A day in the bush

I had an appointment to see my doctor yesterday morning. In conversation I mentioned that my wife and I, in spite of our age and my walking difficulties, intended to continue living where we do, some kilometres outside the city limit on a small 40 hectare (100 acre) property. We live upstairs with a grandson and  two of our sons live downstairs in a granny flat. The doctor laughingly declared us ‘mad’ as there is so little to do ‘way out there’.

It made me think of what  happened here yesterday. Was he correct in his statement? As I said earlier, we are five at the moment – my wife and I, 2 sons, one in his mid 50s and one in his early 20s and a grandson a few weeks older than his young uncle. So I’ll try and list what happened in this out-of-the-way, boring place.

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We like what our neighbours look like.

My wife and I, in this cold spell, slept in a bit late. Excusable I think at our ages. Then she got up and worked in the garden for a while, while I did a bit of clearing around the inside. We both went together to my doctor’s appointment as she likes to check that I tell him everything. But she wasn’t let in because of social distancing, only the patient could enter the waiting room. So instead she went window shopping. The doctor had been one of my interns when I was director of surgery here so my visits are always interesting. He decided that I was still alive and I left with a few renewed scripts.

My wife was waiting at the door and led my off to buy something she had seen, for our kitchen. Having made the purchase, we were on our way home when she realised that she had left my prescriptions on the desk when she had paid for the new ‘thingamebob’. So we returned and while she went inside I had a call from our older son asking us to buy some masking tape for his painting job. So we had a trip to the hardware store. We got home just in time for lunch; then

  • I worked on the revision of a small book I wrote a few years ago for the medical students in Arba Mintch. It’s taking a while as now I’m planning a wider distribution, probably as an e-book.
  • my wife replied to email notes and wrote letters.
  • I had a return call from my tax man, which didn’t give me the answer I desired. C’est la vie.
  • I received a quote for a lift to help me up the stairs; I don’t like the idea but getting up and down them is getting harder. Not cheap but maybe necessary.
  • We got an email electricity bill. Our new solar system has cut two thirds off the last bill.
  • We had a lovely email from the mother of the adopted little baby about whom I wrote a post earlier. A baby is born
  • I had a discussion with the sales person about a water pump. I need to get water pumped from the dam to our house – about 500 metres, but fortunately over pretty flat ground, so there is not a great height to lift the water. It’ll need to be sorted out soon if we want to keep some green grass around the house.

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  • Then my wife took our grandson for a driving lesson. He has never wanted to learn but if he is going to live here he’s going to have to become independent, we can’t spend the time taking him everywhere he needs to go.
  • My older son and our grandson spent most of the day painting. Then our son went to do some basic preparatory work to prepare for a fencing project starting with our neighbour on Saturday, on a boundary fence.
  • Our grandson  spent hours after the evening meal writing music. He’s good at it and beginning to get some sales now.
  • Our younger son is an apprentice mechanic so he spent his day at work. When he came home he did some work renewing the thermostat in our farm Patrol vehicle.
  • After the evening meal, a short Bible reading and prayer. While the others scattered to their various activities I sat down to watch the next episode of Judge John Deed. I don’t think much of his sex life, but appreciate his stand for justice.

So Doc, I think there’s enough to do here! Maybe if we moved to town we’d be bored!

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We like the morning and evening ‘paintings’

Dominic Cartier

DEALINGS WITH THE LAW

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Relationships with the law aren’t always easy. To quote the old saying “the law is an ass”. Yes it is, but no it isn’t. I think you know what I mean. Sometimes sticking to the strict letter of the law seems crazy, but I won’t follow that line any further.

I have three episodes at least of disagreements with law authorities in Ethiopia. There is a fourth more complex one that I may tell you about sometime, but not today.

In the first, the ‘traffic’ as they call them stopped me up in Addis. There you drive on the right. Coming to a corner where there were four lanes travelling each way I wanted to turn left. I wanted to cross in front of four lanes. Those coming in the other direction had a stop light. In the past, two lanes had been allowed to turn left, but, unbeknown to me, the rules, the law, had changed – now, one only could turn. So, doing what I thought I knew was right, I turned from the now illegal lane and was whistled over by the ‘traffic’.

