Black Lion

I ended up spending two days this week at one of the main hospitals here, the ‘Black Lion’. I was bringing along a student who has post polio paralysis and would benefit greatly from a tendon transfer operation. It was an experience.

I don’t want to paint a damning picture of everything about Black Lion: I hate it when that happens with the NHS at home, and the superb work of doctors and nurses battling against everything that’s thrown at them, goes unmentioned. I’m sure there are wonderful professionals working against the odds in Black Lion as well, and saving lives daily. But that said, it was a thoroughly depressing experience to sit there and watch the comings and goings during the day.

The bureaucracy and inefficiency astounded me (as did the patience, or perhaps it’s resignation, with which people seem to accept it). Hours of queuing for various stages of stamps, registrations and referrals, only to then hear they’re shutting for lunch or they’d now finished for the day. It took a full two days to get what we needed, an appointment next week with the doctor.

Anyway, the whole lengthy process let me get some glimpses of daily life in a couple of the hospitals. Be thankful I’m not some ballsy photojournalist, because the pictures wouldn’t have been pleasant. Everything was covered in a half inch layer of dirt and dust. The tower-block had shattered windows with curtains blowing through, like in some neglected inner-city estate. The notice-boards had tattered notices dating back to 1997. With the lifts out of order, half-lame people were struggling up dingy stairwells. The ‘hole-in-the-ground’ type toilets had a grim stench. Beside us, in our queue, was a raft of homeless people that appeared to be living within the hospital compound. People who evidently needed wheelchairs were being carried out by their families. Others carried their drip around in a converted plastic water bottle (one old lady was sitting, on the ground outside the hospital, with her drip in hand, queuing for the crowded minibus home).

Of course there are other, private hospitals in Addis where I’ve heard you’ll get excellent standards of care. But you need to be able to pay and, for most people, they aren’t an option.

When I got back from the hospital yesterday, I was reading about the death of Maya Angelou and I came across that quote where she talks about gratitude. It particularly resonated after the day I’d spent:

“The ship of my life may or may not be sailing on calm and amiable seas. The challenging days of my existence may or may not be bright and promising. Stormy or sunny days, glorious or lonely nights, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. Today I am blessed.”

Black Lion will stay with me for a while and will remind me that I am most definitely ‘blessed’.

Apologies if I’m dwelling recently on some of the more depressing sides of what I’m seeing. To finish on a much more positive note, this week the Grade 10 students headed off for the first of the ‘national exams’ (the equivalent of GCSEs). I watched them leaving from the hostel in the morning, and it was a wonderful sight. All of the other hostel students came out to see them off and it was a mass of hugging, and laughing and cheering. They may not have had their mums and dads around to wish them all the best, but they had an amazing family here at EEF giving them a fantastic send-off.

By all accounts, their exams have gone pretty well this week. Can’t wait to hear how they’ve got on. The Grade 12 (A-level) ones start on Monday, so there’s plenty of excitement and nervousness in the hostel.

I’m taking a break for a couple of days now and heading over to visit Harar, a 15th century Muslim city over in the east of the country. Unfortunately it means leaving at 4am to catch a bus, so I guess time for me to stop rambling on.

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