Sarah Bell isn’t new to Africa. Before beginning medical school at the University of Michigan last year, she spent a year in South Africa doing grassroots HIV education. Then she traveled to South Sudan for another year with a child-survival program.
This summer, Bell is working on a research project in women’s health at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Her experience in Ethiopia is vastly different from her previous experience in South Africa and South Sudan. Ethiopia, she has found, is “far friendlier.”
For example, while living in South Africa’s beautiful Cape Town, Bell never felt completely safe.
“My boss got stabbed five times,” she said. “My roommates got held up at knifepoint. I’d get my butt slapped if I walked alone on the streets during the day. Here in Ethiopia, people will say things, but it’s all very friendly. In South Africa, it was all pretty aggressive. I couldn’t go anywhere alone at night.”
In South Sudan, crime and harassment were less of a problem, but violence was a constant threat. “I was more concerned about land mines and rocket-propelled grenade launchers or the start of another war,” Bell said.
In Ethiopia, she’s found that people “kind of look out for you.”
“Today, my bag broke, and I was carrying bananas,” she said. “Some guy came up and gave me another bag. He didn’t want anything. I offered him a banana, and he said, ‘No, no, no.’ I never get ripped off by the banana seller. They treat you fairly. I’ve been so impressed with the people, both inside and outside the hospital.”