Amy and I started the day with a list of video and interviews to do starting with the kindergarten about a quarter mile up the road. As we walked the bumpy, rocky quarter mile to the school we started to gather some followers. The fifteen to twenty little children with smiles and laughs were a pleasant change from the older more phrased oriented “one camera” kids. I tried teaching words like right foot, left foot, stop and go, but the giggles and smiles kept them moving forward as we walked together.
As we reached the school we heard the sounds of children singing the alphabet. The court yard was full of children lined in rows for their classes. They start the day with singing songs like “The wheels on the bus” and “Itsy-bitsy Spider” and few other classics. We stayed to watch them eat their breakfast and wash their own bowls and prepare for classes. With a few shots of classroom video and what we called in the business a standup on camera we started back on “the road.” I will certainly look at gravel roads back home as one of construction’s wonders of rural life.
After reaching the hospital we heard the great news of a baby girl born by C-section by Doctor Tsigonis and Doctor “F.” It was nice to hear the cry of newborn in the hospital, and it certainly was the talk of all of us as we shared the day’s stories. Amy and I finished our interviews and some more video of Dr. Gundersen and Dr. Tsigonis. We changed and headed down to the compound, stopping along the way for a picture or two and some more video; yes I have become attached to my tripod with a love hate relationship, but all in all I still can’t do my job without her, him, it—whatever.
Amy has been doing a great job keeping us on track and keeping our water bottles full. Her list seems to forever grow; like today we needed shots of our in-house kids Bechernet and Tigist, two young adults who will graduate this year and both want to continue in medicine. After some more classroom video, we checked in with Cheryl, who has been working with two women to get the two sewing machines working. Her project was to try to complete one hundred plus curtains for the classrooms. As of last count she was up to fifty-two and the machines and house mothers were feverishly working when we left them.
The day is slowly closing and I can hear Jeff in the dinner room with closing comments. I’m reminded of an old gentleman I once saw one day on the road. He didn’t make eye contact and just nodded in passing. Today we met again but with a tip of his hat and smile and a nod hello from me, his smile grew. I would like to think with each passing day, we meet people and become friends and with each passing day our smile and hearts grow a little wider…to friends I have met this week, I stop and tip my hat and smile.
Hello, this is Jacky from the OR team. Today marks the 4th full day the Global Partners team has stayed at Project Mercy, and the 6th day since we arrived in Ethiopia. As you all know from Mark’s post, we started our OR day with a repeat C-section. Dr. Fekadu was the surgeon, with Dr. Tsigonis being first assist. Dr. Sig was willing to hold off his thyroidectomy next door for the sake of a safe Cesarean delivery and a healthy newborn. It was done under spinal anesthesia, and the procedure went smoothly. Sometime during the procedure, I caught a glimpse of the patient smiling at me. Despite our language barrier and a lack of conversation, I somehow knew what she wanted to tell me, “I have a new baby girl. I’m a mother again.” Even though I found out later that the mother was really hoping for a baby boy, my thought to this day didn’t change: the Global Partners team was here in Ethiopia not only to provide healthcare, education, and service to people at the Project Mercy site, it was here to also connect to the people, to become their partners. Somehow, our mission has been achieved through the birth of a new born baby.
As I mentioned, Dr. Sig, Iyad, Kathy, and Rosie started their day with a sub-total thyroidectomy. It was such a complicated procedure, that it took nearly 4 hours to complete. As it turned out, it was the ONLY case they did today. After all, it was a light day at the surgery center. During their case, the power went out yet again. The ventilator had stopped working, so Iyad switched to manual ventilation. When Dr. Sig asked Iyad to hold the retractor from across the drape, Jean Ann came to the rescue and stared ventilating the patient. What a wonderful and multi-talented assistant she was. In fact, she did it so well she made Iyad look bad.
After the C-section, Dr. Fekadu and his team (myself included) did a trans-abdominal hysterectomy, a urethral dilatation, and a supra-pubic prostatectomy. The last two cases were done under spinal anesthesia (I wonder what Drs. Scott Klein and VanEvery would say to a trans-abdominal prostatectomy done under regional anesthesia…)
To me, the variety of cases was not the highlight of the day, it was the following thought that came to my mind: like I said, we were here at the hospital only for the 4th day, yet we worked together across country and cultural barrier as one surgical team, taking care of patients one surgery at a time, just like the staff back home at Gundersen. Today, all the Ethiopian staff and I talked, laughed, and worshiped together – yes, worship – on this side of the OR, Ethiopian music was playing all day long on a cell phone sitting by the windowsill. Dr. Fekadu told me they only listened to Christian music. And on this particular day, the staff was teaching me to sing Christian songs in Amharic. Despite their effort, my ability to pick up a 3rd (or maybe 4th) language was very limited. We did have a good time though.
Before dinner tonight, we heard singing next to our dining hall. We found out that a local Christian youth group was meeting at the classroom. We all wanted to see what these kids were up to, so we sat down with them while they were singing. Shortly after that, they invited us to sing with them. Jeff really wanted to have the Ethiopians sing along as well, so he picked a song that everybody knew, “No Turning Back.” Wow…if it wasn’t for Jean Ann’s beautiful voice carrying us through the lyrics, we wouldn’t have made it. As I was writing this blog. The power went out yet again. I was starting to regret not bringing my Bible with me to Ethiopia…to strap it on my feet for illumination: Psalm 119 says, “The Word is a LAMP unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” I wonder if this would work in Ethiopia. If it does, the Bible sales will really skyrocket in this country.
