People talk of the internet like the weather here in Assosa. It is common to say, “Oh the internet is bad this week” as if it was a rain cloud rolling through or a heat wave – “Oh it is going to be hot this week.” Well, for the past couple weeks at least, the internet allows us to have gmail and interestingly, CBC news (Go CBC!) but not really anything else. We are getting used to country life and it is remarkably pleasant after the busy Addis Ababa. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Addis but there is something nice about wandering across the main street dodging donkey drawn carts rather than kamakazi drivers, eagerly watching the mangos grow and ripen in the sun, watching the huge smiles of people when we say hello in Amharic to them and being able to walk across town in no more than about 15 minutes. Our shoes are stained red with the red dust that permeates through everything in Assosa and the mangoes are slowly ripening. Before our very eyes, they seem to be turning a blush red and then golden yellow day by day.
At almost three weeks in Assosa, I am getting settled into my work. Along with my partner at the Regional Health Bureau, we have been busy going around to all of the different health facilities in the area exploring what health education activities are being done and what are the gaps that could use a little more support. We spent a couple days at the general hosptial for the region, then another day at the town’s health center and then went out to visit a couple rural health centers as well. You know the saying, getting there is half the fun? Well it certainly was in this case. To get to the two rural health centers, my partner Lema and I headed to the bus station but didn’t go inside the station itself. Instead, we went to the bajaj (aka auto-rickshaw or tuk-tuk as they’re called in other parts of the world) stands lined up on the street, which is how villagers get back and forth from Assosa town and their homes in the rural countryside. Each small bajaj takes four passengers, which ends up being more as we leave the urban area and enter the rolling countryside. In the morning, we were heading to Abramo, a rural health center about 8km from the town and the bajaj filled up instantly. We left the paved road and rounded the hugh stadium in construction and then went through the quaint countryside under tall euclyptus trees and past grass roof homes. We stopped to pick up one person and then another for a total of six people in one small bajaj.
On the windshields of the bajaj are always proverbs and other sayings and everyone had a good time when Lema got me to try out my fledging Amharic reading and speaking skills. It was like a mini, mini bus where people would get on and get off at their different locations and because we were in such tight quarters, conversation would always occur. People were curious about me since I don’t think there are many foreigners who bajaj out into the countryside like a local but they seemed genuinely happy to see me and often struck up conversations in our moments we had together. With six people in a small bajaj, the motor would really struggle sometimes especially on the hills so we would zoom downhill at every chance to pick up as much momentum as we could to shoot us up the other side. The momentum would last about half way up the next hill and then the bajaj would putter up the rest of the way. The small engine that could indeed!
In the hot afternoon, there are less people travelling. When I met up with my partner after lunch, we were immediately pulled to one bajaj whose driver really wanted to get some work. As I got in, there was a young woman already sitting in the front “seat” dressed in bright colours. In the back, however, was a small goat! I was a little surprised and then Lema directed me to another bajaj. I told him, I’m fine with a goat as long as it takes up one of the passenger places (6 people plus a goat, even a small goat, in a small bajaj seems over the top for me!) and he said that the bajaj wasn’t going where we wanted to anyways. There wasn’t enough people going to where we wanted to go so we just chartered the whole bajaj (It’s basically $1 a person at 15 birr so to get the whole bajaj, it’s $4) and took advantage of our extra space for the 17km largely dirt road journey out to Selga 22 Health Center.
I was really impressed with the health education programs at both of the rural health centers that we visited. Even with their infastructure limitations and numerous challenges of language and others, they were organized, passionate and were really in touch with the people and their needs. You can ask either one of the young heads of the health center how many pregnant women there were in the 9 kebeles (villages) that their health center covers and they would list off the number without any hesitation.