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

Flight from Aden

The cat moved delicately around the edge of the bean bag before settling comfortably in the ray of spring sunshine in the front of our son’s home in Reading. The cat, though far from obese, is fatter than any we ever saw in Yemen and, if a week ago, or even three days ago we had been told that we would today be watching Holly on her bean bag, we would have been surprised. But, as a friend of ours once said, ‘in the Middle East things can take a long time to happen, but when they do – they happen fast.’

Over the last weeks there have been fire fights across Aden almost daily and often well into the night. There have also been occasional roadside bombs. A few days ago, Mansour, our administrator told Nancy and I that we should leave the office and go to our less exposed apartment for ‘security reasons’ for the rest of the day. The next day, Joel, an American language teacher was gunned down in Taiz, two hours drive away. A few days before, a Swiss woman was kidnapped in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, where she too had been working as a language teacher. Both were known to be devout Christians. The group who took the one and murdered the other, is openly affiliated to Al Qaeada and singled Joel out for his Christian zeal. The organisation has promised to kidnap others. We thought it unnecessary to further test their resolve or to put ourselves and those we love and work with in Aden, at further risk by staying.

We flew out with Royal Jordanian via Amman yesterday. Today the lovely Korean couple, Drs Jihong and Sunghye, who had come from Korea to join us for a few weeks, have reluctantly taken the same decision as ourselves and flown out.

It was hard to leave without saying good bye to the staff, which we thought it best not to do. Before dawn, Mansour drove us in a beat up, nondescript car by a circuitous route to the airport.

Waiting to leave Somalia for Yemen

Waiting to leave Somalia for Yemen

A few minutes before the clinics closed on our last morning, a tired young Somali lad called in wanting help. He was from Mogadishu and had arrived by boat ten days earlier. The crossing had taken 40 hours. There were 120 squeezed aboard. Each one had paid a million Somali shillings – equivalent to US$50 for the trip. The only thing he brought with him other than his clothes was a plastic bottle of water. He is 17. He is just one of hundreds who make the perilous journey every week. He left his family and a city in flames for a refugee camp and a country itself, teetering on the brink. We flew home, thankfully, yesterday – swiftly and in comfort to security, friends and our family. I think the young Somali’s name was Omar.

Remember him in your prayers, Joel’s family too, and Jihong and Sunghye as they ponder their next step, and all who continue to work so faithfully and well back at Christ Church. Thank you for your support and your prayers.

Holly the cat, has now moved into the window, in pursuit of the sun.

With much love and our very best wishes in Christ

Peter & Nancy

 

October 2011

In March 2011 the British Embassy advised all British citizens to leave Yemen. Nigel and Catherine Dawkins left at this time, and Christ Church was without a chaplain for six months. In September, Peter and Nancy Crooks were able to return to Christ Church for a two-month visit.

The working days at the clinics begin for the Christian staff – Ethiopian, Indian, Pakistani and British – with prayer. It is a good way to begin. Yesterday it was my turn to lead. I spoke (rather movingly, I thought) about the need to emulate Jesus’ compassion for the sick and pushed aside. Afterwards we sang a hymn and prayed. By 10am I had blown it: exasperated by a Somali refugee woman’s rejection of what I considered a generous contribution towards her rent for a wretched, corrugated iron shack in Aden’s main refugee camp, I exploded with frustration, but then I calmed down, apologized, talked some more and she left with the proffered money.

There is a saying, ‘For gold the fire, for silver the crucible, for the heart … Jerusalem.’ I think Aden might fitly substitute for the name of the Holy City! It is a hard place and in recent months it has got much harder for the people here, though thankfully not as hard as in other cities of Yemen. Power cuts are long and unpredictable. Diesel and petrol supplies are erratic and with some of the country’s key oil fields on fire as a result of fighting, the shortages are likely to get more acute, fuelling anger among many. A lot of schools remain closed, occupied by large numbers of Yemenis displaced by fighting not far from Aden in recent months, and now other poor people seeking refuge in Aden from the fighting in Sanaa.

Despite these things, Aden for the most part remains calm. There are days of disobedience when government employees are discouraged from going to work. There have been the occasional halfhearted bombings of military or police installations, and last week an attempt on the life of the chief of defence. From time to time we hear the crackle of small arms fire as youngsters, many of whom have a gun or two, shoot it out with police. Sometimes main streets are cut off for protests, but generally street markets are busy, the post functions at an even more leisurely pace than usual, goats still scavenge enthusiastically on the rubbish tips and the consumption of qat appears undiminished.

