Category Archives: Travel

Of Wanderlust And Coming Home

Of Wanderlust And Coming Home

Elizabeth AtalayI try to keep a cool adult demeanor as I open the tiny package at my seat. In it I find a pair of socks, a diminutive set with toothpaste and toothbrush, and a sleep-mask. I want to turn to the older gentleman in the plane seat next to mine as I pull out each item to show him with bright eyes and exclaim “Look how cute this toothbrush set is!” but I manage to keep my cool.

Wanderlust ;  a strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world.

Wanderlust is my favorite word.  Aside from being fun to say, it most aptly captures my enthusiastic desire to discover new places.   The more I traveled, the more I learned about new places I’d love to see. Put me on an airplane and I am as giddy as a child. I love to travel, and it’s not just about the destination. The journey itself thrills me as well. That sense of excitement and adventure as a trip launches. The forced stretches of time on the trip to read, write, or watch as many movies as I can fit in.  I love the diminutive compartments of the meals, accompanied by tiny bottles of wine.   I enjoy conversations struck up with other travelers, slices of lives in transit. Where we are, where we are going, and where we’ve been.  I’m excited by the anticipation of a new place, and of entering the unexpected.

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Health Post At Mosebo Village, Ethiopia

Health Post At Mosebo Village, Ethiopia

Elizabeth Atalay

We had just spent the night at the source of the Blue Nile River. Lake Tana sits in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, and as our caravan of Land Cruisers wove through the countryside from Bahir Dar to Mosebo I took in deep gulping breaths of sweet fresh Ethiopian air. The lush colors of our surroundings looked to me like they had been enhanced in Photoshop in the way that everything seemed to pop.  How could I feel this emotional connection to place that was never mine? A place I had never been?

Though this is my first time in Ethiopia, the verdant landscape brought me back to other rural parts of Africa I’d traveled through in my youth, similar topographies that had stayed with me ever since.  This time I’d returned to the continent as a new media fellow with the International Reporting Project to report on newborn health.  We were heading to one of the villages housing a Health Post which serves the local and surrounding population of approximately 3,500 people.

Photo by Elizabeth Atalay

Mosebo Village is part of Save The Children’s Saving Newborn Lives program, and as such is looked to as a model village in the Ethiopian Government’s plan to reduce maternal and newborn mortality.  Mosebo is a rural agrarian community that produces wheat, teff and corn.  There I met seven-year-old Zina whose mother, Mebrate was about to give birth.  Through our translator Mebrate estimated her age to be around 26, and told us that Zina was her first child.  As we learned from interviewing many mothers along the way, her age estimate was really more of a suggestion, and at times might be a full decade older than the expecting mother’s true age. I suspect this is somewhat the case with Mebrate as well.   She said that for economic reasons she and her husband had waited to have a second child, but again, as we also learned, this might not be the full story. Losing a newborn in the act of childbirth is so common, and almost expected in rural Ethiopia, that it is not spoken of openly.   Almost in the way a western mother might not offer up a miscarriage amongst her healthy born children if asked how many children she has.

When she had Zina, Mebrate had gone to her parent’s home to give birth, as women in Ethiopia often do. It is estimated that 80% of Ethiopian mothers will give birth in their home, often without a trained health care attendant. Towards the end of Mebrate’s first pregnancy she went to live with her parents as her family instructed, until after the baby was born.  In that way her mother could help her deliver, could care for her and the baby, and feed her the traditional porridge after birth. Although there were no complications during her delivery, sadly, many young mothers giving birth at home are not as fortunate. The time period during and around birth are the most vulnerable for the lives of both the mothers and babies. The Saving Newborn Lives Program aims to reduce maternal and newborn mortality beginning with awareness programs and pre-natal care on the local level at Health Posts like the one we visited in Mosebo.

Mosebo Health Post

The Mosebo Health Post and Health Extension Workers

We had met Tirgno and Fasika, the two Health Extension Workers at the Mosebo Health Post earlier that day as they showed us the two room interior, and explained their role in improving maternal and newborn health.  They work to raise awareness in the community about the importance of pre-natal care, and the potential dangers of giving birth at home for both mother and child. Newborn health is interdependent with maternal health, and the most prevalent causes of newborn mortality, infection, Asphyxiation, pre-maturity or low birth weight, and diarrhea can often be avoided with proper care.   These days in Mosebo after receiving pre-natal care at the Health Post women are then referred to the regional Health Center for deliveries.

