© Joyce CHING
During the nine months that I worked in the remote Somali region of Ethiopia, I sometimes met Chinese working for a petroleum extraction company. They travelled half way across the globe to work for Sinopec to extract oil in this region.
As they passed through Cherrati, the small town I worked, we often chatted because I was the only Chinese doctor in that area. When they were sick, they sought me out for medical advice.
I was very happy to meet them every time. It felt like meeting old friends from home. Although my Mandarin was not at all proficient, it did not stop me from talking with them. The most common question they asked was "Young lady, what brings you here from Hong Kong? Life is tough here!"
© Joyce CHING
That was very true – life in Ethiopia was not easy at all. In the eyes of these "big brothers", I was the "poor young lady" who worked in the region.
I still remember they once gave me a pack of instant noodles – a familiar commodity in Hong Kong and China. My eyes grew wide when I saw them. I could not help it.
That may surprise many Hong Kong natives. If I were in Hong Kong at that moment, this pack of noodle would be nothing special for me. But in that desert region, I had not had noodles for months, not to mention about these popular brand-name noodles.
I could not stop feeling excited. They saw it and returned to their trucks at once to get me more noodles and canned food. They were given to me with much kindness. I felt very embarrassed for accepting more, but one of the "big brothers" said, "Keep them all. We have plenty at our base."
Life was simple in Ethiopia. A few packs of noodles made me happy for many days. The noodles warmed my heart, especially they were given to me by my Chinese friends.
Dr. Joyce CHING, who graduated from HKU in 2002, has been a volunteer with MSF since 2005. In 2006, she was sent to Cherrati, Ethiopia to join an MSF tuberculosis treatment programme. She shares stories of this nine-month mission with us here.