We have managed a swim most weeks and of an evening have often walked into Tawahi, our scruffy, local commercial area, to shop, accompanied by Kala, the clinic’s Indian lab technician. (We rarely go far afield and whenever possible try to have a local friend drive with us.) Local stallholders, who thought they had seen the last of us seem astonished and happy to see us back, and in these quieter days it’s been really lovely to have time to catch up with local friends, not least among the clinic staff.

The clinics are running well and we are enormously impressed at the cheerful, conscientious dedication of all the staff. Morale was boosted greatly on learning that Dr Jan Tynovsky from the Czech Republic is prepared to come soon to help work on a list of over 150 cataract patients. There is also the possibility of a past local employee, an able and much loved surgeon, returning on a part time basis to Aden from Sanaa, with her young family. Dr Nada, who heads up the general clinic has just started a full time course of further study. She has a young ‘stand in’, but we miss her experience and wisdom.

On days of civil disobedience, when patient numbers are few, we’ve set aside the last hour of the day for ad hoc, highly interactive English classes. Nearly everyone attends. They seem appreciative. Yesterday Nancy tackled ‘kitchen English’ with the aid of a chopping board, mixing bowl, various instruments and ingredients. We meet in the eye clinic, which has constant electricity, thanks to a generator. On Friday, as we were about to start the service in church the power went. In moments we were puddles of sweat so moved to the eye clinic, which was quickly transformed into a very simple and wonderfully cool chapel. We were fifteen, including four lively children. Afterwards we shared a tasty brunch together. There was much joy.

Today I went to see the director of a local NGO working in the camps about a refugee from Congo who had appeared last week at church. He greeted myself and Sahel – our guard/driver – warmly and went on to tell us that his mother had had an eye operation with us “before six years”. The eyes are working well.”

Praise God! It is very good to be back.

Peter & Nancy

November 2009

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Service at Maalla Cemetery - Aden, YemenAt Christ Church, Remembrance Day is one of the highlights of the year and this year it was marked by a series of three services, attended by representatives of the British, French and Indian embassies; members of the local congregation; and other Christians living in Aden. The first service began at 10.55am in Ma’alla Cemetery, allowing us to observe the two minute silence at 11am. Wreaths were laid at the cemetery including one that had been sent by a family in England whose relative lies buried there.

At midday we gathered at Christ Church for the main service of the day, which was followed by a splendid lunch in the church hall when everyone was able to meet and relax. The day finished with an atmospheric dusk service at Silent Valley: a cemetery on the edge of the desert, far away from the hustle and bustle of Aden. As the sun set over the rocky hills, four sisters from the Missionaries of Charity sang a quiet song in honour of those buried there.

A poignant day for all involved, remembering those who have gone before us in this place.

Ras Morbat Institute

When Stefan Poldevaart first came to Yemen four years ago his plan was to teach technical skills to local people. His dream is finally becoming a reality as the building of the Ras Morbat Institute nears completion. The Institute has been built next to the church and consists of a teaching space on the ground floor and a community space upstairs. Early in 2010 Stefan will train two teachers: one Yemeni and one Somali. They will then provide the training for the first intake of students, who will also be a mixture of local Yemenis and refugees from Somalia. The team at Christ Church is most grateful to all those who have supported this project financially and have backed Stefan’s dream with the necessary resources. Particular thanks go to the British Embassy in Sana’a, Episcopal Relief & Development and the Anglican congregation in Bahrain.

Ras Morbat Institute, Aden, Yemen - June 2009

June 2009

Ras Morbat Institute, Aden, Yemen - November 2009

November 2009

Partnership with UNHCR

Another exciting development in the past few months is a new partnership with the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR. There are two large refugee camps on the outskirts of Aden and UNHCR has engaged our clinic to provide eye care to the refugees in Kharaz camp. A team from the eye department has been visiting the camp to perform basic eye examinations and to refer patients for operations at the clinic. So far the project has been running on a pilot basis and we hope that the partnership will lead to a more significant commitment in 2010.

