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Njera, castles, and compassion: just three of the wonderful things I experienced at Mekelle University

Filed under: GEMx Regional Exchanges, GEMx Student Reflections

By: DAPHNE KIBANDA , 5TH YEAR STUDENT (MBChB) at MBARARA UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Day out at Emperor Yohannes’ castle with Kidus(L) myself(C) and Henry(R)
The thought of an exchange study program away from my home university and country was as excitingas it was scary. With the GEMx website and with help from Ms. Faith Nawagi, the GEMx Africa representative, the application process went smoother than I expected. Within less than a month, my colleague and I were ready to travel to Mekelle University, College of Health Sciences, in Ethiopia. Ms. Sheila and Ms. Angela Nakato from the International Relations Office were also key in our travel preparations.

At about 5 a.m. on Saturday 13th July, we landed in Addis Ababa. Our flight to Mekelle was at 7.15a.m so we had some time to lounge. This was both our first time in Ethiopia and at Bole International Airport and so locating the different terminals took some bit of time. It can’t go without mention that every single person we interacted with at the airport, both passengers and employees, was very welcoming and helpful. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed for over 3 hours due to unfavourable weather at our destination and since we had no way of communicating with our hosts yet, we missed our transport from the airport. Nevertheless, we were very well received into Mekelle by the staff, students and even the locals.

With some of the C11 class members after a management session.

We joined the C11 group on the Internal medicine rotation as soon as we arrived and made very many friends. The students always readily helped with translation during clerkships as we were not conversant with the local language. I particularly remember an incident where I went to the ward to clerk a patient and all the members of my group were not around. I walked through the ward looking for a familiar face in vain. Later, I met a student from another group and when I explained myself to her, she was more than willing to help. They made the environment very comfortable and conducive for the one month we spent with them. Every day on the ward at Ayder Comprehensive Specialised Hospital was a new learning experience. Although the prevalent conditions didn’t differ much from those in Uganda, we were able to compare National treatment guidelines for common communicable conditions in both countries. We also participated in ward rounds, bedside teachings, and management sessions and were able to share and expand our knowledge further.

Outside of class, we appreciated the diverse culture of the people in Mekelle. We learned several words and phrases in Tigrinya, the native language, and by the end of one week, “Selam” which is a word for “hello” came much more easily to me. They have a unique taste in food, and I fell in love with “Njera”.

Njera and stew
I could not go an entire day without this traditional dish and to date, Ethiopian food is one of my favourites and Ethiopian restaurants in Uganda are a go-to. We also witnessed a traditional Ethiopian wedding and I must say the African culture is rich and full of diversity. We managed to visit Emperor Yohannes’ castle in Mekelle city, which serves as a museum currently and had some of our new friends show us around the rest of the city.

Our stay in Mekelle came to an end after exactly 4 weeks and on 9th August, we had to travel back home. We said a couple of emotional and even tearful goodbyes and promised to keep in touch with our friends. It was an educative, humbling, inspirational and fun experience for me, and I look forward to more of these opportunities with GEMx. Thank you so much for this amazing opportunity.

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