Tales of Tailors and Grocers

After moving there in 1959, Ethiopia quickly became home to Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin. Nevertheless, there were still little things that the Hamlins missed about Australia every now and then, such as swimming as the beach or being able to shop for whatever you need.

In her autobiography (written with John Little), The Hospital By the River, Catherine recalls the limitations and joys of shopping in the Addis Ababa of the 1960s:

“In Addis you couldn’t just go to town and buy clothes, so I used to make a lot of them myself on an old-fashioned sewing machine which worked by turning a handle.

In the market there was a street called Mattress Lane which was full of tailors. Reg would order material from England and take it to be made up by an old tailor who was almost blind. The only ties available were flamboyant Italian ones, which were not his style at all, so I would write to Sheila in Australia, enclosing a bit of the suit material, and get her to buy something that matched.

Our grocer was a Greek man named Bambi. His real name was Mr Tsimas, but everyone called him Bambi. He had a traditional grocer’s shop when we first knew him, and he would sit behind the counter wearing a white apron, speaking fluently to his customers in six or seven different languages. Bambi was a marvellous businessman. You could ask him for all sorts of things, and he would go to the back of the shop and find them.

We became good friends. Reg, whenever he went shopping, would have long conversations with him about the state of the world.”

Whether they were visiting royalty or caring for patients, the Hamlins were always ready for the occasion, with a little help from their friends.

You can help Catherine by purchasing her book today! Proceeds help fund Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia’s work to eradicate fistula. Forever.

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