Thursday, November 3, 2011

Home Visit

Coffee Ceremony with Shewayes Family Tigeste has a sticker on her forehead and is making everyone laugh with her antics
Shewaye is the schoolgirl  who does my weekly washing in a couple of big plastic bowls outside my flat, usually on a Tuesday. If the floor is dirty she will also wash it clean and do any dishes in the sink, and I give her $3 (50 Birr) if she does both chores. This is good pay by local standards - the junior midwives get about  that much for  a long days work – but Shewaye gives her earnings to her mother, who she says is very poor and is not supported by the father of Shewayes two younger sisters, Tigeste (4) and Mahlet (8) . Shewaye never knew her own father who died for reasons she doesn’t know  when she was a baby. She wants  me to help her with her English and the other day we set up her first email account because she came with the email address of a dutch midwife who worked here recently, and Shewaye wanted to send her a message. She was delighted to get a message back from the midwife but so far that is the only email she has received. I am getting her to write her reply on Word – its taking ages as she hasn’t used a keyboard before –then she will cut and Paste it to her email account.

On the weekend she visited me and asked me to come to her home and meet her family. It was a few minutes walk from the Hospital flat to where she lived, a little closer to town. Tigeste ran to greet us as we approached and held my hand with her own grubby little one, looking up at me and grinning, her  dusty hair in a wild sort of Afro style, and then older sister  Mahlet appeared, along with their mother. 

Their two room home is the middle unit of a row of joined flats I suppose you would call them,  made from that mud-straw mix with a flat corrugated iron roof, 10 feet from the cross street that runs up to the main one. There is a door at the front, one at the back, and no windows. The front room is a sort  of living room about 15 feet by 10 feet, and the back one, the same size,  seems to be for storage and sleeping – they all share a double sized bed  which has a big covered straw mattress on it. In the corner are a couple of large plastic drums of water. The floor is uneven trampled down dirt.  Cooking happens out the back in an open fronted alcove, one behind each flat and all joined together.  The  communal toilet is a deep hole with ragged plastic material making it private. The monthly rent is 150 birr ( about $9, and its all they can afford I am sure)
Shewayes mother at the back door - like so many women I have seen she has a large goitre
( an enlarged thyroid gland - look at her throat)
I thought this was just a casual visit but they had been to a lot of trouble to tidy up, put up some coloured synthetic material on the walls with a couple of posters – one was a very young Brittney Spears – and cooked fresh injera and accompaniments. In fact we then had a coffee ceremony but I was the only one drinking or eating, as everyone sat in front of me and watched. Eventually they seemed to accept my protestations that I had  had enough and couldnt eat any more and the food disappeared out the back where later I noticed the little girls cramming it into their mouths.

Walking back later, thinking about how generous they had been to me despite this families abject poverty, I remembered once giving the last of my daily bread to a scruffy  but charming boy who sometimes visits me at my flat. His name is Ibrahim and he is obviously from a poor family that’s struggling. He thanked me for the bread and set off for his home across the back fence just as an old man appeared out of the long grass, a very skinny and dirty old man dressed in filthy rags – Ibrahim turned back and broke off half his bread roll and gave it to him – and looking at me, explaining what he had done said “He is poor person”

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