I’ve written an update about our time and activities here in Ethiopia. Hope it helps fill in some details. Sorry for the infrequent blog posts! -Paul

An Update on Our Time in Soddo, Ethiopia

 

Acclimating to life in Ethiopia

We’ve been here for a little over four months. In some ways it seems much shorter than that and in some ways it seems much longer! Our duplex is now feeling like home. It has been repainted on the interior to suit our (Becca’s) tastes. I like it a lot! We have become accustomed to the details of daily life, like cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc. It has been fun to see our garden flourish under the capable hand of our gardener, Alan. There are about ten quarts of frozen strawberries in the freezer! Nathan now has a real crib and his room has become much more cozy and “his”. Though the sights, sounds and smells are still foreign, they are becoming more familiar. Take for instance the speakers. Whether it be the Pentecostal Christian churches or the Ethiopian Orthodox churches, whether in Amharic, Wolaitinya or Geez languages, the messages are blasted out for all to hear (whether you want to or not!) at all hours of either day or night. In addition, Ethiopians enjoy their music and there is no social taboo about sharing it with others at any time, including at 5:30 am on Saturday’s! Thank the Lord, though, we’re getting used to it all.

Getting to know the Ethiopians at home

We’ve developed relationships with several Ethiopians. As mentioned above, Alan is our gardener. He is a kind and hard working man who has done wonders with the garden. It is always a pleasure to see his smiling face when I come home for lunch. Becca has grown close to two women who work with us at home. Hanna has been helping with the cleaning and cooking. Becca really likes her, as do I, and she enjoys Nathan very much. She has a son similar in age and the two boys have fun together.  Yetaginew also helps at the house, primarily baby-sitting Nathan in the afternoon while Becca spends time at the hospital kitchen or taking care of business as the Soddo Christian Hospital guest coordinator. We have quite a few visitors so it keeps her busy! Yetaginew also has a son, though a bit older, and Nathan enjoys playing with him as well. Our Amharic tutor is Paulos. He has helped a lot as we have started the difficult journey of learning the language. Paulos also helps Jackie Anderson at the English school she has started on the hospital grounds. He is fluent in English, Amharic and Wolaitinya.

Ministry opportunities

In addition to PAACS, we have been blessed to be able to minister in other ways as well. We are helping some of the Ethiopians with their schooling and are continuing to help finance the young man who is preaching Jesus in his predominately Muslim region. We have also been assisting as God leads with patients in need at the hospital. It is a real challenge trying to discern who to help because the needs are so great and ubiquitous. It seems like every night I’m told about a patient in need of an urgent surgery. After seeing the patient and deciding to proceed with surgery, I’m invariably told they have no money. Or I may be told of a dangerously low blood count and, when I order for a blood transfusion, I’m told they can’t afford it. It’s very frustrating to try to practice medicine in an environment where the capabilities are not only severely limited but where the patients often cannot avail themselves of even these meager means. Therefore we try to help where it seems best and I’ve given some blood myself (being O+ helps).

PAACS

My work with PAACS has been a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts. This is very rewarding and fulfilling but also very challenging and taxing. I’ll try to hit the high points. As I’ve mentioned before, I truly enjoy and admire the residents. Here’s a quick introduction. Frehun and Solomon are the senior guys, in their fourth years. Frehun is quite sharp and desires to pursue pediatric surgery. One of the other PAACS programs is at Kijabe Hospital in Kenya. There is a pediatric surgeon there and PAACS is trying to decide about possibly sending him there for fellowship training. Solomon, who has been in Addis for the last several months on away rotations and whom I’ve missed after our short time together, wants to pursue additional training in urology. Finding such training is going to prove a little more challenging but there would be a huge need for such training at any hospital in Africa. Etuh (from Nigeria, the only non-Ethiopian of the bunch) and Haileyesus are in their third years. I’ve grown quite fond of Etuh and am impressed with his capabilities and potential. He and his wife are in the process of adopting and Ethiopian boy and they desire to go back to Nigeria to start a mission hospital after his training is completed. Oddly enough, I’ve never met Haileyesus as he has been in Kenya on away rotations for the duration of our time here. I will meet him in January. Tewodros and Arega are in their second years. Both of these guys are great and a pleasure with which to work. It has been fun watching Tewodros improve over the months I’ve been here. He will make a fine surgeon one day. His wife, Addis, is a midwife at the hospital and a huge asset. Arega is “on loan” for about a year before he moves on to Kenya to complete his training there. He completed his first year at Banso Hospital in Cameroon but that PAACS program has shut down due to internal issues at the hospital. Arega will complete his training at Tenwek in Kenya. He is a fantastic resident and an all-round great guy. His positive attitude and superb work ethic help keep me going. He’s going to do great. Our newest addition is Daniel, our first year resident. Daniel has been practicing as a general medicine doctor for about ten years and is making the challenging move back into training to pursue surgery. He has a heart a mile wide and is making the transition well. As a brand new surgeon, I’ve seen his skills improve noticeably over the last three months.

We are currently facing the difficulty of being put on probation by the PAACS executive committee. There has been an issue primarily of poor numbers of operation for the residents. It has been a disappointment to hear this but we are making changes to improve this. Even in the last three months, the numbers have increased as the instructors have been letting the residents do more in the operating room than before. There is certainly enough surgical disease in southern Ethiopia to fully train these young men!

We are still in the process of trying to get the training program officially recognized by the Ethiopian government. Unfortunately there is no precedence with which to compare here in Ethiopia in regards to accrediting medical specialty training programs. The only current surgical residency in the country predates the accreditation process! Many more meetings and applications may await our future in the process of seeking this accreditation. The good news is that we really do have a good product that should stand the test of scrutiny. We are praying that God will give us wisdom and guide our steps in this difficult process.

In January, we will all be going to Brackenhurst, Kenya, for the PAACS-wide basic science conference. It will be a two week affair full of lectures and practical skills training for all of the PAACS residents from across the continent. Though it will be a busy time, I’m looking forward to seeing faces I haven’t seen since we visited Gabon back in 2006. I’m also looking forward to comparing notes with accomplished missionary surgeons and trying to gain insight in how to improve our program and hospital.

Trying to find the balance

A few weeks ago, we left Soddo for the first time to just get away for a bit. Naturally, I messed it up by getting sick, but it was still good to get away from the stresses for a little while. One of the challenges of living here is and will continue to be endurance. While it is wonderful to have no commute to get to the hospital, that also means you are always there. Furthermore, the stresses of trying to acclimate to another culture are present twenty-four hours a day. We realize that we are going to have to schedule some time on a regular basis to just get away and decompress if we are going to be able to last for the long haul. I’m sure those stresses will become less acute as we become better accustomed to living here but they will never go away.

In summary

All in all, we are doing well. There have been very real stresses but God is using them to teach us true dependence on Him. It has brought us closer to Him and for that we are thankful. In addition, this has brought us closer than ever as husband and wife. I am so thankful that God led me to Becca! She is a delight and a tremendous gift. No matter how difficult the day may be, it is always good to come home! We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for your support of this endeavor. Please know that this is your ministry as well. It would not exist without you and we are honored to represent you. We pray that God would bless you and use you for His glory in all your days. Till we meet again!

Love,

Paul and Becca

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