Blog What? Observations from the Motherland

Written by Mohammed A

Dear readers,

I’m happy to announce, my good friend, Dr. Gelane, who’s doing a clinical research at Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, has agreed to share her experiences with us.

Her weekly blog will feature general observations of the country, her experience working as a health professional and a comparison of life in one of world’s poorest country with that of the United States.

I look forward to reading more of her entries. In this first installment, she gives us a general overview of the city – the changes she had found upon her second leg to Ethiopia. I hope you’d enjoy it as much as I did. Leave her a comment or a story suggestion for her next blog.

I landed in the motherland some two weeks ago and now I’ve adjusted, but for a while there I thought I mistakenly boarded a space shuttle and left the planet.  

It was only a 13hr flight but I deplaned in a completely different time zone and no I don’t mean EST and KSA. To start off, it’s the year 2004 here…what the? Oh yeah and seven o’clock is one o’clock and four o’clock is ten o’clock, so if you’re trying to meet up with someone make sure you determine which time you’re using. It took me two missed appointments to get this straight.

My name is Gelane and I am a fourth year medical student at University of Maryland. I decided to take some time away from my clinical training in the States to learn more about healthcare in Ethiopia and to do a research project on the pattern of trauma related injuries and medical emergencies in the capital.  Emergency medicine as a specialty is only two years old in Ethiopia and would not be possible without the efforts of the University of Wisconsin and the Twinning Center at the American International Health Alliance.  I’m so thrilled to be a part of the early stages of this process and look forward to my involvement in emergency medicine in Ethiopia in the years to come.  

This is my second time in Ethiopia.  I was here in 2004, you know, the Gregorian calendar 2004.  Some things have changed but many things are exactly as they were seven years ago.  Similar to my previous stay, the day after I arrived, I awoke at 5 a.m. local time, not due to jet lag but to the sound of the local mosque’s call to prayer.  I’m not Muslim, but I must admit that each morning the distant calling strikes awe in me and I am transported to a place in my imagination that is as ancient as religion itself.

The first obvious difference I noticed is that people definitely dress more Western than when I was here before — complete with boys sagging their pants and girls in revealing clothes.  Now you have to understand that Ethiopia has a rather conservative culture so this came as a surprise to see how normal and accepted it is.  As I was packing to come here, I literally made two piles of clothes; conservative outfits and “fun outfits.” Guess which pile I left at home. Oh well, so what if people think I’m a middle-aged mom while I’m here?

The second big change is that there are so many new buildings around Addis.  For those of you who know the city well, you will remember that on Churchill Street, there were rows and rows of shanty houses leading up to Piazza.  Well, that’s all gone now. Urban renewal, gentrification, etc seem to be in full effect.  Supposedly the people living along the famous Churchill road before the overhauls were well compensated and given land elsewhere. But most people here will tell you they’ve heard other, less benign testimonials.  

The road traffic is still crazy as ever. Since I’m here for Trauma and EM work, this quickly became the focus of my attention and clinical practice.  On a good day, there are about two functioning traffic lights in the whole city so it’s no surprise that 85 percent of all traumas in the city proper are caused by road traffic accidents (RTAs). Interestingly enough, the Ministry of Health just published an extensive report this week on the epidemiology of RTAs in Addis Ababa which suggests that accident frequency and severity directly correlate with driver confidence.   During well lit-dry road conditions, the number of RTAs far exceeds those which occur during dark, wet, and hazardous conditions.  Counter-intuitive at first but if you consider that people are more cautious when danger is high, it begins to make sense.   

addisTaxis are harder to catch now than before, as the population of Addis seems to have doubled while the number of taxis remained the same.  I thought I would never be able to push someone out of my way to get a taxi but after two days of waiting over 30 minutes for a seat I found myself running and pushing like a home-grown Addis Ababan to get the last seat in a taxi to Piazza.  

Merkato, Africa’s largest open-air market, is still, in my opinion, the most thrilling place to be.  The city is already loud and bustling but as you near Autobistera (the city’s main bus station) the volume outside the taxi begins to rise. Taxis shouting their destination, “Shiromeda!”, “Laga Har!” and off in the distance the music shops blaring the latest hits.  As the taxi door opens a beggar sticks his hand inside to plead for enough coins to buy bread.

Next stop is the heart of Merkato.  Leaving the taxi is like trying to swim against a strong current as there is surely a crowd of passengers fighting to get on.  The sun hits your face and instantly all your senses are on full alert.  To cross the street you must dodge the herd of goats, beeping cars and waves of foot traffic. It’s like a test of your ability to multitask; paying attention so that you don’t get run over by a bus or get pick pocketed, squeezing to get through a crowd, making sure you don’t bump into workers loading and unloading merchandise, all while trying to get the best price on a pair of shoes. It’s quite an adrenaline rush. I make it a habit of going there at least once a week, just for burst of energy the place provides.  

Altogether, I’m really glad to be back in Ethiopia.  I’m looking forward to my experiences outside the capital and learning as much as I can before I head back to the States.  During my stay I’ll be traveling through Arsii/Bale, Wallagga and Harar.  I’ve already had so many fun experiences and know more are sure to come.  I’ve said this many times before; life in the Western world is definitely more comfortable but life here in the Motherland is so rich and full of well, life.  

Internet connection is not what you’d find in the states but I’ll be blogging about my experience – at least once a week.  A few days back, I posted a status on Facebook about an unbelievable experience I had in the ER.  Since I received many inquiries about it, I’ll share the details in my next entry.  Check or my Facebook wall for updates. Comments and questions are welcome. Ciao.



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Mohammed A

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