Kaffa

Bedele, the work

Although my work was the reason for us to have come to Bedele, I will try not to bore you with descriptions of technical issues that are beyond the scope of this blog. However, some general background information is relevant to place the stories that will follow in context. After all, all anecdotes I will describe took place as spin offs of the project.

FAO had technically supported the building and equipping of the laboratory through earlier projects that, unfortunately, were not able to complete the work as could be seen by a number of large crates at the entrance of the laboratory as well as the parts of an incinerator that were scattered in the field surrounded the buildings.

At the time of my arrival, FAO was still supporting the laboratory implementing two projects with UNDP funding, a tsetse and trypanosomiasis and a tick and tick-borne disease project, ours. Both projects worked towards the control of these parasites and there was good collaboration between us all along. Jan, my Dutch colleague and neighbour headed the tsetse project and he spent most of his time in the bush while I travelled to our field sites but also had work to do at the laboratory.

The tick and tick-borne disease project had a number of veterinarians and technicians that would work with me. Among the vets there were Sileshi (my main counterpart), Solomon and, later Assefa. There were also a number of able and devoted technicians that supported the work that I will not mention as some names escape me now.

It did not take long for surprises to start to pop-up. As in any project hand over, I had a thorough inventory of the project’s equipment. This included a list of the project vehicles, regarded as “hot items” by the FAO and UNDP administrations. In the list there were five vehicles but I only found four in Bedele and I was informed that the provincial Administrator in Jimma has taken possession of one of them for his use.

As this was unacceptable, I planned a visit with the Director of the Bedele Laboratory and my counterpart to meet the Administrator, all of us determined to recover it. Eventually we were given an “audience” by the Governor of the Kaffa province in Jimma to present our case. We were made to wait for a while before the meeting with an Administrator as the Governor was too busy to see us.

To my surprise, things went very smoothly, and in a few minutes, we had the assurances of the car’s return. Unfortunately, it could not be done the same day as the car needed to be serviced but the following week. Of course, I never saw the car again despite repeated assurances that it would be returned a few “next weeks”!

I duly reported its “disappearance” in the project inventory, something that failed to create any queries neither in FAO nor UNDP! We still had four 4WD to do our work and we believed that they would be enough, provided that we managed to get them in good working order. I soon learnt that this was not as straightforward as it sounds as we will see below!

The Ethiopian Government worked on Saturday mornings, something I had not realized until I arrived in Ethiopia the second time. However, to compensate for this extra half a day, there were “political meetings” every Wednesday afternoon. As myself was not expected to participate I cannot say what was discussed there. So it was that on Wednesday after lunch I was alone in the laboratory.

Our project’s working area were the three south-western provinces of the country namely Kaffa, Illubabor and Welega. Apart from capacity building on tick and tick-borne diseases we had two main objectives: (i) to collect and identify tick species from domestic animals from as many locations as possible (tick survey) and (ii) to monthly monitor the number of ticks on groups of cattle (that had been selected and identified by the project) to assess the numbers of the various species of ticks present and get an idea of their seasonal abundance (population dynamics).

Tick counting.
We were very popular, particularly with the children!
Tick work often took place in wet conditions!

From the start it was clear that the project staff were devoted to the work and they -to my relief- had kept the population dynamics work going and the data collection had been kept as scheduled by my predecessor. This was great news. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the tick survey that had suffered as it was more difficult to justify getting the needed inputs to carry it out.

A practical training session on tick taxonomy
A lecture to animal health personnel from the three provinces.

So, we needed reinforce our tick survey while keeping our monthly observations going as we needed as much data as possible to draw meaningful conclusions. For that we needed fuel to visit the various places and this was one of our major problems as it was severely rationed.

Often, I needed to visit the Bedele Administrator to persuade him to let me have the needed fuel to carry out the work and I remembered feeling “victorious” walking away with a 20 litre coupon of petrol! Luckily, after a few months Total introduced their own petrol coupons and these helped a great deal to get the needed fuel.

For about one year, things run smoothly, and it was time for us to go on home leave as, because of the UN duty station hardship classification, we were entitled to go out of the country once per year. We had a very good break but, on return, I faced a bit of a crisis when I was tersely informed by the laboratory’s administrator that one of our vehicles had been “borrowed” by President Mengistu and his entourage while touring the west of Ethiopia.

While to stop this would have been impossible for anybody, the fact that the car never came back was very worrisome. The situation was indeed delicate as it involved the highest authority of the country and one that had a rather ruthless reputation, so I decided to let it rest for a while. This was a good decision as, eventually we learnt that the car had hit a buffalo and overturned on the way to Gambela and that it had been abandoned but that we were allowed to recover it!

As there were no car workshops in Bedele, to service or repair our cars, we needed to find the car, towed it back to Bedele and then to Addis, a journey of several hundred kilometres. A rescue party was sent, and the car was brought to the laboratory. It was our best Land Cruiser and it looked like a “banana”, rather twisted after it roll. Luckily it could still be towed had been badly damaged, and it had a banana shape although it could still be towed.

We decided to invest some of our meagre project resources to repair it and it was eventually taken to Addis on a lorry and we got it back a couple of months later when I went to collect it and immediately detected that it would never ride as well as before and that it gained a new trait, its inability to stop dust from entering all over the place!

After two years of work we managed to complete the work expected from us both on tick identification and population dynamics. Despite our efforts, UNDP stopped funding projects by implementing agencies like FAO and our effort was not continued despite the need for it that still remained. Luckily, we did manage to get some limited funding from the Danish Government to look at tick-borne diseases but not enough to keep international personnel so we departed after a very interesting spell in Ethiopia that I will go through in the next few posts.