As a bit of background, if fined in Addis they take away your licence, give you a fine slip, you immediately go and pay the fine, then come back to the same person, show your receipt and get your licence back. By then the person with your licence may or may not still be there. Or you can pay a bribe, which I am not in the habit of doing.

The guy asked for my licence. Resisting the temptation to tell him that I drove without one (I did have one) I simply said ‘no’. I think it shocked him a bit. ‘Why not?’ I was asked, ‘don’t you have one?’. So I explained that I did but that I knew how fines were handled, that I had a 500 km trip ahead of me and I wanted to be on my way. And, without stopping for him to get a word in, I asked if he had ever done wrong and been forgiven? Again, without stopping, I said that I knew that I had accidentally done wrong, and ended by saying ‘please forgive me!’ He smiled, looked at my licence which I had slowly taken out, and he waved me on. Nice guy!

A patient was brought to our hospital from the prison with a broken thigh bone (femur). We were ordered to treat him. It turned out that, according to him, ‘they’ at the prison had broken his leg. We did not have facilities to put in an intramedullary* nail which would have allowed him to walk in a few weeks, so he was put up in traction. Those bones heal slowly and usually need about three months to heal properly. I think the guy preferred our bed to the prison. Less than a week later the prison guards were there to take him back to prison. After a long and fairly heated discussion they left, without the patient, but with my promise that if they returned with an official letter stating that they would take him to the police hospital in Addis, I would fix him in such a way that he could travel the 200+ km to get there. It didn’t take long for them to get the paper. I knew that, as they drove out from our hospital, if they turned right they were going to Addis, if they turned left they were not. They turned left.

I was only about 30 in the late sixties. Maybe I was young and foolish. Not long before an important person had been involved in an accident near the hospital. Having treated the injured, I had been requested to write a legal report as to what had happened. The report obviously didn’t please the wealthy guy who had caused the accident. So, a policeman arrived in my office and offered me a considerable bribe if I would rewrite the report according to his suggestions. Maybe foolishly, but with great satisfaction (he was not a big man) I picked him up by the scruff of his neck and the seat of his uniform and threw him out the door. I am thankful that I heard no more, as I suspect I was right to refuse but wrong to do what I did!

* intramedullary nails were first used in WWII to allow the Germans to rapidly mobilise prisoners of war who had broken femurs, for example, pilots who had parachuted out of their planes. This concept is used a lot these days.

Dominic Cartier

It’s cold and wet…

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It’s cold and wet , and I’m not feeling so hot today. Therefore I thought I’d take a look through the last couple of weeks photos from around our house. You may find them interesting.

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Looking through a new sliding door which our son had put into the dining area, onto a patio which he had just built. A very handy son to have around the place!
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Looking West from the patio.
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We just discovered a patch of white ants in the kitchen floor. Another job for our son and fixed already. 
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He gets to do a lot – here trimming the tops of the Japanese Bamboo which had got to about 8 metres!
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These two pups (about 7 months) are sisters from the same litter. I hadn’t realised that in dogs you can get multiple fathers at the one dropping. They love sleeping at my feet when I’m in my office! The mother was a German Shepherd. One part kelpie, the other 2 parts shepherd.
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This dam leaked badly. Another job for the son with a friend, spreading polymer. This absorbs water and sinks taking fine mud particles with it. It seems to have worked but with the recent rains we’ll have to wait a while to be sure.
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I am back to front, or maybe top to bottom, as this is a sunrise taken from the patio shown above. We live in a beautiful spot.

Hope you enjoy it

Dominic Cartier

 

What do you think?

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I have a friend, an African friend, who did his medical training in Russia. I don’t think that he is a liar. He told me that when he was there, not infrequently, as he walked on the streets, he would feel people checking his lower back to see if he had a vestigial monkey tail. I have not checked for myself, but I know that he has an excellent brain! You probably think that in the twenty first century this behaviour is unbelievable. And yet almost all educators of today are teaching that we have come from monkeys. So why not test the theory?

