How Big is Australia Really?

I’m proud to be an Australian but love the country of Ethiopia where I worked for many years. Maybe wrongly, but I have often thought that many people think of Ethiopia as a small insignificant African country. And, possibly again wrongly, I have felt that some Australian professional people have felt themselves superior to those working in these ‘backward countries’. I guess this sort of thinking sprang into my mind again when I was watching an Indian movie last night. How can India produce films as good as Hollywood? Well the one I watched last night was better (different) than many I see from the USA. Maybe because they have 1.4 billion people from whom to choose good actors? But let’s not go too far down that road.

Ethiopia is a small African country. It is about sixty percent of the size of Queensland, or about 4 times as big as Victoria. It has a population four times that of Australia. If you want to compare its history with Australia’s, it is much older. Well, if we accept ‘Lucy’ as being one of the first human being, then it is older than our Original Australian’s history, and much much older than white Australia. Their ruling dynasty which ended with the murder of Haile Selassie in 1975 dated back to the time of King Solomon in Israel. Solomon died over 3,000 years ago. Then why is it backward? I would offend Ethiopians by asking that for they are very, and in many ways justifiably, proud of their country and people. Certainly they are progressing much more rapidly than the West did!

It has spectacular beauty; said to have massive gold and oil deposits; heights extend from 125 metres below sea level to 4,550 metres; there are enough rivers that all its electricity is hydro-produced.

But I really started to write about tertiary education. In 1968 when we arrived in Addis there was one University with 1,000 students. Now there are 30 Universities plus 61 other recognized private places with Higher Education standards.

According to my Mr Google – our University in North Queensland (JCU) has 17,500 students. Of the two Universities, where I mainly taught, Jimma University has 45,000, and Arba Mintch has 34,000. When we went to Ethiopia there were 300 doctors in Ethiopia and only 13 were Ethiopians. When I went to Arba Mintch in 2011 there were there 20 medical students per year, and when I left in 2016 there were 170+/year. In that same year, country wide, they graduated 3,000 young doctors. They are paid so little that many as soon as the government permits them they leave the country for richer paying fields – often to other African countries.

The last graduation I attended for doctor, architecture and Urban Planning graduates.

Maybe life was never meant to be fair, but a little more fairness would be nice.

Dominic Cartier

I couldn’t sleep

Counting sheep didn’t work. Playing games on the iPad only woke me up. I took 2 sleeping tablets – didn’t work. Asked God to let me nod off, but it only brought some old sayings which I love into my head. So here they are.

It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion.

Living lions are pretty majestic but dead what are they? Rotting carcasses, taxidermist specimens, mats on the floor or draped over someone’s shoulders to make them think they’re important. My dogs keep the wallabies out of the garden, lift up my hand when I’m trying to type to be patted. My wife says that I mustn’t feed them at the table but they put their heads on my thigh and look up so pleadingly. I guess Solomon may have had a deeper meaning about useless and useful living but I just think of my dogs – so many of them over the years, playmates as kids, guard dogs in Ethiopia, now just friends!

A nagging wife is worse than a dripping tap.

I’m so glad my wife doesn’t let the tap drip often. I guess living years ago Solomon got away with his sexist proverb! I love the story of the American Indian who called his wife ‘Three Horses’. Eventually someone asked him why that name. ‘It’s simple’ he replied ‘nag, nag, nag!’

I had a Rumanian Plastic surgeon with whom I did lots of deformed chest surgery (pidgeon and sunken chests etc.) He had 2 sayings which I will never forget. He had escaped across the iron curtain.

  1. Doctors are like horse manure – spread them out thinly and they fertilize the community, put them in a heap and they breed worms and stink. Remember I’m a retired doctor but the fees some specialists charge these days make me angry.
  2. People think dying is the worst thing that can happen, but failing to do what you know you should is much worse! I tie this in with a statement of Jim Elliot, who died doing what he thought he should and his death achieved great results. He said He is no fool to give that which he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and prove that you are! I think one needs to earn the right to talk about certain things. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote ‘you talk about your faith, I’ll show you mine by the way I live.’ Talking is necessary but can be so hollow!

Almost every night I get an SMS message from one of my sons I love you dad!’ and all my kids are very caring and expressive of their love. I fell to sleep, hearing softly in my mind, as my prayer was eventually answered, ‘And I love you son!’.

Dominic Cartier

Tom is Alive

African sunset

None of us men could even begin to imagine what it would be like. Maybe you ladies could. Try to imagine living in a family; being the first of four wives all living in the same compound; there are plenty of kids from babies to teenagers; you’ve delivered fourteen babies and they’re all dead.

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Usually the husband had the largest house and each wife with her children had a smaller one.

Now you’re pregnant again and your heart is so full of hope!