Zina shyly smiled when we ask her how she felt about having a new sibling, she stood straight and tall listening intently as we asked her mother about the babies’ arrival.  When Mebrate goes into labor this time, with her second child, she will embark on the walk along rural dirt roads for around an hour to the nearest Health Center to give birth.

This story was reported by Elizabeth Atalay from Ethiopia where she traveled as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP). This post is a modified version of one first written for World Moms Blog.

#EthiopiaNewborns & Maternova Innovations

#EthiopiaNewborns & Maternova Innovations
7 week old #EthiopianNewborns

7 week old #EthiopianNewborns Photo by Elizabeth Atalay

The first thing I pulled out of the bag was the strip of condoms. As a happily married mother of four I can’t remember the last time I handled a strip of condoms, and I confess that they made me giggle. I was checking out the contents of the Maternova backpack I was bringing to Ethiopia, and was quickly informed that they were not included for that reason.

Upon learning that I would be traveling to Ethiopia as a New Media Fellow with The International Reporting Project to report on newborn health I had immediately reached out to my friends at Maternova. Maternal and Newborn health is what they do, particularly in low-resource settings, and I knew they would have some great insights as to what topics I might see on the trip. Part of our reporting will be from rural villages in Ethiopia where most births take place in the home, without a trained healthcare attendant. Maternova is headquartered in the state of Rhode Island where I live, but provides the leading global on-line resource for Governments, non-profits, and health care providers to access affordable healthcare solutions to save the lives of mothers, and newborns.  I asked founder Meg Wirth to tell me about a few of the Maternova products that I was bringing on the trip, and how they are used to save lives.

Lake Tana source of the Blue Nile, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Lake Tana source of the Blue Nile, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Elizabeth Atalay: The condoms in the bag actually come with instructions on how to save a woman’s life from postpartum hemorrhage with the Condom Balloon Tamponade method.  Can you talk a bit about the evolution of the CBT method?

Meg Wirth:  Well listen, if someone needs a condom you should probably give it to them—because averting a pregnancy, as you know, can save a life too.  But the condom also has another very intriguing use—a brand new condom can be used as a kind of do-it-yourself medical device to stop postpartum hemorrhage.  We sent you with instructions!  Rather than break it down step by step here, suffice it to say that the condom can be attached to a foley catheter and IV, filled with saline or water when inserted in a uterus post childbirth.. the pressure of the condom balloon can stop internal bleeding.

EA: I am also bringing the Maternova solar head lamp created for night birthing scenarios, can you remind me of the story you once told me about observing a night birth when you first introduced me to this product?

MW: Well that story wasn’t mine, but we hear stories every single week about birth occurring in the dark.  While a normal birth may be fine in the dark, a complication or a hemorrhage create a serious problem because no one can manage the complication properly.  A simple solar lamp allows task lighting to manage births but they also light the way for heroic midwives who are so often called out at night to remote places and could use light for their own safety.

EA: It is always been surprising to me that newborns in Sub-Saharan Africa can die from simply preventable causes like hypothermia. Two of the Maternova products I am bringing come in tiny packages, yet can be the difference between life and death of a newborn. Can you talk about the importance of the Sterile Foil Baby Bunting, and the Thermo Spot stickers?

ThermoSpot

MW:  The ThermoSpot is a temperature indicator that, when stuck onto a newborn (in a very specific place) can signal—just with color—whether the infant is too cold.  The face on the round sticker fades from green to black and indicates that the core temperature of the infant is far too low. Remember, the average villager in Ethiopia is not going to have a thermometer at the ready, and this amazing, re-usable, ultra low-cost device is a thermal indicator that can be ‘read’ just with color meaning the mom or father need not be numerate or literate. The mylar bunting is a very lightweight wrap to keep infants warm, particularly during transport or when separated from mothers.  Both of these items are in major trials in Pakistan and Kenya though they are already in use in many settings.

EA: I recently learned that in Ethiopia most rural healthcare clinics do not have pregnancy tests available.  Are women able to keep track of their cycles and pregnancies with the CycleBeads for family planning?

MW:  Yes the CycleBeads can be used by anyone with a regular cycle to predict ovulation times!!!  They are a very rapidly-spreading form of birth control.

Cycle Beads

EA: What are some of the issues of newborn health in Ethiopia that you and the Maternova team are interested in hearing about? What innovations should be keeping an eye out for?