You probably know the story of the little girl who asked her mother where humans came from and got the ‘God story’. She later asked her father the same question and was given the ‘monkey story’. At the evening meal she accused someone of lying to her. Her mother replied that she had given her the story of her, the mother’s, own family, and that the father had given the story of his family. He was dumbfounded! The child seemed satisfied.

This coronavirus affair has I’m sure made us all question the way it has been handled. That is not to say that we’re complaining at what has been organised, but we would be dumb domesticated animals if it didn’t make us think, and ask questions like..

  • How many have died of other viral illnesses, during the same period? And maybe, how many have died unnecessarily of other non-treated diseases?
  • Why can you have an abortion but not meet your ageing parent in a home?
  • Why are the suicide, domestic violence rates, and incidence of mental illness climbing?
  • Are we living in a runaway world?
  • What will happen to my family if I die?
  • What’ll happen to me if I die?

The list could go on for a lot longer and maybe your questions differ from mine.

When I was a Surgical Registrar in the 1960s I saw the film ‘Lord of the flies’. It was not based on a true story, but graphically pictured how a group of higher class youngsters from England gravitated into selfishness, murder and cannibalism when marooned, for roughly a year, on a deserted island. Just recently I have read an apparently true report of six Tongan boys who to escape the rigours of a strict school, stole a boat and paddled towards New Zealand. They coped by cooperating. They were marooned for more than a year on a deserted island, until they were found by a fisherman. This without doubt is at its root a true story. The recent report about this event leads the author to suggest that whereas the theory of the imaged book highlights the weakness of human character, the truth of the true story is that people are really basically good. And our basic goodness should be highlighted.

Compare how Australians pull together during bushfires versus why do Australians light bushfires and steal from what is left? How do we balance the generosity of the government when they want cooperation, with their usual treatment of some segments of needy society? Why do some blossom in community service at times like we are going through, and others crash into terrible attitudes and situations as mentioned above? Is there truly good and evil in the world? Should our goals be self-centered, financial, comfort seeking or maybe “goodness and truth”? The eternal question – why am I here?

One Sad Memory, One Glad Celebration

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The SAD One

When I returned to Ethiopia in the 90’s I had the ‘run-around’! I went with all the paperwork settled by both ends to become Associate Professor at the Black Lion (the large University) Hospital. The paperwork was not enough for a newly inducted set of hierarchy. So I was allocated as ‘Head of the Department’ at the soon to be opened Kidus Paulos Hospital (St Paul’s). Before it opened I was twice demoted to become another surgeon on the second surgical department in that hospital. In addition I was employed by the University on a contract – to be paid a salary, which was not exorbitant but livable. The contract was made in Ethiopian birr when the US dollar bought 2 Ethiopian birr. Within weeks without warning US$1 equalled 6 birr. At the moment it is nearly US$=30 birr. So my wage was effectively reduced by two thirds. I was still paid at the two birr level! Then the Kidus Paulos was slow in opening.

After pleading negotiations I was permitted to work at the Menelik II Hospital until Kidus Paulos opened. But I was paid from the Yekatit Asara Hulet hospital. Which brings us to “The Sad Memory” mentioned above.

Yekatit is a month of the Ethiopian Calendar. Asara hulet is the number twelve. (February 19th in our calendar – our calendars don’t match.) So why is that a sad memory?  It is quite a story….

During their occupancy of Ethiopia 1936-41,  the Italians had apparently built a huge poison chemical factory near Mogadishu in Italian Somalia. They had 37,000 gas masks kept for their own use. The fear, from an Ethiopian point of view, was that they themselves were a major target for attack by chemical warfare. In a failed attempt to assassinate  the Italian Viceroy of East Africa, Marshal Rodolfo Graziani; he was injured but several Italians were killed. The Italian response was over the next 3 days to slaughter over 30,000 Ethiopians, including about 20,000 in Addis Ababa (at that time 20% of the population of Addis!) Talking to local people they say that, as part of this slaughter, 1,000 people were lined up near the Sidist Kilo corner in Addis and the Italians shot every tenth one. The Yekatit Hospital is built at Sidist Kilo and there is a monument there until this day. Italians still walk and work in Ethiopia. The Emperor, on his return from exile in Britain after the Italians were driven out, said that they should be forgiven. Not many Italians, however, are seen out and about on February the 19th!

