TUESDAY 26 MAY 2015, KOMBOLCHA
When we announced to the world that we were off to Ethiopia a lot of people asked us how we would cope without all the things we have in the UK. Well, we have now lived in Ethiopia for about 20 months and many of the things that we take for granted back in the UK seem to have faded in our minds. Daily water shortages and regular power cuts are part of life here and only yesterday we commented that we hardly notice any more. We have developed a regular routine to ensure that our 6 water containers are full when the water supply is available and we filter, boil and bottle our drinking water when power is available. We do give daily thanks for our £5 ADSA kettle though!
Even our mornings have a regimented pattern, hopefully trying to get everything done before the power is cut off.
Boil filtered water for tea, then refill kettle with either tap or bucket water for our jug and bowl shower (even that is something that no longer seems to be a hardship)
Refill the kettle for Deb (who is possibly still in bed) for her “shower” Even in a warm country, showering or washing in cold water first thing in the morning is something that I simply can’t get used too.
As Deb makes all of our bread, a lack of power at a critical time can be a trying experience. We have however a small charcoal stove that can be used in emergency and depending on the timing, the planned dough for the loaf can be diverted into flat bread, dry cooked in a frying pan over the charcoal, that is equally delicious. The limitation on available fresh food can be somewhat challenging and stretches Deb’s imagination to the limit. What else can you do with tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and beetroot (the carrots and beetroot are not always available)?
OK, when we first got here these shortages and stoppages took a bit of getting used to but now it is normal life. At that level there’s not much we miss, except wine, the freedom of having a car, Rugby and, of course, our family and friends. However there are some things that we miss so very much. These are things that really make a difference to all our lives and that we take so much for granted. Top of my list is one of the things that makes Great Britain truly great…our NHS. It breaks my heart to hear people run down what is an amazing service. OK, it is not without its problems but I for one would not like to live my life without its safety net. I have been one of the lucky ones that have made little use of the service but I am more than happy to pay my taxes to support those that need long term medical support. It’s not like that in Ethiopia though.
A few months ago I popped into our local coffee shop run by a girl called Aster. To call it a coffee shop might give the wrong impression as these are no more than shacks under bits of tarpaulin where women, yes it is only ever women, try and make a small living by selling coffee or tea. On our walk to university we could stop off at over 30 of these coffee establishments such is their frequency so each can only sell a handful of little cups of strong, smooth coffee every day. Rarely can anyone earn what could be thought of as a living by selling coffee.
About two months ago Aster said she had to go to Addis for a medical – she had been referred because of some problem with her lower abdomen. Her English and my Amharic were not good enough to establish further details, not that it was my place to ask. On her return she said she had been diagnosed with cancer. In my naivety I asked if she was she going to have an operation. No she said. What about medication? Again the answer was no. I had assumed that there was some kind of free medical support for people without any money. But clearly I was wrong. Medical support is only for those who can afford to pay.
This week Aster closed her coffee shop for good and will return to her father’s home in Kobo, just north of Woldia (3 hours on a bus from here) for what remains of her life as there is no way she can afford any medical treatment. Her only source of comfort is her faith and the new Bible that she will take to Woldia with her. I know that there must be so many Asters in Ethiopia but when it happens to someone you know it brings home how precious one’s health is and how lucky we Brits are to have the NHS where we can have life-saving treatment regardless of means.
Aster is 31 and is so full of life, a real party girl. Early one morning just after her fateful trip to Addis Ababa, we met Aster in an elegant dress and shoes as Deb and I were leaving our compound on our way to work. “Where are you off to?” I asked. “I’m returning home from a party” came the reply, to which Deb said “good for you”. I just hope she has some more parties to look forward to.