Hills to Hawkesbury Living Magazine - - Living Legends -

Con­tin­ued from pre­vi­ous is­sue

This se­ries of Liv­ing Leg­ends is about Vida McLel­lan, a mis­sion­ary nurse who served in Ethiopia from 1955 – 1974. Vida grew up on a farm in the out-back of New South Wales. In 1955, af­ter nurses’ train­ing and Bi­ble Col­lege, she trav­elled to Ethiopia to serve in very re­mote and dif­fi­cult ar­eas in south­ern Ethiopia. Vida, mar­ried Dick McLel­lan, while at lan­guage school in 1955. For sixty years Vida has served along­side Dick both in Ethiopia and af­ter their re­turn to Aus­tralia. The last episode told of Vida’s and Dick made their way to Ethiopia, let’s con­tinue..

The fam­ily was so kind. They had not seen for­eign­ers be­fore. They kept ask­ing where they had come from and where were their mules and sup­plies. It seemed im­pos­si­ble to them that Dick and Bill had walked right through that dan­ger­ous val­ley. They asked, “Did the shif­tas (brig­ands) rob you of your goods?” Dick and Bill tried to ex­plain about the bro­ken down trucks and their long trek. The fam­ily gave them a large gourd of sour milk to drink. It was won­der­ful. The fam­ily said that they had heard a noisy truck a week be­fore as it passed in the night. The women quickly boiled cof­fee and roasted corn for them to eat. They so en­joyed that meal. The hospi­tal­ity was won­der­ful. Even as they talked they heard the sound of a truck com­ing. In a few min­utes it ar­rived and they waved it down. It was Pisani on his way back from Soddo and he was amazed to find Dick and Bill there. He joined them in the house to drink cof­fee and gave them bread to share with the fam­ily. As they drank cof­fee, laced with ran­cid but­ter, salt and spices in the Wo­laitta style, Pisani told them of his trou­ble with the truck and the de­lay in get­ting it fixed.

Then they heard the sound of an­other ve­hi­cle com­ing. It was a lit­tle jeep. The young fel­low who had gone to get help had de­liv­ered the note to Dr Nathan Bar­low at the Soddo SIM Hospi­tal. Nathan left im­me­di­ately with the lad to find Dick and Bill. Af­ter more talk and ex­pla­na­tions Pisani was glad to head out on his way to res­cue his other trucks. Af­ter ex­press­ing many thanks and farewells to their kind hosts Dick and Bill were glad to hop into the jeep and bounce over the bumpy road to Soddo. It was nearly dawn when they got there. They slept for hours on end. And, so their long walk was over. They had walked over 72 kilo­me­tres, thirty hours, through very dan­ger­ous and rough coun­try. God cer­tainly took care of them,

Of course I had no idea this was hap­pen­ing. Nor did I have any idea that af­ter we were mar­ried I would be go­ing over that same, very dif­fi­cult road, in an old Ital­ian truck. It was prob­a­bly just as well!

The 19th March, 1956, be­gan a busy three weeks for Dick and me as we pre­pared to leave for Bako. Buy­ing a twelve month’s sup­ply of food was a real headache, es­pe­cially as I had never had to buy such a large amount be­fore, apart from which was the prob­lem of keep­ing within our small in­come.

We had been ap­pointed to re­turn to Bako to work amongst the Aari and the neigh­bour­ing tribes peo­ple. Dick was not so keen to go back to Bako, but I was ex­cited about the chal­lenge. Af­ter pack­ing forty boxes we left them with a friend to ar­range for the boxes to be put on a truck that kept chang­ing its day of de­par­ture. We were meant to travel with our goods, but be­cause of the un­cer­tainty of the day that the truck would leave Addis Ababa, in­stead we flew by Ethiopian Dakota DC-3 air­plane to Soddo to meet up with our goods there. We waited for four weeks for the truck to come. Then it ar­rived and off loaded our goods. The Ital­ian owner and driver said good­bye and promised to be back in a week to take us to Bako. That week turned into three weeks. Frus­trat­ing, but God knows best. Dur­ing this time of wait­ing I learned many help­ful things for clinic work from Dr Bar­low in the hospi­tal. He taught me how to do the Trichi­a­sis surgery which would en­able me to help peo­ple who would go blind from their eye lashes turn­ing in on to the eye, caus­ing pain and even­tu­ally, blind­ness. He also taught me his way of treat­ing ty­phus and typhoid.

