More from my sister in Ethiopia

Here is another update from my sister Sophie, who is spending the summer with her friend Kara volunteering at Soddo Hospital in southern Ethiopia. Soddo, also known as Wollaitta, is where my two youngest daughters were born. Sophie is a nurse. Her mission is to better educate the hospital staff serving this remote region.

I’m sitting here in my warm bedroom, typing to you as a fierce rainy season storm starts. The sound of the huge raindrops on the tin roof is almost deafening. I also hear Kara and Tanden yelling (more Kara than Tanden) as they play Frisbee in the rain. The thunder has been growling for the last half hour, and the workers have all been hustling to get their equipment and themselves inside before the storm comes. During the storm on Tuesday, all 20-some workers (building a stone wall about 50 yards from our back door) huddled under the eaves of our house, waiting for the storm to pass. It felt weird to be all warm and dry inside while so many people were cold and wet on the other side of our wall. We had to fight the urge to let them all inside.

It’s definitely been interesting to see how different the culture is here. Ethiopians get mad when we forenge do the work that they feel is their job. Maybe it’s a “you’re taking my job away from me” or maybe they just feel like we are royalty. I haven’t figured that out yet.

I’m also getting used to greeting people here. A smile and a wave are not enough. You must shake hands (or wrists if someone has a wet/dirty hand) and bump opposite shoulders. If a forenge does that, the Habesha invariably gets a huge smile, and will often say, “You know our culture!”

Another thing about culture is “Africa time.” If you’re half and hour or even an hour late here, you are on time. No big deal. Chiggedy-yellum. No problem. Waiting is fine. Even for our classes, Ato Silas is trying to get the nurses to come on time. Silas and one of the nurses were there at 7:15 this morning, and we were amazed at how early they were!

Speaking of class, it went very well today. We had to be flexible because of printer issues, but we went over pediatric assessment. I’m pretty sure that these nurses have never really felt the need to assess the patients. That’s the physician’s job, afterall. It was pretty fun to see the light turn on related to a few different aspects of assessment of these little guys. They love vital signs (even though they don’t do them much), and so we had to talk about vital signs not being the most important aspect of assessing—particularly with kiddos, who compensate, compensate, compensate, then die! They really seem to enjoy the class, and we are getting good non-verbal communication. Silas is good about having us clarify if we are going too fast. A couple of the nurses are always right with us, and quick to ask questions. The others are hard to read, but I think they’re getting at least part of it. We’re getting into some tough, complicated stuff, and they seem to be doing just fine.

Tomorrow I will be going through scenarios and letting them chart on the new paperwork. I’m curious to find out how that will go. I think that if they use the new paperwork, the quality of patient care will increase dramatically. They haven’t had anywhere to chart any assessment or narrative information at all.

Anyway, enough nursing talk. We are so spoiled here. Bethlehem came over while we were gone yesterday. So, we came home from playing and hiking all day long to find 2 beautiful, freshly-made loaves of bread, our fruit/veggies and other food all purchased from the market, and our house clean. All for 3 birr (about 30 cents) an hour! Her 4 hours of work cost us about $1.20. It’s amazing! Bethlehem is a timid, sweet, hard-working little 10th grader who will come as many times a week as we request of her. She cleans, helps cook, and shops as necessary. When she’s not with us, she helps build the wall behind our house. The whole time, she’s wearing beautiful dresses, and her hair is so very intricately done. She’s gorgeous!

The beauty of the people here never ceases to amaze me. Yesterday as we were driving, children were constantly waving and yelling things at us. These little boys wearing only shirts, and little girls in tattered clothes were so very happy to see us. I can just imagine the dinner table conversations last night. “Mom, I saw a forenge, and it’s true! They really have white skin, and sometimes their hair is white too! And they waved at us! And then I got to slap their hands as they drove by. And I gave them a thumbs-up sign, and they did it back! It was so cool!”

Well I’m going to watch this beautiful storm on our back porch under our laundry that is supposed to be drying…. I hope this letter finds you well and in good health! Please continue to pray for things here –that the nurses will be open and receptive to the new ideas and paperwork that I’ve presented to them. — that Silas will be able to do continuing education to encourage them to constantly improve their quality of patient care — and for health and strength for us. Thanks, and God bless you!


  1. What a terrific opportunity for her. When we have missionaries come through our church (which is about every three to four weeks), I always ask my husband, “Are you SURE we’re not supposed to be on a mission field in _____”, which is usually whereever the missionary is from. I’m a total softie.

    I admire your sister’s desire to see them better educated – wish more physicians and nurses would do the same. 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing the updates.

  3. Thank you so much – we still use the “chiggedy relem” in our house pronounced “chigrelem” that means “no problem”. It took me forever to learn to say it, which was no end of giggling delight to my sons and they kept working with me! And Africa time – oh, it is so true!!! We still talk about it all the time, and I still have trouble making my Ethiopian sons understand that if you don’t show up on time for your guitar lesson you lose that time. It is a total mystery to them, but actually once we got them watches it has helped. In America, things happen at certain times. That is all there is to it. LOL!
    Please keep sending updates, it reminds me so much of my time in Ethiopia.

  4. Oooo it makes my nursing love itch to be there and do that! What a fabulous experience!

  5. WOW- What an awesome letter from your sister….
    I turned on the computer typed in Ethiopia and Wollaitta and your bolg came up.

    I did this as yesterday my son found out his roommate is coming from Wollaiatta Sodo Ethiopia to Taylor University in Upland Indiana USA ………

    So first being a nurse I just cried and was amazed at the story your sister tells, knowing how difficult it is having done a similar thing on a Russian trip some years ago…..

    Then I re-read for more insight on how to make my son’s roommate feel welcome here in the midwest…..

    It is a start….that you for blogging, thank your sister for sharing ……I will be looking at her other letters

    This is a small world, there are no coincidences ….I am glad I found you today. It made me stop and think and be thankful ….

  6. islandmomma says:

    Goodness! I found your blog because it is featured on my WordPress front page this morning. Your sister’s letter if marvellous. She has such an open mind, which, as I’m sure you know, is essential! So many people who go to work in Africa seem unable to leave behind the preconceived notions they had before they went.

    I work with Africans here in the Canary Islands, so I know all about African time too. It both frustrates and charms, and at times confuses my life and even costs me money!

    I wish you both the very best. I have nothing but admiration for what your sister is doing. Out of a very complicated continent she has chosen one of the most complicated countries in which to work. And as for all those children………..part of me envies you, and the other part is kind of thankful I’m past that age!

  7. Thank you so much for posting this. It’s a privilege to pray for this summer work and your sister. Have a great weekend.

  8. I love these updates. They really give me the fever to go back.

  9. Mary,
    Thank you for these wonderful posts from your sister.

    Be blessed

  10. Thanks for sharing… Very interesting and eye-opening.

  11. mary – thank you and your sister for giving us a special insight to sophie’s time there. eye opening.

  12. Mary great letter from her. I really enjoy them….One question though…..She mentioned that she it was hard to not let them in but she couldn’t….Why couldn’t she let them in? To many people? Or was there another issue….

  13. I love reading your sister’s updates!! “Chigger Yellem” (how I heard it pronounced) is one of the first phrases I learned, because I heard it used soooo much. “No problem!”. 🙂

  14. My sister and her family are missionaries in South Africa! They are loving it there and hope to be there 10 years. They’ve been there two so far. I miss them but I’m happy for them.

  15. Sounds like she is having a great time there. I bet she is learning just as much from them as they are from her. What an amazing blessing to have this time in that country!