Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I still am in awe. Such a feat of human (and apparently divine intervention) ingenuity and just shear physical effort to say nothing of technical skill, proportion and decoration as well as remarkable variety in style. I found myself wondering over and over did they do that? There are 11 churches carved from rock....and not one of them is small. The largest being 40 ft tall. Most have several rooms supported by pillars that were also carved. Many have frescos and each has a priest, guarding it day and night. According to our guide, Bihran,they were built (is that the right word?...carved, chiseled?) over a 23 year period by request of King Lalibela, although there is some debate as to that being fact...but essentially starting around 1100. Also according to Bihran, when the workman clocked out at the end of the day, angels took over at night.....something, after seeing these churches, I don't have any problem believing...really wonderful. What also was wonderful is that the first night I witnessed a ceremony celebrating King Lalibela's birthday.....white robed priests chanting (in Ge'ez-the Afro-Asiatic language that laid the foundation for the modern Amharic, as Latin did for Italian's), swaying to beating drums. The next morning we also witnessed a similar "service" glorifying Mary, and the replicas of the Ark of the Covenant were included. This area, as is much of Ethiopia, is steeped in history that is still very much alive today.
In a few days I head back to Nuerland, which s a world unto itself and so very different. The Nuer essentially never made it into the stone age, nor the iron age, (until relatively recently....late1800's, early 1900's) mainly because Nuerland lacks the two raw materials, stones and iron, that played so important part in the manufacture of primitive tools. Instead they overcame the natural poverty of their environment, by using plants and animals to furnish technological(if one can call them that) necessities. The contrast is stark and it makes me marvel even more at being human.
None of the Ethiopians I have spoken to in Addis have heard of Mattar and when I explain it is in Gambella state, on the Sudan border, they then all nod and say....oh....but that is very hot. Yep.
No internet, no cell phone service and now no ability to even send emails via the very expensive satellite phone. But...we can receive emails at So until 6 weeks or so....ciao.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The contrast

I'm cold. I haven't been cold in months, at least not this's pleasant. I'm not sweating. I'm in Addis, the capital city, and compared to Mattar, chaos rules here. I am on my 3 month break from work and I got a massage yesterday and will get another one today....she said, "I am doing this place (my shoulders and neck) hard because it is very thick" .....I think she meant tight...and yeah.
Tomorrow I go to Lalibela, where there are churches carved out of stone. Apparently about 1000 years ago a man who was poisoned was taken to, not one but three (who knew?) heavens by angels and shown a city of rock hewn churches. He was then instructed by God to return to earth and duplicate what he had seen...building a new Jerusalem. This vision of heaven still exists today, however, someone cut out the pages of the guidebook description, so I am going to see for myself.

The boat ride and drive to Gambella from Mattar took 5 hours....we hit a huge rainstorm, thunder and lightening and torrential rain. The road turned into a river....literally and quite impressive. But the boat ride and the drive are the best. That area is teeming with so many birds, pelicans, egrets,storks,herons,hawks, eagles,doves,bee-eaters....aaannnddd we saw baboons, monkeys, some kind of antelope and a serval cat. then a two day drive from Gambella to Addis along zigzag roads through eucalyptus forests, across open high valleys blanketed with soft,waving fields of teff...the grain used to make injera (traditional and delicious) huge flat spongy bread, a staple in Ethiopians diet.
The trip could have easily been made in one day but for the fact that vehicles are not the only occupants of the roadways.....people...walking, standing visiting, sitting, with little regard for traffic, horse drawn carts, sheep,goats,donkeys, cattle, dogs, all view the road as theirs.
Addis is a mass of cars, minibuses,trucks, with people everywhere. With the road washed out to Mattar, we have one of the few vehicles, but on any given day there, there might be 10 total.
Right now I am heading out to go shopping for a pair of pants. I only brought three and one pair is scrubs, which I wear every day working and refuse to wear while on break. Next mission I will disregard the "advice" given by an "experienced" MSF person who said they only brought one pair of scrubs and three T-shirts on their mission. I thought I was being extravagant bring 4 T-shirts and 3pairs of pants! Thankfully I didn't pay any attention to the number of underwear they suggested:)

Hopefully I will be able to figure out how to post pictures....soon.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Maaley from Mattar

Greetings from Mattar, Ethiopia...I've been here two months, with another 4 to go. I went to France to study French and on my return passed through the MSF New York office and was offered a 6 month mission here in Mattar (English speaking mission...oh well). Remote, hot, humid, managing a health center that is a clinic/hospital (25 beds) serving the Nuer popultion in South Western Ethiopia, just a few kms from the Sudan border. Access is 3-4 hours by car, or right now (the rainy season, the road is washed out in a few places) by a 5-6 hour boat ride....which is what I just did in order to take my 2 day break in the nearest town, Gambella, where our support log is based and where there is internet and cell phone coverage...neither available in Mattar. I work with a great team, mix of French, Nigerian, Rwandan,British, and American, We work 6 days a week, hard work, never boring, and I think we do good work. the Nuer people are pastoralists, big cattle herds, very friendly, very tall, very skinny and very tough. Life is pretty basic for them. We see about 2000 people a month at the health center,lots of malaria right now and repiratory problems...due to the rains. I am seeing a few things I have never seen before, like tetanus (most die), kala zar (he lived) but not much else that is new.
The heat was the first thing I noticed, oppresive, I was and still am a sweat ball most of the time. The first two weeks were the hardest, and now after two months I sometimes sleep with a blanket...who knew? It's the rainy season and the rain is significant. It turns the earth into tar-like mud, washing out the road access, so now travel out of Mattar is by river only. The river is beautiful and tempting, but we don't swim in it even tho the Nuer people do...we aren't allowed, crocs, which until I made the boat trip, I was doubting, but after actually see 3 on the banks, I am now a believer.
My job is managing the person I work with likened it to herding cats....amazingly accurate description and I love cats, but dumbfounding none the less.
When I first arrived I wasn't impressed...but I thought...I can do this for 6 months, I can do anything for 6 months...but now, it has grown on me. I feel useful, which for me is important. I have no illusions about making a significant difference, but a small ripple is enough and OK.
I'm impressed with MSF and honored to be here.
Will post pictures when I can...