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.
After obtained my higher surgical degree I spent six months in India before going to Africa. Like a good boy I was up to date with vaccinations and all those necessary things before I left for India. I was ready for my life in Africa!
We flew along the Arabian coast line at the same speed as the day was starting – travelling East to West. All the way the sun shining on the cliffs was magnificent. Flying into Addis Ababa was green and so much like Australia with all the gum trees. Our two young boys were able to stretch out and sleep all the way from Karachi, which was bliss for us.
The landing was smooth; the passage through Immigration was not. Well, it was for my wife and the two boys. They were allowed through, were met by the mission heavies and taken to where we were to stay, whereas I was arrested. I was put into quarantine because my cholera injection was one day over the six months expiry time. All my arguments fell on deaf ears. My wife and the boys had had no problems in entering as they had joined me in India several months into my stay there and had their shots just before they left.In the quarantine station I met a Greek (I think) doctor who agreed with my very logical argument that the injection is not 100% effective and the six months is not exact to the day. He gave me a booster injection and sent me to where my wife and children were.
While not being usually very tearful, having been told that I would be sequestered for six weeks, she was crying buckets full. Tears rapidly turned to joy.
We had a few days to acclimatise before we were due to head south to the place I was to work. We had needed to buy five years clothes, kitchen stuff, linen etc. The two growing boys would need a lot of extra clothes. Things were very different in Africa 55 years ago and few things were available in the shops. Hospital expected requirements had to be ordered 6 months ahead of their needed date. We had planned to stay for 5 years. So, although we flew, 16 boxes had been sent ahead by ship.
We had to go to many offices over a couple of days to get it through customs but we were not charged duty. Foreign workers were very welcome at that time. There were 300 doctors for 30 million people and few of the 300 were trained surgeons.
Ten days after arriving in the country we were taken down to the hospital in which I was to work. There was a leprosarium with 700 inpatients plus an outpatient service. Many lepers had moved into the surrounding area as we were the only leprosarium in the southern region. There was also a 30 bed general hospital with an outpatient service with an average attendance of about 100/day. There was one doctor, 5 trained nurses and many national workers, including a number of trained dressers. Some other time I might say how we managed it all. I was to replace the one doctor who was leaving in 2 weeks on a years break.
We arrived at 3 in the afternoon. The doctor’s wife gave us afternoon tea. The doctor had some emergencies which he wanted me to see – as they needed surgery immediately!
We got home for supper at midnight having seen a number of patients and performed 3 operations. Two of which I recall – an urgent Caesarean Section and a bowel resection on a 16yo girl with a large mass obstructing the right side of her colon.
That was the start of a marathon run lasting several years.
Please don’t comment on the masks. I had operated on the patient seen in the background and was just preparing something on the second patient – a child – he too was asleep. Due to lack of staff to watch people adequately we sometimes ad even 3 patients in the OR. One being operated on and the others(s) being observed. From the greyness of the sideburns I can tell this was in my second trip. On the first trip – no grey, then white sideburns, then eventually all white! (I cut the kid out of the picture as he was not appropriately dressed).