Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day 17: Mulongo

I am captivated by the ebb and flow of the days here—and sometimes I forget to write. There is a rhythm to life here, which I am grateful for, because I find that we often lack “rhythm” in the United States. In many ways we are blessed to have electricity to the extent that it makes obsolete the need to respect the rhythms of the seasons. But in other ways, it is pleasant, soothing, and welcome to be swept up in the tide of each day here. So the calendar is marked by Sundays for me, the day of rest. Otherwise I lose myself in the rising and setting sun of each day. 

Much has happened for me since the last time I wrote. The days for me seem to have unpredictable waves of emotion. In much the same way as I observed in Lubumbashi that there are extremes of wealth and poverty, it is the same here for me—extremes of inspiration and gravity. It seems often in the span of one day I will observe great suffering and great strength, sometimes even simultaneously. It’s good to see, but also extremely fatiguing—I sleep very well here! (Then again, I have Narcolepsy, so who can say.)

So let me try to speak more “tangibly” now about the experiences—Friday morning we visited Mulongo General Hospital with Docteur Serge. It was, of course, very different from American hospitals, so I had to absorb the shock of that, a little bit. In some ways I’m still attempting to “absorb” it. For starters, there are so many people that come to this hospital that there is a lot of “overflow”. People come from miles and miles to wait for possibly months to see a doctor here, and often they have no place to stay, so they are camped out around the grounds of the hospital. There are far more patients here then there are beds, so many people are sitting in the hallways, on the floor, or even outside. (For example, the children’s measles unit is outside approximately 300 ft. from the closest building, such that they not contaminate the rest of the hospital.) Additionally, they are often in need of many supplies that they do not have—there is no neonatal care unit here, no blood bank, and no x-ray machine. That means that when people break bones, sometimes they end up having their limbs amputated for lack of accurate diagnostics. The good news is, there is a very good nursing school here, and the staff is very dedicated. They work hard and long to earn their reputation as being one of the best hospitals in the area. So while there is a lot of need, there is also a lot of strength and dedication. Because of the necessity to be skilled in all areas, plus the prevalence of tropical diseases and complications, I would venture to guess that many of the doctors here are more skilled than American doctors, just out of necessity. They have a broader range of skills in more areas. 

After visiting the hospital (still talking about Friday), I had the privilege to attend an oral dissertation defense in the afternoon. In Congo, nurses must write a dissertation and pass the defense to graduate, just like most doctorates in the US. So we saw some defenses for the nursing school graduates. This was really inspiring for me, because of course I am well acquainted with the trials and tribulations of writing a dissertation in the US (don’t get me started….). Now imagine doing that without regular access to books, paper, pens, computers, printers, academic journals, and on and on. Also, one of the people defending on Friday was Sylvie, who is one of the few women in the district to pass the defense and graduate. So it was really exciting!! Women here have a lot of hardship and suffering but also a lot of strength. I was filled with life just watching her succeed.
Saturday morning we walked down the lake (a long walk for me, since I’m such a ninny) to see people making bricks. This was exciting because they weren’t just any people. The people making bricks were the Kipandanos (the women) of the church. The reason they were making bricks was to build a foyer, or women’s school, for the purpose of educating women in the community. So many women here lack the opportunity to go to school, or to learn good, applicable skills like sewing, cooking, reading and writing. The foyer would be for women in town to be educated in these areas. As a true testament to their determination and strength, the women of the community decided that they wanted to build the building themselves without the help of men. All of this is part of a kind of women’s liberation movement in the community—trying to be self-sufficient, to bring strength to themselves and their daughters, and so on. This is really inspiring because brick-making, like so many other tasks here, is hard, back-breaking work. I was lathering like some indigent farm animal after just walking all the way down to the lake, and there were all these women slaving away in the hot sun, singing no less. (Yet another demonstration of how I’m a wimp. J ) After that, we went back and had a petit recontre (little meeting) with the women in which they honored me again with their bravery, sharing with me their needs, their struggles, and all they had endured during the war… the topics of conversation at are meeting are worthy of a whole other entry, but I’ll just say for now that there was such strength and unity among them, I was blessed to be there. It was also at this meeting that I received my first live-animal-gift, a dove/pigeon. I ate it today for lunch, and it turns out that it is delicious. Perhaps a successful way to eliminate excess pigeons in the US. 

Saturday afternoon was my maiden voyage on “the Indiana”, which is FPM’s boat here. It is difficult to say how important of a contribution this is to the community. There are dozens of villages along the lake and river that were essentially inacessable before the Indiana. This first trip we didn’t visit any villages, it was just for the purpose of me seeing and riding around in the boat. Nonetheless, exciting. As it always has been since I was little, I’m drawn to the water like a magnet—so I loved every minute of being on lake. Would that I could have jumped in and swam, but I didn’t. (I’m happy to report that this is the one area where I am not a wuss. I’m surprised by how many people here don’t know how to swim—living on a lake and all. I, on the other hand, can easily swim a kilometer without stopping. Thank you elementary and middle school swim team.)
Today is Sunday, the day of rest. We went to church the main church (Centre Eglise) this morning, where I succeeded (yet again) at being the local entertainment with my butchering of words in Kiluba, as well as my inability to stand up or sit down at the right moments. However, despite that—it was a good service. It was a good time for me to see the congregation all together, learn about the community and their needs, and of course, sing poorly in Kiluba. J Again and again I feel lucky to be here.

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