It has been one week since our work finished in Kenya and we made the long journey back home. Christmas had arrived in the Amsterdam airport where beautiful trees lined the hallways with hand-painted Royal Delft ornaments. My birthday, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the leisurely days I would spend decorating our home for the holidays had passed me by.
For 13 days we had acclimatized ourselves to a simple life. We sat and slept on the floor of the clinic, which we called home and office. My showers were short and cold until Jono convinced me to heat a pot of water for the shower I took on my birthday. For the rest of the trip I became an expert at bathing from a bucket of warm water. Along with the little bottle of lavender body wash I brought from my favorite soap company, that warm bucket of water was like a day at the spa.
Jono and Karl did all the cooking, which seemed to include rice and beans for a solid week until someone discovered soup. Then we ate eggs on toast for breakfast and soup for dinner.
There was no meat and the vegetables never changed. Variety came when the guys cut the tomato into chunks instead of slices, or we ate the avocado in the soup instead of with breakfast. We all lost weight, but we enjoyed our meals. On the last night, Karl combined all the ingredients that were left in our food box and made a soup of tomato sauce, squash and beets. That was not the best soup I have ever had.
School didn’t wait for jet lag to end and I was up early the first morning back home preparing for a week of exams and final presentations when I saw the email that the local Chief Elder had commandeered our little health post. He was not happy that we had hired a clinic manager (from another tribe) that he had not approved. We felt sick.
Jono spent the next three days talking with everyone involved by Skype and email to no avail. We sat down Thursday afternoon and decided we had learned so much about establishing sustainable healthcare in one of the most difficult of environments, but we needed to close the book on the Osiligi Health Post. We were sad but determined to regroup. The very next morning, the Chief Elder wrote Jono an email of apology and support. He had finally agreed to meet the clinic manager and had approved of her. We were back on track.
The lessons I have learned and the experiences from this trip are too many to describe in one sitting. For my school assignments, I prepared a paper and a presentation about the trip, neither of which included the same stories. I have spent hours wondering why we attempt to make a difference in places so far flung from the mainstream of normal life. Why are there still places so desperately in need of help in this world anyway?
I sat with a group of ladies from the community one day to talk about women’s health issues. These women were professional women, unlike the women from the bush – they wore suits and dress shoes. Nonetheless, they had questions.
Several of the ladies interpreted into different local languages as I talked about menopause, high blood pressure and STDs. Our clinic became popular because it had a scale – these people didn’t know how much they weighed, they had never even stepped onto a scale before. I took all the ladies into the exam room and stepped them onto the scale, took their blood pressure and checked their glucose levels. They were thrilled.
The women from the community and the health workers we trained, have been enlightened with knowledge that will help them live healthier, more empowered. They will share that knowledge with the community, their children, their sisters and friends. Nothing or no one can ever take this information away from them.
The little girl with polio will soon have a wheelchair. We have a commitment from a local optometrist to provide cataract surgery at no charge to the patients. The list goes on and on. These small victories will make the lives of these people easier, allowing them to contribute more to this world and live more fulfilling lives. In the end, that was good enough for me.
A birthday card from my sister awaited me back at home. It included a quote from Henry David Thoreau, “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”