Walking Down Memory Lane

African sunset

I try not to just live on memories. But I sleep a lot; walk slowly with a stick; or if the family goes out together they take me in a wheelchair to speed things up. I still can think clearly (or so I think) and I don’t find it easy to hand over all the control to a son who does almost everything about the place. He’s gracious and I’m trying – maybe in two senses of the word!

But memory lane is mostly pleasant to walk down. I’ve been transferring slides and photographs onto my computer and it has been a bit tedious but full of memories. Here are a few of them.

OV dams from hill copy

I used to own much of the land seen in this photo, but most of it is now sold. Some of the money enables us to live, but much has been invested in lives in Ethiopia. Those lives are very pleasant to remember and the memories give great joy. Some were sick; some were destitute; some needed education, but all were real people, and needed loving. Not always emotional love, but rather helping love. Some are dead already, I guess, but the money and effort was not wasted.

OV house 1 copy
When I was in Australia for several years, about 35 years ago, I bought this old house for $3,000 and we had it transported. It still stands today looking much better and surrounded by trees. 

My computer collection of pictures begins from over sixty five years ago. I didn’t get a camera until I was in my older teens, so although there are a few photos of even great grandparents, mostly the photos start from when I met an amazingly beautiful young teenager. I started to ‘chase’ her from the day I first met her! We will have been married for fifty eight years come December. I’ve got about two thousand more slides and many photos to go through. What a lot of memories still to come!

street huts copy
Sorry about the focus, but these are the street huts people were living in on the street opposite the main government hospital in Addis Ababa.
Eth OR 01 copy
And this was one of the operating rooms that first greeted me in 1994
a day's operating copy
This is a list of one day’s emergency surgical admissions. The writing is terrible, but listed below it reads disease-wise ….

appendicitis; intestinal obstruction; intestinal obstruction, volvulus; acute appendicitis; Peritonitis from perforated duodenal ulcer; appendiceal abscess; stab wound to the abdomen; rectal fistula; oesophageal cancer; penetrating abdominal knife wound. Most of these would have needed surgery the same day except the oesophageal cancer which would need work up and time.

Yakob copy
As a baby I found him, deserted,  being swept around on the floor of the paediatric ward.

Now he has a tertiary education and this should mean a satisfying life.

Money is useful if you use it wisely. Memories are more precious!

Dominic Cartier

What do you think?

African sunset

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?


maregu 7

This is the story of one whom I’m sorry is not our son. The Australian government, I think for financial reasons would not countenance an adoption. They did give us a 6 months medical visa but we had to pay all expenses and he had to leave at the end of those few months.

He was run over by a train. His father was dead; his mother was cruel to him. I’ve seen the burn marks that she inflicted on his one remaining arm. He was a street kid, and I’ve no doubt a thief, a beggar and a bit of a rascal. He lived on the streets of the place I used to go to operate on Fridays. I’ve explained about Friday operating there before. I didn’t do his initial surgery but saw him on a Saturday morning round when he was just about to be discharged to be a street beggar again.

He had been operated on by a surgeon for whom I didn’t have the greatest regard. A boy to remember/a surgeon to forget.

Later the young boy told me that when trying to hitch a ride to a bigger town for better pickings, his friends who were pulling him onto the train let him slip and he fell under the slowly moving train. He lost both legs and his right arm. He told me later that when taken to the hospital he still had both knees, and his thumb and two fingers on his right hand. If you have to amputate it is a good thing to remember that the longer the stump the easier to use an artificial limb. And a few fingers can be very useful!

When I saw him that day both legs were amputated very high, and his right arm was amputated just below his elbow. He was in considerable pain because in his left leg stump the bone had not been smoothed, it was not covered with muscle and the sharp spike of bone was half way through the skin.

I took him home with me that day. It was interesting because he knew no English and my Amharic isn’t perfect by a long way. I asked him three questions,

Did he wake at night with night mares? The answer was ‘no’.

Did he need to pee at night? Asked, obviously, because I’d have to carry him to the toilet. He said ‘no’, which was usually correct.

Was he worried about the future? His answer surprised me. ‘No, there’s a God in heaven, He’ll look after me.’

