Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ethiopia - Day 1 con't

Once we arrived at the Guest House, we took stuff in and unloaded the vans, piling everything just inside the courtyard.  We got our room assignments and then reconvened for lunch, something we'd all been looking forward to as our last meal was airplane food around 6:30am.  Lunch at the Guest House consisted of french fries, an orange, and pasta mixed with vegetables.  I can't tell if the pasta was done in oil or butter, but there was always a little liquid left in the bowl.  The food was delicious and so much better than airplane food!

Teammate and roommate Samme posing with just a portion of the totes brought from the States.

After lunch and a regrouping session, we took a trip into Korah.  Arrival in this area of the city was a little surreal.  The setting was much like I'd imagined, especially since I'd done a fair amount of pictorial research before travelling.  What surprised me was the response we were met with as we drove in.  Kids ran beside the vans, knocking on windows and waiving and smiling, reaching into open windows to tap shoulders and say hey or ask for gum.  We had a hard time getting out of the van because of the crowd of kids who had come to see us. 

This was a moment of discomfort for me.  I was seated on the third row of van seats, inside by the window.  As the people in front of me stepped out I hesitated. It's not that I didn't want to get out, but I had one of those moments - one of those "What the heck am I doing here?" moments.  How was I supposed to relate to these people?  I'm not good at meeting new people in America, how can I meet new people in this foreign country?  There was a brief moment where I took a deep breath, eyes closed, and then I stepped out of the van.

Immediately upon our exit, hands were grabbed, arms were stroked, names were asked.  The kids were adorable, although I remember wondering how long it had been since some of them changed clothes.  I stroked hair and held hands, picked kids up and tried to dole out as many smiles and waves as possible. 

On the streets of Korah is open sewage ditches and animal bones, old shoes, trash and unknown substances litter the streets.

Street in Korah.

There were two specific things that stuck out to me during our first walk through Korah.  The first was a small child, no older than three (I'm guessing on the age and it's hard - a lot of the kids and adults are small for their ages).  I can't remember if the child was a boy or girl, but I remember wondering where their parents were.  This child had its head down, focused on the road, stepping on large rocks without the protection of shoes on its small feet.  Without looking up, a hand was extended, asking for help.  I wondered "If you walk with me, will you know how to get home?  Who's going to know where you are?  Is someone watching over you?"  My fears were settled when, shortly after offering me a hand, the child released mine.  It was surprising to me that this small child wandered without shoes, without a watchful eye.

The second notable moment was after our home visits.  Walking down the street toward the church I pass a mother and her pre-teen daughter.  Clearly mom is upset and scolding her, harshly holding her by the arm and leading her.  I then watch her pick up a hollow stick (what I now think to be sugarcane) and promptly whack her daughter with it multiple times.  During this, I notice my breath coming more sharply and I avert my eyes.  After all, even though I don't agree, who I am to step in?

While part of our goal during our first Korah visit was to get oriented to the area we would be working and seeing some of the area, we were also needing to see some patients that would be too weak to make it to the clinic.  We split up into groups, each with at least one doctor, some nurses and some non-medical people.  My group saw two of the four people needing attention.  The first was a twenty-eight year old widow with three children.  Her name was Awaygaye.  She was HIV positive and had come down with a chest infection (I think Sandy diagnosed her with an upper respiratory infection) and had been unable to leave her bed for weeks.  Among her complaints were an extreme sore throat, stomach ache, and chest pains.

Awaygaye out of her house for the first time in weeks.  This was after a few days of Sandy (in the blue scrubs) visiting and
administering fluids via IV.
One thing that struck me about Awaygaye was her hospitality.  Her room had two beds in it, one clearly for the children (I know this because of a doll placed at the head of the bed).  When we all arrived at her house, there were probably 6 or 8 of us, she insisted that we sit.  And she managed to direct Maste, our translator, in such a way that we all had a place to sit.  She had nothing to offer us but wanted to honor us in the only way she knew how - giving us a place to sit and rest. 

Towards the end of the visit, Awaygaye's daughter came in.  She had talked about her three kids and her fears for them as her HIV advances.  After the assessment, we laid hands on her and prayed.  Rand was holding the daughter, and during the prayer she started stroking my face and hair.  It was clear that she was intrigued by us and our visit to her house.

The second patient we visited was a man who told us he had been bedridden for a year and a half.  He suffered from leprosy, and we think diabetes, and had lost most of the feeling in his lower extremities.  Unfortunately, there was little we could do for him except offer love and some medicine for his pain.  It's hard to believe what some people are able to put up with and live with, and equally hard to believe what contributes to so many deaths.

After our visit to Korah, we spent a good part of the afternoon and evening unpacking and repacking the totes full of supplies.  We tried to group things in general categories and make it easier to find what we were looking for. 

We took over the massage room at the Guest House and starting pulling things out, putting things back in, and moving totes into the hallway.

We had a lot of people, and a lot of stuff, in a relatively small space.  It was probably actually quite comical.

At the end of the evening Sumer (the founder of Project 61 and an American from Tennessee) came in to talk about our day at Shashemene the next day.  Shashemene is a boarding school where some of the children are Korah residents who have been sponsored, moved from life in the trash dump to a school where they are fed and taught.  She made a comment about the kids all wanting to see a doctor because so often someone they know gets sick and a week later is dead without any indication as to why.  How scary that must be - to come down with something simple like a cold and wonder if you're going to die. 

After our pow-wow and a slight debrief on the day, we all retire to bed.  Five a.m. will come all too soon.

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