Ethiopian Masinko and other Traditional Instruments

I made it home from Ethiopia yesterday. It was a wonderful trip in so many ways.  I was so busy and with the time change and limited internet access I did not have a chance to write the usual news from the field to family and friends so I thought I would do so here now while everything is fresh in my mind.

I have been to Ethiopia before, so I had a good sense of what to expect and I knew it was a very interesting and hospitable culture.  However,  all the good expectations were doubled by the fact that I already knew 8 of the Ethiopian colleagues that we were working with since they had had fellowships at UW, and because the QA advisor working with me, Roman Aydiko, a UW-Madison student who I really enjoy working with, is from Ethiopia herself.  We trained 60 hospital leaders in quality improvement and followed up on 8 projects that were already underway. There has been good progress on all the projects but two have been very successful, one related to infection control (improvement from 33% to 69%)  and one related to fully implementing triage (from less than 10% to 100%).

The Black Lion Hospital is the largest hospital in the country, and serves the most serious cases and has the most active emergency department.  We are working with the emergency department and the pediatric emergency departments in particular.  During my first day I visited those wards which I have been hearing about for months.  I think you can imagine that visiting these sites is a powerful experience, with such serious resource limitations and lines of patients hoping to get care.  The health care providers are among the most talented people in the country –chosen for medicine because of their intellectual abilities.  It is hard to see them struggle to provide care in a ward where water systems for basic sanitation are not always working and there are shortages of basics like sheets, gloves, face masks, etc.  Roman and I brought 4 suitcases full of sheets and gloves and masks and hand sanitizer as a gesture of solidarity.  We thought this made sense because we know the hospital is working to get these things in place so jump starting them on something like sheets helps — they can manage replacement as they wear out etc.  We also brought scrubs which they were delighted with because they can use them as uniforms.  It was a very joyful thing for us to give them things that we know will be put to immediate use.

In addition to working very hard I got a chance to get a feel for Addis Ababa.  I went shopping and really enjoyed buying some beautiful scarves, wonderful Ethiopian coffee, and a drum and masinko — two traditional instruments.  I also visited the national catherdral and an old orthodox church.  Spent time strolling around Addis which is a really nice African City — so much that is ancient right along side modern buildings and city bustle.   In addition to eating great Ethiopian food every day at lunch time we also went to a traditional ethiopian restaurant that had all kinds of cultural dancing going on during dinner.  I loved the food and music and dancing!

The other wonderful and unexpected aspect of my trip was that two very good friends from the DC area  happened to be there.  Tessie and I had worked together and spent lots of time together when our children (now in high school) were babies.  Marie Eve and I had shared some very important work related to vulnerable children but we had lost touch -what a gift to reconnect with her.   She is now working for Save the Children and we enjoyed reconnecting as friends.  She, Tessie and I are hoping and planning to do more work for vulnerable children together  in the near future.

There were extremes to digest in all this as you can imagine.  It was quite something to be working in solidarity with the mothers in line at the pediatric ER by day, and dining at the what is reputed to be the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy with old friends in the evening!

One thing that has always bothered me about development assistant projects (and I have worked on many) is the way the money flows, as they are very strict about procuring items on the local economy, yet they give very generous allowances for hotels and lodging.  I decided to deal with this by using the food allowance for a local cause, and then I can buy my own food, which I would have had to do at home anyway.  A girl’s gotta eat, right?   I shared my plan with Roman who, through her Ethiopian network, knew a very worthy young man who is trying to get funds together to pursue a masters in development with a focus on environmental sustainability.   He is very smart but “behind” some of his peers because he had to help raise his 8 siblings before he could consider this.  He still has lots of family responsibilities, but is getting started with his studies.  I am using the food money that I got for the week to help him out (in installments with reports from him) and I am also going to find him an academic buddy at UW who has similar interests. We met twice during my visit and he is so appreciative of the help and so hard working and deserving. And the only cost to me is a cleaner (but not totally clean) conscience about how development assistance money is used.

This trip was full of things that I expected and I did not expect, both named and unnamed here.  I am considering it a message from the universe about my life and what I am doing and what I should be doing.  Unfortunately, I cannot actually decipher the scroll in my hand !   I am hoping that continued reflection and finding the right balance between planning  and being open to life will help me find out what it all means …

It was great to get home where job one is to decorate for Christmas and make a big pile of potato gnocci for my family!

Based on email December 2010.