Your husband loves you, but you share that love with three other wives. The months go past, your belly fattens, the kicks start coming, your hope and your fears grow and jostle in your mind. Seven months gone, only two more to go. A few days pass and your waters break. Oh, no, surely not another so tiny that it won’t survive,

But your husband loves you, so, although babies are usually born at home, he gets a horse and cart and takes you to the nearby infidel’s hospital so that maybe you’ll get a live one at last. He does really love you.

They have funny customs, but they look after you and you deliver a scrap that when you see him you can’t believe that he can live, and he certainly wouldn’t have in your home. They take him away from you. Not to say they are nasty, they care for you, express your breasts (both of them) and feed him through a little tube down his nose. They make another uterus for him out of a card-board box lined with cotton wool. They put an electric light in the end to keep his new home warm. They run oxygen into the box at first but after a few weeks decide he doesn’t need it any more.

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About this size he was taken home.

One of the foreign women takes him to her house each night because she explains that she wants to make sure he gets his 2-hourly feeds at night. You can see she loves both of us and wants him to live. You learn her name is ‘Hirut’ but lots call her ‘Ruth’. Her own two boys love to come and watch him with you. They love him, you can see, like a brother.

Gradually they teach you to sponge him down, and to feed your own milk down the little tube. Eventually you’re allowed to hold him for a while. He holds your finger; he pees into your face as only little boys can; he takes your heart in his hands and your hope grows. But then goes back into his box.

Then your breasts dry up and they start to feed him in a powder from a tin which they mixed with boiled water and let him drink from a bottle with a breast slipped over the end. They teach you to test the warmth of the milk substitute by dropping a bit onto your wrist. They always clean up the bottle and the little ’breast’. They explain this is necessary and teach you how to do it properly. They explain it is very necessary to do all this.

He’s soon no longer living in his box. They teach you to do it all so well. He grows so beautiful. You see Hirut would love to keep him, she has spent so many nights and so much effort, but she just encourages you and gives him lots of little clothes that her own boys wore. All the hospital love and they call him Tom. He kicks, he laughs, he cries, He’s beautiful. It’s time to take him home. The nurses give you a little party and then your loving man takes you home. Everyone there is excited for you and they love him.

Five days later, he’s running a temperature; another two days later little Tom is dead.

No one at home boiled bottles and their water came from the creek in which people bathed and near which they did their ‘business’. He got diarrhoea, started vomiting and died.

Later you got the courage to go back to the hospital and told them the news – they cried with you, and hugged you and loved you. As you left you missed hearing them say to one another ‘It was all our fault. We should never have been so clean.’

But sadly, Tom is dead.

Vanity of vanities, it’s all a fadin’.

African sunset

I’m not very handsome, but then, they say, character is more important than  looks. I hope my character is better than my looks! I’m old, wrinkled and with big bags under my eyes. 

It reminds me of that old ditty: licence photo

As a beauty I pose as no star;

there are others more handsome by far;

But my face I don’t mind it,

for I am behind it;

’tis the ones in the front get the jar.

My driver’s licence photo (taken years ago) is particularly awful. They insist on taking it against a white background and with white hair I look as if I am a pin-head. And you can see my under-eye bags, which have grown larger over the years. They don’t encourage you to smile, and with my white beard, grown since, I have no idea what I would look like now. The attached picture was taken 11 years ago, so you can imagine what I look like these days, with my white beard added!

There’s a story behind my white hair. When I first went to Ethiopia, as a surgeon, they called me the ‘baby doctor’. Not because I was a paediatric surgeon but because I looked so young. I was in fact 28. But I prayed for a few white hairs to look a bit more distinguished, and, obviously, didn’t stop praying about that issue soon enough. I am not going to dye it.

But that is all a diversion. I was called handsome once.

I arrived very early at the airport in Addis one day, because the taxi driver whom I always used had to get some kids to school on time and he could only take me early. Reception was closed, so I sat reading. Maybe half an hour later two young ladies arrived to open the Emirates counter. By their dress one was obviously Orthodox, the other a Muslim lady. The Orthodox lady got her place setup first so I went there. I was in my late 70’s, so was surprised, for two reasons, when the young Muslim lady said ‘you’re a handsome man’. Surprised because she was a Muslim and I an infidel and because I thought that she must need glasses.

The girl not serving me said ‘he’s not handsome, he’s just old; he’s not good looking!’ I will love the memory of the other girl for ever as she responded ‘0ld or not, he’s handsome!’ I love her, and always will. Even though I still she think she needs glasses.

Dominic Cartier

Life isn’t meant to be that hard!

African sunset


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Life is different in the countryside in Ethiopia. There are kids everywhere and they aren’t taught not to trust you. This may cause some problems but I think that they are less likely to be molested than in the West. Median age of Ethiopia is 19.

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Only one arm (due to a native healer mishandling a fracture), but what a smile.

You may not want to read more if you’re a bit squeamish! But it isn’t as bad as many kid’s TV programs – except that it is real. I really loved the kids I dealt with!

Continue reading “Life isn’t meant to be that hard!”