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.

Pandemic Funerals

African sunset

Pandemic limitations have reduced the numbers at funerals, but have also made it possible to attend (or at least listen to) funerals without travel. In 1968 we arrived in Ethiopia. The man who had been station head at the time when I had to leave in 1973 for health reasons, had a funeral last Saturday in Canada. My wife and I attended the ceremony. Well, not quite, but we watched it on U-tube last night.

Seventy years earlier he had travelled by ship with two other young men for their first term of missionary service. So it was interesting to remember not only my contacts with the man who had died but also with the other two.

The dead man had married a beautiful lady and by the time we knew him had 4 children. He was a good leader, but what I remember most was that his youngest child, a daughter was about the same age as our oldest son. We had a platform type swing in the front of our place, and his daughter and our son used to, during school holidays (they both went to boarding school in Addis) stand at each end of plank, goggle eyed, swinging back and forth. Puppy love, I guess; nothing came of it.

Some years later I met him again in Addis. He had remained in Ethiopia in an Administrative role during the time of the communist rule. I visited during that time for the Australian division of the mission. I wanted to visit my old hospital but was forbidden. Everyone thought that it would cause a riot. But, I did need to do a bit of travel in Addis. I did not have an in-date Ethiopian licence. One of his sons, who had a licence, was out visiting him. So my friend offered his son as a driver. His licence had been obtained to drive automatic vehicles. All the vehicles available had stick gears. I’m glad that the traffic wasn’t as busy then as it is today. It was a scary ride, but we did arrive both ways without an accident.

I knew one of the other men quite well but the story is second hand. Much later he and his wife adopted a young Ethiopian girl. I can’t understand how but the Ethiopian officials allowed them out of the country without a Canadian visa for her. The other end wouldn’t let the child into Canada. The guy, nice but a bit pushy, unsuccessfully argued with them for quite a while, but eventually put the baby on the desk and began to leave. ‘OK, she’s your problem now’, he said.

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He was called back, some agreement was reached, and eventually everyone was happy.

The other guy with his wife who went with him on the same ship reminded me of a couple who were working on the Ethiopian-Kenyan border. There were poor roads, no phones, his wife as the only trained nurse in a nurses clinic on site; there was no other medical help available without travelling hours on terrible roads. They were so ‘out-on-a-limb’, distance wise and in political uncertainty, that the headquarters in Addis had  radio contact with them each morning and evening. And describing the roads as terrible, I mean terrible, unmade, ‘mud-slides’ and rivers with no bridges to be crossed.

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Late one Saturday afternoon the husband complained of abdominal pain, his wife assessed him as having appendicitis. It was too late to fly a helicopter down but the decision was made to get everything set up for action in the morning. A helicopter was arranged, and everything was planned to be able to leave in the morning if he was still unwell. After the morning radio contact we would make a decision depending on what his wife thought. She was still worried, so another nurse, and I set out with sterile instruments, sterile disposable drapes, a spinal anaesthetic tray and a strong torch.

We had two alternative plans in place. If there was a fear that it was far progressed we would bring him back on the helicopter so that he could be watched in hospital in Addis, after surgery; or if it seemed the correct diagnosis but an early case we’d operate there and leave him in the care of his wife.

We travelled down at low altitude in a glass bottomed helicopter. It was soon after the civil war had ended and the people were frightened of low flying air machines. As we passed overhead, the men and their beasts out ploughing took off helter-skelter, often the men in one direction and the beasts in the other, still pulling their ploughs. I don’t know why the pilot flew low; it wasn’t funny for people on the ground; but it looked so from above! And when I say that we flew at a low altitude, what I should say was that we didn’t fly far above the ground. Ethiopia is mountainous so we had lots of ups and downs so as to not hit mountains. I guess we fluctuated between four and ten thousand feet, altitude wise.

table operation

At any rate I decided (correctly) that he had early appendicitis so I operated on him on the kitchen table, using a strong torch for light (held by the pilot) and under spinal anaesthesia. After surgery we watched him for a couple of hours, had lunch and returned to Addis. The next morning on the radio his wife was asked how he was getting on. She said that he was in the garden watering. She called out to him; he was happy and said ‘Thanks for making house calls.’

