Friday, November 10, 2006

Malnutrition in Ethiopia

Hi, everyone.

I’m sitting in IMC’s office in Kampala, Uganda,
finally getting a chance to answer emails and give you
all an update. I feel like I’ve just emerged from the
ionization period – virtually no cell phone or email
access for a week. For those of you familiar with my
complex relationship with the Blackberry, this is no
mean feat.

I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last Saturday
morning and spent the weekend meeting IMC’s staff and
getting to know the city before heading to the field.

The people are truly incredible. The women, stunningly
beautiful – if I owned a modeling agency, I’d set up
an office in Ethiopia. Everyone is extremely generous,
warm. People are very communal in the way they eat
(everyone digging into one dish with their hands) and
the way they walk down the street arm-in-arm. They
greet each other (acquaintance or close friend) with
respect and enthusiasm.

Cabbies here drive with the same suicidal fervor that
they do in every other cosmopolitan city I’ve visited.
Addis is a big, polluted mélange of very old and new.
It’s thriving and decrepit all at once. Pedestrians,
sheep, camels, cattle, buggies, all travel the city’s
streets together, cars honking and swerving around

We visited the mercato – considered the largest
open-air market in Africa. It was a Sunday, so most of
the stores were closed, but still it was bustling with
street vendors and people buying and selling chat,
which essentially is like cocaine in an herb and is
sold and chewed legally here. Not planning to try

The food I love. Unfortunately, my stomach didn’t – at
least not goat in large quantities. At dinner outside
a town called Asebe Terefe, about 300 miles east of
Addis, I devoured some “enjera tibs” – goat meat
roasted in a clay pot with rosemary and garlic and
eaten with pancakes. For the next three days my gut
was in a vice. Not fun.

Outside Asebe Terefe, in what’s called the West
Hararghe zone, IMC supports hospitals; runs clinics
that provide medical and nutrition programs for
severely and moderately malnourished kids and mothers;
and “livelihoods” programs centered around helping
people plant gardens with vegetables they can eat and

The first day we visited about five different sites.
It was exhilarating, painful, heartwarming,
heart-wrenching – and in the end, exhausting.

One of the first sites was a hospital IMC helped build
where very seriously ill children are treated. It was
difficult seeing their little bodies covered with
sores, their eyes swollen nearly shut. They all are
malnourished but have other medical complications and
opportunistic infections, - TB, malaria, pneumonia.
And yet, IMC has a terrific record here – about 92%
recovery. Hard as it is to see these kids suffer, it’s
consoling to know that most of them eventually will be
ok and return home.

On a personal level, I felt like I was able to do my
teensy part – when I took the digital pics and then
showed them to the moms, their eyes lit up and they
burst into smiles, touching the little screen and
pointing to the image for the babies to see – they
clearly weren’t expecting to see an immediate shot of
themselves. They’d ask me to take more pictures, this
time giving me big grins. What a great feeling. I have
dozens and dozens of these.

I struggle with the need to take photos that represent
what people here are truly experiencing, yet I know
that the general public doesn’t want to see awful
photos of wailing babies with deep wounds and
protruding bellies – in the humanitarian world we call
them “flies in their eyes” pictures. We don’t want to
exploit these images. But I also don’t want to snap
only smiley, happy faces as well – although there’s
lots of that, to be sure. In the end, I have some of
everything. In just a few days I took 500 photos, and
there are still two weeks to go.

(I’m unable to attach any high-resolution pics with
this internet connection, but will try to photo-shop
some down and send along at some point) :-(

The other highlight for me so far was visiting an area
high in the mountains near Gola where IMC has given
people seeds and know-how to plant gardens – or
supplement, say, sorghum and corn with beets, carrots,
cabbage and tomatoes so that they have a more diverse
diet and can sell what’s left over.

One mother of six was so happy with what IMC had done
for her that she insisted on giving me a bunch of
enormous carrots, a head of cabbage and beetroot – as
if I were responsible for her good fortune. I
literally had to fight back the tears.

The “motels” where we stayed in this region were
around $7/night (about 60 Ethiopian birr) and you get
what you pay for: teeming with roaches, no hot water
or toilet paper, constant noise through the night
(religious chants, roosters, dogs barking). So I was
relieved to fly back to the nice guest house in Addis,
across from the British Embassy. That night, the staff
threw a dinner at a local restaurant with tons of
dancing to traditional songs. Total thrill.

So I arrived in Kampala last night in preparation for
meeting with the National Geographic crew that’s going
to do a Photo Camp/Art Therapy project with IMC
starting Monday in one of our refugee camps in the
south, on the Congo border.

I hope I’m ready for the field again, since the hotel
here – the Kabira Country Club – is literally like a
resort, with balcony, pool, squash courts, outdoor
restaurant and bar. I’m going to rest up and gird for

I miss you all.

Love, love,

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