Some of you may be wondering how the evening Euchre games are going. Some of our players are getting quite a reputation. Rosie’s team, whether 2 or 3 on the team, have always won. As you may have guessed, Rosie is a bit of card shark but she is a bit stealthy about it. We have described her as a leopard or cheetah perched in a tree waiting to pounce. Some of the group really wanted to be on her winning team so tonight, we split the teams up—boys against the girls: Rosie, Ellen/Kallie and Cheryl against Abe, Mark Bronson and me. The boys handily beat the girls on the first round despite the power going out. There is something a bit romantic about playing cards by candle light—it was almost disappointing to have the lights come back on. The second game was a bit closer—we were tied 9-9 when the girls set us on a pivotal hand. There was lots of laughter throughout the game. This morning there was talk of a possible Euchre tournament. We will keep you posted.
Feet in Ethiopia.
One of the things we have noticed are the kids’ feet. Many wear plastic Jelly shoes that don’t provide any circulation. Many of the feet we have looked at have sores with deformed nails likely a result of a fungal infection. The other issue with plastic shoes is that they are not flexible so when a child’s foot grows, the toes start to cross over each other to deal with the lack of space. Project Mercy is working on discouraging plastic shoe donations to counter this problem. I think we could keep a Podiatry team very busy here!
Each morning we wake to cool fresh air, a cacophony of birds singing, roosters crowing, donkey’s braying, and a view of the clouds hugging the tops of the mountains encircling us. The scenery is beautifully serene as most of us head to the dining room for that first cup of fresh hand-ground coffee. We eat a quick breakfast and head off to our various destinations to fulfill our role(s) for the day. We are greeted by the 1400+ children entering the compound all on foot, some having walked one and a half hours from the mountain villages to arrive at the school. On Saturday we are planning a mountain hike and look forward to seeing some of the homes and villages where these kids live. Most are fed breakfast of a drinkable cereal (ATMET) and bread before they gather at the flag pole.
The soil is embedded with rocks and stones (everywhere) and pebbles of volcanic rock pave the path/road. We have quickly learned to appreciate our covered shoes, which protect our feet from the sharp pebbles as well as the 1-2 inch thorns from a bush commonly used for fencing. I think we all enjoy our walks, whether it’s early morning, mid-afternoon or before dark, on our way to work or simply for pleasure. The views, the people and observing the daily life, so different from our own, is fascinating.
One of the American teachers here on a ‘Princeton in Africa Fellowship’ began the huge endeavor to do visual exams on all the students at Project Mercy after noticing some students were having difficulty seeing in the classroom. She is an inspiration with her desire to complete this goal all alone after teaching 7-8 classes every day. Since our team brought the necessary supplies and we are not all needed in surgical care we decided to help her accomplish her goal.
It’s a delight to work with the students – most of whom have never had this done. I ask them if they can tell me what letter we are pointing to and the usual answer is “yes”. A majority, especially the girls are extremely quiet so I practically hug them to try to hear their responses. Then we have to decide if they know the American alphabet, if they truly can’t see, of if our instructions are so strange they simply think we have a problem. On top of that the only open space with unused time is the Chemistry lab. Since we have limited time to complete this we often share the space with a class alongside us. You can imagine the distractions that causes for the students AND us! On top of that, the Amharic letter for ‘r’ looks like our ‘f’ and ‘l’ so if in doubt we just give them credit. When I think about it, I’d sure hate to have my vision checked with the Amharic alphabet.
Sadly though, we have a long list of kids with visual needs – some quite drastic. Many have grown up with a ‘lazy eye’, which no longer functions. Fortunately, many of those had great vision in their ‘good’ eye. There are way too many with poor vision in both eyes and no readily available help.
Tomorrow we can’t use the chemistry lab so instead I plan to teach 2 fifth grade English classes for an American volunteer teacher that will be gone. Fifth grade is the transition year for classes in English instead of Amharic – many of the kids haven’t exactly ‘transitioned’ so I’m sure this will be quite a chaotic sight to see.
All that we do is so rewarding and it continually awes me to realize what a privileged life I/we live. Life is h.a.r.d. here but people are beautiful, patient, joyful and non-complaining. Some of the day’s highlights for me were:
– Walking the dirt path to the Kindergarten seeing the kids line up and then recite the days of the week, months and sing several action songs
– Cheryl and I helping serve ATMET to the kindergarten kids.
– Hearing the excitement of those who watched or assisted bringing a new life into the world at the C-Section early this morning
– Kids greeting us with hugs and smiles wherever we walk
– Fresh injera and wat every noon
– Content hard working team members
– Hearing beautiful singing and then joining the Children’s’ Home kids singing and clapping before our evening meal. (We actually joined them and sang one song in English)
Often it feels like we do so little when the needs are so great; our heart’s desire is that our presence will make an impact for good in the lives of those we touch. We have been ‘given’ much so that we can ‘give’ and it’s a privilege to do so.