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.


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

March 2012

Dr John operating on his cake!

The knife hovered above the eye. Fellow surgeons and other observers of the operation looked on with keen interest. ‘I think it will be a small incision’, said one watching the doctor, knowingly. Another, her mobile phone held high, edged closer to take a photograph and, as the knife lowered, the camera flashed to catch the moment. The cut was made. The doctors and other observers applauded enthusiastically as visiting surgeon and long standing friend of the Eye Clinic, John Sandford Smith, cut the first slice of a great cake on the top of which had been printed a picture of a very large and beautiful eye. He beamed and set to dissecting the rest of the cake for all the staff gathered for mid-morning tea in the community room.

It was a good conclusion to ten days of very intense surgery and training by John, and his thirteenth visit to us. He came first in 2001.

Dr John supervising a trainee surgeon at the Ras Morbat ClinicIt was wonderful to see both clinics – the general medical clinic and the eye clinic buzzing, the courtyard and covered waiting areas bustling. Most eye patients had at least one relative, friend or supporter with them, some as many as three or four. Recreational facilities here are few and a day at the clinic makes for a change. Most came from across the city, ten or fifteen from Dhala, two hours drive away and two from the Red Sea port of Hodeidah.

One hundred and thirty seven cataract operations were carried out. Most were performed by John but five or six each day were done by our local Yemeni surgeons under supervision. John is confident that Dr Loween, the senior one, can handle ten or twelve cases each week now on her own.

Over the next three months we hope to welcome back two other surgeons for further short stints of operating and training – an exciting and encouraging prospect.

Operations ceased for two days for ‘the election’ We flew in the day afterwards to see many streets covered with debris, burnt tyres, rubble, bricks and broken glass from  the noisy protests and shooting that accompanied election day. The familiar stern and swarthy face of previous president Saleh has disappeared from all public places to be replaced by the more benign face of his successor Abdrabba Mansour Hadi. Opinions on the future of the nation are as varied as the people one talks to. For the moment there is a welcome breathing space from strife and agitation. It may be short.

Yesterday, Friday, we worshipped together in the morning, just eight adults and four children – Filipino, Eritrean, Pakistani, Ethiopian, Indian and ourselves. We sometimes wonder what nationality we are! We whooped with joy to learn Wales had beaten England in the rugby recently, which must indicate some loyalty there! In our worship we followed loosely the order of worship for Morning Prayer. A space for open praying was quickly filled with fervent praises and prayers for Yemen and Syria, and after the blessing at the end there was a request for ‘more singing’. The redoubtable and self deprecating surgeon John had accompanied the worship with his clarinet. We thought it was great. Afterwards, Sameera from the congregation roasted, ground and poured Ethiopian coffee. Today the aroma still lingers – deliciously.

The weather is warming to the high seventies and thankfully there’s little humidity. Two snakes were spotted in the garden last week. (We have never seen one in the country). The guard asked for dried red chili to chase them away. You learn something new every day!

With our warmest thanks for your support and interest & our very best wishes in Christ.

Peter & Nancy

Yemen - Heartbreak and Hope by Peter Crooks

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