Pathology proved the diagnosis correct.

Dominic Cartier

I’m a carnivore!

African sunset

Whenever my wife asked what I’d like for my first meal when we arrived back in Australia, my answer was invariably pork chops and ice cream. Not on the same plate, of course, but, in the early days,  we didn’t get either in Ethiopia. As far as ice cream was concerned, after some years, there was one place, as you turned right at Mojo (about 80 km) to go to Shashemane, where an Italian guy sold gelati from a caravan. Years later there was a spot on the right side of the road as you drove out of Addis, where you could get several different kinds of ice cream; now there are places all over Addis and it is also available in most major towns.

Pork chops were off the list because neither Orthodox Christians nor Muslims eat pork. You couldn’t even get bacon. Because of the growing Chinese influence there are now a few places in Addis where you can buy pork, but it is still not a common meat and to many an absolute ‘no-no’,

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You could buy beef which was hanging outside the butcher shops. The butchered halves hung there for all to see. The animals were killed early in the morning and it was good to get there early before there were too many flies. You could point to the piece of meat you wanted and they cut it off. You needed to cook it well, preferably in a pressure cooker. It seemed as if most animals were killed after a long life of pulling a plough!

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Chickens (doro) were bought live. They were highly prized as meat. They were in the local custom killed in, to me, a rather gruesome way by sawing through the neck. We, as you probably know, kill them by placing their necks in a convenient place and with a swift swing of an axe chop off their heads, before hanging them up to drain out their blood. Again by local custom the bird is cut into eleven pieces and made into a very spicy meal. The favoured person is usually handed a piece called, when translated, the horse-rider, the meat on the breast bone.

chickens to market

If you wanted sheep meat you went to the market and bought a sheep. You could never buy lamb or mutton or hogget at a shop. You took the sheep home and killed it and prepared the meat there. African sheep don’t look like ours in Australia. They look like goats, but whereas goats ears and tails go up, those on sheep hang down. Goat meat also can be bought on the hoof, in the same way.

Being brought up in the south of Australia, in our childhood and youth, when not eating rabbit, we ate sheep, usually labelled lamb. On the farm they were aged by their teeth, in the shop by the butcher’s choice.

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One weekend we decided we’d like some sheep meat. So the teenagers who were living with us  A house full of teenagers.  and I went to the local market on the Saturday afternoon and after a lot of haggling bought one. As a white person we financially suffered racism. Everything was a bit dearer for us. So I sent the boys out to suss out the best prices. I fooled myself if I thought this would work as I was well known in the town, as was the fact that the boys lived with us!  I personally had no intention of killing it. Ato (Mr) Kassa, our gardener could do that on Monday, I knew that he’d be happy to do that for a share in the meat as a gift.

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This is a roadside market in Addis. Ours was held once a week as a major event in a square a hectare or so in size and people came from all the neighbouring towns.

Here I ran into an unexpected hurdle. Sheep are not kept outside in countryside Ethiopia, they sleep in the house, I think for fear of thieves or hyenas. At any rate, in the evening we tied it up in the garden but it didn’t like that at all. It baa-baa-ed to the point of driving us near to insanity. We had to end up clearing a space in the inside laundry, and inviting him in. After that peace reigned until…..

Monday when he was dealt with by Kassa. He was a very tasty and the much enjoyed centre of a number of meals.

Interestingly, the intestine is a favoured piece of the kill and locals make it into nice spicy dish. Kassa and his family enjoyed it as part of his gift. On the whole I don’t like tripe.

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.
Jafir window
The open window is suitable for the average sized person; the closed one was specially built for him to look out over his kingdom!
Jafir collage
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.