On the trip back it rained a bit. When it stopped other traffic splattered dirt onto the front window so that I used the windscreen wipers and sprayed, as you do, water to clean them. He asked where the water was coming from. I told him that there were two little boys under the bonnet who peed when I told them to do so. He looked at me a bit shocked so I explained the reality. But I think it helped him to know that I was a real man, like his father used to be to him. We got on famously.

I remember his first bath. He’d never seen one or been in one. He clung to me as I lowered him in, screaming at the top of his voice. Having got in, and discovering it was warm and very pleasant he didn’t want to get out. We never had that problem again.

Soon he had to go back into hospital and have the bone in his left stump sorted out; of course, not at the same hospital.

The next while was a bit mixed up; he stayed with friends while we came back to Australia for my cancer surgery; then my wife returned to Ethiopia to finish the academic year teaching her grade 4 kids. Tenesaiyeh lived with my wife while she was there. We got a medical visa for him to come to Australia for artificial limbs. I had three years of troublesome, even if not overly serious, complications after my cancer surgery. So I had plenty of time to act as his personal chauffeur and physiotherapist while he got his prostheses made and began to use them. Before I had to take him back to Ethiopia he was slowly walking up and down stairs. He scooted around on a little skate board and used to love sitting in front of the TV conducting with Andre Rieu.

IMG-0395 2
It still sits under our TV set.

The local school allowed him to attend (this was new for him); he loved it and they were so good to and for him. He went around at school on his skateboard. I’m not sure how legal it was!

Australia wouldn’t let us adopt him but arrangements were made for him to be adopted into the USA. For legal reasons he had to spend time in an orphanage in Ethiopia before he could go to America. When I took him back, I spent a few days seeing him daily until I left to return home. He came to the airport with me and it took 2 people to pry him off me, for me to be able to leave. It was similar to getting him into the bath first time – except he didn’t enjoy the orphanage.

His new parents, for reasons I cannot fathom, soon found his prostheses too much problem and disposed of them. So he’s a wheelchair bound guy these days but a champion wheelchair Olympian. He’s a University student and we still correspond as ‘my American son’ and ‘my Aussie dad’. He tells me he wishes he had been allowed to stay here. So do I!

josh m
Although the hand was opening pair of hooks – he could use it well. The limbs were made to look much more normal after correct fittings were sorted out.
  • Tensaiyeh was not his name. It is used as a boy’s name and means ‘my resurrection’.

Dominic Cartier

Solomon – the third teenager

In the dry season
in the dry season

Solomon has been introduced previously as one of the teengers in the post A house full of teenagers. As a double orphan we decided to adopt him. Solomon is a common name there, as Menelik I, who the first king of Ethiopia’s long dynasty ending with Haile Selassie, is claimed to be the the son of the Jewish king Solomon, from an intimate moment with her, when he was visited by the Queen of Sheba.

We were planning to bring the 3 boys with us on a holiday to Australia, and that made us put his adoption plan into actIon. We needed to get a passport and a visa for him and there was no one who could legally sign for his application papers. So we made an approach to the Australian adoption agency. They denied us permission because of our age. We were older than 45. (That age has since been raised to 65.) So we went to the Ethiopian adoption agency who said that we could but it had to be by Australian rules. Which meant we couldn’t.

So I, in desperation, went to the Ethiopian Immigration Authorities and asked if they would give me special permission to sign the application paper for a passport. They said “No. Adopt him, and then you can.” I explained the above and was told to forget them officials and to go to a down country regional court and adopt him.

We did that. We were interviewed. They asked sensible questions, and about an hour later we had adoption papers signed and in our hands. It had cost me the equivalent of about $1.50. By local custom he was my son. Although my wife had been questioned in the meeting she wasn’t mentioned on the adoption papers. He was now ours (well mine at least). If he was ever naughty I was told that your son had …. etc.

When we flew down for this adoption, we were in a small plane. It was his first flight. Looking out the window he asked what the black dots scattered around were. We told him that they were Kraals (local mud huts). He said, “they look like cow shit”. A word he must have learned from his mates at school!

If he was to come to Australia we needed a visa for him. There was no Australian Embassy in Ethiopia but there was a High Commission in Nairobi. I was to bring him to Nairobi for an assessment, a medical check etc and if all was ok to get a visa for Australia. Ethiopians don’t need a visa to get into Kenya.

Before Ethiopia would allow him to leave the country to pick it up in Kenya we had to have a letter from a lawyer verifying that he was in fact an orphan and that we had adopted him legally.

