From Horncastle to Ethiopia - an out of Africa experience for Bob

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He’s one of the most familiar faces in Horncastle, devoting his time and enthusiasm to more seemingly voluntary organisations than the entire Royal Family put together.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s helping erect Christmas trees with the Lions or giving impromptu guided tours of his beloved St Mary’s Church, Bob Wayne is the man everyone turns to.

For the last few weeks, he’s been absent from his endless list of committee meetings.

Not that he’s been putting his feet up - far from it.

Bob has been to Ethiopia.

If you think the drought-riddled African nation is a strange choice for a holiday, there was a special reason for his visit.

He explains: “My sister (Sue) is a palliative care specialist and my brother in law (Jamie) is a Norfolk GP.

“For the past four years, they been involved in Hospice Ethiopia, operating in the capital city of Addis Ababa.

“Apart from fund raising in the UK, their annual visits have been spent teaching and encouraging the small number of local staff, introducing palliative care to HIV and cancer patients.

“It is some indication of the progress in that only four years ago there was virtually no oral morphine in the country but now supplies are held by 90% of the city’s hospitals and over 700 staff have been trained to administer it.

“I am an engineer, not a medic, but my association with the hospice resulted in a fleeting acquaintance with some quite remarkable people.”

Apart from drought, Ethiopia has been torn apart by civil war.

However, Bob still describes it as a ‘fascinating destination’.

On his travels, he saw first hand how far Ethiopia lags behind other nations in terms of development.

He added: “Most of the country is a high plateau cut spectacularly by rift valleys.

“The altitude results in pleasant temperatures, albeit with high sun radiation.

“It was the end of harvest when we drove north from Addis over rolling farmland covered with grain stubble. It could almost be Wispington - until you realised that every acre had been ploughed by oxen and every acre had been harvested by hand.

“The only obvious mechanisation we saw was presumably government owned balers collecting fodder for drought areas.”

Bob had time to sight-see in Addis Ababa, a city which, not long ago, was a virtual no-go zone for visitors because of the warring factions.

He explained: “I explored Addis and its museum exhibits, ranging from the bones of ‘Lucy’ - the oldest humanoid ever discovered - to the rather more sobering Red Terror Museum displaying the excesses of the Derg regime barely 30 years ago.”

Together with Sue and Jamie, Bob took an internal flight to the northern part of Ethiopia and the town of Mekele in the province of Tigray.

The trip allowed him to experience some rarely seen ancient wonders.

Bob adds: “It was uncomfortably close to and over the main area of famine.

“From Mekele, we drove to the rock churches of Abunas Yemata and Debre Damo, accessible only by climbing a 15m leather rope which gives a new meaning to ‘disability access’!

“These churches were carved from solid rock in the fourth century, before Christianity even reached England.

“While waiting at the foot of the rock, we were engulfed by a large funeral procession and stood reverently while the body was hauled up the cliff, a situation that possibly few Westerners can have witnessed!

“Our journey also took us to the Great Temple at Yeha, a contemporary of the pyramids, and then on to Aksum, the seat of the Kingdom of Aksum and possibly the ‘home’ of the legendary Queen of Sheba.

“The town thrived in the early centuries AD. Of particular fame are the “Stelae” - hundreds of stone columns, the largest of which was over 30m high and weighed over 500 tonnes.

“Sadly, having quarried, carved and transported this massive single piece of granite, it fell over during erection or soon afterwards.

“Surprisingly, the contractors failed to follow the first rule of our trade ‘When things go wrong, get rid of the evidence’. The broken stelae still lays where it fell, a couple of thousand years ago!”

Bob is now back in Horncastle.

He would love to return to Ethiopia - even if he suspects it will be because Sue and Jamie can use his luggage allowance for vital medical equipment!