Friday, 14 November 2008


Writing this at about 36,000 feet flying across southern Sudan – about 4 am UK time – courtesy of the magnificent BMI (Used to be British Midland, now 80% owned by Lufthansa).

Frankly it’s pretty grim – only one toilet working for 120 people and half the televisions not working. It was exactly the same on the way out here on Sunday night, so they’ve made absolutely no progress in the ensuing five days. (I wonder if the engineers take as much notice about engine problems).

But it’s all getting a bit predictable, isn’t it – if I’m not moaning about BMI, it’s likely to be my dear friends at Air France, or even Air Mauritanie. It’s all become a sort of ‘Mr Grumpy does air-travel in Africa’. But at least when you get to Ethiopia life cheers up a bit.

It really is wonderful.

Apart from the injura, obviously. (That’s the Ethiopian staple diet, made from tef, a cereal unique to the country, and served up in a sort of swiss-roll, that looks and tastes just like one of the ‘refreshment’ towels served up by air-lines).

We run a couple of mobile clinics, treating the horses that are used as taxis and general haulage in most towns across the country. The state of some of these animals has to be seen to be believed – but of course the owners that depend on them are not much better. Nice to report we’ve had some real success over the last couple of years with one particularly evil disease – epizootic lymphangitis – where septic abscesses burst out all over the poor wretched creature’s head and body leading to a long agonising death.

They would be abandoned and left by the roadside – in abject pain and misery, waiting for the end – which could take days or even weeks. We managed to get the municipal authorities to support us when we take these animals and put them out of their misery (in the past, an ‘owner’ would materialise out of the soil and demand immense sums of compensation).

So, no more of that rubbish now, and not only are we able to put a humane end to their suffering, but doing so cuts down the rate of infection to other animals – which anyway (provided treatment starts early enough) we have a good chance of curing.

And it has made a huge difference – which boosts everbody's morale.

We also have a great little education programme, where we built science classrooms in three schools – they have almost nothing normally – eighty kids in a class, no books, no teaching materials – but boy, do they want to learn things. So we have a series of lessons in animal husbandry, welfare etc, and they are fighting to get on the courses (we can only do fifty at a time). I don’t remember that enthusiasm, when long ago, I was facing double maths on a Thursday afternoon.

One of the schools is up in the highlands, and the trip there is always stunning. Especially so this year because they’ve had good rains and the crops are just starting to be harvested. Doesn’t seem to stop food aid though – WFP is still doshing out 40kg of wheat per family per month. A very mixed blessing really – not only does it keep everyone ‘dependent’ – it also destroys the sale value of any surplus the local farmers produce. How are they supposed to raise spare cash to buy shoes for their kids ?

It will be interesting to see whether it carries on when the harvest is al cut and carried.

Jeremy Hulme

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