The Kharaz Refugee Camp in Yemen
Refugees receiving treatment from the Ras Morbat Clinic mobile team

Nigel & Catherine’s Wedding

The wedding of Nigel and Catherine Dawkins

Nigel & Catherine Dawkins

On 17th October, Nigel Dawkins (Chaplain, Christ Church) married Catherine Lewis-Morris. The service took place in the UK, at St Mary’s Church, Caterham, where Nigel served his curacy. Over 200 friends and family came together to celebrate the wedding.

The service was followed by a reception at the Surrey National Golf Club, in what proved to be a wonderfully joyful and relaxed day. Catherine worked as an accountant in London for seven years and has spent the past three years training for ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. She is now with Nigel in Aden where she is helping to manage the chaplaincy finances.

On 15th January 2010 Catherine will be ordained deacon by Bishop Michael Lewis, Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, and will be licensed as Assistant Chaplain.

Prayer Points

  • for the finances of the church and clinic: as a result of the global recession, pledged support for 2010 is significantly lower than previous years;
  • for the management team at Christ Church as they face tough decisions regarding how best to reduce expenditure in 2010;
  • for the Ras Morbat Institute as it begins training its first students;
  • for the development of work with Somali refugees in partnership with UNHCR;
  • for Nigel and Catherine as they settle into married life together.

March 2008

Maggie Le Roy - visiting Christ Church Aden in Yemen

Maggie Le Roy

It was, she said, the most exciting journey in her life. The aged Peugeot estate was crammed. The road and dust were visible through the holes in the floor at her feet. Fumes from a tired muffler came into the car through them. The driver’s side window was largely obscured by an old T-shirt to shade him from the sun, and his vision from vehicles approaching on that side. Despite these handicaps and the almost unprecedented absence of a working horn, the journey from Ibb to Aden was managed without incident, which is more than could be said of our journey to Sanaa two days ago with Maggie le-Roy, the Diocesan Retreats Adviser, whose travels we have been describing.

It was Maggie’s second visit to us to lead a retreat and it was great. We shared a little of her disappointment that while twenty four appeared the first evening of the retreat, only fourteen remained till the next morning. But, there were good reasons for the fallout. Several could not get the day off; one person was taken ill, while another cheerful, loyal member of the congregation confided he found the ‘clay modelling and pebble collection too much’. Still, those who completed the course seemed well rewarded and very grateful, both for the teaching and the space for quiet that followed each session.

One friend from Kenya said she had been ‘holding on’ till the retreat. At the end she was radiant, which also had something to do with the signing of a peace agreement back home. Another participant from a Roman Catholic background told how Maggie had helped him merge attention to Scripture with use of extended quiet and reflection. Whether it’s retreats or conferences, it seems there is a good work to be done here serving foreigners across the country who need space, quiet and spiritual refreshment. Maggie is an unfussy, thoughtful and wonderfully encouraging teacher and retreat leader – and good company.

And in the last months we have not lacked for ‘company’! At Synod on Cyprus we reported we had had close to 900 ‘guest nights’ – nights of occupancy of the guest rooms. Recently some backpackers showed us our entry in an up to date German equivalent of the Lonely Planet Guide for Yemen. It was complementary and even stated that Christ Church is ‘a holy place’! At the time of writing, we have eight guests from Latin America, tomorrow a young American family. Nancy handles the bookings while Yerusalim, a lovely young Ethiopian mother looks after the rooms and the laundry.

Significant amongst recent visits to us was that of our new bishop – Michael and his wife Julia. It was their first visit to Aden and after a few days, Bishop Michael ventured that he thought the city Bishop Michael, Julia and doctors‘endearing’. Interestingly, another person, who visited last year and stayed much longer, pronounced it ‘a dump’. After nearly four years here we think it’s both and a bit more beside!

Little Ben on the hill near us, a smaller version of London’s Big Ben, is cute. The flaking the exterior of the Crescent Hotel with its high ceilings and shuttered windows where a very young Queen Elizabeth II once stayed a night is still lovely. The observant may spot a valiant Bedford truck hauling sacks of sugar from the port, and there’s a retired Morris Traveller that’s a backyard store for a building merchant near us.

