Sunday, November 15, 2015

First Field Trip in Ethiopia

I woke up at 6 am and met my coworker downstairs for breakfast.  We were going to a rural town in West Ethiopia called Assosa.  I would be visiting the clinics in my project to see, for the first time, how they were running the programs I only read and wrote about.  It was a 1 ½ hour plane ride and I knew I was getting close when the captain said, “we will be landing after some time and some time and the weather in Assosa is fine.”

Assosa is bright, primary colors. Red dirt and green bushes and women with yellow and blue head scarves.  We drove for hours in a bumpy land cruiser to get from clinic to clinic.  Every time my jaded eyes glazed over “this looks like Uganda” something would jar me back to Ethiopia.

Mud hut. Mud hut. Mud hut. MAN RIDING DONKEY. Mud hut. Mud hut. Mud hut. CAMEL.

The differences are subtle but I make myself savor them because I don’t want to be so world-weary at 26 that my eyes barely flicker.

At the clinics we asked the health care workers and a focus group of mothers how they felt about the calendar we developed to help them remember their Antenatal Care and immunization visit dates.  The interviews had to be translated from the local language to Amharic to English.  They would talk for an hour and by the time it would get to me the translator would tell me “they love it.”  During all this translation I had time to squeeze a lot of baby cheeks.  It was damn cool to hear what they think about a tool that was so abstract to me before.  That I had helped convince donors about and yet had never seen actually being used.  Many of the women had deep tribal scars on their face that made them look like they were perpetually crying.

We visited women at their homes and they showed us how they used the calendar to remind them of important dates.  The mud walls and straw roofs make their homes very cool.  There is usually a tarp separating the kitchen area (coal fire, a few bowls and pots), and the main part which has 1 or two big beds for the family to sleep on.  They sometimes hang dried corn from the ceilings and paint pictures on the walls.  The women told us how even their kids and husbands read the calendar and help them remember important dates.

Back at the office, I ran to the squat toilet because I had been holding it in all day.  Just as I was congratulating myself for aiming properly, I realized I didn’t have toilet paper.  I had to inconspicuously waddle around the office until I found some.

The next day we traveled to a remote hospital to see the new infant warmer they had installed.  I have learned to guard myself when I go into clinics. There are always things I don’t want to see.  And if I don’t see them, then I don’t have to look away. 

In the delivery room I saw the newborn warmer.  My colleagues oooed and ahhed at the wonderful advancement.  The room looked like a scene out of Jacob’s Ladder.  Beds were falling apart and the delivery bed looked like a medieval torture device.  I’ve seen maternity wards in these countries hundreds of times. But my friends in the US are starting to have babies. Recently on Facebook, a friend took us through her experience giving birth to a premature baby.  Every day she posted pictures of the baby hooked up to all sorts of machines, fighting for life. And she looked so small.  Here, a baby must look microscopic.  I can’t imagine how hard it’s going to be to come back here once I have children of my own.  The guilt just might do me in.  We congratulated the clinic staff on their new machine and got back in the car.

I ended my field trip with honey wine, communal eating and a scary butcher that posed for a photo.

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