1 Nov 2009


I would like to talk a little bit more about Dr Hamlin, but this time about the kind humanitarian with a good sense of humour.
During one of our trips to Ethiopia we went to the Fistula hospital in Addis Ababa with the intention of offering help. This incredible hospital provides care for women with fístula obstétrica, a term that perhaps doesn't mean anything to most of us but which in fact is the cause of terrible daily distress and leads to the social exclusion of many women in Africa. These women, many of whom are still just children with malnourished bodies, are giving birth to babies which are often too large for their already debilitated frames. After days of difficult birthing

(aggravated by female genital mutilation) a stillborn child is the result. After such a difficult birth the mother experiences a vaginal tear which can extend to the bladder and in many cases to the anus.
This tear can result in fecal and urinary  incontinence. These women are then rejected by husbands and neighbours and are classed as pestilent outcasts.
When we arrived ( without an appointment to speak to Dr Hamlin) a guard appeared and when we told him we wanted to make an appointment he asked us to follow him.
He led us along one of the pretty paths within the hospital gardens . We felt a bit dubious wondering where he was taking us until we reached a little house in the middle of the garden. He knocked on the door and to our great surprise Dr Hamlin herself opened the door.
We couldn't believe our luck. She very kindly welcomed us and invited us into her house.
She led us into her living room and told us to take a seat on her sofa.
By our feet lay her two faithful companions, her dogs.
She apologised for being unable to invite us to a drink since she had just returned from a long journey and had no provisions in the house but she was very happy to meet us, to chat to us and to answer any questions.

There we were sitting on the sofa of a legend, of a woman who has survived three different political regimes in Ethiopia, who had dedicated her life to the welfare of thousands and thousands of poor, repudiated women, who had inaugurated a special hospital, a refuge, a home, a new life , a model hospital for socially excluded women, hope. Personally, I was floating on cloud nine.

Dr Hamlin is a caring woman. She asked us where we were staying. When we told her the price and how noisy it was she said " My dears ,you are living in a brothel". (We had just realised that the night before).
The conversation continued and continued with us just listening totally dazzled by this incredible human being.

We asked her if she minded if we took some photos ( like love-sick teenagers in presence of their pop-idol) and she said " it's my pleasure".
But, just as we were taking the photograph, the door crashed open and a whirlwind rushed in. It was Dr Hamlin's personal secretary, an Australian woman called Ruth.
Ruth began to scream at us "Out! Out!" like a woman possessed. We got such a fright we dropped the camera.
At first we thought that she was shouting at the dogs but then we realised that she was shouting at us. And she tried to throw us out! Poor Dr Hamlin could only murmur a soft "So sorry".

Ruth told us that she was Dr Hamlin's"Mother Hen" and I retorted that she was more like a rottweiler and because I angrily defended our group , explaining that we had been accompanied to the house unaware of where we were going and that Dr Hamlin had greeted us exquisitely then she calmed down.
She invited us to an informal chat and a guided tour of the hospital on the following day.

The next day, we entered the hospital ( which was immaculately clean and totally odourless considering the medical problem being treated), and in the distance we could see Dr Hamlin who was already on the job, as usual, just the same as for the last 50 years.

She stopped what she was doing came up to us and asked "How are you today?" Always taking time to think of others.
We hope that the Fistula hospital's work will continue to function for as long as necessary.
Most of its help comes from Australia, the United States ( Oprah Winfrey, the famous American TV host is greatly involved in this project) and other places in the world.
I recently read Dr Hamlin's autobiography. She talks about her childhood, when she was a student, how she met her husband, of how she arrived in Ethiopia with her young son, her life in the hospital etc...
It's the first book in the English language that I have read that I just could not put down and it just confirmed what I already believed. What a great humble woman she is.
Victoria Baldo

1 comment:

  1. For anybody interested, the book detailing the life of Dr. Hamlin and her husband is called "The hospital by the river"