That's a good way to describe this weekend, Abyssinian Casbah. I love Ethiopia, the Ethiopian People, the intricate and complicated capital. Many contrasts.
My 24-hour airport-to-airport, Dulles to Bole, excursion left me tapped, but I wanted to synch with East Africa Time, so I took a five-mile walk through central Addis Saturday afternoon. Hot dry dusty diesel fumes, the poor and desolate in every crevice. A man missing his legs. A beautiful infant, about ten months, in her mother's arms, raised to my face. A grandmother folded, parched on the sidewalk, moaning. My self-appointed tour guide, a very smart guy who started as a shoeshine boy by the UN compound and now works as a dishwasher at my hotel for $5 US per month. Ethiopian Birr notes and coins slip from my pockets, given as slim fodder. Billionaire Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s palace, the opulent Sheraton, and fenced-off enclaves sit opposite tin hovels and open sewers.
Saturday night I reconnect with Mesay, a friend from my 2007 trip and his girlfriend, Ida. I give them photographs and Obama shirts. (East Africans are passionate Obama fans; several Addis restaurants are named “Obama Cafe” or “Obama Coffeehouse.”) We go to an old favorite for supper, Yod Abyssinia, spicy food, tibs and wat in a large pan of injera, live music and hyper-energetic tribal dancing. The crowd joins in, some jumping on stage. A wedding descends on the Yod, about forty people holding sparklers and flaming punks. Singers ululate. It’s wild. Many beautiful Africans, ferenge (tourists) jaws agape holding cameras.
Sunday I wake about 7 AM and meet Dr. Alemayehu, his wife Wolansa and eight-year-old son Eyasu (Joshua) at 9:30 AM. We have coffee and go to Gospel Light Ministries church for 11 AM service. Then we lunch into the afternoon.
Alemayehu and Wolansa met while graduate students in the Ukraine, Alemayehu studied medicine and Wolansa economics. Dr. A. worked for several clinics and hospitals, where he performed a range of practice, including internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics. Among his most intensive education was serving as a military doctor near the front in Asmara, Eritrea, when the Ethiopians were at war. In 2006, he established LeAlem -- “Serving All” –- a private clinic in Addis. The Health Ministry designates LeAlem a “higher clinic,” a level below hospital.
Though our time was informal, our personal interests and EHN vision seemed congruent. Alemayehu described his grueling work schedule, as well as his success compared to other practitioners. Tonight we will have a more business-oriented supper meeting, reviewing the site visit plan, framing questions and anticipated interviews. Tomorrow, Monday, I begin observation and case study development at LeAlem.
Returning to the Casbah theme, Gospel Light service was stunning and joyous. The first hour was gospel music and dancing, with ululation and celebration among several thousand congregants. (Like a few other non-Ethiopians in attendance, I had simultaneous Amharic-to-English translation via radio earphone.) The music was followed by devotions and a sermon of about an hour. I saw and embraced several officers and parishioners I met during the 2007 trip. Remarkably, the young man stricken by juvenile onset polio whose picture I took in 2007 (below) stood in the pew immediately in front of me. The Casbah has almost become familiar.
“Mega churches” in the United States make me anxious, but those in Africa do not. The need for hope, spiritual relief and popular representation is severe in Africa. There, churches are transformative social and charitable engines, for example, helping end Apartheid and supporting AIDS orphans. Gospel Light is a partner with EHN, along with other churches, mosques and Addis Ababa social service organizations. They work together to qualify needful patients and provide treatments that result in improved health and ability to maintain families and attend school.
Details to come.
LeAlem 2010 Picture Library