Ethiopia: Pre-Organization

A significant amount of prep work is occurring during these final days before we leave for Ethiopia,  Everyone wants the operating schedule to flow smoothly, so there is much dialog circling about the organization of the flow of patients.  Scott, the person who is in charge of the Gimbie Hospital operating room, sent this email today:

The OB/GYN surgeons at Gimbie will be Dr. Tekle (Ethiopian, Maternity World Wide) and Dr. Leonie ( UK , Maternity World Wide).   I do want to assure you that our surgeons will make all efforts to appropriately follow up on each patient.

Our operating room is set up with two operating theatres.  Most general surgeries and C/S are performed in OR 1.  We will use OR 2 for the UVP surgeries, since it has the only OR table where a patient can be placed in a lithotomic position.  I apologize that this table is very old and not the most convenient, but it is all we have.  Portable lighting is the only available lighting in OR 2, and is not the most desirable.

I appreciate that your team is bringing instruments, drapes, and gowns, since all of these items are at a premium here.  Our instruments are old, and our drapes and gowns are still laundered by hand. We are also having a difficult time obtaining the necessary sutures in Ethiopia at this time.  I was glad to hear that you would be able to bring those supplies, as well.  If any mesh material is needed in the surgeries, it also must be brought from the States, since this too is difficult to find.

At this time, we have three Ethiopian nurses that assist, and four other personnel that can circulate, and two nurse anesthetists.  Since charting is minimal, the room turn over is quite fast.  We have extra personnel to clean and ready the room in about 15 minutes post surgery.  Our limiting factors are making sure the patient is admitted and is NPO the night before.  It is also difficult to perform elective surgeries between the sacred Ethiopian lunchtime that ranges from 12 to 2pm every day.  Currently, our whole OR team is new and still training, so that must also be added to the equation.  But I must say they are all enjoyable to work with and willing to learn.

Ethiopia: Daughter Brynn

How do I aptly prepare my 18 year old daughter for her first trip to a developing nation?  And this trip will be especially intense due to the various heart wrenching medical conditions we will see.  Our home will be the hospital, not a hotel, for most of the time we are there.  Brynn will have a variety of assignments, including scrubbing in during surgeries on occasion if she is needed.

We talk about general safety, how to interact graciously with the culture, how to avoid problems, what to wear and not wear, and the fact that there will be many frustrations, joys, hazards and times when we will feel drunken by the culture.  But where do I start with telling her that she won’t return home the same person?  That pulsating Africa, with all of its terrors and catapulting strains, will get into her blood and grip her in the heart like little else can affect in the same manner?

I choose to remain silent, and not put words on something I can’t even come to terms with myself.  I will listen closely to her while we are there, and I will watch for that hesitant flicker in her eyes, when it is obvious the world has shaken.

(Photo: Joni Kabana)

Ethiopia: Prep Work

We have begun preparation for the surgeries that will be performed in Ethiopia.  Here are some images of the OB-GYNs meeting for the first time. In the second image, it is apparent that Dr. Cheek is ecstatic over some donated supplies.  In Ethiopia, the gloves (many of them have holes) are washed over and over, and the surgical equipment is limited.

In this meeting, Dr. Cheek informs the the other doctors that 50% of the Ethiopian population is infected with AIDS, and that special care must be taken while operating on all patients.  He suggests wearing boots and plastic aprons over scrubs, and to double glove their hands….and to be intensely careful while operating.

There is concern about the instruments being confiscated at customs, so the items have been split up among the doctors.

Dr. Rahel Nardos, Dr. Michael Cheek, Dr. David Cheek, Dr. Philippa Ribbink, Dr. Kim Suriano discuss supplies they will take with them.

Dr. Cheek is excited about a particular donation!


Many people have been asking about the medical conditions that I will be photographing.  Here is a link that relays information regarding one condition: a fistula.  As you can see, this condition is much more than just a debilitating medical concern; there is a social impact as well.  Many women, once they have a fistula after laboring for days, will find themselves shunned by their family and other villagers.

The Fistula Foundation

Luz Gallery in Victoria, BC: Ethiopia Presentation

I just found out that I will be giving a presentation at a wonderful photography gallery in Victoria, BC on the evening of March 27.  We will focus the presentation on new images from Ethiopia, and I will sell limited editions of prints to help raise money for Ethiopian medical needs.

Thank you, Luz Gallery + Workshops, for contacting me and being willing to not only host the event, but to also donate your portion of proceeds!

Mercy Corps NW: ReFraming ReEntry Sample Photo Voice Entry

We just finished up working with our first person who was released from prison after being incarcerated for over eight years.  My own words could not come close to describing her struggles and joys she is experiencing during her transition back into the community.  Here are some of her blog entries, and you can see a video of Tanya here.

NOTE: These words and photos are Tanya’s.