The GLAD One

If you look in your computer to see if an African Nation has ever conquered an invading European force unaided you are given “The Battle of Adwa”.  I can find no other. The Italian invasion discussed above was the second of their major attempts to conquer Ethiopia.  In 1896 the Italians planned to enlarge their empire in Africa. They already had Eritrea as a base. In the end after much fighting the countries faced each other at Adawa. Without trying to go into great detail the following facts seem to be basically true.

  • The Ethiopians had a much larger force being on home soil. Roughly 80,000 to 20,000
  • The Italians had much the better war machinery.
  • There was previously after some squirmishes an agreement between Ethiopia and Italy with different wording in the Italian and Ethiopian copies. Menelik II acted on his copy which meant having discussions with Europe without going through Italian sources. Italy by their copy of the agreement obviously saw Ethiopia as a subject nation and invaded.
  • On March 1st 1896 the Italians were routed. The story is complex but the victory complete and is celebrated with vigour every year.

 

Dominic Cartier

A little about the Amharic language

Amharic is the language of the Amharas, one of the major tribes of Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie (The power of the Trinity) was an Amhara and sought to make it and English the main languages of Ethiopia. French was, for a while, a popular alternative and a number of words in modern Amharic also come from the Italian invasion. There are apparently 83 languages in Ethiopia giving rise to about 200 dialects. Ge’ez is the old language of the Orthodox Church and introduces the ‘ in the middle of a word to indicate a glottal stop.

To show how different these tribal languages are I will give four greetings with a rough English translation. I will use our script to give an idea of how they sound

  • Amharic greeting is classically Tenastilygn – a shortened form of the sentence Igzeehabeeyer Tena Yisterlygn  – May God give you health for me.
  • In Oromifa – Neggaa, Fiya, Errga – Hello, how are you, it’s nice to smell you. In this situation I think the ‘smell’ is conceptually ‘to have your presence with us’.
  • In Wolaitata – Sero Lo’oo Lo’oo Fiedaitey – Hello, How are you., nice to see you.
  • In Hadeyan – Tuuma, Tuuma. Hello, hello!

Haile Selassie attempted to make Amharic the common Ethiopian language and it was taught in primary and secondary school with English being added later in primary school. English was the official language of tertiary education. After Haile Selassie was murdered the era of Mengistu HaileMariam (The kingdom of the power of Mary) sought to elevate other tribal languages with English as the second language, leaving Amharic for the Amhara tribe. It is thought by many that, whereas Haile Selassie was seeking to unite the country, Mengistu was seeking to divide the tribes to make the country easier to rule.

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Above the sign is in Oromifa which uses the Roman script and a lot of doubling of letters eg baanke. In the middle Amharic, And below English. Addis Ababa is officially a Federal State but used to be Oromo territory so that comes first and Amharic is in smaller letters.

Certainly when I went back after the overthrow of Mengistu I experienced some trouble from this. I was living in the Wolaita area and patients coming from the Hadeyan area only 40 km down the road could frequently not be understood by the staff. The present government seems to now have a three language policy.

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The 3 languages used here are symbols, Amharic and English. In voting, because so many are illiterate each party has a symbol to show the voters whom they should choose. I never saw a radar gun on that road!

In Amharic there are two ‘t’s – both normal for them but with very different meanings. Also with ‘k’s and ‘ch’s  differences which we describe as soft or explosive. You can get into real trouble. I was in the bank with a couple of friends and our business was drawn out. I said to my friends  ‘Chiger alle?’ thinking I was saying ‘is there a problem?’ but actually saying ‘do you have pubic hair?’ Embarrassing for them and for me, when it was explained. But their letters are written differently and so easily read but not easily heard by us, who think anything like a ‘t’ sound is in fact a ‘t’. In Amharic ‘sebake’ and ‘sebake’, depending on how you sound the ‘k’  means a ‘preacher’ or ‘a bearer of false tales’.

