November 2012

Dear FriendsBougainvillea frames the old Flagstaff Station, Aden, Yemen

In a few days’ time we shall take our suitcases from the top of the wardrobe, dust them down and start packing, filling any empty corners with packets of mocha coffee, and head home. It has been a good visit. We have been here five weeks. It seems much longer. Nancy says that coming to Aden is like entering Narnia – the magical world of author C.S.Lewis’ creation, encountered in his children’s books.

There are some similarities between the waning power of the dreadful white witch in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – the first of the chronicles of Narnia – and that Enjoying  tea with friends during the eid holiday at Christ Church Adenof Yemen’s previous president, who still lingers on in the country causing mischief. We’ve not encountered the books’ magnificent lion, Aslan, who represents God, or more particularly Jesus, but we have certainly sensed his presence around. However, I do not think that any of these things were in mind when Nancy mentioned Narnia. It was rather the sense that in Aden, as in Narnia, time seems different to what it is in other places and that within what seems an incredibly short time a lot can happen – both wonderful and sometimes rather horrible.Apprentice guard dog in the garden at Christ Church Aden

Fortunately, we have not encountered anything very horrible though I did have a moment’s horrible reflection: On a rare occasion when I ventured to drive ourselves rather than have someone else drive us, I parked the car in an empty parking lot and an hour or so later returned to it. As I turned the ignition key, I suddenly thought, ‘I hope we don’t blow up’. Obviously, the car did not blow up but those sorts of things do sometimes happen here. It was a sobering moment.

Sadly, much more common and now often reported in the local media is the kidnapping on their arrival by sea on Yemen’s shores of some Somali and even more Ethiopian refugees. Those who take them appear to be Yemeni thugs, people-traffickers who hold their victims – some of them very young – until their poor relatives can send $300 for their release. Each of them will already have paid $50 for their long and hazardous passage over to Yemen. Those held are frequently tortured, abused and even sometimes killed.

Joining in celebrations at nearby St Francis Church in Aden, YemenLess anguished, nearer home but also tragic, is the plight of many Yemenis who go to bed hungry every night. Dr Nada, of the General Clinic has just informed me that 60% of the patients whom she has seen this morning are suffering from malnutrition evidenced in the rough, peeling skin of young children and their dark, crinkly, brittle hair. Some of them, with their families, subsist on a daily diet of sweet black tea and cheap bread. We try our best to help as we can. The situation is apparently worse in rural areas where 70% of the population live.

The country’s Government of National Unity, under leadership of interim President Abdo Rabba Mansour Hadi, has actually achieved much, not only in holding the country together but also in conferring with almost every party and grouping in the land from Yemen’s neglected and shunned akhdam or gypsies to the still hopeful and energetic youth of the Arab Spring, in anticipation of a significant conference to be held imminently in Aden on the nation’s future. There has not been a lot of energy left over to address the nation’s dire economic and humanitarian needs.

When last we wrote, we were poised for the visit of Bishop Michael. It was brief but very happy, encouraging and useful. One evening we had a party in the garden for the staff and their families. We Remembrance Service - Aden, November 2012were about 40. The food, a traditional lamb dish called, Zorubian, was delicious. Food, overseen by Mansour, always is! The atmosphere was wonderful – hard adequately to describe – an excited buzz and an enormous innocent delight at simply being together.

Children laying the wreaths at our Remembrance Service - November 2012It was just one of a whole kaleidoscope of encounters, experiences and meetings that have made up our brief visit. When we return home, some neighbours will probably say that they never realised we had been away and we, like the children in Narnia on their return home, will do our best to tell them of this troubled land and its remarkable people.

With our love and sincere best wishes in Christ

Peter and Nancy

PS. We have just learned of the appointment of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He preached here at Christ Church a few years ago when one of his sons, Peter, was working here as a volunteer. Justin is a fine person – so is Pete.

May 2012

cca may 2012 'Where 2 or 3 are gathered toghether'“Your calls,” said the voice on the phone from several thousand miles away, “are like a good injection in the arm.”

I could not ever recall having a good injection in the arm but Mansour’s experience has been a more positive one. Now we speak every week for a mutual ‘shot in the arm’ and update on the work of Christ Church and the clinics. We try to do this on the same day each week around 9 am local Yemen time, an hour or so into the working day. This started soon after our abrupt departure from Aden, about two months ago. We dispense with the usual extended Middle Eastern greetings – asking about each other’s welfare and that of our respective families when all other business has been completed.

Here is a collation of the last two conversations – by topic:

The general situation

“It is,” said Mansour (today), “good and bad.”

A foreign employee of the oil company Total was killed along with a local colleague at an unofficial, rogue check point this week near Mukallah, and another foreigner working with the Red Cross based in Sana’a was kidnapped. We have not heard who was responsible, and while much mischief is quickly and probably wrongly attributed to Al Qaeda, evidence suggests that the organization continues intent on causing harm specifically to foreigners in the country.

There are power cuts every day, but for only a couple of hours at most, and conveniently, often at night. Diesel, used for the generator, is once again readily available and our reserve tank is full.

