Yep, our first load of teddies travelled with Lesley to Raya in mid-September and are now safely packed in our storeroom ready for the opening of our Early Learning Center. Here you see our manager and the son of our guard with a small number of the 40 which made it down on this trip. They did well, and it is exciting to see them there ready for their new little friends. The remaining teddies needed for the opening will travel down in November.
Travelling back to Ethiopia for the first time in 7 months was an eye-opener. Ethiopia is convinced – rightly so – that COVID-19 was brought into the country by foreigners. As a result, the Corona precautions at the airports are stringent. In Addis Abeba Lesley almost missed her connecting flight after being forced to have a second Corona test on arrival. She had had the mandatory test for airline passengers in Europe shortly before she left and had written proof of a negative test. However, this was not accepted as she could have been infected along the way to Mekelle. Once she had had the test she was allowed to get onto her domestic flight.
On arrival in Mekelle, soldiers ushered all travelers onto a guarded bus ready to drive to a quarantine hotel in Mekelle. When Lesley left the terminal building she was met by soldiers with automatic weapons who wanted her to join that bus. Only her letter of recognition from the Rayan government and the persuasive arguments of our manager allowed her to go in the bus organized to meet her. However, she was not allowed to travel to Mehoni. She was driven to another quarantine hotel in Mekelle where she immediately received her 2nd Corona test in 4 hours. Then she was confined to her room until her test came back negative 24 hours later.
We welcome and understand the precautions around the airports which are designed to avoid visitors carrying the virus around town and cities. However, we want to note that once Lesley moved into rural Ethiopia and our project region, masks were rare. Firstly they are not widely available in our region and, secondly, members of communities in places like Cher Cher couldn’t buy them even if they were.
However, the question begs: is the stringent control at the airports part of the reason why the virus has not spread widely and has to date claimed so few lives? This may be part of it. However, we believe that two other factors are responsible for the mild progression to date of COVID-19 in Ethiopia. Firstly, it is possible that the virus has different forms, i.e. that it has mutated to something milder there. This is to be hoped, given the lack of medical facilities. Secondly, we consider it highly likely from our decade of experience in rural Ethiopia that the immune systems of Ethiopians are dealing differently with the virus than ours can. This is the country where citizens drink water, milk, home-brewed beer and raw yoghurt which would come close to killing most of us (we have experienced this ourselves!). In any case, our manager’s prediction that hunger would be the greater killer in Ethiopia during this pandemic has proven true so far.