VIDA MCLELLAN PART 5
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