Helen on the grounds of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, with one of the patient wards in the background.

Helen on the grounds of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, with one of the patient wards in the background.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Arrival in Addis Ababa

We made it!  Sometimes over the past few months it didn’t seem like this was going to happen, but at last it has transpired.  Getting from St. Louis, Missouri, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is a long trip:  It took us about 27 hours:  St. Louis to Chicago, Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany, Frankfurt to Khartoum, Sudan (no disembarking, please!) and finally Khartoum to Addis Ababa at 8:45 PM last night.  (For those of you keeping track, Addis Ababa is currently 9 hours later than Central US time).  For those of you planning your own future trip, let me recommend the direct flight on Ethiopian Airlines from Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, to Addis Ababa as the preferred alternative.  Many fewer travel hassles.  Unfortunately, the US congress has mandated that Fulbright Scholars must “fly American” whenever possible if US tax dollars are in any way involved (which, of course, is why we were booked on Lufthansa…)  Nonetheless, all bags arrived intact, as did the passengers!

We were met by the driver from the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, whom we had met on previous visits. Nothing is more welcome than a remembered friendly face when arriving in a foreign country!  We are ensconced in the guest house on the hospital compound and had a very good night’s rest, until about 5 AM.

The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital sits on a hillside in an industrial section of Addis Ababa (the hospital’s official address is Jimma Road, Behind the Augusta Shirt Factory).  “Zoning” as an urban planning concept has not yet made a firm foothold in African’s major cities.  To one side of the hospital is a commercial depot for construction supplies with an adjoining quarry, and further up the hill is a large, new Ethiopian Orthodox Church, complete with a state-of-the-art loudspeaker system.

Because we arrived on Saturday night, we were greeted before dawn’s first light with the amplified chanting of the faithful Orthodox priests, warming up their flock for Sunday services.  The chanting lies somewhere between the melodious harmony of Gregorian chant and the piercing entreaties of a Muslim call to worship.  Not unpleasant, but three or four hours of it certainly makes its point in depth. Unfortunately, this particular church also saw fit to broadcast today’s sermon over the loudspeakers after the chanting had been completed.  It was in Amharic so I couldn’t follow the theology, but I certainly have been thoroughly “churched.”
It is now 10 AM and all is quiet at last.  When you open the guest house doors over the balcony, you can hear the songs of the birds dropping down into the stream that runs through the deep ravine at the bottom of the hill behind the hospital.  Although this small stream barely merits being called a “river,” it certainly is a welcome change of pace from the bustle and grime of urban congestion in Addis Ababa.

Because I am in Ethiopia on a Fulbright Scholarship, Helen and I need to spend a little time at the US Embassy for “orientation” purposes.  We are planning to fly to Mekelle on Wednesday the 15th, but we have since been informed that Monday is a holiday here and the US Embassy will be closed (nobody at the embassy mentioned this when they confirmed our itinerary).  We will see if we get everything accomplished by then.

Visiting the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital brings back many pleasant memories, but also a little sadness.  It is almost exactly 19 years since I made my first trip here in 1995, accompanied by my father, Dr. Leonard A. Wall, who was an enthusiastic supporter of the Hamlins’ work with fistula patients.  Dad died a few weeks ago on Christmas Eve after a short illness.  He was an admirer of Catherine Hamlin, with whom he struck up a lasting friendship that continued after our first visit with her.   He was an enthusiastic supporter of our plans to make this 7 month trip to Ethiopia and he was firmly committed to our going ahead with it, even as his health began to fail.  He is deeply missed, but always present.

Helen and I hope that you, friends known and friends yet to be made, will find this blog to be of interest.  We hope that through these short vignettes and ruminations you will learn something about this ancient and fascinating land of Ethiopia.  Because I will be teaching in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the College of Health Sciences at Mekelle University in northern Ethiopia, much of what we write about will focus on the health problems faced by women in this country and the efforts that are being made to improve their lives.  Some stories will be uplifting; many will be tragic.  We hope that all of them will be interesting and that through them you will come to appreciate the common bonds that tie all of us together as members of the human family, no matter where we live.

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