The Tale of Two Heroes

Art work of Honorable Hachalu Hundessa, OPA Ambassador

The nomination of the late honorable and influential Oromo artist Hachalu Hundessa, may he rest in peace, as Oromia Physicians Association’s Aambassador was one of the momentous occasions that will go down in history books. Another occasion which will go down in history was the inauguration of the then long-awaited and highly worked for Oromia Physicians Association in December 2018. Although Hachalu Hundessa was not a physician, some may see parallels between the struggles he faced in establishing his musical career and the struggles faced by those who seek to become physicians. I think that the comparison is especially appropriate considering that the brilliant musician’s father wanted him to pursue a career in medicine, not music.
Hachalu Hundessa, who will always be a prominent figure in history, pursued his dream and inner desire of becoming a musician despite the push from his father to pursue his education instead. But passion is passion. He prevailed in his dream and greatly won the hearts of his audiences and mainly the Oromo people by becoming exacatly the musician the people of Oromia needed.
Like a musician who seeks to express his passion and share his talent, those who pursue their dreams and inner desire of becoming the finest medical doctors in Ethiopia choose the most challenging educational field provided after completing school, of necessity with the highest grades. The medical school journey, which takes one of the longest number of years to complete, seems less than promising to parents or family, since it takes great deal of time for them to be supported by their children – or not to mention, the declining job security of physicians in Ethiopia. Despite all these barriers and the time commitment involved, physicians choose that path, and eventually win the hearts of their patients who need them most at the most difficult times in their lives.
Familiar with difficult times, Hachalu Hundessa was incarcerated at a young age without a crime and with no due process. He managed his half a decade of prison time developing his deep desire for music and art by doing various artistic musical works, writing lyrics to his music, and singing. But he was not restricted to music only; he read and engaged with fellow prisoners, most of which were Oromo people. Sadly, as the saying goes, “the prison speaks Afan Oromo.” Those years allowed him to witness more the pain of his people and the grave life they struggle with and the difficulties they went through even just to survive. That was when passion and dreams aligned with purpose, prompting him to produce his first album.
The growth to becoming a physician occurs in phases as well. Completing secondary school with tough and stressful exams, next comes the visa to medical school with a tight entrance window. But that is only a fraction of the journey to be passed through medical school for physicians. Physicians need to be more than competent in their educational activities; score high grades on exams, have a hundred percent attendance, perform well on oral exams and participate actively during lecture. Although that was clearly required, physicians must carry additional burdens in clinical attachments, such as transporting patients, blood samples and papers in the place of porters or runners, they must act as security guards at emergency department or wards, they must work straight 36 hours or more, and otherwise face the critical consequence from consultants or senior physicians if anything needed is absent about a patient.
Despite this load of responsibility, physicians appreciate the chance they get to know their patients more. Whether from urban or rural areas, whether rich or poor, physicians get to witness how Ethiopians struggle to get medical care in the dire accessibility. Additionally, physicians get close to their patients, who tell them all of their worries and their secrets, which reflects the patients’ trust in their physicians, as well as reflecting different type of cultures. THIS is when physicians’ passion and dreams align with purpose to help those in need.
From another viewpoint, in much the same was as physicians qualify educationally and morally to treat and comfort their patients, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa also became a voice of his people, in the absolute lyrical content present in his music, but even more as that of a freedom fighter, a historian and cultural icon to the Oromo people. He spent his entire life fighting for what he belived to be right for his people and he was also kind hearted and helped the poor, as people close to him witnessed. Sadly, up until his death he was known by those who opposed him and his message, as an extremist, bad person who spoke hatred towards others and was illiterate about history. This false image, sadly, in turn brought about a genuinely extremist measure, to assassinate him in the capital of Ethiopia, Finfinne.

This kind of false image has also affected physicians. Physicians are considered by some to be egocentric, greedy rich (there are even claims that physicians sell kidneys out of children!), immoral, judgmental and more. In reality, physicans in Ethiopia are the lowest paid in Africa, even relative to other fields of work in Ethiopia, have no health insurance, have no housing or transportation security. It is to be remembered that a much beloved physician leader passed away a few years ago because he had no health insurance and couldn’t afford treatment for his treatable disease. Great numbers of physicians resides with their parents, despite the expectation that physicians will help other’s families. In addition to these, physicians’ reasonable requests to authorities to provide fundamental hospital equipment and essentials to provide better service to their patients always get twisted, sometimes deliberately, as if they were greedy requests for pay raises or housing and transport allowances. After learning of the real life struggles of their physicians, patients who come in contact with them are left in awe despite the reverence.
Ironically, to attempt to ease physicians’ requests and to relieve those in the community who are already aware of the life of physicans, measures undertaken by authorities are merely a gratification program, giving certificates which hold no value to the unintended and even erecting monuments for physicians fighting Covid-19. These actions, instead of responding to the fundamental questions of physicans who seek only to provide better care for their patients, hits no target except widening the gap in the health sector.
The disfavor to which physicans are subjected to in Ethiopia has impacted their lives as well as the service delivery to their patients. The same goes for Hachalu Hundessa, who was treated with disfavor throughout his entire life. His treatment by many of those who opposed him became the main reason for a serious twinge of conscience among his family, his fans and the Oromo people when he was assassinated. His assassination was followed by a series of memorial programs, fund raising, and erecting a statue to his bravery for his contribution to music and a his service as a representative of the Oromo people. But all these couldn’t bring him or his passion and talent back, and could never address the fundamental favor he was expected to be offered before his assassination.

Many argue he has not been served justice yet.
Physicians whose main concern is for their patients, much like the late honorable Hachalu Hundessa, spend their lives to benefit other people. Since they often do this without obtaining what they deserve in return, they have won the hearts of those who knew them best. History will always remember them and their legacy will endure for eternity.

Dr. Yohannes Mengistu, OR Department director, Incident Officer and Risk Communicator in the Covid-19 task force at Menelik II Comphrensive Specialized Hospital.
Dr. Mengistu draws to relax; all drawings featured in this blog are his original artwork. Dr. Mengistu is an author/blogger at Physician Family Magazine and the Physician Family Blog, USA.

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