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh still lingers on in the country and jokes abound about him waiting now for the biggest bribe he can land as inducement to leave. Meanwhile his successor, President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, makes what progress he can and in recent days has succeeded, with some outside help, in getting close relatives of the previous president holding prominent position in Yemen’s military, to step down. It is no small achievement and widely approved

The clinics

Both eye and medial clinics continue to function well. Last month Dr Loween performed 35 cataract operations. Rana, who returned to us recently after working in Sana’a for several years, is updating the job descriptions of all the team and preparing to resume responsibility for the operating theatre when Kusumam returns home to India with her husband Seji and son Clarin. She has been a really conscientious, able, supportive member of the eye team. Her husband has been a teacher at the Gandhi International School and held in great esteem and affection. As a family they have been members of the little Roman Catholic congregation worshipping in Crater. They will all be missed in Aden.

Drs Jihong and Sunghye, who were with us briefly in Aden during our recent visit, and who left at the same time as we did, have now relocated to a hospital in Addis Ababa. Like us, they are missing Aden.

There had been hopes of re-starting the programme of regular eye screening in the local schools, and when the head teachers were contacted last week all were enthusiastic and appreciative of the offer but asked that the programme be deferred. One reason is that 74 of Aden’s schools are occupied by refugees – 20,000 of them displaced by fighting in nearby Abayan province. Now at least 20 people live in each classroom. The schools that have not been occupied take children in three shifts – the youngest from 8-11 am, the older from 11–2 pm and the oldest from 4.30pm. Another reason for deferring – and half hearted attempts are being made to relocate the refugees – is that the ‘academic’ year ends in three weeks time.

The price of drugs has gone up over the past year by 55% and many basic ones, antibiotics included, are very scarce. The budget has been amended to cope with the rise and economies made elsewhere, but tracking down the drugs is still a challenge.

In the week in which we left, Ras Marbat clinics hosted for the Ministry of Health a major vaccination programme for children. It was a busy week with lots of buzz and bustle pierced occasionally with squeaks from protesting, apprehensive youngsters.

Measles is sadly on the increase. It claimed nearly 150 lives in the south of the country last year. All were of children under five years old. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) measles outbreaks can be particularly deadly in countries recovering from conflict. Damage to heath infrastructures and health services interrupts routine immunization, and overcrowding in residential camps increases the risk of infection.

According to UNICEF, 58% of Yemen’s children are stunted and chronically malnourished – the second highest rate in the world after Afghanistan.

Yemen’s new President Hadi described the situation in his country recently as “harsh”. He was not exaggerating.

Church

No day passes without at least two or three people meeting in Christ Church to worship. Every day of the working week begins for the Christian staff in prayer. On Thursdays the Ethiopian congregation gathers, many of them coming long beforehand to pray, and on Fridays, Gashu, Rex or Nazir lead the worship for those who come. Rarely has the promise of Jesus to be among his people when they meet in his name seemed more pertinent, poignant or precious. Numbers are few but the joy, I am assured, is great. May God bless them and keep them all.

Peter and Nancy

December 2011

The gravediggers were wreathed in dust as they furiously scraped, shoveled and filled the grave. I was standing only feet away but they were almost invisible in the swirling cloud. For a brief moment I caught sight of a red peaked cap, a yellow T shirt and a raised shovel.

The service at the graveside had been a simple thing. None of the twelve men and women gathered there minutes earlier around the rough plywood box knew or had even seen the deceased except when they collected her from the hospital freezer, put her in the box and loaded her onto the back of the old pick up truck. I had not known or seen her either.

We only learned her name, Shawa, from the death certificate held in the hands of young Abdullah, faithful keeper of the cemetery and gravedigger. The certificate had been issued by the UNHCR, who had phoned the previous evening to say that they had the body of a Christian Ethiopian woman for burial. I then contacted Abdullah to ask him to prepare the grave.

Somehow, the leaders of the Ethiopian congregation, who worship at Christ Church on a Thursday evening, all of whom are refugees, undertook to make a coffin and to help with the burial. And so it was that late yesterday afternoon, as the day cooled and the sun began to set that we buried Shawa. I was very proud of the twelve friends who had come across the city to pray and to help. I have since learned that Shawa had only arrived on the shores of Yemen a few days earlier, having made the dangerous crossing over from Somalia in a little open boat. She had made it to the main refugee camp on the outskirts of Aden where she was found, slumped and semi conscious, lying against the wall of a little clinic. From there she had been brought to the old government hospital in the centre of town where she died soon after admission. She remained lucid long enough to indicate that she was a Christian.

At the graveside, I spoke of Jesus’ teaching about God knowing even when a sparrow dies, and told them God knew and noticed when Shawa died. Alone in death, I thanked those gathered fervently for being her family for the minutes we were there together at her graveside. They had, I said, done a good thing. I know them all.

Today, one of the staff, a local, Yemeni male nurse and Muslim, expressed his sadness at the death of our unknown friend, and offered me a coffin used to transport a relative of his back to Yemen, who had died in Jordan. Muslims bury their loved ones in a shroud, not a box, so the coffin used to transport his uncle remained unused. I know we shall use it, and I expect to soon.

Life here is harsh and often short, but in this environment gestures of kindness and love shine very bright – and they are not rare.

It is good to be here.

Peter & Nancy

Pages:
Yemen - Heartbreak and Hope by Peter Crooks

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