The true value of things


Eric writes:

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.

Get up
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.

Aster with her bunna bota (coffee place) under a tree

Aster with her bunna bota (coffee place) under a tree

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.


8 thoughts on “The true value of things

  1. Hi Guys

    It’s great to keep getting your wonderful blogs on a country and life I know very little about.

    I hope you are both well. I am still concerned that I have not heard back from you since my emails after staying at your beautiful St Mont house. I do hope you did receive them ?

    All the very best

    Sent from my iPhone

    Neil Anderson Marketing Director

    D +44 (0)161 386 8437 M +44 (0)7768 923907 E neil.anderson@kingsland-drinks.com W http://www.kingsland-drinks.com

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  2. I really enjoyed your post Eric. Is that the right thing to say considering the inevitable sad ending? Thank you for taking the time and sharing the insight – it is appreciated.

    • Thanks so much for your comment Caroline. We are hoping to visit Aster before we leave Ethiopia. Her situation is just one of those cruel and hard facts of Ethiopian life. Best wishes to you and David.

  3. You are so right about the NHS. Your story about Aster brings it home. Poor girl. I am sure she will be welcomed into heaven where she will find eternal peace.
    Kind Regards,

    Sent from my iPhone


    • So good to hear from you Richard. I know Aster finds great solace in her faith. I just wish it could be supported by something physical too. But perhaps that must be a hope for Ethiopia. That in the future, there will be medical resources as strong as its religious ones. Love to you both.

  4. Great blog as always. Always sad to hear of people less fortunate than ourselves. A friend of mine (ex HND student) worked on Mercy Ships in the 90s. It was amazing what a traveling medical facility such as those ships could achieve in just a short space of time.

    • Hi Roger. Unfortunately Ethiopia, being landlocked can’t really be a candidate for ships (sorry, shouldn’t be flippant!) but for some things like eye issues and plastic surgery, these intensive missions by ship, plane or any other means can be fantastic adjuncts to the main health system. But Ethiopia’s basic health system is so restricted that many people do not have any realistic access. Clearly the rural population can have physical limits on getting health care but so many people cannot access anything other than rudimentary support because of the cost. Not sure what the answer is though. And keep your wonderful photos coming!

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