In English we have many letters and letter groups with same or different meaning. We spell Monday with an ‘o’ and say it with a ‘u’. We have the ‘ou’ and say it differently in the following – cough, mouse, tough, through – and pronounce it differently in each word. We have the one letter eg ‘t’ and pronounce it differently in different words. The ‘t’ in tough and the ‘t’ in take are made with the tongue in very different places. Or more significantly the ‘c’ in cat and centipede. Say them and see how your tongue is in a different position for each. We have f’s and ph’s which sound the same. In some of the languages you don’t differentiate p’s and f’s, so people, when they speak in English  go to fray or pray at church; they wear certain clothes either because it is the new fashion or new pashion, without recognising the difference. In Amharic if you know the syllabet you can read it with the correct sound even if you maybe cannot understand it!

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The fidel is not really an alphabet but a syllabet. The second line is basically the ‘l’ sound but the seven syllables as go across from left to right are le,lu, lee, laa, ley, li, lo. There are 238 basic syllables and another 79 special ones, punctuation marks and numbers.

I once told a patient that, as I had spent hours fixing the problems which his venereal disease had caused, ‘that if you have sex with anyone apart from my wife after this, I will kill you!’ I used the sound for my instead of the one for your. Fortunately he spoke in Oromifa and after my Amharic speaking fellow workers got up from the floor, having ceased rolling around in laughter, they translated what I had meant to say!

Learning another language is always a challenge and we all make mistakes!

Dominic Cartier

King Jafir the second.

Most people know something about Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. One of his titles was King of kings. This is no reference to the Biblical title of Jesus whom Christians call King of kings, although Haile Selassie was an Orthodox Christian. The word king is defined as a noun meaning ‘a male sovereign or monarch; a man who holds by life tenure, and usually by hereditary right, the chief authority over a country and people.’ In many countries, however, there can be multiple kings. The term here is used to define a life-time position of authority over a group of people. Thus in Haile Selassie’s time there were many who were called kings. I, for instance, in southern Ethiopia have sat at a meal between the Buna king and an American Ambassador acting as the co-translator from the Buna king’s language to Amharic and then by me from Amharic to English. The king was there all powerful over his tribe even though by that time Ethiopia was a so-called democracy.

One of the kings under Haile Selassie was King Jafir II. His father King Jafir I introduced Islam into the Oromo people in the Jimma area of Ethiopia. The story as told from the Muslim and the Christian sides varies and isn’t of relevance to this article.

King Jafir II was born in 1861 and reigned as king 1878 to 1932. His palace although made out of mud still stands and is a major tourist site near Jimma. Unfortunately it is beginning to crumble.

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The king was a big man said to be over 7 feet tall.
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The open window is suitable for the average sized person; the closed one was specially built for him to look out over his kingdom!
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On the left you see an Ethiopian teenager sitting on Jafir’s chair. In the centre is his super-duper king-size bed. And on the right a double minaret-ed mosque which is just outside the palace.
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The outside of the palace. It has many rooms in part at least because he had many children. I have not been able to find a family tree for him but as a Muslim he was entitled to as many as four wives and many important people had even more.
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Children’s rooms were upstairs and the courtyard below for their pleasure both for personal involvement (eg in swordsmanship) and for watching various contests and acts.
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Overlooking Jimma city from the palace. Jmma is one of the larger Ethiopian cities.
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Jafir was king of a very fertile countryside – famous as the homeland of coffee.

I enjoyed my visit there.

Dominic Cartier.

 

Old photos from Ethiopia.

I cannot boast of being a good photographer. Here are a few photos from the past with a bit of explanation. The first photo was taken through an airplane window. The smokiness is real in that without electricity every home has an open fire, and picture was taken early in the morning.

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Ethiopia has 70 percent of the mountains found in Africa.  The highest is Mount Dashen at 4543m (14930 feet). It also has one of the lowest and hottest places in the world. The Danakil depression is 125m below sea level.
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The north is also famous for its 11 churches, hewn out of rock. The place is called Lalibela, where an Ethiopian Emperor of that name set out to restore the region to Christianity after a Muslim invasion. The churches are outstanding, being of a single piece of rock! Some believe that English knights, fleeing from Jerusalem during the wars there, helped in the building. This is maybe supported by the inclusion of the English Tudor rose in so many of the carvings. Others say that, at night time, angels came and helped in the building.