MW:  We are interested in local ‘fixes’ or ideas that nurses and midwives have come up with.  Part of our mission is to spread innovation more rapidly and if we can learn from them and spread the messages quickly we’d be thrilled.  See if they have working blood pressure cuffs in the clinics.  See if they have magnesium sulfate.  What about misoprostol?  How do they stop postpartum hemorrhage?

EA: I will definitely be looking to see what innovative solutions the midwives have developed in their communities and share what I see.  Just a few days into the trip we have already been gaining real insight into the Maternal and Newborn landscape here in Ethiopia.  Despite the lack of resources, there seems to be a real commitment to preventative measures and education so I’m excited to bring the Maternova products to midwives we are meeting with later this week!

MW:  Thank you for your work Elizabeth!!

I am in Ethiopia for two weeks with The  International Reporting project on a New Media Fellowship to report on Newborn Health.

You can follow along at The International Reporting Project #EthiopiaNewborns

10 Interesting Things To know About Ethiopia

10 Interesting Things To know About Ethiopia
Lion_of_Judah,_Addis_Ababa,_Ethiopia

Statue of the Lion of Judah By Rjruiziii via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve learned a few intriguing things about Ethiopia in the midst of preparation for my International Reporting Project trip. Having never been before, I’m excited and eager to learn about the country, and culture. We will be reporting on newborn health when there, but in the meantime I wanted to share a few of the interesting things I’ve learned about my destination.

1.  Ethiopia has the second largest population of all the countries in Africa.

2. Ethiopia is thought to be the birthplace of coffee.

SAMSUNG CSC

3. Ethiopia is the only country in Africa never to be colonized. Although the Italians occupied Ethiopia for five years ( leaving behind remnants of their culture with some great Italian restaurants I hear).

4. “Lucy” lives in Ethiopia, One of the earliest found skeletons of early human remains (over 3 million years old) resides in the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa.

SAMSUNG CSC

5. Ethiopia has the largest population of all the landlocked countries in this world.

6. Over 40% of girls get married before the age of 18 in Ethiopia.

7. The Ethiopian Capital city of Addis Ababa is the headquarters of the African Union.

8. Rastafarians get their name from Haile Selassie whose name before being crowned Emperor was Ras (Ras means Duke) Tafari.

9.Ethiopia is the majority source of the Nile River (84% known as the Blue Nile).

Lake Tana

Lake Tana, Source of the Blue Nile River

10. The Queen of Sheba is believed to have been from Ethiopia.

Painting in St. Georges Church of Queen Sheba and King Solomon

Painting in St. Georges Church of Queen Sheba and King Solomon

I am traveling to Ethiopia as an International Reporting Project Fellow on a New Media Fellowship to report on newborn health. #EthiopiaNewborns 

Traveling To Ethiopia With The International Reporting Project New Media Fellowship

Traveling To Ethiopia With The International Reporting Project New Media Fellowship

“Eat only with your right hand, never with the left.” My friend advised, referring to the injera pancakes used in Ethiopian cuisine to scoop up food.  Her advice aimed to spare me the disapproving looks and awkward moment of a cultural lesson learned the hard way. Leaving in just a few days for my trip to Ethiopia, I have been gathering all the travel tips I can get.

I am thrilled be traveling to Ethiopia along with the eight other New Media Fellows selected for the International Reporting Project trip to report on Newborn Health.  The International Reporting Project was established to fill the void in reporting on global issues.  The IRP fellowship gives U.S. Journalists the opportunity to travel to foreign countries, and share the stories that would not typically be seen in the mainstream media.

We will be reporting on Ethiopia’s development in preventing newborn deaths, a challenge in a country where somewhere around 90% of women live in low resource, rural areas and tend to give birth at home.  We will also explore surrounding issues such as maternal and child health, immunizations, nutrition, and access to healthcare.  Ethiopia is the second most populated country on the African continent, and is a country comprised of diverse ethnicities.  It’s landscapes are varied as well, topography ranges from mountains to jungles, to one of the hottest inhabited regions on earth.  We will be visiting remote villages to meet with NGO’s, Frontline Heath care Workers, and mothers to witness first hand the challenges, and the progress towards saving lives in Ethiopia.

Please follow our journey at #EthiopiaNewborns , on Twitter , Facebook & Instagram

I will be reporting from Ethiopia as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP)