I wanted to see the places in Africa that Dr. Tom Coleman spoke about so often, and in the spring of 2016 I booked a trip to Ethiopia. In Addis Ababa I met my translator and chauffer. We had a lot of places to see so we left the city early the next morning. Leaving Addis Ababa, we drove west for about an hour and then turned north, up through the mountains and a beautiful forest. The air was crisp and sweet and the forest was brimming with wildlife. At first the gravel road was wide and even, but it gradually became worse. It was about 120 km across the mountain but, with big rocks and large holes in the road, it took us several hours before we came to the small village of Kachise.
Our goal was to get to Ginde Beret, where Dr. Coleman had worked most of his time in Ethiopia. From Kachise the best route was to walk down a steep footpath to the valley below. There was, my chauffer told me, a road, but it went way out of the way and wasn’t at all in as “good” condition as the road we had just come by, so the decision was easy. I wondered if anyone in the village remembered Dr. Tom Coleman and his family who had lived there during the 1960’s and 70’s.
We arrived in Kachise before dark and checked into the hotel. Well, they called it a hotel; it was really not more than a shed. The toilet was a hole in the ground and there was no running water. The room we were givien was small and dirty and the mattress was lumpy and hard. I pulled out my travel sheets and crawled into bed. We needed to get an early start in the morning.
We were up at sunrise, ate a quick breakfast, a couple of eggs and tea, before beginning our trek through back allies and out to the edge of the cliff where the serpentine path wriggled down the ravine. We stood for a moment on the edge and looked down at the little village of Ginde Beret far below. A great surprise was waiting for us down there. No one has yet forgotten the miracle doctor, Tom Coleman, who saved the lives of thousands of suffering people.
We were four people in our group when we began walking down the trail, myself, my friend, Stefan Jansson from Sweden, our translator and a guide. But within minutes we were joined by more and more people who offered to carry our equipment and camera bags. I don’t know where they all came from; they seemed to appear out of nowhere. Our little troop was transformed into a caravan with people all eager to help. The path was steep with large rocks strewn here and there. Some portions had been repaired with large stone steps that made it easier to step safely. Tall trees lined the path giving us shelter from the sun. Baboons and other wildlife wandered nearby, watching us curiously.
Coming down into the valley we met people on their way up the path to Kachise. Many people from Ginde Beret climb the steep path daily to go to school, work or shopping. Suddenly there were three men standing on the path in front of us. As we came nearer I noticed that they were missing fingers and their faces had been badly marred by leprosy. Without hesitating they reached out, one after the other, to shake our hands in welcome. Their fingerless hands felt soft in mine, but it was a peculiar sensation. It was the first real encounter with a leper.
When asked if they had ever heard of Dr. Tom Coleman, they all began talking at once. Dr. Coleman! It had been 50 years since they last met him, but Dr. Coleman had saved their lives. I realized that many people in Ginde Beret indeed remembered the Colemans. They asked, “Is he coming back soon? Are you one of his children?” I explained that I was a good friend of Dr. Coleman and that I wanted to film in the village and show it to Dr. Coleman. We spent a whole day in the village and they showed us all the places where the Coleman family had lived and worked, and where the children, Judy and Bill, had played. A visit from a friend of the Coleman’s was cause for a celebration. I felt humbled by the reception we received in Ginde Beret and it gave me a greater understanding of the impact Dr. Tom and Elaine Coleman had made in Africa between 1956 and 2004. The name Coleman is spoken with great respect in Ginde Beret. It represents people who sacrificed their own comfort and prosperity to save the lives of thousands of suffering people.