I had previously operated on the Minister of Justice, a lawyer, under local anaesthetic for a large lump on his thumb. He didn’t trust the sterility of the government facilities. I hadn’t charged him. He was prepared to sign such a letter for me but had never written one like that before. If I wrote it he would sign and stamp it. So I did that and took the draft to his office for translation into Amharic, signing and stamping.

I had a call telling me that I could pick it up, but it would cost me US$100. In the 90’s that was a fair bit of money. At any rate my/his letter worked.

In Nairobi he passed his medical and we had an interview with a very nice lady. She was thorough. Eventually she said to me “are you telling me that he is 16?” I replied “No, I’m saying that I want him to be 16.” If over 16 he wouldn’t have been given a visa. She told me that she assessed him as older than that, and that if I had answered “yes” she would have made him have X-rays to accurately age him. (He already had wisdom teeth), but as I had been honest she would give us a visa.

Australia still doesn’t accept him as our son. He was allowed in, because there was then (now removed) a condition of entry if a child had been living with you for more than 4 years  that he could get an australian visa. Solomon met that condition.

We all came for a holiday but soon after returning to Ethiopia I was expelled from the country and we returned with just him to live. Several years after he arrived in Australia he applied for citizenship and it was granted. Whilst not academic he has a strong work ethic. He is an Australian citizen. He and his wife both work in an aged care facility.

On first arriving in Sydney he was walking down the street with one of our sons. He saw an elderly lady walking a chihuahua and audibly exclaimed “Do they have pet rats in Australia?” Eventually our son by birth calmed the lady down by explaining that this was almost Solomon’s first day in Australia and they had no such dogs over there. I think she had planned to hit him over the head with her umbrella. Pet owners can be like that!

A sixth child legitimately ours. We found another later!

A protesting crowd
a quiet protest in the capital. The procession was about a kilometre long.


Dominic Cartier

Like a son

kids galore

In 1968, when we first went to Ethiopia, we had a lady W/ro (weysero – mrs) Balynish. She was separated from her husband and had four children – 2 girls and 2 boys. We didn’t see much of the girls but the boys were often at our place playing with our boys. Tadessa the younger of the two was almost always at our place. He was confident, cheeky and lovely. He and our oldest son used to ride around on our two horses as bosom pals. We kept in loose contact with him until sadly he died recently. We helped send one of his sons to University. We were friends.

A couple of memorable moments.

Ethiopian food is more spicy than most of ours. I guess maybe this is not so true now as many other nations (eg Indian) foods have become part of Western food. This particular day Tadee (as we called him) was carrying on about how there were no very spicy spices in our ‘ferengie’ foods. “Are you sure about that,” I asked him. “Certain” he replied. So I went to the pantry and gave him half a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce. With great superiority he opened his mouth wide, confidently swallowed all of it; dropped the spoon and ran outside screaming for water. Lesson learned.

He was attending a nearby small church school where they had full day lessons. One Wednesday he came to our place, at lunch time, and was talking to his mother in the kitchen. We could overhear the conversation. He was boasting about how he had bested his teacher that morning. Apparently he had obtained 1 out of 20 for a maths test. The teacher at the end of the lesson asked the students to call out their marks to have them recorded. When asked to give his mark, he replied 11. 1/20 sticks in a teachers mind, so he was called out the front for lying. In spite of knowing that the punishment was a caning, he confidently went to the front and told the teacher that the teacher couldn’t cane him, because his name was Tadessa Cartier! He got away with it.

Calling him into where we were eating he, smiling broadly, verified the story. “What do you think I would do to your very good friend, my son, if he lied like that?” I asked. As the sentence came out his smile quickly disappeared. “You’d give him a hiding?”. “Yes I would. Are you sure your name is ‘Cartier’?”. He clung to our really very tenuous relationship. So I told him that I would give him a hiding but at school in front of his class, as if I gave it in our home no one else would learn a lesson.

After lunch we went to school together. The teacher said the facts were true. So I took off my belt and applied 3 good whacks to the seat of learning. He fled screaming and neither his mother nor we saw him for 3 days. I went off to review the hundred leprosy patients we had on the compound with severe foot ulcers, as I did every Wednesday afternoon. He came back without grudges and carried on as if he was Tadessa Cartier.

I loved that kid and still love the memory of him.

Dominic Cartier