This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
I am going to continue the events up until now. Hopefully I will be able to get both emails to you tomorrow (Mon,) First some details about Asmara. It lies about 7700 feet above sea level. Air temperatures are about 7 to 10 degrees at night and about twenty degrees during the day. According to Isaias, the local manager, even during summer Asmara only gets to about 25 degrees. There have been a few clouds but no sign of rain. The local currency is called the Nakfa. You get about 13.5 per $US. (approximately 15 cents Australian for one Nakfa) It is not worth two squirts of luke-warm goat-shit outside of Eritrea. You cannot even pay the local departure tax using Nakfa. While I am here, the lab pays the hotel bills and I am paid a daily allowance of US$25 per day for meals and spending. This is more than enough. It is paid to me up front. It comes to about 10,500 Nakfa. It has to be paid to me in Nakfa not $US. You just about need a wheelbarrow to carry it. I am not sure that I can change any money that is left back to $US. In that case I will have to return it to the Lab, as I have said nobody outside the country will touch it. Ray said that if that is the case the foundation (Aust) will compensate me. But the reality is that this is not my money and I will donate it to a worth-while cause to some organization in Asmara Asmara was known as the Rome of Africa. Most of the foot-paths are paved with tiles and all the roads within the main city area are sealed. Many of the houses in the central area are quite large with gardens. These are the homes of the well-to-do. Interspersed among these are some real dumps. Most of the people live outside the central area and Ray tells me their homes are one or two room dumps that may have up to ten or more people living in them. The central city area seems to consist of two main roads with a number of semi main roads and lots of back streets. They drive on the right hand side of the road which makes it difficult when crossing a street, as you are always looking the wrong way. This in fact seems to be the greatest danger that you face as crime is pretty close to non-existent here. The children are friendly and they all attend school in nice uniforms. The whole place, apart from restaurants shuts down between 12:00 noon and 2:00 PM. The work day finishes at 6:00 PM, even the schools. During the lunch break and after work everyone stands around in the streets, up to eleven or twelve at night. In fact groups of them even stand around in the middle of the main road, just talking. Driving at around at 6:PM means that you have to dodge children, people, cars, the occasional horse and cart and even herds of cows in the main city area. Although Asmara was once beautiful under the Italians, it is now fairly run down. According to Isaias, it has a population of about 500,000 within an area of about 10 Km by 10 Km. It certainly does not seem overly crowded in the central city area, but may be a different situation outside of the central area. I will find out in the next week or so.
Everyone says that I must go to the Port town of Massawa down on the Red sea. The temperature there at the moment is about 35 degrees. During the summer it goes up to about 45 degrees. It is still heavily mined from the war, as some major battles were fought there. We went out to dinner on Thursday evening with two members of the Eritrean Foundation Board. One of these men was Dr. Des Belles. He was in the book that Val lent me on Fred Hollows biography. He is a very well educated and articulate man. Ray tells me he spends many hours each day doing cataract surgery for no fee, he then goes to his own practice to earn some money. He apparently lives in a two room flat over a shop with his wife and two children. He also does general surgery, a lot of it on small children who have been maimed by the land mines that litter a lot of the country. The children pick them up and play with them as they do not understand the danger. He explained to me how the mines are designed without any metal parts so they cannot be detected easily. Because they have no metal in them to form shrapnel to produce injuries, the explosive charge is specially made to shatter the bones and then to use these bone fragments as shrapnel to penetrate further into the body. The children are often holding the mines in their hands when they explode. They lose limbs and their face and chest often also take the blast, with consequent horrific injuries. If I have time after fixing the problems at the Lab, I hope to see Des Belles at work. Just imagine Emily, Aiden, Jake or Alicia being maimed by these bloody evil devices. Any bastard who works on producing or laying these mines should be executed. I have met two German Plastic surgeons and a nurse who are staying at the Savanna for a month. They are here to teach the local doctors how to treat really bad burns. Remember the little African boy with awful burns on the TV show “RPA” who was taken to Australia for treatment. Apparently this sort of shocking burn is quite common among children here. It is caused by kerosene lamps in the shanty town around the central city. The children accidently knock them over and spill the burning kerosene on themselves. The German doctors want to visit the Lab to see how the lenses are made. I have arranged for this to happen one day next week. I would also like to see some of their work. My luggage arrived on the 11:00 PM flight on Wed. On Thursday a load of lenses were to be sent to the airport for export. Three of the young people from the Lab and I got in the pickup and headed for the airport. At the entrance to the airport is a gate manned by several armed guards. We had to stop and an argument developed between the driver and one of the guards. It then spread to include all three of the lab people and another guard. They were all out in the middle of the road pushing each other and shouting in Tigrinya. Cars behind us were honking. I had no idea what was going on. I really thought we were all going to be arrested. It finally quitened down and they let us through. The argument was over a one Nakfa levy (15 cents Aust) the guard wanted them to pay, and they refused. They dropped me and one of the lads at the airport while they went to deal with the export matters. We went into the airport, which was empty apart from airport personnel. My passport was taken from me before we could pass the security gate, we then went to the luggage area, found the case and cardboard carton, then waited for 45 minutes with another person who was also claiming luggage for the customs
people to arrive. It turns out it was afternoon tea time and you certainly don’t interrupt that for something like visitors comfort. When the woman customs officer arrived along with a “Finance Police” officer, they inspected my case but were not particularly interested in its contents, but the box was another matter entirely. More people were called and an argument broke out between the woman and the Lab person who was with me. The box was taken to another counter and once again it looked as if I was going to be arrested, this time for smuggling. Eventually they decided to impound the carton and let me go. The Lab would have to pay the duty on it. The saga wasn’t over yet. They would not let me back to get my passport. Finally they allowed the person from the Lab to go and retrieve it. It really was a very alarming trip. Ray tells me that the same sort of thing happened to Fred Hollows. He apparently went berserk and they backed off. He also tells me you get searched on the way out of the country. I have been suffering pretty badly from altitude sickness up till Saturday. I am over the worst of it now. I am told that it creeps up on you. The body tissues slowly lose oxygen. In response to this, the red blood cells begin to multiply in order to increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Unfortunately the oxygen debt in the body builds up faster that the red blood cell count. The result is a progressive feeling of oxygen deprivation. Any movement is draining, you have a slight headache and are constantly tired, a burning feeling in your chest (similar to holding your breath) and all your muscles ache. By Friday night, I thought that if it got much worse I was going to have to leave. I had been told that the red cell count will catch up, and sure enough Saturday morning I felt much better. Exertion still tires you out, but normal activity does not cause a problem. The upside is that when you return to sea level you are bursting with energy – or so Isaias tells me. All in all it has been a fairly eventful week, but the worst seems to be over. We are making some progress at the lab. I will fill you in on this in the next email. I am looking forward to your next phone call. Love to Lyn Dennis
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.