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Touch down in Ethiopia (or experimental plumbing)

After a restless night we are up at 4.30 to get to Bole airport to fly to Lalibela, Ethiopia. I am worried that it will be a little plane and the others tease me. But it is a reasonable sized plane and a scramble to get on aka Ryan air.

I concentrate on reading on about Lalibela in my colleague Sam’s book but am quickly distracted by the stunning scenery unfolding below us.

We land after a short hour and walk across the airfield into the one room airport. Everyone grabs their bags. We look out of the door and there, reassuringly, is the Save the Children Land Rover just drawing up. We are warmly welcomed by Mohammed Kebede, Project Manager for North Wollo; who will quickly become our guide and friend and by Kahsay the driver. They are charming and pack us tightly into the Land Rover.

We drive straight to Lalibela. The countryside is stunning and the roads are sometimes tarmac and sometimes ‘unmade up’. Small children wave at the Land Rover. We go to the Lal Hotel where Mohammed suggests we have ‘brunch’. We gratefully eat omelettes and Sam and Douglas enjoy Ethiopian coffee which is delicious here. We explore the loos which are ‘traditional’ but do flush so long as you stand outside to avoid a shower; I am glad I am wearing trainers.

Into the Land Rover for the drive to Woldiya and to see a project along the way. We arrive and it seems that we are late as the people have gone. No matter, we are happy stretching our legs and exchanging smiles with a group of children who come to see us. One is proudly clutching her exercise book – she shares it with another girl and it has clearly seen many previous owners. One of the boys tells us he is in year 4; he looks 10; he is 14. Slow growth due to poor childhood nutrition is evident here.

Mohammed finds the health extension worker employed by the district government; Yalemwork Destaw appears a very committed person. She tells us of the biggest problems in the village – HIV Aids; diarrhea; respiratory diseases. She says she has 3 cases of leprosy in the village – but I wonder if this got lost in translation? I thought that leprosy had all but been eradicated.

We walk around the village – there is a disused tank in the middle of the village; evidence of the war. We visit one of Yalemwork’s clients home – the mother has gone to market and in her hut are 5 or 6 small children. Yalemwork shows us a little girl; she is 12 months old. She was in the feeding programme but her mother cannot take her and run the house; collect firewood and feed the children so she has dropped out. She is very small and can sit but not stand. She is probably half the size she should be. Her head is covered in sores and her feet are grey. I feel desperately powerless to do something for this child.

Later I think of the high tech environment my own children were born – and kept alive in and feel a moment of fear for them mixed with gratefulness.

A long, long drive but through the most stunning scenery. Every twist and turn gives another view of mountains and dry river beds. Eucalyptus trees are everywhere and are used for everything – lower down the smell of eucalyptus oil is in the air reminding me of Australia. I feel very privileged to have this opportunity to see this small part of Ethiopia.

We stop at a tea shop for Mohammed and the driver to eat lunch – a huge injera topped with meat – ‘sheep’ he thinks.

We have a coke all watch a soap opera – a couple cuddling in one scene followed by a scene in which one man is waving an axe between another man’s legs – the message is clear in any language! We share laughs with the men in the teashop and I pretend not to look.

I brave the loo at the back of the tea shop; a low ceiling hole as expected. It is very dirty. I cannot get the door open to get in – a lady squatting nearby shouts helpful comments at me; a man in the loo immediately next door opens his door whilst squatting and shouts helpful remarks at me – the woman kindly comes over and opens the door. The man continues to shout instructions whilst I am in the loo.

Back in the Land Rover which is very hot now; we quickly work out that if we are all to stay on good terms we need to take turns in the least comfortable seats!  I wonder how the members meeting is going in Reading and keep our fingers crossed that the rather odd arrangement of corporate visitors to the meeting is going OK.

We arrive at Woldiye around 5pm; and I’d like to say we relaxed in the comfortable spa but it wasn’t quite like that. The check in clerk asked us for our gun number. Unused to being in the field as we are we were all looking forward to a shower and a bit of rest before adjourning to the bar for pre-dinner drinks.
Sam had a shower, organised her room and had a little snooze whilst Douglas and I undertook independent advanced plumbing.

It is awful to complain and I recognise how spoilt we are but we did have some funny moments – my loo was not attached to the wall at all, I could flush it by putting a stick into the cistern but the water came out anywhere but into the bowl; the stopcock for the shower came off in my hand. I call my children after a second meal of stir fried vegetables and rice; they are a bit miserable becasue I am not there and Georgia is not well. Laurie says ‘I refuse to put up with you being away for more than 7 24 hours’. He is a candidate as a child spokesperson I think – I wish they could see what I have seen to put their lives in perspective though I miss them dreadfully.

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