 

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There are seven monasteries of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church on Lake Tana from which the Blue Nile starts its journey into Egypt. Above is an example of the multitude of paintings painted  in typical Ethiopian style. They are found in abundance in these monasteries. Not in this painting which is of an angel watching over Mary and her Son but interestingly you see amongst the many paintings  two saints whom most of the churches don’t recognize. Kidus Pilatus (St Pilate) – sainted because he was the only one who sought to have Jesus released, when he was being tried before His crucifixion. Another called the Cannibal Saint, who supposedly loved eating human flesh but has been sainted because he gave a glass of water to a thirsty girl. The story is that Mary put her hand on the scales when he was being tried after his death.
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I don’t think they make the horses drink petrol, but these little carts are a very common form of transport in the countryside. Although the car per population ratio is low the car accident per number of cars is very high. One of, if not the highest, in the world.
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On a straight open bitumen road. Note the rocks placed to warn motorists. It doesn’t help if you are just topping a hill and the rocks start just over the top!  See lake Shalla in the distance – the deepest lake in Ethiopia. Its depth is 257 metres and its area 12X15 km.

 

 

Everyone has a story – Habtamu

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During our last term in Ethiopia we only had our youngest adopted son living with us. But that meant we had a house full of boys. Three ate with us three or four times a week and there were others from time to time. The memories of those three are precious to us and I might get to write about the other two sometime. I’ll call this one Habtamu, a name which means ‘the rich one’, although he was and is truly poor. As time passed we got to know the history of all of them.

Habtamu was scholastically the brightest of them all. In grade 8 where the pass mark was 37% in the government exam he got 80 something. He was the only one of the three who had a vision of a tertiary education. He was orphaned at age 5. His parents had bought a place in Arba Mintch, and having sold their village place were killed on the way to their new home in a bus crash. Their three children survived. The home which they had bought had 3 rooms. Their eldest child was a girl who was given the responsibility of bringing up her two younger brothers – Habtamu being the youngest. The sister is now married and has a child. Habtamu lives in a little room on the side of the house. He often asked our son to help him in the evenings or weekends when they, like the Israelites in Egypt years before, trod mud and grass together to patch the walls. We paid for all four boys to go to a private school (a cheap one – but they got a full days teaching, whereas in the public schools you only got half day teaching). When we left our son came back to Australia with us. Two of the boys started work but Habtamu wanted  to continue his education. Without being lavish we have continued to support him, with the help of a couple of generous people.

He still lives in that same small room on the side of his married sister’s home. But he may well be seen as richer than most because we have bought him a computer and a few other things. Have these things been a blessing? It needs  a yes-no answer.

Yes, it has allowed him to continue with his now tertiary education. His score was enough to get him a place in a University but not at the one in his area. He would have to have gone hundreds of kilometres away to do a course which he hadn’t chosen. He still tries to help care for his older brother who studies at a Government University far away. So he elected to go to night school for some extra points and is taking an accountancy course at a private institution. These are courses which have to be paid for.

The answer is ‘no’ because there have been many attempts to break into his room. (The home is not in a good place). A few months ago he was beaten up and ended in the local hospital. His injury was in the upper third of his face and particularly around his right eye with a lot of swelling and some lacerations.  Continue reading “Everyone has a story – Habtamu”

A few pictures from the past.

I’m sick of cataloging this afternoon. So here are a few pictures from the past, none medical.

David & Nancy
50 + yrs ago. He’s now a grandfather

 

 

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25 years ago. The school where one of our adopted children attended Solomon – the third teenager
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Built to safety standards. We eventually got to drive over this bridge! 10 years ago
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The house provided for us at one place. My wife went home while I lived around the workers whom I paid to have it fixed. 25 years ago.
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One of the bed rooms.

And so it goes on. But enough for one day.

Dominic Cartier