Ruth Kennedy is a Scottish midwife who grew up in Brazil. Ruth first met Dr Catherine Hamlin in 1991. Below is the second in a series of blogs about her experience working with Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.
Our friendship developed from that first introduction. The delightful old-world afternoon tea that Catherine offered to those she favoured, or those who might be helpful towards her beloved hospital, was classic.
Picture a large spacious living room, with a grand piano in one corner, two three-seater sofas, three armchairs with Catherine’s large knee hole desk close to the door going out to the garden. Various occasional tables with one large one near to the chair where Catherine sat. Yeshi, her patient and faithful helper, would bring in the teacups and tea plates. A variety of home baked delicacies all made by Catherine herself. Silver tea pots or coffee pots if it was morning coffee time. That was the physical scene.
Catherine would serve tea (or coffee) and ensure that you were well served with cake and her well know ANZAC biscuits. Then she sat back and asked questions: who you really are, where do you come from – she loved it! Then it was your turn to ask questions and she would talk of the ‘poor women’. Her upper-class upbringing came through in everything she did, her ironed blouses, pure wool cardigans, tailored jackets, good leather shoes and, always, stockings. Add to this her well-worn tan leather handbag that she never left home without.
How she loved her friends, years later when she was very ill and evacuated to London, we had to land urgently due to weather constraints in Paris. “But Ruth, I don’t know anyone here!” was her heartfelt cry. No matter, her lovely friends from around the world found her and her joy was speaking to them all by telephone.
When guests were expected she would check the accommodation to make sure there were flowers to welcome the guests. She prepared cucumber sandwiches for Princess Anne’s visit, all the Princess Royal tasted were some macaroons from the bakers, that worried Catherine. I said that she should not worry because the princess when travelling rarely ate anywhere or anything. She was relieved.
Our friendship was a rather unique one. I was seconded to support a new midwifery school in Harar, to the east of Addis Ababa. It wasn’t long before Catherine telephoned me and asked me to be a trustee for the hospital. I would pop in to see Catherine and the staff after that whenever in Addis Ababa. I counted Catherine and the doctors my friends during my early years in Ethiopia.
It was while working at the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Addis Ababa, that I was requested by the MoH to go and support the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Catherine was pleased, the medical doctors advised me ‘not to make changes too quickly’. I lived for most of the seven years there off the premises. Only the last year and a half did I rent a flat on the premises where we often had dinner parties. Catherine loved those times. We would watch old time DVDs that would make her laugh. “Oh, how silly!” was often her cry.
Learn more about the Hamlin Alumni that helped build the Hamlin Model of Care here.