11-25 My first day out and I’m running on pure adrenaline. Everything is bright, colorful, and simply overwhelming. I’m not sure what to do with myself. I’m nervous and excited at the same time. At the apartment my friends Tammy and Jodie have boxes of stuff for me. Clothes, slippers, nail polish (I can’t wait to paint my toenails) candy, quilting books, and more. It feels strange all this activity and celebrating.  All I really want to do is hide. So far, my favorites are the Pepsi, nail polish and slippers.  Devin made me a steak for dinner. It was fantastic. But now I’m starting to feel like I need to get back. Any minute now they are going to tell me it was a mistake and I need to go back to prison.

11-26 I couldn’t figure out why it felt so weird to eat. It was awkward. Then I realized how heavy my fork was. I have only used plastic ones for eight years.

12/15 Today I took a picture of my old phone. I found it in a box of things my father saved for me. It is nine years old. I laid it on the counter next to my new phone and took a picture. It just reminds me how much has changed in that amount of time. Things are so different now. It used to be rare and real expensive to have a cell phone. Now it’d be considered strange and behind the times not to have one. There is so much I’ve missed. I’m also reminded of a better time long ago before prison, before I became a felon. I wish I could go back.

12-16 Today I spent the day with my best friend. We went to the beauty supply store and bought all we need to dye her hair. I have my hair license. But the only place I’ve done hair is in prison. Now I felt like I was breaking a rule or something. I felt like I would get in trouble. Her hair turned out great and we laughed a lot. God I hope I can feel normal soon. Not like someone is watching me.

12-29 Today it snowed! It snowed like crazy. It was my first free snow. My friend and I acted like children. We stomped in it, threw it, laid in it and tipped out heads back to eat it as it fell from the sky. I was mesmerized about how it changed the appearance of everything. The last snow I saw was in prison. I think snow is the only thing that won’t stick to barbed wire. The prison was still ugly even covered in white. But this. This was beautiful. Tammy and I took pictures like we wanted to freeze every frame in our hearts. For some reason, I was struck by the sound of our feet crunching in the snow. We were free and for the first time I felt like it. It made me want to touch everything. I wanted to breathe in the moments and just live.

1-14  Today I went to “Dress For Success”. The lady brought me outfit after outfit to try on. I chose some pieces I could mix and match, shoes, a purse, earrings and an overcoat. It was very strange to receive these things for free. I wanted to get out of there before I got arrested for stealing or something. I’m very grateful. This trip took me on the East side of the river. That’s the farthest I’ve been from home on my own. The Max ride was ok but I didn’t relax until I got closer to home. I don’t remember ever feeling this way. I used to hop in the car and take off to S. California to see family. It felt natural to just go wherever I wanted. Now I feel out of sorts and like I’ve done something bad.

1-23 I need to get a job. It seems like society is not only hard on felons but extra hard on women. I know several men who got out of prison and got jobs right away. But the women I know (myself included) are still looking for work. The men also seem to be able to rent apartments faster. It took my friend Tammy a year to find a place that would rent to her. I wonder if society thinks we will be provided for because we are women or if they are less forgiving because we were good girls gone bad.  Neither is true.

1-24 Today I finished a project I’d been putting off. I finished going through boxes of Harmony’s belongings. I was OK at first until I came across a box with her favorite blankets and dolls. Then I lost it. I clutched that doll to my chest as it it were my daughter and someone was going to take her from me. I couldn’t put it down. I ran my hand over its face and hair. I straightened its dress and clung to it more as I wept. I have no idea how much time passed. It felt like days. I forced my tears aside and kept sorting. I’d thought the worst was over until I found the book. Harmony’s friends at school and the teachers had a memorial for her. They put together a book for me of pictures the children had drawn about Harmony, how they felt and ow they missed her. There in front of me were pages and pages of drawings of a little blond girl on the swings. The drawing said things like: you were my friend, you pushed me on the swings, I miss you, why did you have to die, you are in heaven now…I thought I was going to die.

Ethiopia: Medical Mission Trip

In a few weeks, I will be joining a team of doctors in Ethiopia to document their surgical work on prolapse cases in this country.  We also will be documenting fistula situations in hopes of bringing more doctors to Ethiopia to teach preventative surgeries and perform repair surgeries. OHSU is considering the feasibility of setting up a rotation of doctors to hospitals in Ethiopia.

In addition to the medical imagery, I will focus on the overall culture and will continue my efforts with relaying the importance of sports in developing countries.  The Fitness Director from the Physical Education Department at the University of Oregon will be going on this trip and I will be able to document some foot races and soccer matches that are being coordinated by Ethiopians near Gimbie.

Our travels will take us to Bahirdar, Addis Ababa and Gimbie, as well as to some rural clinics in small villages.

Many thanks to Pro Photo Supply for their support with the photographic gear and printing aspect of this field study.

Mercy Corps NW: ReFraming ReEntry Project

I am working on a photo voice project for Mercy Corps NW with my good friend Julie Resnick (who did a similar project in Uganda).  We have given Canon G10 cameras and journals to women who recently have been released from prison so they can document their transition back into society.

The experiences have been stunningly difficult, with many situations that are quite surprising to all of us.  Stay tuned for more on this!

Many thanks to ProPhoto Supply for their support of this project.

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