Monday, August 2, 2010

Goodbye Mekele, Hello Addis

It's been a week since I arrived here in Addis. My initial afternoon flight from Mekele to Addis was canceled so I got to spend an extra day in the city that I have slightly gotten attached towards. Ethiopian Airlines housed all the passengers in one of the best hotels in the city called Milano and despite the high quality, I got the least amount of sleep that night due to the constant pestilence of a mosquito flying and buzzing around my ears all night. I finally killed it on my third wake-up call and realized that I had only a couple of hours before I had to wake up and depart for my early morning flight. The previous night, I had met with a team that was part of the Himalayan Cataract Project, who were involved in providing mass cataract surgeries to hundreds of blind patients from all around the Tigray region at the Quiha Eye Hospital. Blindness is a huge problem in Mekele and in the surrounding Tigray region and some of it is caused in part by a parasite transmitted NTD called river-blindness. HCP is well-known for its super-efficient cataract procedures that save a whole lot of time and money, procedures that would perhaps cost twice as much to conduct in a Western health-care setting. Apparently, one of the leaders was a Duke graduate by the name of Matt and happened to be in Mekele with a team from the U.S. Therefore, they had organized a mass camp at the hospital that bused hundreds of blind people from all across the Tigray region and provided food and cataract procedures free of charge. The great thing about this project is that the U.S physicians also train the local physicians the techniques of the cataract procedure so that once they leave the local physicians can continue the same work, albeit on a smaller scale. It would be great to see how some of these procedures done, the next time I return to Mekele.

My second arrival at Bole Airport in Addis was so different from my first one. This time around, it was bright and sunny and I was greeted by another one of Jemal's 16 siblings, Suleiman, who worked at the airport. We drove through the city during heavy afternoon traffic and it made me so happy to finally join and catch-up with my good friend and project partner, Braveen. I was just so glad to see him after all my solo time in Mekele and couldn't wait to get started on the next phase of our project. The next day, we were joined by Braveen's cousin from the U.K making our team a total of three. Jemal also joined us that night from Gondar. In addition, Dr. Bentwich, our project sponsor and mentor had sent one of his assistants named Yonat, from Uganda to check up on us and on the current progress of the deworming project.

We spent the first few days mostly exploring the city, making new friends and contacts such as Thwi, a second year medical student in Portland and who co-incidentally was also from Raleigh, NC and was doing research at the Black-line hospital here in Addis. We've also found a good contact in a taxi-driver named Getachew George, who has been great in finding us good taxi deals and in teaching us basic Amharic. The internet here is so much faster and accessible than Mekele and I'm amazed by the other vast differences found between the two cities. In Mekele I had lots of warm sunshine, but here its been constantly raining and is a bit chilly as well. Addis has a lot of taller buildings and is more developed than Mekele, but more polluted and the streets dirtier than the ones in Mekele. However, there are so much more dining options here in Addis as well, including a really good Indian restaurant by the name of Sangam. Foreigners from U.S and Europe also seem to be constantly flooding our hotel. Just the other night, we met a large church team from Texas. We also met a couple from London who was driving all the way to South Africa, quite a challenging task.

All in all, my first few days in Addis have been great and I can’t wait to get started on our deworming campaign in this new setting with our team. I learned much during my time in Mekele and I’m excited to see what new challenges and adventures will face our deworming team these coming weeks.

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