Those who heal are right

One day in the refugee camp Melkadida

by Johannes Kortmann/LKO,  2015/08/11

The work as a coordinator in a remote refugee camp holds several unexpected experiences and challenges. Our coordinator in the Ethiopian–Somali refugee camp Melkadida, Johannes Kortmann is currently facing this. For us, he has summarized a typical working day:

“When I first arrived at the accommodation of the humedica team near Melkadida, I was surprised of the actual circumstances: Life in this area seemed nice and peaceful. The sun didn’t burn too hot, from time to time a strong wind moved the heat and, moreover, a water main break beneath our area offered us some kind of muddy swimming-pool in a pit.

As it was Friday and the humedica health center is closed on weekends, it nearly felt like holidays in a tent in Ethiopia. But Monday arrived quickly, the water pipe was welded, the pit filled with earth and I found myself in a stressful working day.

In the morning on the way to the humedica health post, I ask a refugee where he is going. “To see those who extract teeth”, was the answer, which I would hear quite often in the future. Even if our dentist’s surgeries always make me think of medieval barber-surgeons because of their equipment, our two nurses, Teddi and Freo are not bothered by this. Since their last training, they have done their duty and do now professionally extract their patients’ teeth with the necessary anesthesia and an antibiotic follow-up treatment.

As our health post is the only one within a radius of 100 kilometers which offers dental care, the pain-suffering patients partly walk long distances, to have their teeth extracted by Freo and Teddy. The latter ones always make the now pain-free patients promise to make more efforts for the care of their teeth. “Aschi” – “Everything ok” is the general answer to this demand.

At regular intervals our donkey-cart, which has been modified to serve as an ambulance, also brings emergencies to the health post. Today, it is a young woman who, writhing on a stretcher, is touching her head. Our Health Officer Melaku, our nurse Bruke and some family members are surrounding the patient. We ask the family to wait in front of the room and Bruke checks her vital parameters. Melaku informs me that it seems to be “kind of a spiritual seizure or something like that”. Nothing precise is known yet, but the young woman doesn’t seem to be in mortal danger.

He explains me that her family has informed their “religious boss” and that this one was already on the way to us. And in fact, some minutes later, the “boss” – a middle-aged woman – arrives and attends to the patient, under Melaku’s approving and curious looks. The family is back in the room and, thus, a knot of people is standing around the woman and we witness an astonishing healing.

After some sentences in Somali and some clapping of their hands, the patient awakes like out of trance, becomes aware of the worried people around her and blushes shyly. Before she leaves to go home, Melaku tells her that she was always welcome, if she continues to feel bad or if she was bad again. Even if I don’t understand more than before, I decide “those who heal are right” and go back to our surgery.

At the moment, a young mother is being examined there, who has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for several years now. Her wrists have already been destroyed by the illness in a way that they are completely stiff and immovable. The pains in her ankles are new, however there will probably be no satisfying therapy here under the present circumstances. Once again, I become aware of the constraints under which we work here and, thus, we can only hope to slow down the progress of the illness.

In the evening, the long queue of patients has been treated and all staff members of our health center meat at the carport. Those, who live directly in the refugee camp, are dropped off on the way, the others drive to our accommodation a bit further away. With a common supper our day comes to an end. We will have fresh vegetables only next week, when the trip to the small town Negele is due. So there is rice and injera, the typical Ethiopian pancake, which is at the same time food, plate and cutlery.

The sun sets and gives place to a breathtaking starry sky. Dusty as I am, I look up and feel tiny beneath the elements around me. Slowly it gets time to fill up my water bottle and to make myself comfortable under my mosquito net. Tomorrow will be a stressful day!”

Our voluntary coordinators take on enormous efforts to help the Somali refugees in Melkadida. That’s why we cordially ask you for your support for this special project in the middle of the Ethiopian desert. Thank you very much!

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