A truck fi­nally came on the 14th of May, 1956. We said farewell and with Dick and I were seated up front with the driver and other pas­sen­gers seated on top of the load, we started out on our three day trip — some 150 kilo­me­tres. In­stead it turned out to be twelve days be­cause the truck kept break­ing down and get­ting stuck in black sticky mud. We came to the first river cross­ing where there was a huge rock right in the mid­dle of the road which took some time to move. We went on our way again, but not for long. Down came the rain and the road be­came very slip­pery and muddy. The truck went down deep into the mud. I and an­other lady car­ried rocks and sticks to put un­der the wheels whilst the men dug and pushed. The truck would go a few feet when down came the rain again. The truck be­came stuck on the other side of a river for over three days and our food sup­ply was run­ning short.

There seemed to be one ob­sta­cle af­ter an­other. We walked much of the way. At an­other place the truck went un­der a tree and one of the branches knocked one of the pas­sen­gers off. Then the truck had to go around a very tight switch back to cross over an­other river and up the other side over huge rocks. It was a sin­is­ter place. The Ital­ians had used slave labour to put in the dif­fi­cult switch back and cross­ing, but at the cost of many Ethiopian lives. If an Ethiopian got weak and tired from hunger, dis­ease or just the lack of sleep he would be shot by the Ital­ians. This made the oth­ers try to work even harder.

On the trip we saw beau­ti­ful wild flow­ers which looked much like or­chids. Wild deer ran across the road in front of us into the long grass and scrub. Still we kept be­ing held up with the truck go­ing into mud holes along the way. We found our way blocked by a truck that had been stuck for four weeks. Our driver helped to pull it out and then our truck got stuck in the very same spot. He didn’t bother to help us out. Then, fur­ther along, he got stuck in the mud again. I hope he didn’t wait there for an­other month be­cause our driver was not so help­ful. On our sev­enth day of travel we ar­rived at a vil­lage called Zanga. Most of the in­hab­i­tants were Chris­tian. They gave us a great wel­come. We had many gifts given to us such as eggs, milk and chick­ens. We met Uri. He was a young man who had worked with Dick in Bako with the build­ing of the sta­tion there the pre­vi­ous year. He would join us at Bulki, on the way to Bako.

Af­ter leav­ing Zanga we were go­ing down a hill and the truck got out of con­trol, ran over the side of the road leav­ing us sit­ting in mid-air with a steep drop be­low us. The front spring had snapped in two. It was just our Heav­enly Fa­ther’s care and pro­tec­tion that we didn’t go over com­pletely in the gorge. We had to un­load the truck, re­pair the spring and pull it back onto the road once again. This was the se­cond time we had al­most gone over the edge of the road. From Zanga to Bulki should have only taken six hours, but it took us six days. When we reached the foot of the Bulki hill a po­lice­man came run­ning af­ter us for­bid­ding us to go up the hill. He claimed that the road was be­ing re­paired for a visit by the Em­peror and Crown Prince of Ethiopia and we were not al­lowed to travel on it. Dick walked up the hill and con­sulted the as­sis­tant Gover­nor in charge of the road re­pairs and he gave per­mis­sion for us to go up the hill. We had to camp where the re­pair­ers were over night be­cause an­other truck was on its way down the hill and both trucks could not fit on the road to­gether.

As we moved on the next day we were stopped again by an of­fi­cial who claimed the driver had run over a boy and killed him. He placed the truck driver un­der ar­rest. Then he left an armed guard to block the way, but we heard there were two more trucks com­ing on the road and we were in the way, so our driver went to move for­ward, but the guards loaded their guns and pointed it at the truck. So Dick and I had to walk up the hill and get per­mis­sion to move our truck up to that point.

How silly to hold a truck up on a hill like that. “Just like this crazy land,” thought I to my­self.

The Gover­nor of Bulki came to “in­spect the road” and af­ter much dis­pute gave his per­mis­sion for us to go on our way.

The fam­ily veg­etable gar­den and scare­crow

The truck to Bako

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