ababa, we rejuvenate by eating spicy plates of injera and attending a traditional coffee ceremony. Morning comes quickly, and we join the larger group of doctors to start our nine hour drive to Gimbie, where prolapse surgeries will take place at Gimbie Hospital. Women suffer prolapse as a result of prolonged laboring during childbirth. Unlike fistula, there is no odor or fecal spill, but prolapse is a highly uncomfortable condition and results in the same social ostracizing and abandonment effects.
We wind along curving highland roads, dodging cows, donkeys, baboons and an occasional horse adorned with flowers. People turn to stare as our entourage glides through small villages.
In Gimbie, we are given a warm greeting by masses of orphaned children who live around the hospital grounds. It is striking how many of them surround us, and we can see the effects that the Western visitors’ handouts have had on these children. Energetic and hopeful, we hear the same story over and over: how their parents have died from AIDS or some other affliction and they need to get money to buy school books, pay tuition, eat a rare meal. They are relentless with their begging, and it is difficult to walk from one building to the next without persistent demands to help them, with frequent competitive fist fights breaking out in attempts to get our undivided attention.
Little did we know that this experience with the orphans would only serve as preparation for the larger issue of watching grown adults positioning for the chance to see one of the doctors. Rural bush communication is lightning quick, and within a day, women are lined up to try to get into the hospital. Many have lived with their prolapse condition for years, and they see this as their opportunity to be healed so that they can then go back to working in the fields. A few members of our group have raised funds to provide for 50 surgeries. From the desperation that is readily apparent, we quickly see that this is a drop in the bucket against the need.
I find an interpreter, and begin to interview each woman. Over the next few days, I watch the desperation level increase, as they know that the doctors will not stay for long. For the women, they express this quietly in the longing in their eyes. For the men who have come to fight for a chance for their sisters to be seen, the desperation comes in the form of pushing, screaming and shoving at the hospital entrance.
A guard stands by to perform the difficult task of deciding who gets to enter, and who does not.