Since being here, much has been tidied up in the city. There are pavements, effective street lights, clean main roads and a really attractive harbour side corniche. But off the main streets much remains squalid, scruffy and desperately poor. While the powerful and rich of Sanaa expropriate with impunity for themselves the prime sea view real estate to build villas, the poor scrabble to build cinder block or plywood huts on Aden’s bleak and precipitous crater slopes. An ‘endearing dump’ is perhaps not a bad description. With the Bishop and Julia, we viewed the port on a new pilot cutter, visited the work of the Sisters of Charity (Mother Teresa), admired the lonely beauty of the cemetery at Silent Valley and spent time with the local staff and members of the congregation. We seemed do a lot of eating too. It was touching to see how quickly and warmly the staff took to Bishop Michael and Julia. Michael, they feel, is their bishop too – a little like a sheikh.

Bishop Michael meets the congregation of Christ Church Aden in YemenAfter meeting people and reviewing the work here, Bishop Michael, who is a good listener and keen observer said he thought it was ‘precious’, not in a negative sense of delicate or pampered, but rather in the sense of something valuable, unique and to be cherished. We were glad.

While he was here we discussed some of the pressure points and needs of the work, amongst them – and long overdue – the need for a consultative medical council, an overall medical director and more. During his visit, we found ourselves approached by a delegation from the Canadian Embassy, who enthusiastically approved our medical clinic as the centre in Yemen for processing medically all those persons accepted here for resettlement in Canada. And this week we hope to formalise an arrangement with the UNHCR to test the eyes of children in the two refugee camps, and when necessary to operate on them.

We did manage a day’s outing to Taiz with Michael and Julia, stopping on the way in the refugee camp of Basateen to meet with forty or more of the 120 Somali fishermen, whose enormous overdue wage claim we are trying hard to settle. Sadly, those who should be championing their case locally seem either unwilling or impotent to help, while the fishermen and their families grow daily more desperate. They have a terribly touching trust in the ability of ‘the church’ to resolve their problem. All are, of course, Muslim.

Involvement in this as in similar cases previously, carries the risk of intimidations and threats but that is part of the course. So does handling people coming through our gates, as they do, enquiring about the Christian faith. We try our best to deal with them openly, honestly and wisely. It seems we are called to this rather exposed way of being. It is perhaps something of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant when from prison he famously wrote, “we must embrace … this worldliness, abandoning any attempt to make something of oneself … By ‘this worldliness’ I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God …

I mentioned at the outset our journey back to Sanaa with Maggie le-Roy. We were also accompanied by Pete, our volunteer, and Gabriel, a great friend of our son Tim. Peter and Gabriel from Christ Church AdenGabriel had just come out to visit us. An hour and a half into the journey, on a steady incline between very bleak rugged hills, we fell in the hands of a small group of about fifteen well armed, Yemeni tribesmen. They had partially blocked the road and indicated that we should pull over and stop. Up until this point we had, as on many journeys, been accompanied by a blue and white Yemeni police patrol car with flashing lights and feeble siren. On seeing our predicament it turned and bolted. The senior tribesman promptly unshouldered his Kalashnikov and prepared to fire after it. He didn’t, but the driver, seeing him in his mirror wove back and forth furiously hoping to avoid any bullets, at the same time managing to throw one of his fellow policemen from the vehicle into the road with the action. It was an unnerving moment. A little later we were reminded not to move and the little armed group proceeded to inspect and process the passing traffic. From time to time they waved or shouted to their fellows posted strategically on ledges or in crevices in the overlooking hills.

Nancy's SketchMeanwhile, volunteer Pete resumed his reading of an old volume on American democracy; Maggie rigged a sun shield in the front window of the car; Gabriel read his apportioned Bible reading; I tried to be friendly to our ‘detainers’ and Nancy sketched the view through her window. After a while a Russian Embassy pickup was pulled over and told to park in front of us. Then, about an hour after it all began, it ended with a flourish as several police cars summoned, we think, by our fleeing policemen, appeared. Out of them burst two enormous officers who took the tribesmen aside and gently ticked them off – and waved us back onto the road to Sanaa. We still do not know what it was all about. Two days later we passed through the original check point where we had picked up the police escort. We were greeted enthusiastically. There was no explanation of what had happened nor apology for our sudden abandonment. ‘Smile,’ beamed the sergeant, ‘you’re in Yemen.’ We did.

With our warmest thanks for your support, interest and encouragement and very best wishes in Christ

Peter & Nancy

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Yemen - Heartbreak and Hope by Peter Crooks

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